Zion National Park, Utah
Hiking the Zion Narrows, the Ultimate Slot Canyon (Part 3)
by Joseph A. Sprince - Photography by Gerald B. Allen
Guide to Hiking the Zion Narrows
The Guide to the Zion Narrows is a resource for those planning to do the hike through the Narrows.
Interactive Map. To use the Interactive Map, place your mouse cursor on any campsite symbol or purple landmark letter. Information for that site will appear in a box. Alternatively, refer to the charts below. The first chart describes the landmarks, points A-N. Distances and times from the start are approximate. The second chart describes the campsites, 1-12. It includes the location of the campground and the maximum number of campers allowed.
Hiking Options. You may hike the Zion Narrows as a through hike, a one-way trip from top to bottom downstream, points A-N on the map. This can be done as a day hike or as an overnight trip with a one night stop at an assigned designated campsite, points 1-12 on the map. Both options require permits from the National Park Service. You may also hike upstream from the bottom up starting at point N on the map. This doesn't require a permit, and upstream travel is permitted only as far as Big Springs, point I. However only very strong hikers would get that far. This option allows you to turn back when you are out of time or energy.
Zion Narrows Landmarks
|A||Chamberlain's Ranch: Trailhead for Zion Narrows Thru-Hike, off of North Fork Road, 18 miles north of UT-9, 1.5 hours from Zion Visitors Center.||0||0|
|B||Bulloch's Cabin: Old cowboy cabin next to farm road. Road ends at river about ten minutes ahead.||3||1+|
|C||First of seven narrows in the North Fork before Deep Creek.||5.5||3.5+|
|D||12 foot waterfall is 250 yards past first campsite. Bypass on left side of stream.||8.5||4.5|
|E||Deep Creek Confluence: North Fork joins with Deep Creek, water volume more than doubles.||9||5+|
|F||Kolob Creek joins river between campsites 5 and 6. Possible to explore up-creek.||9.5||6|
|G||The Grotto: Large rock overhang on right side is campsite 8. Roughly midpoint of hike.||10||6:20|
|H||Goose Creek joins river between campsites 9 and 10.||10.5||6:45|
|I||Big Springs: Large springs on right side. Last good rest spot after difficult stretch and before even more difficult stretch.||11+||7.5+|
|J||Hardest part of hike below short section of narrows. Many pools and obstacles.||11.5||8|
|K||Start of Wall Street, most scenic section. No high ground.||12.5||9+|
|L||Orderville Canyon enters from left. Wall Street ends just downstream.||13.5||10|
|M||Gateway to the Narrows: End of the paved Riverside Walk. Exit from water.||15||11|
|N||Temple of Sinawava: End of the hike. Park shuttle bus stop for return to Visitor Center or town.||16||11.5|
Zion Narrows Campsites
|1||Maple Camp: 250 yards upstream from falls and 10 minutes downstream from park boundary. In shady grove of maples on left.||6|
|2||Deep Creek Camp at Deep Creek confluence on left side of Virgin River.||4|
|3||River Bend: 10-15 minutes past Deep Creek on right at sharp bend.||4|
|4||River Bench: 10-15 minutes past site 3 in maple grove on right bench high above river.||6|
|5||Flat Rock: Small campsite next to large flat rock adjacent to river. 5 minutes before Kolob Creek.||2|
|6||Kolob Creek: Campsite just below Kolob Creek, right side of river on a high, shaded bench.||4|
|7||Boulder Camp: 10 minutes below Kolob Creek. On high bench past sharp bend. Look for side trail off of main trail on bench.||6|
|8||Grotto: In large overhang on right just past site 7. Impossible to miss.||12|
|9||Left Bank: On left about 8 minutes below grotto. Heavily wooded and may be easy to miss.||6|
|10||Alcove: Just below Goose Creek, around bend. On right side just beyond a huge boulder, in an overhang.||6|
|11||Spotted Owl: On left 5 minutes below site 10, on a sunny slope.||4|
|12||High Camp: On left side 20 minutes below site 11 and 300 yards upstream from Big Springs. On high wooded bench, easy to miss.||10|
Hiking Permits and Official Information. The National Park Service issues a limited number of permits to do the Zion Narrows thru-hike and an additional permit for a one-night camping stay in the canyon. Reservations are available for both the hiking and camping permits, and they are strongly suggested, especially for the camping as there are only a small number of campsites. There are fees for both permits as well as for doing a reservation. You must pick up the permits in person on the day of the hike or the day before. If there is a bad weather forecast which might bring flooding to the canyon, the NPS may close the Narrows and not issue your permits.
Below are links for permits and official information.
Directions to Chamberlain's Ranch Trailhead. From the park's East Entrance station, drive 2.5 miles east on Utah Route 9. Turn left on North Fork Road which is paved for the first five miles. Drive 18 miles from UT-9 to a bridge that crosses the North Fork of the Virgin River. (There is a small sign indicating the way.) Turn left beyond the bridge and drive 1/4 mile to the gate of Chamberlain's Ranch. Please close the gate behind you. Drive 1/2 mile further (bear left at a fork in the road) and park just before the road crosses the river. This is the start of the hike. Cross the river and follow the road for approximately 3 miles. Enter the river at the end of the road. Chamberlain's Ranch is a 1.5 hour drive from the Zion Visitor Center. The dirt roads are passable for normal cars only when dry. When wet, they may be impassable even for 4-wheel-drive vehicles. Snow closes the road in winter.
There are several private shuttle services who will meet you at the Zion Visitor Center parking lot and drive you to the trailhead. This is by far the best option, and the per person fee is relatively modest. Advance reservations are recommended.
Recommended Equipment. Having the proper equipment is critical to complete the hike without extensive discomfort or even getting seriously hurt. The most important equipment are the footwear and walking stick.
- Footwear. Conventional leather boots are not usable in the Zion Narrows as your feet will be constantly immersed in the Virgin River. A boot with good ankle support is advised. Due to the rockhopping, sprained and twisted ankles are a very common injury. Five Ten's Canyoneering shoes are a good choice. They have a soft black rubber bottom which offers superior traction over slippery rocks in the river. There are outfitters in Springdale who rent proper shoes and walking sticks. (See Zion Adventure Company and Zion Rock and Mountain Guides, listed above.) Some people wear sandals or other light footwear. This is not advised! They offer no ankle support or foot protection from the rocks.
- Walking Stick. This is the single, most important piece of equipment. It's nearly impossible to cross the river where it is deep and fast flowing without a stick. In the deep, shady canyons you can't always make out the underwater rocks either. You need the stick for balance. It functions almost as a third leg. A thick wooden stick (like a mop or broom handle) is best, so you can lean heavily on it.
- Food and Water. The water in the river and the springs is not potable without being purified - there is a high risk of giardia. It is desert country and extremely dry. The section below Deep Creek Confluence is very warm in the summer. You need to be drinking constantly as it's hard to notice the effects of dehydration (notably fatigue, muscle cramping). Be prepared to drink at least two quarts per day, even more in very hot weather. You also need to bring and consume a lot of food and snacks. The hike is very strenuous, and you will burn a huge number of calories.
- Hat, Sunglasses, Sun Screen. The start of the hike and the section of the Narrows below the Deep Creek Confluence are exposed to the sun. In summer the sun will be very strong, and protection is advised.
- Day Pack or Backpack. A pack is advised for either the day hike or overnight. The inside of the packs should be lined with a trash bag to allow for the possibility of immersion in a deep pool or due to a fall. Cameras and other electronics should be given additional protection. If you are making a deep crossing, it's a good idea to put the camera away in a waterproof bag.
- Trash Bags and Waste Bags. All litter, trash, and human waste are supposed to be carried out of the canyon. Be sure to bring a trash bag. The park service will give overnighters a special bag to carry out human waste. Day hikers can buy the same bag at the Visitor Center bookstore.
- Clothes. The hike is best done with short pants, preferably nylon, and a light shirt. The start of the hike is at a high elevation where it's always cool in the morning. Therefore a thin long-sleeved shirt is recommended. Overnight hikers should carry extra clothes as the canyon can get chilly at night. Unless it is mid-summer (100+°F in Zion Canyon), day hikers may want to carry extra clothes as well (long pants, light sweatshirt). Everyone should carry a small flashlight for use after dark.
Hiking the Zion Narrows - Overview
Hiking the Zion Narrows - Trip Narrative
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Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks are less than two driving hours apart,
so most visitors will cover both parks on the same trip.
From St. George, Utah, go north on I-15 to Utah 9, then east about 30 miles
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and finally east on Utah 12. From Lake Powell, head north on US 89. The junction
with Utah 9 (Mt. Carmel Junction) is about 90 miles distant.
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