How To Hike the Narrows at Zion National Park: A Beginner’s Guide

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Are you planning to hike the Narrows in Zion National Park?  Hiking the narrows is an incredibly unique experience.  That’s what makes it so special, but it’s also why hiking the Narrows for beginners can feel so intimidating!  Beginners can absolutely do the Zion narrows day hike, and this guide has all of the tips you need to know if you’re hiking the Narrows at Zion for the very first time.  Read on for all of my best tips for hiking the Narrows! And if you’re looking to do some more hiking while you’re visiting Zion, you’ll also love these 5 short trails in Zion National Park that are perfect as day hikes, too.

the narrows Zion national park

Things to know when planning to Hike the Narrows at Zion National Park for Beginners

If you’re hiking the Narrows as a beginner, you probably have a million questions!  I was overwhelmed and intimidated when I was planning my Narrows hike.  Now that I’ve done it (and absolutely LOVED it!!!), I put together all of the info you need to know about hiking the Narrows for beginners, along with my best tips for hiking the Narrows.

If you don’t have enough time for this hike while you’re visiting Zion, check out my guide for the best way to spend one day in Zion National Park. And for more details on how to plan your trip, check out these Zion tips and tricks.

Have you already booked your Zion accommodations? If not, here’s the best places to stay in Zion.

tips for hiking the narrows

Pro Travel Tip: These days, travel can be more uncertain than ever. Check for any COVID-related restrictions at your destination, and never travel without travel insurance! I recommend SafetyWing, because they have flexible + affordable insurance plans, and also cover COVID-related impacts on your trip (not all companies do)!

Can a Beginner do the Zion Narrows Day Hike?

 Yes, beginner hikers can absolutely do the Zion Narrows day hike!  Even if you don’t have much hiking experience, you will be perfectly fine hiking the Narrows. 

While it might seem daunting, as long as you have the right equipment and know what to expect, you should have no problems.  Read on for my guide on everything to expect as a beginner hiking the Narrows at Zion National Park!

river in a narrow red canyon

When is the best time of year to hike the Narrows?

 You can hike the Narrows anytime during the year, but the best time to hike the Narrows is in the summer or the fall, typically September or October. 

This is because the water level in the Virgin River tends to be lower during these times of year, so you can go without as much equipment (more on that below).

If you’re planning for the Narrows to be a highlight of your time in Zion, you might want to consider this in your plans, and try to visit Zion in the summer or fall.  Depending on conditions, the Narrows hike can sometimes close in the spring.

hiking the narrows for beginners

Is the Narrows Hike Hard?

 If you’re a beginner planning to hike the Narrows, you’re probably wondering whether or not the Narrows hike is hard.

The Narrows hike is easy-to-moderate.  It is easy because there are no steep inclines or declines, and since it is an out-and-back hike, it can be as long or as short as you want it to be.  

On the other hand, the Narrows is a moderate hike because it’s a unique experience that requires good balance and some specific equipment.  Keep on reading for more info on each of these factors!

hiking the narrows bottom up

How Fit Do you have to be to Hike the Narrows?

 If you’re fit enough to do an average day hike of 2 miles or so, then you’re definitely fit enough to hike the Narrows!  In general, most adults with a moderate fitness level will be fine and enjoy this activity. 

So if you’re a beginner wanting to do the Zion Narrows day hike, don’t worry!  It can seem intimidating, but so long as you don’t have difficulties getting around on a typical hike, you will be fine.

I would recommend NOT hiking the Narrows if you have mobility challenges, or difficulty keeping your balance in general, or when hiking over rocks or uneven ground.

Also, the Narrows is a hike that’s better suited for adults.  I woudn’t recommend the this hike for kids under age 12, especially when water levels are higher.

virgin river running over rocks in Zion canyon

How do you train for hiking the Narrows?

I don’t think it’s necessary to do any specific training for hiking the Narrows, if you’re doing it as a day hike (more on that below).  If you’re a moderately fit adult, you should be fine.

If you DO want to train, I would recommend doing day hikes that are around 5 miles in length, with some uneven terrain.  This will get you in great shape!  I didn’t do any specific training, but I do hike somewhat regularly – although never more than 4 or 5 miles.

Another recommendation for training would be to do some hikes wearing these ankle weights. It will be good practice for hiking through a river where it is more work to lift your feet out of the water!

Make Sure to Check the Current Conditions

If you’re a beginner hiking the Narrows, it is important to be sure to check the conditions for the hike ahead of time.  You can do that the Zion National Park official website.

Depending on the “flow rate” of the Virgin River, the National Park service can actually close the Narrows to hikers.  This happens most often during the spring, when there’s likely to be more melting snow at altitude.  The Narrows closes when the flow rate is over 150 cubic feet per second, and you can check the current flow rate here.

In addition, checking the conditions for the Narrows ahead of time will also show you the relative risk of a flash flood.  When the risk of a flash flood is high, the Zion park service will close the Narrows.  You can check the current risk of a flash flood in the Narrows here.

upstream river hike

How Long Does it Take to Hike the Narrows?

If you hike the Narrows from the Bottom Up (more on that below), the Narrows hike will take as long as you want it to!  The reason why is that the Narrows hike from the Bottom Up is an out-and-back hike, meaning that you can turn around at any point in the hike and head back.

In general, though, the Narrows hike is between 3 and 10 miles long.  Most beginner hikers in the Narrows hike the first 2.5 miles to Orderville Canyon, which is a narrow slot canyon that branches off to the right.  After Orderville Canyon, most visitors turn back.

If you hike all the way to Orderville Canyon and back at an average pace, the Narrows hike will take about 4-5 hours.  Expect to hike about 2.5 hours upriver, and then 1.5 hours on the way back.  The hike back is much faster and easier because you’re hiking with the current of the river, and not against it.

If it’s your first time, Plan on Hiking the Narrows Bottom Up

Before hiking the Narrows, it is important to know that the hike can be done in two directions: from the Bottom Up, or from the Top Down.

The narrows is a slot canyon that runs in a north-south direction surrounding the Virgin River.   When hiking the Narrows, the hike can begin from either the south end to hike bottom-up, or from the north end, to hike top-down.

map of the narrows from Zion guru

image courtesy of Zion Guru

The vast majority of people decide they’re better off hiking the Narrows bottom up, because it can be done as a day hike.  If you’re a beginner, I recommend that you plan to hike the Narrows from the Bottom Up for a few reasons.

First, hiking the Narrows from the bottom up is more flexible, because if you go from the bottom up, you can go as far as you like, and then turn around.   On the other hand, hiking the Narrows from the top down is one-way – so you’ve got to hike the entire thing.

Second, hiking the Narrows from the Top Down is a much longer hike and requires a permit.

view of the virgin river from riverwalk trail

Do You Need a Permit to Hike the Narrows from the Bottom Up?

Hiking the Narrows from the bottom up, on the other hand, doesn’t require a permit – so you don’t need to make a reservation in advance.

Plan to begin the hike first thing in the morning

If it’s your first time hiking the Narrows, I recommend that you plan to start first thing in the morning.  Try to arrive at Zion in time to take one of the first few shuttles all the way up to Temple of Sinawava, the last stop on the shuttle route.

I recommend getting an early start because it will be way, way less crowded.  With fewer crowds, you’ll get to experience more of the true feeling of being out in nature.

When I went, I started around 8:00am.  There were a handful of other hikers around me during most of the morning, so I felt very safe, but the peace and quiet was part of the beauty.

By the time I finished the hike, though, there were SO MANY people making their way up the river.  It was a completely different feel.  So plan on getting an early start to hike the Narrows, and you’ll be glad that you did.

Tips for Hiking the Narrows: What Equipment do Beginners Need?

If you’re looking for tips for hiking the Narrows as a beginner, it is important to know that you’ll need specific equipment.  When I was planning to hike the Narrows, this totally stressed me out – but don’t worry, I promise that it’s really easy!

There are three essential pieces of gear for hiking the Narrows: waterproof boots, neoprene socks, and a walking stick.  If the water levels are high, you may need more than this, but your equipment rental store will help you with this.

Since you’ll be going upriver, you will need equipment that keeps you as warm and dry as possible.  Narrows hikers typically use waterproof hiking boots and neoprene socks.  Your feet will still get wet, but they won’t get cold and soggy like they otherwise would if you tried to use regular hiking boots and socks.

The Virgin River is COLD!  So make sure to stay as comfortable as possible by having the right equipment.

The other key pieces of Narrows hiking gear are a walking stick and, depending on the season and water level, waterproof pants and bib.

Zion narrows hiking equipment

Do I really need a walking stick?

In terms of tips for hiking the Narrows, yes, you definitely need a walking stick to hike the Narrows!  Every single person I saw when I was hiking has one, and with good reason.  The current in the Virgin River can be strong, and the riverbed is rocky.  So the walking stick will help you navigate the uneven surface and help you keep your balance.  Don’t go without a walking stick!

Depending on what time of year you visit Zion National Park, you will need different equipment.  If you hike the Narrows in the spring, you’ll need waterproof gear that will allow you to walk through water that can be waist-high in places, including waterproof pants with a bib that you wear over your own pants.

On the other hand, if you go in the fall months, the water levels are much lower, and you’ll only need waterproof boots and socks.

But don’t worry about trying to decide what equipment you need for yourself ahead of time!  The equipment rental place will tell you exactly what you need to rent based on the current conditions at the Narrows.  Read on for more details on the best place to rent Narrows hiking equipment.

Where to Rent Hiking Equipment for the Narrows

The best place to rent equipment for hiking the Narrows is at Zion Outfitter.  The reason I like Zion Outfitter is because of its location.   Zion Outfitter is the closest location to the entrance at Zion where you can rent gear.  It is literally STEPS outside of the entrance to Zion National Park.

Renting equipment immediately outside of the park entrance made it SUPER easy to just walk in to Zion National Park and jump on the first visitor shuttle to get to the Narrows.

The good location also comes in handy at the end of the hike!  If you’re a beginner hiker, you will probably be pretty tired by the time you finish.

hiker in Orderville Canyon

I promise that you’ll be very ready to get out of your wet equipment!  Having Zion Outfitter be the first thing you see when you exit the park means that you can ditch everything and change back into your regular clothes as quickly as possible.

The other reason that I liked renting equipment at Zion Outfitter is because they also had lockers right there for hikers.  It’s a great place to store your regular shoes and anything else you don’t need for the hike.

One more thing – Zion Outfitter also had bathrooms nearby that were modern and clean!  This should not go unrecognized.  Read on for more details about what to do if you have to go to the bathroom while hiking the Narrows!

Do You Need to Reserve Narrows Hiking Equipment in Advance?

 When I visited for the first time, I was totally stressed about having to make a reservation to rent the equipment in advance.  But truthfully, this isn’t necessary!

I would only recommend making a reservation to rent Narrows hiking equipment if you’re visiting Zion during a holiday weekend.  If not, you will be able to just show up that day and rent the gear – especially if you get there first thing in the morning!

Plan to Pack these Essentials

Beginner hikers should plan to pack a few key items with them.  First, make sure to pack plenty of water!  I recommend bringing a hydration pack so that you can drink your water hands-free – read below for more details on what you should look for in this kind of backpack for the Narrows.

Tips for Hiking the Narrows: What to Pack

Here is everything that should be on your packing list for the Narrows:

  • A hydration backpack to hold water – read below for my favorite choice for this hike
  • Sunscreen is a must!  Don’t forget to reapply.
  • Snacks that are high in protein and fat to keep up your energy!  I recommend this trail mix.
  • A waterproof case for your phone that’s on a lanyard.  I like this waterproof case because it comes in a pack of 2, is less than $10 and won’t leak!  You don’t really need a full dry bag, but a this waterproof case for your phone will come in handy.  It’s such a beautiful hike that you’ll be taking plenty of photos, and you won’t want to risk your phone getting wet.
  • A hat to block the sun.  Any baseball cap or lightweight hiking hat will be fine.

Don’t forget to read my complete guide on things to pack for Zion National Park! It’s got an entire list of everything you should bring to Zion, including clothing, equipment, toiletries, and hiking gear.

Why It’s Important to Bring a Guidebook to Zion

I also recommend bringing a guidebook with you to Zion. Why? There’s limited cell phone service in Zion National Park, so you may not be able to use your phone for directions! Here’s the guidebook I have, which I loved for its bonus section on Bryce Canyon!

slot canyon

The Best Backpack for Beginners Hiking the Narrows

If you don’t have much experience hiking, you may not already have a backpack that carries water – otherwise known as a Camelbak.  I highly, highly recommend that you get one of these hydration backpacks.

These are much easier to use than putting a waterbottle in a backpack, because the mouthpiece hangs directly in front of you while you’re hiking, so you can sip on water in a way that is much more hands-free.  It’s a game-changer!

Why It’s Important to Have a Hydration Backpack

Why is it important to have the right backpack for doing the Zion Narrows day hike?  Your hands will be occupied holding on to a walking stick and keeping your balance.  It will be so much easier to sip from a Camelbak than to take your backpack off, take a waterbottle out, open it, put it back, and so forth.

The current in the Virgin River can be strong in places, so if you’re a beginner hiker, you may want the added ease of hiking with a Camelback instead of a water bottle.

Here’s exactly what you should buy!  I can’t recommend this Camelback backpack enough for hiking the Narrows.  I love it because it’s lightweight, but has enough capacity for water for one person for this hike.

In addition, this camelback backpack has enough pockets that you can carry snacks and other essentials that you’ll need when you hike the Narrows.  In addition, it can store extra layers of clothing that you will undoubtedly remove as it gets warmer during your hike.

If you want a less expensive option, I recommend this one, which has very similar features and is only $23!

Wall Street at the narrows

What to Wear When Hiking the Narrows

 What to wear when hiking the Narrows is important to plan in advance!  One of my best tips for hiking the Narrows is to wear layers.

Keep in mind that you’ll be in a very thin slot canyon during this hike.  That means that there won’t be much direct sunlight until mid-day.  And the Virgin River is COLD!

But once the sun comes out, it will heat up really quickly if you’re hiking the Narrows during the spring, summer, or early fall.  So there will be a big range of temperatures during your Narrows hike, and it’s important to plan accordingly.

In general, I recommend wearing warmer layers that you can take off and put back on if you need to.  If you’re going the Zion Narrows day hike when the water levels require you to wear waterproof pants and a bib, plan on wearing comfortable pants underneath.

My Zion Narrows Outfit: Exactly What I Wore to do the Zion Narrows day hike

When I hiked the Narrows bottom up, I did it during the spring, when water levels at the Virgin River were relatively high.  I knew that the water levels were high enough that I would need to rent waterproof pants with a bib, so I planned my Zion Narrows hiking outfit around this.

I wore my favorite black yoga pants on the bottom.  The waterproof pants and bib I rented fit easily over these. 

On top, I wore my favorite comfortable sports bra and a fitted workout tank top.  Over this, I layered a thermal long-sleeve shirt (similar one here) and my Patagonia nanotech zip up jacket (here’s a $40 version of this jacket!).

narrows in spring

I love this jacket because it is lightweight but SUPER WARM.  It is incredibly squishable and can roll up to fit in a large pocket.  I also wore a baseball cap to protect myself from the sun.

On the beginning of the hike around 7:30am, it was a little chilly and I was glad that I had all of the layers.  But for the last hour of the hike around noon, I removed the jacket and long sleeve shirt, and was hiking in my tank top.  So layers are key!

Is it safe to hike the Narrows solo?

 If you’re traveling to Zion for the first time by yourself, you might be wondering if it is safe to hike the Narrows alone.  Yes, it is perfectly safe to hike the Narrows solo!  In fact, I went by myself, and I never felt uncomfortable or unsafe.

At every point during the hike, there were at least a handful of other people and groups around me, so I knew that if anything happened, I wouldn’t be isolated.

Orderville Canyon

What if you have to go to the bathroom when you’re hiking the Narrows?

When I was planning my hike to the Narrows, I kept wondering what you were supposed to do when you had to go to the bathroom.   And I couldn’t find an answer anywhere!  It was as though nobody wanted to address this very practical question!

So here it goes – a very personal tip for hiking the Narrows.

First and foremost, try to avoid going to the bathroom in the Narrows if at all possible.  Plan your coffee and pre-hike bathroom stops accordingly.

If you absolutely cannot avoid going to the bathroom, you will need to find a large rock to duck behind where you can do your business.  If you have to pee, go in the river itself.  Dilution is the solution!

For, ahem, solid waste – you will need to pack this out with you!  So if you think you might have to go, bring a solid waste bag so that you can leave no trace behind (sorry for the pun).

There you have it – all of my best tips for hiking the Narrows! If you don’t have this much time while you’re in Zion, check out my post on what to do in Zion National Park in one day.