We’ve done a lot of hikes as a family, and we’re here to tell you why the Narrows is the best family hike at Zion National Park. We completed this hike as part of our amazing 9-Day, 5-Park National Park Road Trip and it was the highlight of our trip.
The Narrows is one of the most iconic hikes in America, and for good reason. It boasts amazing scenery, ginormous canyon walls, and the thrill of getting to hike though a river. It is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon, with walls reaching 1,000 feet or more above the river.
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The Narrows Hike Summary
The Narrows is an “out and back” trail, meaning you will hike up the river, turn around at some point, and then retrace your steps back to where you started. As such, its is a flexible hike, and you can make it as long or as short as you’d like. This is one reason it is the best family hike at Zion. We’d recommend hiking about 3 miles up stream before turning around, in which case you would hike 6 miles total in about 4 – 6 hours.
- Distance: 1 – 10miles round trip (depending on when you turn around)
- Time: 1 – 10 hrs (again, depending on when you turn around)
- Elevation: minimal
- Difficulty rating: Moderate
- Safety: take 2 L of water per person; sunscreen; check trail conditions at Visitor Center to ensure proper flow rate and assess storm/flash flood conditions
We completed the hike with our four children, then aged 9, 11, 13 and 15. They were perfect ages to enjoy this challenging, fun hike. All agreed that it was the best family hike at Zion National Park.
Planning to Hike The Narrows
When to Hike The Narrows
We hiked The Narrows towards the end of July. The NPS states that “most people hike The Narrows in the late spring and summer when the water tends to be at its warmest and the water level drops.”
Since the river is fed by snow melt, the water is highest in early spring and can also be very cold. The NPS closes access to hike The Narrows if the water level is above 150 CFS. Check with the Visitor Center beforehand to assess river conditions. The next year, we were at Zion on June 18 and The Narrows had not yet opened due to high water levels.
Gear for Hiking The Narrows
The Narrows is a unique hike; it goes through a river! As such, it requires a unique set of gear. Here is a list of what we used for our family and would recommend, including a few things we wish we had!
- Shoes: We used a variety of shoes as each person in our family had their own preference. Here are the shoes that each person used and a few comments:
- Trevor (40 year old dad) and Reed (15 yr old boy): Merrell Tetrex Rapid Crest Water Shoe. This shoe did great as it has excellent grip and drains water easily. We wore them with these great wool socks. Wool socks work well because they retain heat even when wet.
- Mandy (40 year old mom): Chaco X2 Sport Sandal. Mandy liked these as they had great grip. I was worried because they didn’t provide toe or side protection, but she didn’t mind a bit and did fine the whole hike. She wore them without socks.
- Emmy (13 year old girl): Kamik Kids Crab. Emmy had no complaints. It drained well and had good grip.
- Abby (11 year old girl): Merrell Kids Hydro H20 Hiker Sandal. These worked well for Abby. The mesh kept out rocks and they drained will. She started out not wearing socks but soon put socks on as she was starting to develop a blister.
- Will (9 year old boy): Will had a pair of no-name closed-toe hiking sandals that he loved and insisted on wearing. They did surprisingly well.
- Trekking poles: there are almost a must for ANYONE on the river. They will help you maintain balance on the slippery rocks. They’re also helpful for the kids. This set has proved to be a good budget model for us. We would recommend one set per person.
- Day packs/hydration packs: we snagged a couple of these and they worked great. Bring enough water for 1 – 2L per person or more, depending on how far you’ll be going. We used about 1 L per person in our 6-mile round trip hike. We also packed a variety of snacks, and were glad we did – hiking in the water makes you hungry!
- Sun protection: Bring sunscreen and a hat. We didn’t need it for the first part of the hike as we were in the shade in the morning hours, but as the day progressed we were glad we had them.
- Jacket or hoodie: It will be cool in the morning and you’ll be walking through cold water. The kids especially were cold starting out, but soon warmed up and shed their jackets. Keep in mind you’ll be in the water, so synthetic fibers (not cotton) will dry faster and be lighter.
- Dry Bag : You’ll be walking in water, and there’s a good chance you’ll fall in. We had more than one in our group take a tumble. Pack anything you want to keep dry in a waterproof bag (we used big zip-locks).
- Camera: The canyon is amazing, and you’ll want your pictures to be amazing too. We took our Canon 6D; even though it was heavy and there was a risk of getting it wet, it was worth it to get great pictures.
- Custom shirts (optional): we knew we had to be wearing something special for this hike, so we designed some fun tees to celebrate the trek. You can check out our designs here.
Hiking The Narrows: The Best Family Hike at Zion
Where to Park
Like most popular hikes, the secret to avoiding terrible crowds and the heat of the desert is to get an early start. We were actually camping at Bryce Canyon National Park. The drive from Bryce Canyon to Zion National Park took us just under 2 hours. We got up at 4:00 am and quietly left the campground by 4:30 am. We arrived at Zion in the twilight hours before the sun rose. The drive on Highway 9 through the East Gate was beautiful and calm.
We managed to beat the crowds to the Visitor Center and found a great parking place. The Visitor Center parking area can fill up completely by 9:00 am, so be sure to get there early to snag a spot.
Catching the Shuttle
Zion National Park uses a shuttle system to provide access to Zion Canyon. The shuttle system is efficient and free, and stops right at the Visitor Center. From the parking lot, just look for the signs. If you’re hiking The Narrows, you’ll want to be on the FIRST shuttle of the day.
Catching the first shuttle of the day is a huge benefit when hiking the Narrows as you’ll beat the crowds and be able to experience a better atmosphere as you hike. The time of the first shuttle changes based on the time of year, so you’ll want to check the schedule in advance. We joined a small line and soon were on the shuttle heading into the canyon.
Shuttle Stop: Temple of Sinawava
We rode the shuttle all the way up the canyon to it’s last stop: the Temple of Sinawava. It took about 35 minutes. At the stop, there are restrooms and water. A paved trail, the Riverside Walk, accessible to wheelchairs, follows the river up the canyon for one mile.
Starting up the River
At the end of the Riverside Walk, we came to the start of the best family hike at Zion: The Narrows. At this point you’ll leave the pavement and start hiking in the river. If you did not bring a hiking stick (or didn’t bring enough, like us), then you may find some sticks stacked at the start of the trail left over from the day before. We only brought a few hiking poles, so the kids all grabbed a wooden “loaner” stick as we started out.
We crossed the river right away and then hiked on the other side along the bank for a bit. You’ll get a taste of walking through the river as soon as the trail starts, and will then alternate between walking along the bank, crossing the river, or walking directly in the river.
At the beginning of the trail, the crowd will be thickest because everyone got off the bus at the same time. However, you begin hiking, differences in pace will spread out the crowd. Despite arriving on a full bus, we were able to have some great moments of hiking were we could not see anyone but our family in the canyon.
There are plenty are areas off that bank that provide opportunities for exploring. Our kids especially loved the little caves and enclaves that abounded.
Above 0.5 miles after entering the river we found Mystery Falls. This is a neat area where the water cascades down the flat canyon wall an a series of small rivulets. Our kids loved walking over to the wall and putting their hands in the micro-waterfalls.
After hiking another mile or so (1.5 miles total), we came upon Wall Street, so called because the canyon walls get higher and closer together. This was my favorite part of the hike.
We hiked about a half-mile up Wall Street, enjoying the views. There’s something about hiking in The Narrows that makes you want to keep going. It’s as if the views around the next bend are calling to you and you can’t turn back. We jokingly sang “Just around the river bend…” as we rounded each bend, only to see more amazing canyon and another tempting river bend beckoning.
After about 2 miles into the river, or 3 miles from the shuttle stop, we finally decided to head back.
Orderville Canyon Confluence
Near the start of Wall Street you’ll also find the confluence, or joining, of Orderville Canyon. This smaller canyon joins The Narrows and can be explored. It’s worth checking out the 0.5 mile detour up to Veiled Falls. It’s a fun slot canyon.
If you’re a day hiker, you can keep going for 4 miles up stream (or 5 miles from the shuttle stop) to Big Spring. We didn’t make it this far. At this point, all day hikers need to head back. You might meet some hikers doing the “Top Down” through hike along the entire canyon. To do this hike, you’ll need to get a special permit from NPS. It’s a 16-mile route and takes about 12 hours, and requires a shuttle vehicle.
The Hike Back
The hike back down the Virgin River is much the same as the hike up, since you’re retracing your steps. We found that it was a bit easier, since the water is now at your back and you’re not fighting against the current. However, it also was not quite as fun because the discovery factor is gone.
Also, the crowds start to pick up on your way back (if you started early in the morning). All those folks who started at 8:00, 9:00, or 10:00 in the morning are now making their way upstream. Towards the end of our hike back the crowds were much more intense; think theme-park intense.
Still, the way back is fun and we stopped a lot for pictures. Some of the sits we most especially enjoyed deserved a second look and more pictures. The canyon walls looked a bit different in the mid-day sun as opposed to the early morning shadows. The temperature also increased, which was a welcome warming for the younger kids.
People watching on the route back is fun as well. You’ll see all types, from families with babies to families with grandmas. Some will be struggling, but you’ll be able to tell that almost everyone is having fun. One of our highlights of our trip back was the kids getting to pick out who to give their wooden walking sticks to since it was obvious that the pile at the head of the trek had been depleted and the unprepared were struggling up the stream unaided.
Catching the Shuttle Back
After you finish walking through the Virgin River, you’ll return to the paved Riverside Walk. This paved trail will be a welcome change to cold, tired feet. Some people bring a change of socks, shoes, or both to give their feet a break. We had dry socks, and some of us opted to change into them before walking back up the Riverside Walk. While it may be the best family hike at Zion, The Narrows might also be the coldest on the feet!
Once back at the Temple of Sinawava, we took advantage of the restrooms and then caught the shuttle back to the parking lot. We were too tired to be tempted by any other hikes on the way back, but by the time we reached the parking lot, we had enough energy to explore the Visitor Center. We ate a picnic lunch at the tables near the parking lot, and then were fueled up enough to be game for an afternoon hike.
All told, we spent about 6 hours total from shuttle ride in to shuttle ride out, hiked about 6 miles, and spent about 4 hours on the trail. All of the kids enjoyed it immensely, and too this day still remember it as one of our best family hikes, and all agreed that it was the best family hike at Zion National Park.
More Amazing Family Hikes
We think The Narrows is the best family hike at Zion, but that doesn’t mean it’s Zion’s only amazing hike. We love hiking and have tackled some of the best family hikes in the country. Here’s a few more hikes we highly recommend:
- Angels Landing at Yosemite National Park
- Half Dome at Yosemite National Park
- Fiery Furnace at Arches National Park
- Delicate Arch at Arches National Park
Zion National Park Logo
Are you visiting Zion National Park and looking for a logo? We have created our National Park logos for you to make custom family road trip T-shirts, hoodies and more. You can download our National Park Logos here.
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