The diverse trek through Zion's premier canyon is one of the most touted and breathtaking adventures in America. Extraordinary beauty and unique character describe this amazing gorge. Hanging gardens burst from dramatically colored perpendicular walls while trickling water threads its way through moss covered boulders. Gentle slopes give way to sheer walls funneling streams of water into fluted slides and twisting channels cutting deeper and deeper as the journey continues its path southward. Along the sandy perches of the banks, towering ponderosa send their roots downward, hungry for nutrients and water. The entire trip is wondrous. The Zion Narrows deserves its reputation as one of the best, if not the best, hike in the National Park System.
Zion Narrows at a Glance
The Zion Narrows is a slot canyon and like any slot canyon there is a very real danger from flash flooding. Do not hike this trail if it is raining. Remember a storm far off can trigger a flash flood. Flash flood danger is high.
Trailhead - After setting up transportation, drive toward the east entrance of Zion National Park. From the gate it is 2.5 miles to the turn-off for the North Fork Road. Follow the North Fork Road for 5.5 miles, the next 13 miles to the sign indicating the trailhead will be dirt and gravel. Do not attempt to drive this road after a rain or snowstorm as the clay content makes travel difficult or even impossible. On the way north, Birch Hollow is bypassed at 8.5 miles, Orderville Canyon at 12.5 miles and a wooden bridge crosses the North Fork of the Virgin River at almost 18 miles. After the bridge, turn left onto the less traveled road leading to Chamberlain's Ranch, closing the gate behind you. Drive a little further, taking the left fork in the road to get to the parking area for the Zion Narrows, which is adjacent to the North Fork of the Virgin River. Locate the NPS information sign just above the parking area. The route crosses the river and follows a dirt road for the next 3 miles as it traverses privately owned meadows, sadly slated for development in the future. Through previous agreement with the landowners, the NPS has been able to maintain access to the trail. Please respect the rights of the owners and don't abuse their land by straying from the trail or leaving trash.
Zion Narrows - The road ends and a short beaten path drops into the river. The next 12 miles involves zigzagging in and out of the water so put all valuables into your dry bags. Keep eyes peeled on the right bank, during the next half-mile for a 50' jug handle arch. Beyond the arch, Navajo sandstone walls progressively elevate and several narrow sections begin to suggest the "flavor" to come. Soon, deep side canyons make their entrance and the first of 12 campsites are seen.
Waterfall - A seemingly impassable waterfall is encountered about 7 miles into the hike but walk up the left embankment and pass through the cleft in the rock. Never jump off anything in a canyon. Serious injuries have resulted in the past from hikers plunging from the top of the 20' waterfall into the pool below. As you continue down the canyon , high walls rise on either side and filtered sunrays cast shadows and reflect mystical colored light.
Deep Creek - The confluence of Deep Creek and the North Fork of the Virgin River appear at the halfway point of the hike. The new water from the side canyon almost triples the flow of water in your hiking path as it spills its crystalline, cold contents into the canyon. If you have not used hiking poles yet on this trip, now is the time.
Kolob Creek - Farther downstream Kolob Creek enters from the right and may possibly add yet more flow to the river "trail" depending on whether the Washington County Water Conservancy District is releasing water from the Kolob Reservoir for irrigation purposes or not.
Goose Creek - The next side stream is Goose Creek, which also enters from the right. Big Spring is a picturesque oasis, located just past Goose Creek, where water cascades through lush vegetation and tumbles to the river below.
Big Spring - This is a popular area to take a break and filter water for drinking for the rest of the hike. Nearly 11 miles into the hike, crowds that have hiked from the Riverside Walk start to appear. In this north-south running section of the Narrows the lighting is almost eerie. A glowing spectrum of orange, red and pink seem to radiate from within the rock itself. The most well known of the side canyons, Orderville Canyon, will be on your left, 2 miles down river. Expect this canyon to add a gentle flow of cold water to join the churning water you are now hiking in.
Orderville Canyon - This is a popular route that requires a permit but hikers can explore up the to the plaque at the first waterfall without one. A little over a mile farther Mystery Falls trickles down the steep side wall as the water from Mystery Spring escapes down the smooth rock face. Now with just a quarter-mile of river hiking left, crowds grow larger as curious tourists dabble in a short walk from the end of the Riverside Walk. Take this trail back to the shuttle or your awaiting vehicle depending on the time of year you have chosen to hike.
Orderville Canyon Narrows
Remember slot canyons can change dramatically in a short time due to flash floods and water levels in this canyon change. These directions are only a general reference. Be prepared for variations in the canyon.
Backpacking Permit - A permit is needed for all overnight backpacks in the park as well as any trail that requires the use of technical equipment. Obtain permits at the Zion Canyon Visitors Center or by calling: 1.435.771.0172
GPS Coordinates - WGS84 DatumNorth Fork Road Crosses Over
North Fork of the Virgin River:
Gate at Chamberlain Ranch:
Parking at Narrows Trailhead:
GPS coordinates are only references and may or may not be accurate. Do not rely on GPS coordinates as the sole method of navigation. Always have an accurate, detailed map at hand and have the proper map reading and navigation skills before setting out on any hike. Many of the hikes listed in this guide travel into canyons where a GPS has limited capabilities. Always check your position with a detailed map before dropping into a canyon.
Freestanding Arches in Zion National Park
To post trip reports, offer corrections, updates, or for more information please visit the Zion National Park Forum
Suggested Gear: A sturdy pair of shoes are recommend to hike the trails in Zion National Park. Many quality shoes will help grip the rocks and prevent injury.
Zion National Park, Utah
History of the Thunderbird
This is my new favorite quote:
"I don't know who Tanya Milligan is, but I mean www.zionnational-park.com
It's a better site than the NPS's anyway."
Written by the authors of the book: Favorite Hikes in and around Zion National Park