I know 2018 is nearly halfway through, but I’m going to go on the record to say: Zion National Park’s The Narrows was my favorite hike of 2018 — and it’s set the bar for all future hiking adventures as a result.
But, first, some background: My love affair with St. George and Zion National Park has been five years in the making. It started with a relatively simple assignment from Travel Mindset back in 2014 to highlight the state parks and outdoor adventures in the area. I spent an unnecessary amount of time selecting photos for the articles — I was too busy ogling the landscapes from every angle and making notes about my own bucket list items. When two of my future co-workers hiked the Narrows in the winter of 2015, I followed every update they had on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (Stories weren’t yet a thing) and read and reread each of their blog posts post-trip. Then, I got a taste of the American Southwest with my first visit to Nevada two years in 2016 followed by a trip to Arizona in 2017. I was getting closer and closer to Utah, and I knew beyond a doubt that I wanted to visit and fully experience the magic of St. George in 2018.
When Travel Mindset announced a winter InstaMeet to St. George I swear I heard angels singing. Finally, it was my turn to go. It’s nearly July and that winter hike is still on my mind, which is exactly why I think it’s more than appropriate to highlight it in full now so that you too can go out and experience the best of Zion.
Why You Should Hike The Narrows in the Winter
I know what you’re thinking: Hiking down a riverbed in the middle of winter sounds absolutely ridiculous. Why would anyone want to do that?
Hear me out.
Zion National Park is one of the most unique national parks in the country, especially if you fall into the outdoor adventure category. When you go to Zion, you’re encouraged to hit the trails, enjoy the overlooks and embrace the magic of great outdoors. It’s an exhilarating place all around.
The hiking trails in Zion National Park are world famous, and it’s because most of them are from average. The infamous five-mile Angels Landing hike lead to the top of the canyon overlooks. Hikers literally have to use chains to traverse the ever-narrowing ledges before scoring that sweet view. The family-friendly Canyon Overlook Trail includes a wooden bridge that juts out of over the canyon below, while the Emerald Pools leads from one fairy-like landscape to the next. You get the picture — Zion is pretty amazing.
Then there’s The Narrows. It’s the most popular hike within Zion National Park, and it’s because the trail itself is literally the Virgin River. As you walk through the riverbed, you’ll be able to take in the magnificent slot canyons that stretch hundreds of feet high on either side of you. As you go deeper and deeper into the slot canyon, the walls become more and more narrow — in some spots only a few feet wide — and the water and its current deeper and stronger.
In the summer, The Narrows is a refreshing reprieve from the desert sun. However, if you do this hike in the summer, I guarantee you won’t be the only one thinking that way, too. By going in February we were able to pretend like we had the entire canyon to ourselves — there were a few times when we looked back and realized we were literally the only people in that section of the canyon. It was glorious.
What You Should Know About The Narrows Winter Hike
When to Go: Due to the current and the threat of flash flooding, hiking The Narrows can be tricky. The National Park Service closely monitors the depth and force of the Virgin River throughout the year to ensure every hiker’s safety. If the water gets too high or the current too strong, the National Park Service will close off the area to hikers. That means that you’ll need to also make plans to double check conditions via the Visitor Center before hiking. Due to rain, April and May prove to be some of the worst times to make the trek. As mentioned earlier, the sheer number of crowds moving into and out of the canyon in the summer can also make the trek a little difficult. Late winter provides the best window of opportunity to make this hike.
What to Pack — and Wear: The temperatures in the canyon usually run at least 15-20 degrees cooler than anywhere else in the park. Add to that the temperature of the water and you can enjoy a pretty brisk hike, especially in the winter months. Luckily, there are plenty of outfitters just outside the park where you can rent gear, including hiking poles and specialty shoes (a major plus for navigating those slippery rocks).
We rented our Star Trek-esque suits from Zion Adventure Company. The Dry Suit Package includes a full dry suit with tight latex along your wrists and ankles to prevent water from getting in, neoprene socks that are purposely designed to allow water in and to keep your feet warm (think SCUBA diving), canyon shoes that also allow water in, and a hiking pole. Additional fleece layers, mittens, and dry bags are also available for rent. All in all, it was about $65 for the full day rental — really reasonable!
Although I was wearing my warmest running leggings and a Patagonia pullover, I opted to rent an additional pair of fleece leggings for the hike. I’ll admit I was pretty skeptical about the water shoes keeping my feet warm, but, together with the fleece, I stayed incredibly warm throughout the hike. In fact, I ended up unzipping my space suit halfway through to remove my Patagonia!
No matter when you go on this hike, I highly recommend you bring along a backpack to store extra water, snacks and your phone/camera. There were plenty of shoreline breaks along the route, and the backpack proved to be extra useful when I opted toss my extra layers into it.
Go with the Flow (Literally): There are two different ways to hike The Narrows: Top Down or Bottom Up. We opted for Bottom Up as it’s recommended for first-timers with limited time in the park. All in all, it can take three to four hours to hike from the parking lot to the famous Wall Street intersection, where the canyon turns from red to silver and the walls are at some of the narrowest.
The best part about The Narrows is you can totally make it your own. Though we started this hike as a group with the InstaMeet St. George crew, Laura, Daniela, and I meandered this hike. It took us about a mile to get our footing (especially for me!) on the rocks and in the water, and we stopped to take photos practically around every corner — every spot felt like a crazy photo moment that just *had* to be documented. When we got about a mile from Wall Street we booked it so that we could really see that “wow” factor literally everyone was telling us about.
Altogether, we were in The Narrows for about an six hours. I truly enjoyed every single moment of it, and I firmly believe there was no way we could have gotten the photos or the memories we did if we had been hiking this route in the summer. We had the entire place to ourselves — and really got to enjoy every aspect of the route. We talked with every hiker on that path that we came across, took photos, and couldn’t stop saying, “This is absolutely amazing. Can you believe this is real?”
How to Get to St. George, Zion National Park and The Narrows
Getting to St. George: St. George is located about two hours north of Las Vegas, and, while there is a regional airport in the city, you’re more likely to find better flight deals in and out of Las Vegas. Although I love flying with Huntsville International Airport, finding a flight out West can be tricky and really expensive, so my friend and I opted for a nonstop flight out of Nashville into Las Vegas. It was relatively painless to grab a rental car from the airport (an anomaly, I’m told) to drive the rest of the way to St. George from there.
Getting to Zion National Park: The national park’s entrance is actually located in the neighboring town of Springdale, and depending on where you stay in St. George, Zion can be anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour away. We stayed near Sand Hollow State Park at Sand Hollow Resort, making the drive time roughly 50 minutes one way. There was a lot of road construction within Springdale, resulting in tons of traffic and congestion going into the park, too. To make sure you have plenty of time to explore the park, plan to get to Zion National Park early (before 8am) and depart a little before sunset to try to escape the traffic leaving the park.
Getting to The Narrows: Unlike other national parks in the area, Zion National Park operates pretty exclusively on a shuttle bus system. Shortly after entering the park, visitors are directed to park in one of the main lots toward the front entrance. From there, you can hop on and off the shuttle bus at several key stops throughout the park. In the winter, when we were visiting with fewer crowds, it was great, but I could see it being extremely tiring to wait at the pick-up locations throughout the park during peak season. Because The Narrows is deep within the slot canyons, it’s one of the last stops. I liked it though — we got to see the towering cliffs and other hotspots through Zion on the way in!
Special thanks to Visit St. George and Travel Mindset for making this trip possible!