Explore the Stunning Scenery of Zion National Park on These Top Hikes
Strenuous Hiking Trails
The hikes we’ve included in this section are physically as well as mentally challenging. They may include dangerous sections that involve walking along cliff edges with chains to support you, and some require canyoneering skills. The following trails all range from two-and-a-half to 16 miles and climb up to 2,148 feet in elevation.
These sorts of hiking trips involve significant advance planning and preparation. Be sure to pack sufficient water and check current weather conditions before heading out. Even though summer is a very popular time to hike at Zion National Park, the risk also increases during this time of year due to extreme temperatures and frequent rain and thunderstorms which can all make these trips more dangerous.
Be sure to let someone know your hiking plans in advance before heading out to, especially on any of these more strenuous trips. And be sure to bring the proper gear with you. Having a compass and knowing how to use it can be essential, even if a place claims the trails are well-marked.
Zion Narrows via Riverside Walk
The Narrows is a gorge with thousand-foot-tall walls and a river which passes through the narrowest section of Zion Canyon. There are two main ways to experience the Zion Narrows. The first and easier route is most popularly known as the “bottom-up” Narrows and is hikeable without a special hiking permit. You cannot hike further than Big Spring, nor is hiking in Orderville Canyon permitted.
While not very steep compared to other hikes in this section, this trail is rough and can be very slippery as it involves hiking in the Virgin River. More than half of the hike is spent in the water either wading, walking or sometimes even swimming. The water can be quite cold and fast-moving, and the path is slippery. It’s imperative that you check the weather and follow any warnings about flash flooding as floods can quickly turn deadly in The Narrows.
The trailhead is accessed by taking the shuttle to the Temple of Sinawava Trail (Shuttle Stop #9). From there, follow the Riverside Walk for one mile. This is a mostly-flat paved trail that winds along the Virgin River. There may be a fair amount of foot traffic along this section, as this is a family-friendly trail. Don’t worry though, you’ll soon leave the crowds behind.
When you reach the end of the Riverside Walk, you’ll begin wading in the river. It’s an out-and-back trail, so you return the same way you came. Many visitors try to reach Orderville Canyon which makes the trip about 10 miles round trip. There are no restrooms in The Narrows so make sure to use them at the Temple of Sinawava before you head out.
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The Narrows “Top-Down”
One of the most unforgettable ways to experience Zion National Park is to hike The Narrows from the top down. The 16-mile stretch of narrow gorge in the upper section of Zion Canyon is enclosed by walls up to 2,000 feet tall.
The hike doesn’t follow a specific trail, rather the route is the Virgin River. 80% or more of the hike requires walking, wading or swimming in the river. The current can be very fast, and the water is always cold. Slipping on the rocks is a constant issue and you must be incredibly careful to avoid flash flooding and hypothermia. Even though this is sure to be a memorable experience, proper planning and equipment are essential to avoid a difficult or even tragic end to your trip.
This hike requires a permit which are only issued when the river speed is below 120 cubic feet per second. In the best conditions, hikers can make the 16-mile trip in about 12 hours. For those who wish to make the trip at a more relaxed pace, spending one night in the gorge is a good idea.
Overnight camping is allowed at permitted sites and you are only allowed to stay for one night. The campsite capacity is limited to 12 numbered sites and these can often fill up to capacity on the weekends, so reservations are recommended.
You’ll need two cars or a shuttle for this trip, as the trailhead at Chamberlain’s Ranch is a one-and-a-half-hour drive from the end of the trail at the Temple of Sinawava.
If you spend time outside, knowing how to use a compass is an essential skill to ensure you don't get lost and stay safe.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
The Subway is one of the most beautiful hikes in Zion National Park. Like The Narrows, the hike can be done in either “top-down” or “bottom-up” fashion. The classic way to do the hike is to travel the top-down route which follows the Left Fork of North Creek. The trip takes six to 10 hours of difficult hiking with some technical canyoneering skills required.
The trip covers about 10 miles and involves some rappelling, several climbs and a few swims through cold water. The views along the trail are absolutely amazing and very photogenic as you experience some of the most beautiful slot canyons that Zion National Park has to offer.
The hike is extremely technical in sections and not only should hikers have the skills required to navigate the trail, but proper canyoneering gear is a must. A climbing harness, ropes and rappel device are required. Due to the cold water, wet suits are highly recommended during cool weather. There is a high risk of flash flooding in the canyon and the hike should not even be considered if rain is likely. The hike begins at the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead and ends at the Left Fork Trailhead, so you will need two cars or will need to arrange a shuttle in advance.
If you don’t have the technical skills required for canyoneering, you should instead consider the Subway “bottom-up” route which is a strenuous hike that has many obstacles but does not require technical canyoneering skills. It’s a great way to experience the beauty of this unique slot canyon without the rappelling and swimming required of the top-down route.
The hike begins and ends at the Left Fork Trailhead and travels about 3.3 miles each way, taking from five to nine hours to complete the entire route. The hike is quite strenuous as it travels through rugged terrain which includes steep and loose sections and traversing a river with many obstacles. Many sections are wet and can be slippery. While you won’t need any canyoneering gear to finish the hike, it should not be underestimated and proper planning and gear are required.
Both the top-down and bottom-up hikes require a permit. Due to its immense popularity, the National Park Service has created a lottery system that grants permits to 80 people per day. Please check the NPS website for more information about obtaining a permit.