Zion: Hiking the Virgin River Narrows
Our last day near Zion had us checking off our final want-to-do item: hiking the Virgin River narrows. For context, Zion Canyon is sort-of the opposite of the Grand Canyon. In the Grand Canyon, the park entrances are on either rim (north and south), and you spend your time exploring the rims or (if adventurous) you traverse down into the canyon. At Zion, the park is in the canyon itself, which is formed by the Virgin River. And at the top (north end) of Zion Canyon, the river flows in a deep narrow slot canyon.
To get to the narrows you take the Zion shuttle bus to the last bus stop, Temple of Sinawava. We hiked the “dry” portion of this three years ago and it is worth doing. No gear required. Technically you don’t need special gear for the narrows hike, but you’ll get very wet and the water is very cold. We rented dry pants, walking sticks, and water boots with neoprene booties from Zion Adventuring Company (ZAC). This was our second time working with them; three years ago we hired them for a shuttle for our one-way east rim hike](https://chrisbrooks.org/blog/2018/04/19/zion-east-rim-to-observation-point/).
We had another 7am shuttle pass so were in very light crowds as we hiked from the bus stop to the start of the narrows. Starting early is so key at places like Zion. Smaller crowds, cooler weather, and more wildlife. For the first 30 minutes in or so in the narrows I think we saw a total of about 12 other people. As we exited the narrows in the early afternoon we would see 12 people every 50 feet or so.
The water was pretty deep in places, at time deep enough that we wished we had rented the full waders from ZAC and not just the pants. It was slow going at times, especially for Julie as she doesn’t have as much experience as I have wading through rough waters. The hike is a mix of rocky trails on the side of the canyon and straight walks through the river in parts where there’s no dry land.
Our highlight was the side hike up Orderville Canyon. We had to ourselves for the entire hike up the canyon and it was no less scenic than the main canyon. At times it was even prettier because of the exposed rock shown by the lower water flow.
On the way back down the main canyon we found a sunny spot to setup a nice hot picnic lunch. Carrying the Jetboil was a big win and we both enjoyed the warmth and tasty noodles (for Chris) and rice (for Julie).
The only downside was my inadvertent swimming adventure when we were about a mile from being out of the narrows. I was watching a young boy cross and I could see the water was up to about his hips, so it looked OK to me. Either a took a bad path or he was actually swimming for part of it because I sunk fast and was floating. I rolled to my back and kicked to paddle across to shallower water. I got there quickly but the damage was done: water in the pants, upper parts of me (including backpack) were pretty wet. It made for a cold walk out but it was sunnier the closer we got to the mouth.