The Zion Narrows is an increasingly popular hike for families in Zion National Park, and for good reason. This walk through the Virgin River Gorge lets visitors see some of the most beautiful parts of the park – dramatic cliffs, hanging gardens and gorgeous colors.
It is also a great hike during the summer months when temperatures in Zion often soar above 100 degrees (F). Hiking in the river is comfortable and fun when it is hot outside. My children (ages 6 and 9) loved playing in the water along the way.
However, successfully hiking the Zion Narrows requires preparation. Flash floods, hypothermia and foot injuries are real dangers on this hike. It is important to know what to expect before wandering in very far – especially with children.
Here is what you need to know before you hike the Zion Narrows with kids:
When to go
Late June through early September will be the easiest time to hike The Narrows with children. The temperatures will be at their warmest and the water levels should be safer after the spring runoff subsides.
Choose a clear day with little danger of rain. Flash floods can occur with little warning, and hikers have been killed by floods. Check with the Ranger Desk at the Visitor Center before you go to get updated information about conditions on the hike.
You can hike the Narrows at other times of year, including winter. You’ll need to contact a local outfitter to rent the right gear, and perhaps go with a guide. You’ll be rewarded with smaller crowds.
Where to go
Take the Zion Canyon shuttle to the last stop, Temple of Sinewava. Hike the 1-mile Riverwalk trail to its end. The Narrows begins at the end of the Riverwalk trail.
The river is the trail. You won’t have to spend all your time in the water, but walking in the river some of the time is unavoidable.
Walk into the river and hike as far as you like, then turn around and come back. It is possible to hike the entire 16 miles of The Narrows with a permit, starting at Chamberlain’s Ranch and finishing at the Riverwalk trail. However, the scenery at the bottom is spectacular, and I have never been disappointed by hiking just 1-2 miles in and out.
If you hope to get into The Narrows before lunch time, arrive at Zion National Park before 9:00 a.m. The parking lot at the Visitor Center will likely be full before 10:00 a.m. It can be a hassle to find parking outside the park, unless you stay in Springdale and ride the town shuttle in.
The shuttle ride from the Visitor Center to the Temple of Sinewava will take about 45 minutes. The Riverwalk hike will take another 20-30 minutes with children. With stops at the Ranger desk and the bathroom, it can take up to two hours just to start hiking the Zion Narrows.
Choose the right footwear and clothing
From the Zion National Park website, “hiking The Narrows is like walking on slippery bowling balls.” I saw several people hiking over the algae covered rocks in the Zion Narrows barefoot, and I’d be amazed if they came out with their toes and ankles intact.
My preferred shoes in The Narrows are hiking boots with good ankle support and socks. However, I and my children have hiked short distances into The Narrows in sport sandals like Tevas or Chacos with good success. The sandals offer less protection, but they will not fill with mud and water, and will dry quickly after the hike. An old pair of athletic shoes is also a good choice.
I dressed my children in their swimsuits, and my husband and I wore shorts and t-shirts. It was at least 100 degrees (F) on the late July day that we were there, and the water was refreshing, especially as the shade in the canyon gave way to the afternoon sun. Bring hats and sunglasses too.
A walking stick can greatly help your stability when walking in the river. If you arrive early (or late), you may find a collection of natural walking sticks at the bottom of the Riverwalk to borrow from. I saw other hikers use trail poles, PVC pipes, mop handles, and wooden hiking sticks purchased from the Visitor Center.
Beware of both hypothermia and heat exhaustion. You may wish to pack layers and avoid cotton clothing, which offers no insulation. If you have any concerns about your gear, local outfitters rent sturdy waterproof boots, wet suits and walking sticks.
What to pack
Bring at least one day pack into The Narrows with the supplies your family will need for the hike. The most important things to pack are plenty of drinking water and high-energy food for each person. Sunscreen is also an essential item.
In late July, the river didn’t rise past my knees, so keeping the packs dry wasn’t much of a problem. However, even experienced hikers can fall on the slippery river bed, so waterproof your pack by lining it with a plastic trash bag, or sealing everything in Ziploc bags.
Other items you may wish to bring include anti-bacterial gel and first-aid supplies. There are no trash cans in The Narrows. Plan to carry out everything you carry in.
Use the bathroom before you go
There are no bathrooms in the Zion Narrows, and on the day we were there, it was so crowded that there was not a private shrub to duck behind. Make sure everyone in your family uses the bathrooms at the Visitor Center or Temple of Sinewava shuttle stop, or both, before you begin the hike.
Enjoy the journey
Unless you are hiking the entire Zion Narrows with a permit, this is a trail with no particular destination or view point that you have to see. It’s all beautiful. So, don’t feel pressure to cover a lot of ground before you turn around and come back.
Our goal was to reach the Orderville Canyon junction with our children, a slow two-hour hike into the canyon. In the end, I doubt we hiked half that distance. My daughter loved finding shallow swimming holes and my son liked playing in the sand. We finally landed in a shady spot next to a huge boulder that was easy to climb and my children played there for at least half an hour before we turned around and played our way back.
My six-year-old son hated the first half of our Narrows hike. He complained that the water was cold and he felt insecure in the river. He was anxious about the unknown challenges ahead. When we decided to stop and play by the boulder, he was determined to remain unhappy for a few minutes, but then could not resist having a good time.
He played in the water and challenged his grandpa (who has hiked The Narrows dozens of times) to race to the top of the big rock. We sweetened him up with granola bars, and talked about the best crossings to take on the way back. Near the end of the journey, he asked Grandpa if we could hike The Narrows again next year.
That’s what I love about hiking the Zion Narrows. It’s not the destination that matters, but the memories we make along the way.
How else can I help?
Need a place to stay? Springdale is closest to Zion and has several good lodging options. St. George, Cedar City, Hurricane or Kanab also make a good base for a trip to Zion and other nearby attractions. Two places I really like are Zion Ponderosa Ranch and Resort on the east side of the park and Coral Springs Resort, just north of St. George. Click the button to check rates and availability for these and other options at TripAdvisor.