The Narrows in Zion National Park is easily one of the most popular hikes in the park. There are plenty of hikes where you walk along a stream or cross a river, but few where the entire trail is directly up (or down) a river.
Since walking through water for several hours can present a few unique challenges, especially if you have kids in your crew, we’ve jotted down the answers to all the questions we had before doing this hike. Here are our tips for hiking the Narrows in Zion with kids.
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Getting to the Trailhead: The Temple of Sinawava
The Narrows hike takes you through the Virgin River gorge, where the canyon walls tower over one-thousand feet on both sides. This hike can either be done bottom-up or top-down. If you’re planning a day hike with kids, you’ll most likely want to do the bottom-up hike starting at the Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop.
The bottom-up version of the Narrows can be done without a permit and is easily accessible by the park’s shuttle system. This path is out-and-back, so you can make this hike as short as you like to accommodate the little hikers in your group.
Zion National Park is closed to private vehicles February through November, so use of the shuttle is mandatory to get to this hike. If you’re hopping on at the Zion Visitor Center, it will take about 45 minutes to get to the Temple of Sinawava.
For more information about parking and the shuttle, see the NPS website here.
Description of the Narrows Trail
The bottom-up version of the Narrows is a 9.4 mile (15.1 km) out-and-back trail that starts at the Temple of Sinawava with the turn-around point at Big Springs. There are no trail markers, so use the landmarks described below to help you know where you are. A handheld GPS or an Apple watch can also help you know how far you’ve gone.
Riverside Walk Trail (Mile 0 to 1): From the shuttle stop, take the paved Riverside Walk Trail for one mile. This path follows along the Virgin River, so there’s no need to get your feet wet just yet.
Mystery Falls (Mile 1 to 1.5): Once you reach the end of the paved path, it’s time to hop in the river. The first half mile of the river is wide and busy (unless you get a very early start), and there are small streams of water flowing down the sides of the canyon walls. We even saw a few people rappelling down this area of the canyon!
Wall Street (Mile 2.5): About a mile after Mystery Falls, a tributary joins the river, the canyon walls soar over to 1,500 feet in some spots, and the river gets narrower and narrower, shrinking down to only 22 feet wide at one point. The canyon branching off to the right is Orderville Canyon (seen on the map below). Continue on the main part of the river to hike through Wall Street and reach the turnaround point at Big Springs.
Big Springs (Mile 4.7): We didn’t make it this far, but Big Springs should be pretty easy to recognize. This is the turnaround point, so you’ll need to start hiking back down the river.
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Tips for Hiking the Narrows with Kids
1 Hike during the warmer spring and summer months
For an easier Narrows hike with warmer water and lower levels, plan to visit Zion National Park in the late spring or summer. This means you won’t have to worry about bulky gear (dry suits are mandatory in winter), which makes this hike much more doable for kids.
Check weather alerts in Zion National Park here; you’ll want to make sure there is no rain in the forecast since flash floods are possible, and there is no out once you’re hiking in the canyon.
2 Check the water level and flow rate
The flow rate just means how fast the water is moving down the river, and can vary significantly from season to season and even day to day. During summer, the flow rate is usually around 50 to 60 cubic feet per second (cfs) and shin to knee deep for an adult. 50 cfs and under is doable for most kids.
The flow rate was in the low 30s when we went and around ankle deep in most spots, though there were a few areas that were a bit deeper. While I carried our two-year-old in a hiking carrier for most of the hike, we did go with a few older kids that seemed to have no problem with the water level and flow. See the chart below to give you an idea of the level of difficulty and water depth at different flow rates.
3 Start early (shuttles start running at 6 am)
Since this is an incredibly popular hike, the earlier you start, the better. The shuttles start running at 6 am.
We had the best intentions of leaving around 7 am but didn’t make it out from our campsite until 8 am. By that time, there was already a long line for the shuttle bus at the Visitor Center, so we had to wait about 30 minutes to get on the shuttle. By the time we reached the river, it was already packed! The crowds did thin out the further we went in, and we still had a great time hiking the Narrows.
4 Use the bathroom at the trailhead
The last toilets are at the Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop before you start on the Riverside Walk Trail. Practice leave no trace principles by packing out any solid waste.
5 Plan when you want to turn around
You may be up for the full 10-mile hike, but it’s helpful to keep the physical markers we mentioned above (Mystery Falls, Wall Street) in mind so you have a general idea of how far you’ve gone.
A lot of hikers turn back once they pass Orderville Canyon and reach the beginning of Wall Street. My Apple watch said we went about 5.5 miles total, which seems accurate since we turned around a bit after passing Orderville Canyon. While the river gorge does get narrower the further in you go, this hike is more about the journey along the way than what you reach at the end.
6 Wear lightweight, closed-toe shoes with good grip
The biggest question I had for hiking the Narrows was what shoes to wear. You’ll find a ton of people along the trail with the telltale sign of equipment rental with neon-colored canyoneering shoes. The summer footwear package from local rental spots costs $25 a day and includes canyoneering shoes, neoprene socks, and a hiking pole.
For the weather and water conditions we experienced (a warm day in late May, cfs in the low 30s), the rentals didn’t seem necessary. I used my older Nike tennis shoes that had a lot of mesh so they drained easily. The water is still chilly even in summer, so I also wore wool socks. Wool socks will keep your feet warm, does not chafe, and are comfortable to hike in whether wet or dry (Darn Tough makes really great wool socks). The wool socks help to trap a thin layer of water around your feet where it will warm up a bit, just like a wet suit. We hiked for about 3.5 hours in the water and my feet never felt too cold. You can also purchase your own pair of neoprene socks for about $14 online if you don’t want to do the full equipment rental, but are worried about cold feet. Whatever you do, don’t wear cotton socks!
The most important thing when choosing shoes is to make sure they have good grip and are closed-toe. I recommend a lightweight tennis shoe or trail runner (like the ones I used), or sturdier water shoes like these Keen sandals. Avoid shoes that are too open or flimsy like Tevas or heavy hiking boots that don’t drain.
If you do end up hiking in colder seasons or are doing the full 16-mile top-down hike, then canyoneering shoes and neoprene socks are your best option. You may even need to consider dry pants or a dry suit if the water and air temperatures are really cold.
7 Wear quick-dry clothing (and bring a spare change for the kids!)
While you may not plan on taking a seat in the water, it could happen, so wear clothes that will quickly dry. I opted for these Gap running shorts, as well as a thin windbreaker that offered warmth in the shade and protection while in the sun.
If your kids will be walking, dressing them in swimsuits will likely be the easiest option. Remember to bring a change of clothes in case someone falls in and it gets too chilly to hike in wet ones.
8 Use a baby carrier for your littles
My son was two when we hiked the Narrows, so I knew he wouldn’t make it too far on his own when we started walking upstream. We took breaks to allow him time to play in the water and along the banks, but while we were hiking I opted to carry him in our larger Deuter Kid Comfort III carrier. It’s got plenty of padding for both him and me, plus an extra pocket on the back that can fit water, food and a camera. When he was younger, I’d usually use our Ergobaby carrier (they recently came out with this Cool Air Mesh version that is perfect for hiking — check out our review here!).
9 Bring a walking stick or hiking poles
Since the rocks can be slippery and you can’t see exactly what you’re stepping on, a hiking stick helps to feel things out and gives you some balance. I opted for hiking poles since I wanted two to help me balance with a heavier load on my back.
A hiking stick is included in the footwear package from most of the Zion rental places, and many people leave hiking sticks they’ve found at the entrance to the river.
10 Bring lots of food and water
Make sure you have enough food and especially water! It can get very hot in Zion in the summer, and even though you’re walking through cool water you still need to stay hydrated. When the water level is lower, there are a number of dry banks to relax and enjoy some lunch or a snack.
11 Use a dry bag
Planning a trip to Zion National Park
Camping in Zion National Park – There are three campgrounds located inside the park. South Campground and Watchman Campground are within Zion Canyon, and Lava Point Canyon is on Kolob Terrace Road, about a one hour drive from Zion Canyon. Reserve a spot on Recreation.gov.
Lodging in Zion National Park – Zion Lodge is the only lodging within the park. It is located about 4 miles in from the Zion National Park South Entrance, near the Emerald Pools Trailhead. It’s open year-round and has rooms, cabins, and suites available.
Getting to Zion National Park – The closest major airports to Zion National Park are McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas (about a 3-hour drive), or the Salt Lake City International Airport (about a 4.5-hour drive).
Car Rental – Check RentalCars.com to compare prices of the world’s biggest car rental services, including Hertz, Avis, and Budget.
Have fun hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park! If you have any questions, drop us a note below!