Hiking the Narrows

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Now what does that mean? It is a term well-known by anyone that has visited Zion National Park in Utah.

Along the highway-on our way to Zion National Park.

One of the most impressive parts of Zion National Park is the Zion Canyon. It is a narrow canyon wedged between massive Navajo Sandstone cliffs. The Virgin River runs through this canyon bringing life and beauty. The river runs northeast to southwest on its way to the Colorado River. At certain times of the year it is a massive force of flash floods, and at other times it gently flows over the smooth worn river rocks. When the river allows, you can hike in this river–not just along the banks of the river, but actually in the river, carefully navigating around the current, slippery rocks and the uneven floor of the river bottom.

Entering Zion National Park

The narrow canyon walls come together at a certain part of the river called, “Wall Street.” The sandstone reaches to the sky above 2,000 feet, with the width as narrow as twenty feet. So “hiking the narrows” means walking up or down the Virgin River toward this narrow passage.

Navajo sandstone, the cliffs of Zion Canyon

In September, my friend Jan and I went to Utah and did our version of “hiking the narrows.” You can walk from bottom to top, or top to bottom. The easiest is bottom to top, which what we elected to do. We drove to Springdale, Utah and parked our car at a shuttle station and took the Springdale shuttle to the park. Cars are no longer allowed in Zion National Park. Once inside the park, we hopped on their shuttle and rode to the last stop, “Temple of Sinawava.” The trailhead is right near the shuttle stop; you just start walking northeast. You walk about one mile along the river. It is a smooth paved path, an easy walk, and totally accessible for wheelchairs. While strolling under the trees we came across some deer.

Jan and I just inside Zion National Park, ready to get on the shuttle.

Trailhead, beginning of the walk along the river to “hiking the narrows.”

Deer along the Virgin River path on our way to hiking the narrows.

Getting started

We walked about 4 or 5 miles that day in icy water. Wow! Was it fun! I laughed as I slipped or almost slipped. I was so afraid of falling in the water and harming my camera and my phone, even though they were wrapped in plastic. I have to admit it robbed a teeny bit of my joy, but just a teeny bit. Coming back I treaded a very strong current crossing the river. I was in the middle by myself; Jan had easily reached the other side by using a different route, but here I was knee-deep in water, trying not to fall. I felt totally alone, but not afraid, just VERY cautious, planning each step. Behind me I heard a voice say “Would you like some help?” Then a young man was next to me offering me his hand. My pride wanted to say, “No, I got it” but my good sense reached out for his hand. I said, “I don’t want to pull you down, I am a little unsteady here.” He was about 25 years old and built like a football running back; he smiled a youthful grin and said, “I promise you, you won’t pull me down.” When his hand grabbed mine with such strength, I was transformed. He was so strong, so sure of himself, so steady–his energy went from his hand into mine, down my arm and into my legs. I walked right along with him; not like a running back, but maybe a reliable water boy, sure and strong myself.

That’s “me” hiking the narrows, where are my hiking poles?

Hiking the narrows. (from Jan’s camera)

Middle of the river, only ankle-deep here

Walking “up river.”

Looking southwest (down river)

We talked to many hikers walking back. Some had walked the entire top to bottom route (16 miles). That’s how I learned about “dry packs.” For those of you that don’t know, as I didn’t, it is a pack back that is water tight. If you submerge it in water all your contents inside stay dry. That’s for me!!

Zion Canyon

Walking along the river.

Zion Canyon cliffs, taken from the shuttle.

Gentle flow of the Virgin River.

There is such beauty in Zion National Park, hiking the narrows is just one small part. I want to go back and walk the 16 miles, I think I’ll quit writing and start my training right now!

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3 comments on “Hiking the Narrows

  1. Jan Maynard says:

    You did such a great job capturing our icy cold walk in the most gorgeous river! Thanks so much for planning this into our trip!

  2. Janeau McBride says:

    Beautiful as usual..I just worked a puzzle that was a picture of Zion Nat. Pk.! Thanks once again for sending these!

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  3. […] back to Southern Utah: I shared our time at Zion at in my last blog.  We left Zion at the end of our long day of “hiking the narrows” and traveled east on […]

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