Hiking The Narrows

Hiking The Narrows Photography

As I write this post I’ve been on the road for a couple months traveling to 20+ national parks, shooting the fall colors. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of The Narrows, but it’s a beautiful narrow canyon hike in Zion National Park. If you get the chance, you have to check it out (if you’re up to the challenge).

For the avid trekkers, hikers and photographers, this is a wonderland of beautiful soft light, textures, colors and above all, solitude and simplicity. The Narrows “top-down” hike is 16-miles in total, and consists of 50-60% of walking through the Virgin River.

Hiking the Narrows can be done in two ways:

1. Bottom up which is a short stretch of the Narrows and you can get there easily by park shuttle for free. Don’t rent equipment, just do it in shoes good for water. People blow money on equipment for what comes down to an hour – don’t be that tourist.

2. The “top-down” which this page was intended for, and will be the route of topic going forward. This requires a bit of logistics, but it’s totally worth it. I have distilled all the logistics into just three simple steps, which you’ll find below.

The Logistics

1. Get a Wilderness Permit for The Narrows.

You can do so by navigating to the Zion Permits site by clicking here or simply go to the Visitor Center in Zion National Park and request one in person.

Total cost: $10

2. Get the right Equipment

Water shoes are pretty much a requirement for this distance. Luckily you can rent them for $21 for the two days, which is a pretty good deal considering they cost quite a bit to purchase. I rented mine from Zion Adventure Company and would recommend them. The second item, which is optional, are dry pants. Dry Pants are not necessary, but may make it more comfortable. For photographers, this is pretty much required, as tripod placement is usually done in the river, and I often found myself on my knees composing images. Staying dry while in the water is a huge advantage and helps you keep shooting. You can contact Zion Adventure Company by navigating to this linkTotal cost: $39

Zion Adventure Company, Springdale UT

3. Get to the Chamberlin “The Narrows Top-Down” Trailhead

This is the trickiest part of the process, but can be simplified as you’ll soon see. Getting to the trailhead can be done in a number of ways: 1. Drive to the trailhead. Because the trailhead that you must approach is different than the one you’ll exit, you’ll be separated from your car if you drive. In order to retrieve your car you’ll need to get on a shuttle from a local ‘adventure company’ and then drive back. The road is washboard, pot holed and could damage non AWD cars. Doesn’t sound like fun right? : ( 2. Park your car at the ‘adventure company’ of that you use for getting the gear, and pay $35 for a shuttle to deliver you one-way to the trailhead. When you complete hiking The Narrows the Zion National Park shuttle will provide free transportation from the end of the hike to the visitor center, and from the visitor center you can take a free shuttle into the town of Springdale, where these companies are located at which point you reunite with your car!

Total cost: $35

The total (approximate) cost – $85 USD

Everything mentioned above equals around $85. Let’s just say $100 for a nice even number.

Equipment Considerations

Choosing just the right equipment is critical to your success and comfort in The Narrows. It’s quite a difficult hike, not because of the distance but because of the terrain. Mostly water, slippery rocks, fast moving water, sometimes up to your chest … etc. In order to be as light and fast as possible I’d recommend the following, which I found to work great for me:

  1. 60L backpack or smaller
  2. 1L of water, Water filter + Iodine tablets. 3L of water without water filter
  3. Your personal sandals, Water shoes, water socks and dry pants from adventure company as mentioned above
  4. Long underwear and non-cotton athletic shirt for base layers (cotton collapses and doesn’t insulate when wet)
  5. Fleece pullover, Waterproof shell
  6. Iso-butane stove + 3 cups of ramen noodles and three bags of tea. Something like a JetBoil Flash. If you don’t carry a water filter, bring one of these to boil water.
  7. Headlamp, your iPhone (for flashlight in case you need it, notes, audio books etc.), and anything else electronic you may need all in a drybag
  8. Sleeping bag, sleeping pad. Don’t take your tent, you won’t need it.
  9. If you’re a photographer, I’d recommend leaving your GND’s at home, but definitely carry a circular polarizer. This is absolutely essential. Stick to ISO 50, F22 and you’ll find that on Aperture Priority the shutter will be a nice 20 – 30 seconds. Sturdy tripod and shutter release/intervalometer is essential as well. Make sure you hold your finger to the viewfinder on longer exposures to prevent like leakage so you can achieve properly saturated images.

Maps and Other Information

Here’s a number of maps and guides that I found useful when planning the trip. I think the first three are the most relevant!

The Narrows Trail Route and Campsite map PDF

Click here to download the PDF

Zion National Park Map and Guide PDF

Click here to download the PDF

Zion Narrows Reference Map and Trip Planner PDF

Click here to download the PDF

Zion National Park Map PDF The Narrows

Click here to download the PDF

Zion National Park Map Alternate PDF

Click here to download the PDF



3 Comments on “Hiking The Narrows

  1. The Narrow, this is one fantastic hike. For someone my size, it was all I could do to navigate the tough watery terrain but loved every minute of it. I can’t imagine having the confidence to photograph those waters, so I’m glad you do!! By the way Graham, I decided on the Canon 5d Mark 3 over the 6d … just received my new camera and am looking forward to expanding my knowledge & skills with the 5d. Cheers!

    • Awesome Kyle! I look forward to seeing your images. What’s your site so everyone here can take a look?


  2. Great information for hiking. Just awesome resource.Thanks for your share,keep it.