By Michael Lanza
The sound of rushing water increased in volume and the canyon walls pressed in close and reached toward the sliver of sky overhead as we walked downstream in the calf-deep North Fork of the Virgin River in The Narrows of Zion National Park. Turning a bend in the canyon, we came upon one of the most incongruous sights in the desert: a waterfall pouring from cracks in the canyon’s sandstone wall. Known as Big Spring, this oasis of cascading water and a hanging garden clinging to a redrock cliff is just one of the many wonders awaiting backpackers in Zion’s Narrows.
One of the most uniquely magnificent and coveted hikes in the National Park System, the Zion Narrows squeeze down to about 20 feet across in places, with sandstone walls that rise as much as a thousand feet tall.
There are many great canyon hikes in the Southwest, but The Narrows is the archetypal great canyon hike—and certainly one of the very best backpacking trips in the Southwest and a top 10 trip in America, a judgment I base on having done many of the most beautiful multi-day hikes in the country over more than three decades of carrying a backpack, including 10 years formerly as a longtime field editor for Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog.
I think the photo gallery below will convince you to take this trip.
The Narrows is generally backpacked as a two-day hike from top to bottom, descending 1,500 vertical feet over the course of 16 miles, from the starting trailhead at Chamberlain Ranch to the Temple of Sinawava Trailhead at the end of the road in Zion Canyon.
Early summer and fall are the prime seasons for hiking The Narrows, which is frequently unsafe because of high water levels in April and May and sometimes into June, and during July and August, when heavy rainstorms are common.
My downloadable e-guide “The Complete Guide to Backpacking The Narrows in Zion National Park” will tell you everything you need to know to plan and execute this classic backpacking trip. It is the most thorough guide you will find to backpacking Zion’s Narrows.
Click here now to Join The Big Outside and get my e-guide to backpacking Zion’s Narrows free plus member gear discounts!
Not surprisingly, our campsite in The Narrows graces my list of 25 favorite backcountry campsites. I also suggest it as one of “The 5 Southwest Backpacking Trips You Should Do First.”
See my feature story “Luck of the Draw, Part 2: Backpacking Zion’s Narrows,” with many more photos and a video, plus trip-planning tips (though not nearly as much trip-planning detail as provided in my Narrows e-guide). Reading that story in full requires a paid subscription to The Big Outside, which costs under $5 a month for a full year, or less than six bucks for one month.
See all of my stories about Zion National Park at The Big Outside.