What's the best way to hike the Narrows?
August 12, 2009 1:55 PM   Subscribe

What do you wish you knew before you did the Narrows hike in Zion National Park?

I am working on planning an overnight hike in the Narrows in late September. If you have done the overnight hike before, do you have any advice for the best way to plan the trip? There's a lot to read about it online, but I'd love to hear some of your personal experiences with the hike and if there's anything you'd do differently if you did it again. I've been to Zion several times and done other hikes, so I'm pretty familiar with the park. There will be two of us doing the hike and we'll be driving down from Salt Lake City the day before we plan to hike. Thanks!
posted by lbo to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have not done the overnight from the north down, but just four weeks ago I did a seven hour round trip from the south. Two things I would say are a must: 1) a walking stick for balance and support. In some places the undertow can be somewhat fierce. The walking stick was extremely helpful to me remaining on my feet in the water, 2) strong, above ankle hiking boots or similar for support and protection. They aren't kidding when they say it is like walking on wet bowling balls. The rocks on the floor of the river are big, smooth and loose; they will move when you step on them. I imagine a lot of the eejits who wear flip-flops end up with sprained ankles, or worse, and lots of abrasions.

I can't speak to the overnight supplies requirements, but I promise you will have a GREAT time. The Narrows is absolutely awesome! When you get back, update this thread and let us know how it went. :)
posted by netbros at 2:32 PM on August 12, 2009

Best answer: My wife and I did the overnight (top-down) hike last September and had a fantastic time. I can't wait to go back with my son when he gets old enough. I'll MeMail you the link to our pictures.

Definitely the walking stick, or even better - a lightweight but strong trekking pole.

I would NOT wear big hiking boots. They would get waterlogged and incredibly heavy and tire you out. We did fine with neoprene socks and old tennis shoes and managed not to turn an ankle. The Zion Adventure Company (who provided our trailhead shuttle) will rent you the canyoneering shoes, which are very popular and provide more support.

Keep your pack light - it will make it so much easier to keep your balance. Take plenty of gallon ziploc bags if you don't have any dry sacks. We were plenty warm enough in our tent with 35 degree sleeping bags. Bring a good water purification system instead of packing in water.

If you have the choice, take the earlier (6:30 AM) shuttle instead of the later (9:30 AM) one. You'll give yourself more time to make your campsite by dark. Speaking of campsites, only some of them can be booked online; some are reserved for in person (and maybe by phone?) at the backcountry desk at the entrance visitor's center.

The first mile of the hike can be skipped by taking the dirt road through the cattle ranch, which is technically tresspassing. But it gets you to the interesting part of the river faster.....

You will be stunned when you first encounter the day hikers below Big Springs the next morning.

Have a great time - I'm jealous. Please do let us know how you fare.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 3:23 PM on August 12, 2009

I forget if it's the Narrows that goes through the river but...

If you're going to be hiking in water, get the special water shoes. You can rent them in the nearby town for a few bucks a day - they are awesome and will prevent blisters/slipping/etc.
posted by lubujackson at 5:38 PM on August 12, 2009

Narrows definitely goes through water lubujackson.

Besides the obvious items about hiking sticks and shoes (I did it in 3/4 height hiking shoes/boot and it was fine), let me add some items about the environment. Keep in mind that due to the narrow 2,000+ foot canyon walls, it gets dark a lot sooner than you would expect. You will want to make sure you reach camp with enough daylight to spare.

Also keep in mind that the depth of the river will vary depending on how much rain they have received. I'm 5'9" and the river was at or below my waist which was perfect since I didn't have to remove my pack to keep it dry (I was only day hiking so I had a smaller pack). If you have a larger pack or you are shorter or the river is higher you might have extra difficulty in keeping your stuff dry. Also I can't speak to the whole route but clearly the river level will determine how much hiking you have to do in the river and how much you can do on shore. The former is obviously a lot slower but there is still scrambling and what not over rocks and boulders on the shore. Lastly about the weather is the danger of flash flooding is real and potentially crazy scary in that narrow canyon. The rain could be far away upstream and effect you. Keep an eye out for weather reports before starting.

Also, no chance in hell your mobile phone is working in the canyon.

Have fun and enjoy yourself.
posted by mmascolino at 7:19 PM on August 12, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all of your great responses. I'm really excited! I'll post an update when we get back.
posted by lbo at 8:03 AM on August 13, 2009

Response by poster: Just wanted to post a few suggestions for anyone who ends up doing this hike. We just got back yesterday and had a fantastic time. The weather at this time of year was perfect. The air temperature was in the 80s, but the water was at right around 60 degrees. It was certainly a shock at first, but I got used to it very quickly and most of the time the water temperature was pleasant.

We opted to rent the canyoneering shoes/neoprene booties and hiking sticks from one of the local outfitters. The rental was worth every penny. I'm not a very sure-footed person even on dry land, but the shoes made me feel much more confident and at times I was surprised at how comfortable I felt navigating over the slippery rocks in the river.

We initially reserved campsite #2 online, but realizing that staying there would make our second day much longer than the first, we were able to change sites when we got to the backcountry desk for one of the camps not available for online reservation. We ended up with campsite #8, which we thought made for a great stopping point. We learned the next morning that it came right before a fairly difficult portion of the river.

Most of the people we encountered along the hike were doing the top down day hike. I'm not the most experienced hiker, so doing all 16 miles in one day would have been a little much for me. As a two-day hike, it was just perfect.

The first day of the hike was actually not terribly challenging. There were a few tricky obstacles, but none that required swimming. The second day was considerably more difficult, particularly navigating long stretches with heavy current and unpredictable depths. We had to swim two or three times, including at one point navigating through old flash flood debris. The great majority of the second day was spent in the water, often up to our waists.

It was a bit surprising toward the very end of the hike to see so many people doing the bottom-up hike in flimsy flip-flops and without any kind of hiking poles. Didn't look like fun that way.

If anyone comes across this question and would like more info, I'd be happy to make suggestions.
posted by lbo at 10:09 AM on September 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

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