Recently, I took a week off work and hopped in an RV with my parents and my 3 siblings and embarked on a 5-day long road trip that would span 1300 miles. There were ups, there were downs, and there were moments where I was grasping for sanity. However, I got the chance to visit Zion National Park which quickly became one of the most beautiful national parks I have ever visited.
We had three main stops on this road trip. We stopped at Redstone, CO which ended up being more of a pit stop with a promise to return some other time. We stopped at Arches National Park, this was my second time visiting and you can read about the highlights of this park here. Lastly, we made our way to Zion National Park on the far side of Utah.
This park is truly a treasure. Even entering the park is akin to visiting a secret garden or finding Narnia. The main entrance is tucked away in a canyon and to enter you have to drive through a mile long tunnel built in the 20’s. The tunnel is dark; only lit by the occasional windows cut out of the side of the mountain, giving short peeks at the glory you are eagerly waiting to witness. It truly does feel like a magical time warp traveling to your final destination and punctuated by an explosion of light and scenery at the end of the mile that leaves you breathless.
We had a limited amount of time at the park so we had to pick and choose what we wanted to visit and at the top of our list was The Narrows.
The Narrows a riverbed in the narrowest section of Zion Canyon and is characterized by thousand foot high walls and ice cold water ranging from ankle to waist deep. There are two options to hike The Narrows, bottom-up or top-bottom. I will speak more to bottom-up because that is the no permit option that my family opted to do.
This hike was one of the most unique hikes I have ever had the pleasure of doing and I highly recommend it. That being said, this isn’t a hike for younger children or older adults. It’s hard on your ankles, knees, feet and you will be absolutely exhausted by the end of the hike.
Some of my advice to make the most out of the hike:
I get it, I was doubtful at first too. “The boots I brought will be fine! Why should I waste money on boots that look like Tron costume rejects?” The water is COLD. Your feet will go numb and you will hurt yourself. The shoes and the neoprene socks available at Zion Outfitter (located right next to the visitor center) will keep your feet from going numb and ultimately save you some major grief. They won’t keep your feet dry, it might feel like you are walking on jellyfish, but you’ll be able to feel your toes. You also get a walking stick with the shoes and socks. Do not underestimate the stick. My walking stick saved my ankles more times than I can count. It was SO necessary. Get.the.stick.
Get up early
Set the alarm, have a cup or 3 cups of coffee and plan to be on the first shuttle of the day (at 7:00 am). My family didn’t get to the shuttle until around 9:00 and it was my biggest regret of the trip. We waited in line for the shuttle for at least 30 minutes and by the time we got to the trailhead, the river was overflowing with people. It came close to ruining the experience for me. Get there early, beat the crowds, and enjoy your hike.
Zion National Park opened in 1919 and quickly became very popular. By 1997 over 2.4 million people were visiting annually and the park was struggling with how to handle the traffic. So in 2000, the majority of the park was closed to personal cars and the shuttle system was established. Now, you enter the park and park your car and use the shuttles to get to all the hikes and sightseeing areas around the park.
To get to the trailhead for the Narrows you will get on the Zion Canyon shuttle and ride it to the last stop, the Temple of Sinawava, where you will have a one-mile walk to get to the river. Bring a back-pack (THAT YOU DON’T MIND GETTING WET) and comfortable walking shoes to wear for the mile walk to and from the river where you won’t be in the water.
We didn’t finish the hike as I imagine many visitors don’t. I recommend at least hiking around 3-4 miles in because that is when the canyon really begins to offer up some truly remarkable sights.
It was beautiful and challenging and I hope to go back one day. If you get to visit please respect the canyon and its habitat. Pick up your trash, go to the bathroom before you start your hike, and just enjoy yourself quietly.
Oh, and drink your damn water.