Posts in this series
  1. Zion Narrows - Day 1
  2. Zion Narrows - Day 2

The Narrows is a section of the North Fork of the Virgin River where the river has carved down through the sandstone to create a uniquely narrow and deep canyon. In places 25′ (7 m) wide and 600′(180 m) deep. Located in Zion National Park, folks can get to The Narrows from either the bottom-up or from the top-down.

The bottom-up is a day hike, requires no permit, and gets you to “Wall Street,” the most dramatic part. But you’ll be sharing this with dozens of folks and you’ll only experience a short section of the canyon. The top-down gets you less people and you get to see the whole progress of the canyon, but it does require advance planning for hiking permits and campground reservations. You can do the top-down in a day, but we didn’t want to feel pressed for time, so we reserved a campsite inside the canyon.

We also rented canyoneering boots and hiking poles from Zion Adventure Company, which you just have to have. We also took their shuttle to the top-down dropoff point of Chamberlain Ranch.

I’m not sure there’s an equivalent to The Narrows, certainly not in the US. The drama of the sandstone & river, the experience of hiking in the river, the evolution of a small lazy creek to a river that cut through sixty stories of rock — all this makes it a trip of a lifetime.

10 Sept 2015

For the first hour hiking, we wondered if the van dropped you off on the right creek. We started at 11:30 walking on a dirt road in a wide valley with the North Fork of the Virgin River far to the other side of cattle pastures — looking utterly nothing like Zion Canyon. It was hot at 90°F with nothing in the sky to hide the sun. We had spent the last hour & a half riding the shuttle van from Springdale, so the leg stretching was welcome. We were a dozen in the van, but six of us decided we’d stay together: (Christy & Thad, Jo & Kylie, and H & myself).

As we walked the valley narrowed and the river got closer but it still didn’t feel like Zion. Then an hour into it, we touch our first sandstone outcrop. The canyon begins. It felt good to finally get some shade and get our neoprene boots wet.

This first part of the canyon, although beautiful, is not unique. Like others in Utah, the canyon walls narrow then widen, always rising. The first difference this has with other canyons is the flowing water. In most Utah canyons you walk in the dry creek bed with little to no sign that water ever flowed. Although for this canyon sometimes we walked in the stream, other times we walked on the sand — water was always present. At 13:30 we ducked into a small side canyon for lunch.

The second difference between the North Fork of the Virgin River and other canyons is that the Virgin just keeps getting deeper. At 14:50 we felt the sun for the last time. The hot day had moderated into a good walking temperature.

We reached the waterfall at 16:20 — a path goes through the rock around the waterfall, so you don’t have to worry about dealing with the 12 foot drop. And after the waterfall the canyon started to get remarkably deep.

At this point, however, the river is still just a stream. Even when the walls narrow, the water is just comes up to your ankles and doesn’t seem to be in too much of a hurry.
Undulating walls

Undulating walls

The river receives a big boost with the water from Deep Creek. We got to the confluence at 17:15 and we could sense a change: the water ran deeper, swifter, and louder. And while the canyon walls widened and large trees grew on the rocky sand banks where Deep Creek flowed in, soon it again narrowed and the close walls amplified the sound of river’s rush.

We reached our campsite (#5, Ringtail) around 18:00. It’s just an incline of sand and trees perched between the river and the vertical canyon wall, but it was home for the night.
Virgin Narrows Camp Area Site 5

Virgin Narrows Camp Area Site 5

The deepest and most remarkable part of the canyon lay in front of us for tomorrow. You can do The Narrows as a day trip up from the bottom, but when doing the overnight from the top (like we were), you only encounter a handful of hikers while in the canyon. And late in the day everyone eventually peels off into their own campsite. So you greet the dusk with only your little campsite group, and feel like you have the whole canyon to yourself.