What it’s like Winter Hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park Utah
There was regret and sorrow as we left Zion National Park with kids back in 2014. We’d only scheduled a day in the park. Huge mistake. We also hadn’t been able to hike the Narrows in Zion National Park, one of the main attractions in this favorite of the U.S. park system. Our boys were just too young, and our backs were just not strong enough to carry three-year-old and five-year-old boys for five hours through the famed slot caverns of Utah. My husband and I swore we would come back. Little did I know that I would be back to hike the Narrows solo, leaving my husband behind to watch the kids. Yes, I’m that wife.
Let’s go to Zion National Park…in winter!
When a friend asked me to join her for an Instameet in St. George, Utah, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was signing up for. As soon as she mentioned it would include hiking the Narrows, I was in though. The catch was that we would be doing it in February. This may sound crazy, but it wasn’t. Those in the know realize that Zion is less crowded in the winter months, yet just as amazing. It is also the best time to hike the Narrows.
What is an Instameet?
The obvious question has to be answered though- what is an Instameet? Essentially, it is when a group of people get together and take photos in one location. Instagram is huge in case you didn’t hear. Those who love to take photos, sometimes like to get together to photograph in National Parks, cities, the beach, etc. For a gal who is always behind the camera, these meet ups are fun because I get to gather with like-minded people, see friends and get in front of the camera for a change. It’s a win all around.
Time to hike the Narrows in Zion National Park
On a brisk Saturday morning in February, about twenty of us gathered at Zion Adventure Company to grab our reserved dry suits, socks and boots that we would use to hike into the Zion Narrows. We had to watch a safety video reviewing the dangers of flash floods and all giggled a bit over what we were about to undertake. I mean, people thought this was a bit crazy in the summer, and we were going to do it in the dead of winter.
We got lucky. It was 60 degrees and there was no chance of rain and it hadn’t snowed in a few days. Flash floods are a major danger in the Narrows. If you don’t know what slot canyons are, if a flood comes rushing down the river, there is literally nowhere for you to hide. The canyon walls are smooth; you cannot climb to higher ground. If the guides and the park rangers tell you to stay out of the Zion Narrows, you listen. Flash flood warnings were low; we were good to go.
Getting to the Zion Narrows in the park
I was pumped to get going. The massive cappuccino I’d had at breakfast might have had something to do with it. I rarely do full caf drinks thanks to a lifetime of traveling with migraines, but I was doing this hike. I was fulfilling a dream to hike the Narrows in Zion National Park much sooner than I ever anticipated. The only problem was that my husband wasn’t here with me. We were both sad, but we thought of my adventure as a scouting trip. I was checking out the terrain to see if it was something we could do with our boys sooner, rather than later.
In order to day hike the Narrows from the bottom up, you have to take the Zion National Park tram to the Temple of Sinawava, which is the end of the line. You then have to trek along the Riverside Walk trail (handicap accessible) until it ends, climb down the steps and get into the river. This is where the Zion Narrows day hike begins, not that anything is really marked once you actually get into the river.
It’s a Marathon, not a sprint, OK?
I exploded down that river ahead of our group. I wanted a few photos with no one in them. I’d read all of the photo guides, I knew what to expect. There would be hordes of people in my photos. This was the Narrows of Zion National Park. Everyone knew this was an amazing spot to hike and take photos. I expected a fashion Instagrammer to waltz down in a ballgown at any moment.
And yet, she didn’t. In fact, besides two other travelers taking advantage of the lovely weather, there was no one else ahead of me for quite a while. My group soon caught up with me and a friend reminded me—this is a marathon, not a sprint up the Narrows. We had five hours of hiking (round trip) ahead of us. It was time to slow down an enjoy it. So, I did.
Magnificence at every turn, can lead to more of it
Every curve in the rocks brought us to a new scene in the canyon. Water ebbed and flowed, weaving a deeper path in a never-ending cut in this part of the country that it had been carving out for over a millennium. Was it gorgeous? Do you even need to ask? And you know what… the crowds never showed up. Despite it being a holiday weekend, our little group was the crowd.
We trekked through knee high water, opted to go around waist-high water at one point. (OK, we did go through it just once for a photo. Those dry suits really work!) I slipped on rocks, twisted both ankles and almost dropped my heavy dSLR camera into the river more times than my travel insurance company (yes, this one) will want to hear about. My toes got colder the farther we went into the cavern, as not as much sunlight could get in to warm up the riverbed and air. I dug out my fleece gloves to warm up my fingertips so I could continue to take photos. We had to keep pushing forward.
Wall Street made me do it
When you are hiking the Narrows from the bottom up, the canyon slips into two sections—“Wall Street,” which is longer, and Orderville Canyon, which is shorter. Naturally, I had to go to Wall Street. A few of us headed up that way. We made it almost to the point where you need to have registered with the park service and gotten a permit to go further. We wanted to hike more, but we were well past two o’clock in the afternoon at this point. Our gear was due back by six. The sun would set and we did not want to be in the Narrows when it was dark.
There were six of us who had hiked this far out of the twenty in our group. We grudgingly turned around. We were tired, cold and a burger was calling my name. A friend laughed as I chatted about exactly how my burger would be built. I told him what I would have to drink with it too. In the end, it came down to a double-bacon cheeseburger with a healthy serving of Scotch to get me warm. There was no need for the Scotch, though. Between the massive amount of camera gear I was carrying on my back and coming out of the canyon, our toes warmed up and I was happy as a clam with a juicy burger for dinner once I was in my dry shoes again.
Winter in The Narrows of Zion National Park
Winter might not be the go-to time people think to hike in the Narrows of Zion National Park, but they should. We only ever came across a handful of people while we hiked, which meant no one was ever in our photos. We kept a steady pace, which meant we were warm throughout the day. My husband might not have been with me, but thanks to my #InstameetStGeorge friends, I had a few photos of myself in the Narrows, as well as a few of the St. George state parks. I also got to scout a hike our family has dreamed about doing for over three years together.
Will I be back with the boys to hike the Zion Narrows?
The boys are still a bit young to handle the full hike, at ages five and eight. I think in a few years we will be all in. We can definitely do part of the Narrows now, but depending on the water level, it could get tricky to balance as adults, let alone helping the kids cross the river safely over and over again. I saw one family hike in for a bit, but turn back. It was a wise choice, and one I would have made with my own kids. But they will be back, and so will we one day soon.
This post is part of a paid partnership with Travel Mindset and Visit St. George. As always, my opinions are my own. When they aren’t you will be the first to know.