There's nothing like a National Park introduction that challenges you. Erin and I were about to embark on our second National Park and second hike of the day. Little did we know, we were about to face many difficulties on top of our exhaustion.
In this post, I outline some of these difficulties. This shows that sometimes planning ahead is necessary. There are some stunning views and features to see on this hike. We got to admire much of it, but we missed other parts and could have enjoyed it even more.
Now we are better informed—and you can be, too!
Difficulty #1: Parking In Zion At Midday
Erin and I drove into Zion National Park from the east side along Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. We expected to drive right through and up to the trailhead for the Narrows hike. We had no idea that we needed to park so a shuttle bus could take us to the hike.
With little preparation ahead of time, we drove right through the park and out the other side. We ended up in the town of Springdale. Oops! But where was the entrance to the hike?
We revisited our map of Zion and found the trailhead for the Narrows. It was up a road marked for shuttle-only access. This is Zion's free shuttle service along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Who knew?! So the next challenge we faced was finding parking near the start of the scenic drive. We had to search among hundreds of cars at 2:30 in the afternoon to find a spot.
We got lucky and found a couple of hikers pulling out close to the scenic drive turn-off. But we saw many people had to park far away—adding time, miles, and sweat to their day.
Solution – Consult your map in advance. Arrive in time to catch the first shuttle of the day which comes right after 6AM in summer. There will be plenty of parking then.
Difficulty #2: Reaching The Starting Point
The shuttle takes about 30 minutes from the point it picks you up to the start of the scenic road. Then the Riverside Walk takes another 30 minutes to an hour to reach the launch point for The Narrows.
The drive and the walk are an enjoyable and worthwhile part of the experience. There are plenty of beautiful views along the way.
But we did not expect the extra time it would take to get from parking to the end of the Riverside Walk. So be sure you plan ahead.
Solution – Allow enough time (about an hour) for you to get to the start of the Narrows trail.
Difficulty #3: Improper Gear & Preparation
The trail is demanding physically and in different ways than most hikers experience.
For one, the majority of the trail requires you to wade waist deep in water. Waterproof shoes or shoes you don't care about getting wet are imperative. If you're going from the end of the Riverside Walk, you'll be going against the current. So shoes with laces are best or else your flip flops or slip-ons are going to get pulled right off by the swift waters.
Second, there are basketball-sized boulders (and larger) at the bottom of the river. You have to place each foot down with careful intention as you advance forward. Falling, tripping, stumbling, and generally looking like a waddling toddler is inevitable. All this can be very taxing on the body.
What helps is having a walking stick or hiking pole. You'll want a tall one that will reach as high as your shoulder for the deeper parts of the water. This will help you keep your balance despite the tipping and tumbling rocks below your feet.
If you're lucky like we were, you'll find a bunch of hiking sticks to use left behind at the launch point. Otherwise, you'll be left to fend for yourself. Or you may have to use a tree branch like one guy did...
Solution – Bring your own walking stick. Wear shoes with laces that can get wet or that you don't care will get wet.
Difficulty #4: The Crowds
Like many hikes in Zion National Park, the Narrows is a very popular trail. Go onto Instagram and search for #TheNarrows. You'll find thousands of posts glorifying the amazing views of this hike.
You're not going to be able to completely avoid people on this hike. But you can go at a time of day when the numbers are lower.
Erin and I arrived in the afternoon at about 3pm. It was the hottest point in the day. Many people choose to hit the Narrows after sweaty hikes they do in the morning because this one is in the water. Instead, dress warm and aim to do the hike starting early in the morning.
Alternatively, you can decide to do a longer tour of The Narrows. There are starting points up near the top of the Virgin River. This will get you away from the crowds near the launch point off the Riverside Walk. You'll have fewer hikers the farther up you are.
Solution – Go earlier in the day. Or you can start the hike from somewhere up top where most people don't reach.
Difficulty #5: Realizing You Need At Least 3 Hours
The Narrows hike is as long as 16 miles and can take over 8 hours to hike. The Narrows is a return hike when hiking it from bottom up. This means you hike in as far as you want and then turn back. Most first-time Narrows hikers choose this direction. It's especially useful if they only have a short time to spend in Zion. This was the case for Erin and I.
Many suggest that the "real" views don't start until about 2 hours into the hike. This is where you'll reach "Wall Street." Wall Street is the part where the 2,000-foot sandstone walls narrow to only 20-30 feet wide.
This is where people take most of the infamous Narrows Instagram photos. It's also the point at which most hikers turn back.
Erin and I did not have time to see more than a mile or so of the trail. We used up a lot of time navigating the slippery boulders, taking photos, and dealing with extreme tiredness. After all, we had hiked Bryce Canyon that morning!
If I did this hike again, I would try to allot at least 3 hours. That way I would have time to get to Wall Street and back.
Otherwise, I would opt to get a permit and do it from the top down over 1-2 days. You must make reservations to do the top down hike up to 3 months in advance. When you apply, there is a $5 application fee and then another fee depending on the size of your group. It starts at $15 for 1-2 people.
Campsites along the Narrows will allow you to stay overnight. This may be a good idea if you want to take the Narrows more slowly. But it will also require lots of preparation of both gear and food.
Solution – Decide ahead of time how much of the hike you want to see and at what pace. This will help you determine what time of day you need to start the hike and if you want to do it bottom up or top down.
Although I did not plan for some of the above difficulties, I had an amazing time hiking part of The Narrows.
The views were still awesome. I loved the physical challenge. And Erin and I got to experience one last hiking adventure before she had to return home.