Hiking The Narrows at Zion National Park in the Winter
I first saw a photo of The Narrows about five years ago when a friend of mine in college made the trip, and I couldn’t believe my eyes—it looked like something out of a dream! It’s been on my list ever since. Along with Angel’s Landing, The Narrows is one of the most famous hiking trails in Zion National Park, which is located in Springdale, Utah—and I finally got to tackle it back in November.
A couple weeks beforehand, my friend Kirsten and I decided to yolo the ten-hour drive and make the trip over Thanksgiving weekend since both of us had Friday off. (Sidenote: I firmly believe everyone needs at least one friend like Kir who is always down for spontaneous adventures, because life is just more fun that way! You might remember her from my trips to Iceland, London, and Oahu last year). Anywhoo, we decided to go—great. But then it was time to plan, and I had so many questions! Where should we stay? Do we need to rent waterproof gear? Where does everyone get those hiking sticks? Do we need a permit for the hike? (Spoiler alert on that last one: no permit necessary, thank goodness).
Luckily for me, one of my best friends had done the hike only a few weeks prior (her photos were actually what gave me the nudge to finally make the trip happen), so I just shot all my questions her way. (Shout-out to you Kell, for filling me in on ALL THE THINGS). But, my guess is not everyone has a best friend who just went who they can text all their questions to, so—for those of you wanting to plan a trip, I figured I’d compile a post sharing the tips and tricks I learned.
Disclaimer: This post addresses things you need to know if you’re wanting to hike The Narrows during the winter, so some of the information might be a bit different if you’re going a different time of year. Personally, I think this is the best time to go though because it’s not too hot, you don’t have to deal with the crazy summer crowds, and there’s less risk of the trail being closed than there is in April or May when the snow melt and spring rains present a higher chance of flash floods (flash floods in the canyon are very dangerous and if there’s any chance of one happening, the hike will be closed—so I’d suggest keeping an eye on the weather as your trip approaches and having a backup plan in mind as far as other hikes you’d like to do instead). Plus, you really can’t beat those last lingering pops of yellow fall foliage against the red rock and turquoise water that you get in the late fall and early winter months. But, if you’re reading this post because you’re planning a winter visit of your own, you probably already agree that it’s the best time to go—so I’ll get to it. Without further ado, here it is—everything you need to know when planning a hiking trip to The Narrows at Zion during the winter months!
HIKING THE NARROWS AT ZION NATIONAL PARK IN THE WINTER
There are plenty of hotels just outside the park entrance in Springdale, but we were able to find this Airbnb in Toquerville for only $60/night (which you really can’t beat, especially when you realize it was only $30/night for each of us). Not only that, but it was nice master suite with our own bathroom, couch, and mini fridge all separate from the other guests, and I’ve seriously never seen people run an Airbnb better than these hosts. They had the check-in set up seamlessly with our parking spot marked out, a keypad entry into the home, clear instructions to our room, and a key so we could lock it. Oftentimes with Airbnb’s, especially when you’re traveling to a new place and you get in late, it can be confusing trying to find the right entrance or room—but these hosts thought of everything. They also had complimentary breakfast and snacks set out for our hike each morning, and it was only a short 15 minute drive into the park!
First things first, you’re walking through water the entire hike, so you’re going to need to rent a dry suit or at the very least, dry pants. There are plenty of options of places to rent from, but we went with the Dry Bib Package from Zion Outfitter, which is located by the Visitor Center just outside the park. This package costs $45 per person and it includes the overall-looking waders you see us wearing, water canyoneering boots, neoprene socks, and a wooden hiking stick (USE THIS—the rocks are very slippery, the current is strong in some areas, and in a few areas the water gets up to about waist-deep). We also rented the Waterproof Backpack for $10 to hold our stuff and took turns carrying it. We decided to book all of this online ahead of time to avoid the risk of them selling out (though, I don’t know how likely this would have been because they have a LOT of gear), but it was still convenient because once we showed up it was already paid for and all we had to do was pick it up. Also, with Zion Outfitters (and I’m assuming, with most of the rental places), if the trail is closed due to flash floods the day you’ve booked your gear for, you’ll get a full refund.
As for what to wear underneath, it surprisingly wasn’t too cold when we were there in late November (maybe around 45-50 degrees), so I just wore some workout leggings, a long-sleeved thermal, and zip-up fleece. We both debated doubling-up on leggings underneath but were glad we didn’t, because we stayed pretty warm once we started moving. Heads up though because we did NOT know this—your feet WILL get wet. We thought something was wrong when we took a few steps and felt water, but that’s actually how the gear is designed. It allows your feet to get wet, but the neoprene material of the socks (basically like a wetsuit), will keep your feet nice and warm. But, the bottom of the pants have a tight rubber band, so your legs will stay dry—though it is the weirdest sensation to feel the cold of the water around your whole body without actually getting wet (again, besides your feet).
We tried to keep this to a minimum, but we did pack sandwiches (we hit up a grocery store the night before to make these), energy bars, water, our ID’s, our phones, and my camera. There were parks of the hike when I wore my camera around my neck but I had to be careful about this, because in some places the rocks are extremely slippery and you can easily take a dip (I almost did a couple times). That being said, on the rockier and deeper parts of the hike, I made sure my camera was sealed away in the waterproof backpack—along with everything else. Make sure to have money on hand (cash or card) to pay for parking, the entrance fee, and possibly a nice hot meal after you’re done with the hike (there are plenty of places to eat right outside the national park entrance).
How the trail works is, you hike as far as you want into the canyon, then you turn around and hike the same way back out—so the start time is really up to you, because you can make the hike as long or short as you want it to be! Keep in mind that it takes at least 30 minutes to get all your gear on once you’ve rented it, then you have to take a shuttle to the trailhead from the Visitor Center (this is free, praise). The Narrows is the last stop on the shuttle, so you’re looking at a good 45 minutes. Then there is about a mile-long trail to take until you actually enter the river, where the real hike begins. Depending on when in the winter you go, it starts to get dark around 3-5pm, maybe even a little earlier as the tall canyon walls block out the sun in some parts of the hike. All that to say, plan accordingly! It’s probably a good idea to get an early start and plan on it being your only major hike of the day.
Hiking The Narrows was everything I imagined it’d be when I first saw that photo five years ago, and so much more! It is definitely one of the most beautiful and unique hikes I’ve ever done (and the workout it gives you is also unique due to the water resistance you’re up against with each step). All that to say, if this hike isn’t on your list then well, I ain’t tryin’ to be Narrows-minded, but your list needs fixin’! 😉
How about for those of you who have done this hike before? Any useful information you would add to this post? Share it down in the comments below!