Zion is one of those iconic American national parks. According to National Geographic, it’s one of the ten most visited national parks in the U.S. It’s also the oldest and most popular (most visited) park in Utah.
We decided that we needed at least two nights there. I wouldn’t recommend any less. We wanted to do longer trails and had our minds somewhat set on two specific, yet completely different types of hikes. There are plenty of options to choose from, which muddied the waters of decision making. The park also produces a brochure that describes all of the main hikes and denotes the ones that are a “must visit.” There were quite a few. Should we do Hidden Valley instead of Angel’s Landing? Or what about Observation Point that has views looking down on Angel’s Landing? Would The Subway beat The Narrows?
Variety was important to us, so we liked the idea of having a day deep in a slot canyon and a day climbing ridges to have sweeping, panoramic views of the mountains and valleys. In the end, we chose the two most popular/famous hikes in the park. The Narrows and Angel’s Landing. Both had also been highly recommended by friends and family. Matt Gibson couldn’t say enough about Angel’s Landing, and Alan’s dad and sister loved The Narrows. Decision made.
As we were making our way to Zion on a Friday evening, Alan suggested that I call some local outfitters to reserve gear for The Narrows. It’s a canyon river hike where you spend about 80% of the time walking in water at least up to your knees….and that water is COLD. We were told we could rent equipment for the hike in the park, but it didn’t occur to me that we would have to reserve it. It was a good thing I called Zion Adventure Company on Friday. They were able to put aside some dry pants in our sizes and told us to come in to be fitted for boots once we arrived. When we got to the store, there were other couples there also wanting to hike The Narrows the next day, but they couldn’t. No more dry pants. If you’re not in a rush, it might not matter. You could plan to hike The Narrows later the next day or another day. We were ready to get the ball rolling, though.
We bought the cold water dry pant package, which includes dry pants, booties, boots, and a walking stick for $39. Trust me, you need all of these items. The fast flowing river pushes you over uneven rocks, so the stick helps for balance. It saved me from going swimming a few times. It also helps you check the varying water depth, which can suddenly drop without warning. The boots were amazing. Even skeptical Alan, who was frustrated he didn’t bring his gear from home, admitted that the water-hiking shoes were “serious” and “really comfortable.” The dry pants were my obvious choice for necessity. We were hiking in 40-something degree water in 40-something to degree temperatures. I wore four layers and never shed a single one.
We did encounter a few brave (dumb?) souls trudging through the icy cold water in jeans and shorts- running shoes and keds. “Aren’t you cold?” Alan called out to a grim-faced group. “Well, yes, but I can’t feel my feet anymore,” one retorted. No. Thank. You.
The Narrow’s Bottom-Up Trail (which most “casual” hikers take) starts at The Temple of Sinawava, which is also the last shuttle stop in Zion Canyon. The first mile takes you on a easy, paved path along little streams and through hanging gardens. You could push a stroller on this path. Lots of folks were casually strolling along the walkway, which terminates at the river. That’s where we geared-up and jumped in.
Once in the river, you determine your stopping point, although the park has a suggested “turn around” spot where the canyon becomes more technical. Most of the trail is through a broader portion of the canyon, following the river as it meanders and switchbacks through the gorge. There were plenty of photographers playing with their water motion shots. I attempted a few, but using a walking stick as a tripod doesn’t always yield the most professional-quality photo.
After a couple of hours, the canyon starts to narrow significantly. This portion is called Wall Street, and it’s what most people want to see in The Narrows. It’s pretty spectacular, but it’s also pretty shady. Actually, the sun never touched us during the entire hike, but Wall Street was particularly dark. And COLD. The wind whips off the water like a constant air conditioner. I kept thinking, man, this would be so nice on a hot summer day! It was a little challenging for me on a blistery, cold November day. I really enjoyed The Narrows and how distinctly different it was from any hike I’d ever experienced. I had my fill after six hours, though.
Have you ever hiked The Narrows?