Since my first visit to Utah some 16 years ago, Zion National Park has ranked up there as one of my favorite national parks, if not the favorite. Since then, I’ve been back three more times, all within the past two years, but my trip to St. George earlier this month was my first visit during winter. And let me just tell you, hiking the Narrows in winter is an experience that should be on every traveler’s to-do list.
But let me rewind. Prior to our trip out, I sent no fewer than a dozen texts to my best girl Jade, asking: “Do I need long johns? How about footwear? AND HOW MANY LAYERS IS ENOUGH LAYERS?” I’m pretty sure she thought me crazy, but she’d gone hiking in the Narrows in winter twice, so I consider her an authority on the subject.
And you know one thing I had never done until this trip? That’s right. Hike the Narrows.
That’s not to say I hadn’t tried. On my past two visits in May, we’d been signed up to go canyoneering and hiking, but then flash floods deemed the canyon too dangerous and so it was shut down.
Who would have known that not only was the third time a charm but winter is the perfect time to attempt the Narrows? That’s both in part because crowds are slim—friends who did this hike in summer months lamented the crush of people crowding the narrow slot canyon—but also because it’s not shut down nearly as often by the national park due to excessive rain that causes the water level to rise.
What to Wear to Hike the Narrows in Winter
First things first: your gear. We rented ours from Zion Adventure Company, which is located right in the heart of Springdale, and they give you a little video briefing beforehand so you get an idea of what to expect once you’re in the slot canyon. Luckily, my worries were unwarranted because not only was I not cold throughout the entire process, but I was downright toasty.
We rented the full Dry Suit Package, which runs a reasonable $55, and includes a full dry suit you’ll have to shimmy into, neoprene socks with an air-tight gasket and booties that are similar to those I wear when I go diving. This creates a seal on your body where water can’t get in, so even though you are walking through a river for hours, you don’t necessarily get wet. Genius! If the water level isn’t that high, you can also opt for the Dry Pants Package, which runs $45, and not look like you stepped out of an episode of Star Trek.
So, How Many Layers Are Enough?
It really depends on the air temp. The day we hiked, it was slated to be close to 60 in Springdale, but just a high of 50 in the canyon, meaning a bit cooler in shaded areas—and you’ll be in shade quite often. You’re also moving pretty consistently, so keep that in mind. I workout a lot and usually warm up pretty quickly, so I didn’t want to throw on too many layers for fear I’d begin sweating and then get the chills once I did slow down and the sweat dried.
With that said, Zion Adventure Company had about every additional layer possible you could need available for rent. A few of the tinier girls in our group rented fleece leggings to go under the drysuits, and I debated—but in the end, I’m glad I stuck with my original plan: a pair of running leggings, a long-sleeved running shirt and a relatively light vest. That paired with the drysuit, neoprene socks and booties was more than enough to keep me warm.
I had rented a pair of fleece gloves (an extra $5), but they never came out of my bag because I was fumbling with my camera most of the time, and plus, I just didn’t need them. If, however, you’re the type whose extremities get cold, I’d recommend taking a pair of gloves and a hat in your daypack just in case.
Can I Bring My Camera?
This was something I debated over for days. SVV prohibited me from bringing my DSLR, so I had my GoPro ready, as well as my smaller camera, which was safely housed in a waterproof case.
Only, I got to Zion Adventure Company that morning and found they had DSLR dry bags, so I went against my word to my husband (sorry, SVV!) and took my DSLR with my 24-105mm lens. This was a great find, and I’m so glad I had my big camera on me and not the bulky waterproof housing of the small one. The only downside was that this bag didn’t have any other pockets, so I had to rely on friends to carry my water, chapstick and other necessities. Were I to do it again, I’d take a small Camelbak-like day bag in addition to the DSLR dry bag and I might pack my wide-angle lens if I planned to make it all the way to Wall Street, though my 24-105 was perfect for the section of the Narrows I hiked.
You do have to worry about carrying your camera unprotected while hiking in the river itself as the rocks are slippery. I wouldn’t recommend taking any nice gear unless you have a dry bag on you to protect it as you’re fording the river.
What to Expect on the Hike Out to the Narrows
The hike to the Narrows starts with a one-mile walk out on a paved trail that starts at the shuttle drop-off point at Temple of Sinewava (stop 9). Silly me, I thought we were going to have a guide, but nope—the Narrows is pretty self-explanatory, so it’s self-guided, and you can go at your own pace. This was nice as traveling with a group of 30, I could hang back and let others speed ahead, then have fewer people in my photos.
There’s not really any way to get lost; however, there’s a big fork in the river where Wall Street begins; from there, you can take the left route and continue all the way up Wall Street or veer right instead and wind up in Orderville Canyon at Veiled Falls.
If you’re going at a fairly moderate pace and not stopping every 20 feet like I did, it should take you around two hours (or possibly a little less) to reach the fork in the river. While I didn’t make it to Wall Street this time, on my next trip to the Narrows, I’ll plan to go at a brisker pace there, then take my time photographing the narrowest part of the slot canyon once I get there.
We did the bottom-up route, returning to the starting point. You can also opt to do it top-down, but you need a permit for this way—and also you need to be super athletic. It’s a 16-miler. In one day. Chew on that before you commit. Given the length, this might be best left for summer months.
You’ll get a walking stick when you pick up your gear; I thought it was going to be cumbersome and that I’d wind up ditching it halfway through. NOPE. I needed that bad boy in particularly deep or slippery areas. Take my advice: Use the walking stick.
What Time to Start the Narrows
We were at the adventure company an hour before they opened at 9am—note: they open earlier in spring and summer months—and it took us a good hour-and-a-half to get suited up, drive to the Zion Visitor Center and all get on the bus (we were a group of 30, after all). The Narrows is the very last stop on the shuttle, which is a good 45 minutes away, so it was 11:45am before we were actually at the start of the hike.
For smaller groups, I recommend being the first people at the adventure center when it opens, then high-tail it to the shuttle ASAP—you’ll likely want to stay in the Narrows all day long, and being the early bird will help you optimize daylight. The sun set at 6:15 the weekend we were there, meaning that it started getting dark in the canyon around 5pm, plus the gear rental shop closed at 6pm so we had a deadline to make. Be sure and factor the 45-minute shuttle ride back into your plans.
As far as how long will it take you to hike the Narrows, that depends on how far you want to go, as well as how often you stop. I was stopping frequently for photos, so while I was in the canyon a good five hours, I didn’t even make it to Wall Street. Next time, I’ll try to get in there as soon as I can gear up, so I can go a bit further and not worry about dusk catching up to me.
Where to Eat Before the Narrows
There are so many places to eat in Springdale that you won’t be lacking for breakfast options before your hike (or dinner/beer options afterward). We stumbled upon River Rock Roasting Co. in La Verkin, which had delicious breakfast pastries, quiches and coffee drinks. We loved it so much that Jade, Christie and I went again the next day for pizza and beer. YUM.
Will I Have Time for Other Hikes?
A few of the more intrepid hikers who did the Narrows with us planned to do Angel’s Landing and Observation Point right after the Narrows. HA. Quite ambitious. Needless to say, they didn’t get out of the Narrows until 4pm, so that plan was void.
If you want to do Angel’s Landing or Observation Point—both of which will take you a minimum of four hours, round-trip—you should base yourself near the entrance to the park and plan for two consecutive days in Zion, if not more. It’s simply too big of a park to try and cram anything more than one major hike in a day.
Other Tips to Zion in Winter
If you’re looking to spend most of your time in the park, now is a great time to stay in Springdale with crowds being slim and prices being lower. If you are hiking the Narrows but also want to spend some time in the other area parks—like Snow Canyon, Sand Hollow, Red Cliffs Desert Reserve—then I highly recommend staying on the outskirts of St. George or in Hurricane as a central base.
Looking for other St. George travel advice? Check out these posts:
- Everything You Need To Know About Zion National Park
- For the Best View in Zion, Try Observation Point
- Like Zion? You’ll Love Snow Canyon
- Visit These Awesome St. George State Parks
- 7 Tips for Photographing Southern Utah
Looks fun but wet! Glad you finally got to do this after so many attempts – I didn’t realize that this spot closed down so often due to rain and bad weather. Good to know!
Yeah, apparently late spring is really tough for guaranteeing you’ll get to do it as April showers and whatnot (even though my last two visits have been in May!).
I think this is one of the most detailed posts I’ve seen on walking the Narrows and I really appreciate it. After having been to Zion twice in the winter and once in May, I would always, always pick winter! It is awesome without crowds!
No problem! I was so confused about how to pack/what to expect so I tried to cover every question I had here in hopes it’s helpful for the next Narrows hiker =)
I’ve not walked the Narrows before (and after watching your video I will be) but I think I would choose winter for my walk also. I’ve heard of Zion before (I’m an Aussie) but not seen photos of the Narrows before. Great post.
Thanks, Jan! I think you’d be very pleasantly surprised to do it in winter. Now that I’m spoiled by no crowds I’m not sure I could go back in summer!
This is so helpful – thanks, lady! It’s easiest for me to travel in the winter with my work schedule and I’ve been wanting to do a Utah trip but the weather has scared me. This makes me a little less afraid. Also, it’s so pretty!
Us, too! Plus, I love summer in the South so I always want to stay kind of close to home then and do the bulk of my traveling in winter, spring and fall.
This is great! I have yet to hike the Narrows (it was an option when I was in Zion in December, but I was sick and was pretty happy with my decision to skip it), so I definitely haven’t made my last trip to Zion! Good to know that this hike isn’t as cold as I feared in the winter!
I’ve never made my last trip to Zion, ha—four trips in and there’s still so much I want to do! I think it’s smart to plan it later in winter when it’s warmer. I did look at the weather in January and it was pretty dang chilly—then we lucked out with days in the 50s and nights dipping down to 30.
Wow, this looks like a great hike. One to add to the list when I make it to Zion!
For sure! You could easily spend a week there with all the hikes and state parks there are to explore.
I’m so fascinated by the mountain landscape – the colors especially. I hope to do this hike one day! Awesome tips for how to dress; I would’ve never thought about fleece tights underneath the wetsuit.
I love how red and yellow and otherworldly it is. Like Mars—or the opening episode of this most recent season of Black Mirror!
Oh, this looks amazing! I have only driven past Zion (I know, I know, but we were driving through Utah in a U-haul truck!). I love finding new outdoor winter adventures because (in some places) in winter you can usually expect thinner crowds than at other times of the year.
I mean, my in-laws have lived in California their entire lives and have never done Zion (or any of the Utah parks)—and she’s a geologist! The good news is that it isn’t going anywhere 😉
What a great adventure! The water was really ripping through the Virgin River when we were there in April so the NPS shut the trail down
Exactly what happened to us on the last two visits in May! I hope you get to go back and try it again.
So much fun! I’m definitely in for returning every season… you know, just to make sure we know how it is during every time of year… 😉
See you there in fall?
The hike to the Narrows looks incredible! Thanks so much for sharing. I had no idea this hike existed. I’m putting it in my diary as we speak.
Bump it up the bucket list! Definitely one of the coolest national park hikes I’ve ever tackled (and pretty easy, too).
WOW! Your photos are EPIC!! I’m so bummed I didn’t get to hike with you AGAIN on this trip! If there’s a next time, 3rd time’s a charm!? What an awesome experience.
I’ve been meaning to comment in this for weeks! I had such a fun weekend with you all!! All the hikes and places we went to from Snow Canyon to Elephant Rock to the Narrows were all great. I was so surprised that the crowds weren’t that big since it was a holiday weekend. I already want to go back! I think I’m going to try to go in the winter again next year and I know a bunch of my family wants to come this time too which will be so fun! I definitely want to pick up the pace next time I do the Narrows and try to make it to Wall Street but I was content this time to take my time. Thanks for posting about the event and welcoming “outsiders” to join in on the fun. And thanks being my unofficial photographer in the Narrows! 😉 Haha! I’d love to make prints of some of the awesome photos you took!
Would you recommend a 12year old to do this hike during the winter
I think it’s a great hike for tweens/teens. My only concern would be *if* there’s been a lot of rainfall and the water level is high, but I think they close the Narrows when that’s the case. I’d say we hiked it at a pretty moderate time for rainfall, and the deepest it got was about waist-high for me (I’m 5’7″ for reference).
Thanks for this awesome crash course and guide! Headed there mid February 2022. Feel well-studied and well-prepared now ;^)
I’m so excited for you! You’re going to love it. I would say definitely plan for the Narrows early on in your trip so you have some backup days if it’s closed for rain/flooding.