How to Hike Zion’s Narrows with Children
This post is part of our 8-Day SW National Park Road Trip with a Toddler series. The Introduction, route map, and itinerary can be found here.
Zion National Park teems with spectacular vistas, massive rock formations, and sparkling streams. Mule deer browse the tall grasses and red tailed hawks soar on the thermals far above. Among this stunning scenery, there is one hike that will captivate adults and delight their children: The Narrows of Zion.
The Narrows is often rated one of the best outdoor walks in the United States; hikers will follow the Virgin River as it winds down a spectacular slot gorge with sweeping thousand foot cliffs on either side. Trekkers willing to venture into the canyon must wade into the chilly water, armed with stout sticks and strong ankles. But be undaunted, for this hike is worth it.
And, depending on the conditions, and the abilities of those in your party, it’s feasible for children. Our family of four (two adults, a three-year old, and a baby) hiked up-river almost to the Orderville Canyon branch one day in late October. There are two ways to do the Narrows hike: Top Down Thru Hike (permit required, 16 miles) and Bottom Up Day Hike (no permit required, go as far as you’d like before turning around). This article details a description of the Bottom Up option as the longer Top Down route is not appropriate for small children.
Here is the Daily Itinerary for Hiking the Narrows of Zion:
- The night before (or the morning of): Obtain river shoes and a stick. While not strictly necessary (see discussion, below), proper shoes and neoprene socks make the trek more comfortable. Several outfitters in Springdale supply gear.
- Park your car at the main Visitor’s Center in Zion and consult with the rangers as to the current conditions and flash flood danger. There are very real risks to hiking in slot canyons during flood season and you should be aware of the dangers before attempting any hike. Catch the free park shuttle up to the Temple of Sinawava (20 minutes, one-way). Use the bathrooms!
- Hike the 1.0 mile paved Riverside Walk trail up to the Narrows entrance.
- From here it’s time to hit the water! The first mile of canyon walking is mostly on the river banks with countless shallow crossings. Use your stick to help you navigate the current and find any deep spots. Dark water = deeper, light water = shallower.
- Hike until you’ve had enough and then turn around and head for home. There are numerous dry banks for picnic spots. Hiking in the river is slow-going; expect to conservatively cover 1.0 mile/hour and use the same estimate for returning to the trailhead and going down-river is not significantly faster.
What About Older Kids (not in carriers)?
We saw children as young as seven easily navigating the river crossings during this low-flow season. As always, know your child and their abilities. Rangers say that people weighing more than 50 lbs should be able to make this hike if the river is flowing less than 75 cubic feet/second. The rangers at the visitors center will be able to tell you river height. Or check this website.
- Upon disembarking the tram at the Temple of Sinawava, VISIT THE BATHROOMS. The bushes alongside the canyon walls have been heavily used already.
- Wear appropriate footwear. We saw a lady in flip-flops wobbling her way up the trail. That’s a sprained ankle waiting to happen. Old tennis shoes would probably work. Tevas/chakos/keens might also do in a pinch, although you’d probably be stopping to let the gravel out the bottom. We rented a pair of five-ten canyoneers from a shop in Springdale and were very content with their performance. My husband did note that his pair of Size 13s was exceptionally large, width-wise, and it made walking slightly uncomfortable. I found my Women’s size 8 to be perfect and true to size.
- Neoprene Socks vs. Drysuit Pants. During our hike, the ambient air temperature was 72 F and the water was 53 F. We found the walking to be quite pleasant clad solely in neoprene socks and canyoneer shoes; the dry suit pants were not necessary.
- If you get an early-morning start, it’ll likely be chilly in the canyon, especially walking through cold water. Make sure you have enough upper body layers, including a hat and gloves.
- Try to go early-ish. It’ll be cold but less crowded. Don’t forget to factor in time on the tram from the Visitor’s Center.
- Learn about flash floods, especially if you’re hiking in July, August, and September. Be aware of your surroundings and heed the warnings of park personnel. This hike has claimed several lives of those that chose to ignore warnings.
Details Specific To Our Trip:
Date: Late October 2014
Flow: 41 cubic feet/second (CFS)
Water Temp: 53 degrees F
Air Temp: 72 degrees F
We hiked up to just below the junction with Oderville Canyon and the kids (in their carriers) did not get wet. Not even close. The deepest pools that we encountered were mid-thigh (on a 5’7” woman). This river flow is considered ‘easy’ (i.e. shallow). The river runs at less than 75 CFS 90% of the year and is considered walkable for persons weighing 50 pounds or more.
Fording the many crossings was easy, especially with a sturdy stick. In fact, I’d highly recommend a pole, especially as folks with child carriers or heavy packs tend to be top-heavy. There were plenty of places for a child to walk on the banks and our three-year old could have easily forded several of the river crossings.
For the walkers (adults and older children):
-Quick dry clothing that can be layered. I wore: shorts, t-shirt, long sleeve & a lightweight down jacket
-Tight fitting neoprene socks (can be rented here)
-Five-Ten Canyoneer river shoes (can be rented here)
– Warm hat & lightweight gloves (brought but didn’t wear. However, if you get an early start, YOU’LL WANT THESE, as it’s chilly in the canyon)
-A stout stick
-Adequate food and water
-Camera (preferably one in a waterproof casing)
-Ziplock bags for storing food/gear/etc. We didn’t need this as our packs didn’t get wet but hikers attempting the route during high flow times will appreciate dry food.
Optional: If you have the space, spare clothing is nice to have along. You may not use it in the canyon but having a change of clothes (or comfortable shoes) for the tram ride back to the parking lot (40 minutes) is nice, especially if you’re soaking wet.
For the children being carried:
-Warm clothing that can be layered. Our son wore long fleece pants, a polypropylene shirt, and a down jacket.
– Warm hat & gloves
-Good footwear (for if they decide to walk on the land portions)
-Adequate food and water
-Change of dry clothing
-Diaper changing supplies
–Deuter Kid Comfort II Child Carrier . We’ve hauled our kid up and down mountains and around the world in this thing. We love it. He can access his water bottle and snacks in the side pockets and we like that the seating area is padded and level. He loves it so much that we can’t convince him to walk. We use this carrier for our children between the ages of 6+ months and 3.75 years (and counting…).
–Beco Soleil Baby Carrier.We’ve use this soft carrier since our children were a month old. We start them facing us, snuggled safely against our chests and zipped into a room coat. I have chronic back problems so I like to move the kiddos around to my back (instead of the weight hanging off my front waist) around six months. The back position still supports the baby’s hips (and keeps them in the proper position). Emma, at ten months, likes being able to look around and is also happy to snooze away the miles.
Catch the Rest of the Southwest Adventure with Terra Trekkers: