Walking Through Liquid Gold: Hiking The Narrows

After a long day in the Zion National Park, we returned to the hotel around dinner time having spent what seemed all available energy, but I could tell something was cooking in my brother’s head. Despite our fatigue, he was unsatisfied with eating dinner and resting in the hotel room while there was sunlight left in the sky.

For good reason, one of the most popular hikes in Zion National Park is The Narrows, a hike consisting of water rather than a beaten dirt path. A worry in such a heavily visited park such as Zion is you won’t have a moment to yourself on a hiking trail; after all, one great luxury of a hike is getting away from civilization, which includes other people.

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Considering the water, I left the fancy camera back in the hotel room, so all pictures were taken with my cell phone which I kept in a ziplock bag for safekeeping.

Arriving at the trailhead, you might think The Narrows is a heavily populated hike. The trailhead is a rocky shore crawling with children playing in the river, masses taking pictures, and seeming hundreds beginning to hike upstream like parishioners on a pilgrimage. This is perhaps when hiking in the late afternoon has its advantages.

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Right, back to the hotel room. It takes 45 minutes for a shuttle to travel from the visitor’s center to the stop for The Narrows, and once you get there, it’s still a mile hike to the actual trailhead; we knew time was against us with just four hours of daylight left. My brother and I quickly put together out backpacks and ate what snacks we had en route to the visitor center where we rented “water shoes” to hike up the river. Once the shoes were acquired, we hopped on the shuttle, grimaced at each required stop along the way, then hiked a very quick one mile (18 minutes!) to the trailhead.

Ideally, we would have had more than two and a half hours to hike The Narrows, but in many ways, it worked to our advantage. At the trailhead, there were still numerous people walking up the river, but that didn’t last long, and about 20 minutes into the hike, we rarely saw another person. Perhaps this is the way it always is; the curious only hiking a quarter to half a mile, then turning back, but it might have well been that the end of the day was drawing near and people were anxious to get back for dinner.

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The other great advantage was the lighting. If you’ve ever been out west among the rocks and canyons, you know that it all becomes much more alive during the beginning and end of the day. There’s something about morning and evening light that causes the colors of the canyons to become more vibrant, and in The Narrows was no different. As we hiked along, pushing against the flow of the river, all around our feet was the golden rock above reflecting on the water’s surface, and I could not help but think I was walking through liquid gold.

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In fact, the entire canyon, which had become quite narrow (thus the name), was cast in the yellow, reddish glow from the rock walls high above. Couple this with the blissful sound of water rushing over stone, the remoteness of the area, the towering cliffs to each side, and the near absence of people, the hike was one of the most memorable I’ve ever experienced.

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The current is actually rather swift. Hiking poles for stability are recommended.
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Water seeps through the more porous rock in the lower canyon, allowing for all kinds of plant life to grow.

It’s hard to describe such a hike with words; they seem woefully inadequate. The Narrows is a hike along and often through the North Fork Virgin River, sometimes only 20 to 30 feet wide, and winds its way through enormous 1000 foot canyon walls where you can expect to witness a unique ecosystem of flora and fauna. That doesn’t really do it, does it?

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National Parks Service site for The Narrows

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