A Stunning Two Days. For experienced backpackers visiting Zion, the Narrows makes for a very nice one-night backpack trip. Breaking up the 16-mile hike into two shorter sections allows you lots of time to bask in the grandeur of this incredible place. You'll have time for photographs, swimming, side-canyon exploration, and you won't have to leave camp at 5:30 AM to catch the Chamberlains shuttle!
Through-hiking is most enjoyable with a light pack. Since you shouldn't hike The Narrows with rain in the forecast, you don't really need a tent, right? Do you really need to cook hot food, or can you assemble fuel-free feasts? Go easy on the "extras," and you can hike nimbly and easily down the river.
Overnight permits can be hard to get on holiday and summer weekends, so learn the permit procdures and act early. You must arrange a car spot or shuttle reservations for the trailhead at Chamberlains Ranch.
Hikers at Chamberlains Ranch TrailheadGetting to the Start Your Narrows overnight trip begins at Chamberlain's Ranch, a small (by western standards) ranch on the North Fork of the Virgin River managed by the Chamberlain family, where they still run a few cows during the summer. It is about an hour and a half drive from Springdale to Chamberlain's, on a dirt road that is often heavily wash-boarded. Folks in passenger cars unused to driving dirt roads will find this challenging, and might take quite a bit longer to drive this stretch. The dirt road crosses clay soils and is impassible after rain or snow – even for 4WD vehicles. Paid shuttles to Chamberlain Ranch are available through outfitters in Springdale. When you remember it takes 3 hours to fetch the car at the end of a through hike, it often makes the cost of a paid shuttle seem much more reasonable. Driving Directions to Chamberlain's Ranch From Springdale, drive north into the park, then east through the Mt. Carmel tunnel to the East Entrance of the Park. Continue on Highway 9 2.3 miles east of the East Entrance, turn left (N) on the North Fork Road. This road is initially paved but turns to dirt at the Ponderosa Ranch, at 5.4 miles. Continue on the dirt road another 11.4 miles to the only bridge crossing a river. (Total mileage from Highway 9 is 16.8 miles). Turn left at the T, then left again and follow ¼ mile to the Chamberlain Ranch main gate. Enter and close the gate. Continue down the road, then follow the posted instructions for parking.
From the Trailhead...
Follow the small dirt road across the river and then west along the river. The North Fork is small here, and perhaps is better referred to as a stream. You are a guest on the Chamberlain Ranch – please stay on the trail and don't harass the cows. In an hour, the collapsing Bulloch Cabin is passed and the road ends as the canyon becomes a gorge.
The Bulloch Cabin was built in the 1890's, when the head of the North Fork was farmed in the summer by several families, and trees were logged and milled for delivery in the region. The families wintered over in Cedar City.
From here, the second of many stream crossings is made – the water is quite nippy early on a summer morning. Continue down the canyon, frequently crossing the stream, as the canyon becomes deeper and more interesting. This part of the hike can be quite hot in summer, so an early start is recommended. Another hour of hiking takes one to Simon Gulch coming in from the north, and the first real narrows section. An hour or less past Simon Gulch, the first designated campsite appears. Campsites are discretely marked by carsonite posts with decaled numbers.
What is a narrows? There is no formal definition, but usually any canyon with vertical rock walls that are at least twice as high as the canyon is wide is a narrows. If the walls are close enough to be both touched at the same time (about 5 feet), then it is a "slot canyon".
Shortly afterwards, the mighty North Fork Waterfall is found, where rocks and trees have dammed the river, creating a twelve foot (4 meter) waterfall. There is an easy slot to the left (left looking down-canyon) that bypasses the waterfall. Do not be tempted to jump the waterfall – while the pool downstream from the falls is 6 feet deep, the water directly below the falls is only about a foot deep. More than one leg has been broken at this spot.
Continuing downcanyon, the hiker arrives at the confluence with Deep Creek in about 45 minutes. This is a major confluence, and hard to miss. The water of Deep Creek usually runs clear, and this is a good place to filter water for the journey ahead. Campsite 2 is tucked in the woods nearby. Ten more campsites are carefully sited in the next 2.5 miles from here to Big Springs. Prior to arriving at Deep Creek, the hiking is relatively easy, and a good pace can be kept. Below Deep Creek, much of the hiking is in the river, and picks its way around and through obstacles – so the pace slows considerably – for some, almost to a crawl. Travel times are given for the average fit hiker – many people will not be able to go this fast.
The river dominates and the gorge becomes more intense. Short sections of narrows are interspersed with pocket forests on one or both sides of the river. Pick your way downcanyon, staying on established paths when possible, or wading the edges of the river. Forty-five minutes below Deep Creek, Kolob Canyon comes in on the right, usually dry. A brief trip up the canyon makes for an interesting side-trip, but the really nice stuff is several hours up Kolob.From Kolob, it is about an hour to the next major canyon coming in on the right, Goose Creek. A lovely sand-floored alcove on the right – The Grotto, campsite #8 – is about halfway through this section, and is one of the nicest campsites.
Of the several options for side-canyon exploration, Goose is the most interesting side trip in the Upper Narrows. It comes in as a narrow, swampy canyon with a small flow, and is easily missed. Hiking upcanyon, the source of flow is found in about 20 minutes, and interesting narrows continue upcanyon a ways. Travel up the canyon is blocked by a 60-foot dryfall after about an hour's walk. The light in the afternoon can be remarkable. Watch out for quicksand.
Goose Creek is designated as a Research Natural Area, and even the easily accessible lower section might be restricted in the future.
Big Springs and Wall Street Corridor
A half-hour below Goose Creek, Big Spring bursts out of the wall on the right. There may be poison ivy on either side of the canyon in this area – keep watch. Big Spring marks the end of the Upper Narrows, and this is a good place to water up. Just up-stream from Big Springs is a short, pretty slot canyon called Corral Hollow. It makes for a nice, 10-minute side trip.
The section of The Narrows below Big Spring is the most spectacular and continuous in the entire canyon, running almost uninterrupted for two miles. All campsites are above Big Spring for good reason – this long section of narrows offers no escape. Overnight hikers enter this section – the most dangerous in flashfloods – in the morning of their second day, when thunderstorms are least likely to strike.
Hiking is mostly in the river from this point onward, with steep walls close together. This dramatic section of wall to wall water is known as the Wall Street Corridor. Murky water allows seeing only a few inches into the flow – ski poles or walking sticks can come in real handy. Continuing downcanyon, the intrepid canyoneer starts to meet dayhikers coming up from the Temple of Sinawava. The next landmark is more than two hours downcanyon – Orderville.
Orderville enters as a spectacular twisting corridor on the left. It often has a stream coming out of it, sometimes muddy, sometimes aromatic. Orderville is a great side-canyon to explore as far as time allows. It offers a couple sunny spots, and respite from the rushing-water sound of the North Fork in The Narrows. Many parties will want to walk a few minutes up Orderville to have lunch.
From Orderville down, the crowds thicken and The Narrows become less continuous. The canyon twists and turns, creating marvelous alcoves. The through-hiker will notice the canyon shows considerable wear and tear, where the heavily-used hiker trails have torn up the fragile desert environment. All the more reason to stay on trails close to the waterline, rather than climbing over the hills and contributing to the erosion.
After a few turns of the canyon, a lovely 120 foot (40 meter) waterfall marks the mouth of Mystery Canyon. This is Mystery Falls, the marker that says the end is near. Another 15 minutes, and a stone veranda appears on the left, along with trappings of civilization such as signs, a pile of hiking sticks and a paved trail. Hike one mile (1.4 km) on the paved trail to the Temple of Sinawava, bathrooms, benches, trash cans, and the shuttle bus stop.
A printable canyon descriptionand map you can take with you.
Have all Zion's classic canyonsin one convenient book.
Zion: Main Canyon and East Side
Click on any map to browse a larger view,then right-click to save and print.
Zion: The Narrows & Orderville Canyon
Zion: The Narrows (middle section)
Deluxe maps are available in two formats:
• 1 Mb files in the Map Download Center, designed for printing on 11" x 17" paper • Canyoneering Maps for Purchase in the Canyoneering USA Store. Printed maps are 13" x 19", nicely presented on 24 lb. white paper.
Zion NP, The Narrows and Orderville
The Narrows was my first Zion canyon, in October 1986, bottom up; without anything warm on my feet, however, I did not get very far. After moving to Utah, a top-down Narrows run with fellow BDer Stan Brown was my new intro to Zion, circa 1996. Since then, I have spent a lot of time in the Narrows, mostly while exiting technical canyons and mostly at night, but have hiked it as a backpack trip twice, and as a one-day run-through maybe only one more time. It is still a favorite place to wander up on a hot summer day.
***The Narrows is a beautiful and popular hike, but hikers must be aware of floods.The river floods regularly; here are some stories of hikers caught in flash floods.***
From Zion: Canyoneering by Tom Jones:
September 17, 1961 – Flooding in Zion: The Narrows
Thunderstorm-induced flooding produced the largest flood recorded in 25 years. Unfortunately, it found 26 members of the Scotowa Expedition hiking the North Fork Narrows. Twenty-one eventually walked out, but five were swept to their deaths.
September 5, 1965 – Flash Flooding in Zion: The Narrows
Labor Day weekend, 1965, found parties from Los Angeles, Provo and Salt Lake City enjoying overnight trips in The Narrows. Massive rains early Sunday morning flooded the canyon. Over the next two days, all 42 hikers eventually made it to safety, but only after many anxious moments, making their way down the flooded river.
June 3, 1973 – Search and Rescue in The Narrows
After 32 hours, a three-man scuba rescue team located stranded hikers Bob and Harry Pattison in the depths of a very flooded Zion Narrows. Stranded for 5 days, the Pattison's had found high ground and stayed put, though by the time rescue arrived they were cold and hungry. Evacuation down the river was effected with the assistance of a rubber raft and ropes.
1992-437 - Zion (Utah) Rescue – The NarrowsJust after 1:00 p.m. on August 11th, Michael N. of El Toro, California, reported that his wife, 47, and his son and two daughters, all in their mid 20s, were in trouble in Zion Narrows and needed assistance. The family planned a one night campout in the Narrows over August 9th and 10th; they'd hiked about ten hours the first day, but had not quite reached the park boundary, four miles from the trailhead. They camped, then continued downstream on Monday, the 10th, but covered less than four miles. During the hike, N. and his wife had become separated from the rest of the family because of flash floods. N's wife, who weighed 230 pounds and was taking medication for her heart, began having cardiac problems and injured her leg. N. hiked out through the rest of the Narrows on Tuesday without seeing his children, and reported the situation to rangers.
While arrangements were being made to secure a helicopter, the son hiked out of the Narrows to report that his two sisters had returned to help their mother. In doing so, one of his sisters had fallen and apparently broken her tailbone, so was now unable to hike out on her own. FIREPRO personnel Eric Lutz and Koby Barnhurst were dispatched to the trailhead to hike downstream to the three women, and reached them despite considerable difficulty with flash floods. They spent the night with the N.'s, providing food and water and assessing their medical situation. At the time of the report, plans were to get the party to the top of Narrows canyon so that they could be airlifted from the area if necessary.
2000-647 - Zion NP (UT) - Rescue – The NarrowsOn October 11th, an air and ground search was begun for a four-person party that was overdue from an overnight trip through the Narrows. Rain caused the Virgin River to increase in flow from 50 to 250 cubic feet per second. A search helicopter located the party that afternoon in the Narrows section of the river's canyon near the exit of Mystery Canyon. Ground searchers contacted the party and escorted them out of the canyon. The foursome stayed on an isolated area of high ground within the canyon until the river flow dropped to a level that they could manage.
2002-164 - Zion NP (UT) - Rescue – OrdervilleRangers evacuated an injured hiker from the Narrows on May 7th. At approximately 3:55 p.m., the park dispatch office received notification of an injured hiker in Orderville Canyon. The park SAR team found Chris E., from Spokane, Washington, with an injured ankle and unable to walk. They splinted his ankle, placed him on a litter, then put him in an inflatable rescue raft for evacuation from the Narrows. The rescue effort was completed at 9:45 p.m.
E. had been day hiking in the Narrows and was exploring the lower reaches of Orderville Canyon when he jumped down and injured his ankle. He was not wearing sturdy footwear with good ankle support, as is recommended for hikers in the Narrows. The inflatable rescue raft was designed and built especially for Zion National Park for rescues such as this one. This incident marked the first use for the new raft; members of the SAR team were very pleased with its performance.
Felicia Bicknell, Bogley Trip Report, 7/14/08
Felicia Bicknell, Bogley Trip Report, June 2009
Zion Adventure Company specializes in Narrows Rentals, Chamberlain's Ranch Shuttles and general Narrows information. Since they outfit so many folks for The Narrows daily, they have a strong sense of current conditions from the reports they hear when folks return their equipment.
Joe Braun, Joe's Guide to Zion - The Narrows from Joe's perspective.