Riverside Walk to the Zion Narrows
The Riverside Walk Trail is the gateway to the most famous feature of Zion Canyon, the Zion Narrows. This is the canyon that all other canyons are compared to. The walls of polished Navajo Sandstone stretch nearly straight up hundreds of feet to the tree-dotted plateau rim. One thousand year old spring waters provide life-giving nourishment to ferns, grasses, and flowers in hanging gardens along the trail. The Riverside Walk is accessible for everyone, and for wheelchairs with some assistance. The mile-long paved path ends at the start of the Narrows hike. From here, hikers step into the rushing waters of the river to start their journey up canyon. Dark, narrow sections of canyon beckon hikers to explore one mysterious bend after another. All of the awe, grandeur, and mystique of Zion Canyon converge in the Narrows, making it a must-do hike on your trip to Zion.
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Getting to the Zion Narrows Trailhead
Between the months of March and December, the Zion Shuttle System provides the only access to the Riverside Walk Trailhead. The trail can be accessed from the last stop on the Zion Canyon Shuttle at the Temple of Sinawava. During the winter months, visitors can drive the entirety of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. From the Visitor Center, drive 1.4 miles to Canyon Junction and turn left onto the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. From Canyon Junction, drive 6.2 miles to the parking lot at the Temple of Sinawava. The trail starts right at the parking lot. Be sure to use the restroom at the trailhead. There are no restrooms on the trail.
History of the Riverside Walk Trail
Geologist Grove Karl Gilbert became the first person to descend and name the Zion Narrows in 1872, the same year John Wesley Powell traversed nearby Parunuweap Canyon. The Riverside Walk Trail was completed in 1929, under the supervision of park superintendent Walter Ruesch, to provide access to the Zion Narrows. In 1968 a rock fall buried a 250 foot long section of the trail. Instead of routing the trail around or clearing the debris, a trail was built over the top. Today millions of people enjoy the easily accessible Riverside Walk. Thousands of intrepid hikers step off the trail and into the waters of the Virgin River to see the wonders of the Narrows for themselves.
3 Best Options for Hiking the Zion Narrows
Casual hikers and adventurers alike will find what they are looking for along the Riverside Walk and in the Zion Narrows.
Below are the best options for day hiking the Riverside Walk and the Zion Narrows:
|Destination||Miles (One Way)||Elev||Difficulty||Style|
|Gateway to the Narrows||1 mi||100 ft||Easy||Out and Back|
|Orderville Canyon||2.5 mi||200 ft||Moderate-Strenuous||Out and Back|
|Big Spring||5 mi||300 ft||Moderate-Strenuous||Out and Back|
1. Day Hike Option 1: Gateway to the Narrows
Just hiking along the Riverside Walk can be a sublime experience. The trail follows alongside the Virgin River and is well shaded by 1000 foot canyon walls for all but a few hours of the day. Giant cottonwood and box elder trees line the banks of the river, providing shelter for birds, rock squirrels, and mule deer. Centuries old spring water drips down the canyon walls feeding delicate ferns, grasses, and wildflowers in lush hanging gardens. The trail finally ends in a short set of stairs leading down to the river bank. Gazing up the canyon, visitors are treated to views of the Mountain of Mystery and the narrow halls of the canyon beyond.:
2. Day Hike Option 2: Orderville Canyon
From the end of the Riverside Walk, visitors to the Zion Narrows can step into the waters of the North Fork of the Virgin River and explore to their hearts’ content. The hiking can be treacherous. The riverbed is littered with bowling ball-sized rocks that can be covered in slippery algae. It is best to have sturdy water hiking shoes with good ankle support to continue upriver. Impossibly high and sheer canyon walls and dark, tortuous passages are the rewards for hiker’s efforts. Around the final corner on this hike, the walls narrow to 20 or 30 feet wide in the area known as Wall Street. Another narrow canyon, Orderville Canyon beckons from the right. This is the turnaround point for most day hikers. Explore up Orderville Canyon for a worthwhile bonus hike.
3. Day Hike Option 3: Big Spring
This 10-mile round-trip hike may prove to be too strenuous for most hikers, but the rewards are exponential. Beyond Orderville Canyon, the walls of the Zion Narrows tighten in an area known as Wall Street. Here the walls approach 1000 feet straight up and not much more than 20 feet wide in places. This section of the canyon is the Magnum Opus of the North Fork of the Virgin River’s millions of years of carving. The most difficult section of this trail comes in the form of massive boulders that block parts of the river. While each boulder problem can be traversed, it is no easy task and hikers might need to swim. Beautiful springs and small waterfalls mark the official turn around point at Big Spring, approximately a half mile past the boulder field. No upstream travel is permitted beyond this point.
Maximize Your Visit to Zion National Park on a Hiking Tour
Guided day hike tours and multi-day packages allow visitors the opportunity to make the most of their time in Zion National Park and to do it hassle-free. Guided tours include gear (backpack, trekking poles, crampons in winter), meals, accommodations on multi-day tours, local transportation, and a professional Utah hiking guide. Through their knowledge, stories, and personal passion, guides can bring a place to life in a way that’s much more difficult to do on your own.
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Backpacking the Zion Narrows
Backpacking is the ultimate way to experience this other-worldly slot canyon. Read below for information on backpacking the Zion Narrows.
|The Narrows Top-Down Hike||15-18mi||-1500 ft||Strenuous|
Hiking the Zion Narrows from start to finish is, hands down, the best way to experience this amazing canyon. Hikers will experience the blossoming of a canyon as the subtle forested drainage gives way to the deep, mystical narrows that Zion is known for. The trail follows the river course between ever deepening canyon walls in the cool waters of the North Fork Virgin River. Several large boulder fields, waterfalls, and log jams add a sense of extraordinary adventure to the already unbelievable hike. Backpacking through this iconic canyon allows hikers to immerse themselves in it’s full majestic beauty and mystery. Best of all, the final miles of the hike pass through the deepest, narrowest sections of the canyon. This is truly a magnificent backpacking trip, but it is very popular. Few permits are issued for this hike, and it is in high demand.
Join a Guided Zion National Park Trip
Joining a backpacking tour near Zion National Park is a worry-free, adventurous way to experience Southern Utah. With your gear, meals, local transportation, permits, and fees taken care of for you, you can travel light and focus 100% on enjoying the hiking experience, while the guide company takes care of everything else. Also, by going with local experts you’ll enjoy a greater level of safety and gain a much better understanding of the history and ecology of this remarkable region. Read more about a guided backpacking trip near Zion National Park.
When to Hike and Seasonal Considerations
The Riverside Walk Trail can be hiked year round. The trail is subject to seasonal closures, particularly during the winter when falling ice can be a serious hazard. The Zion Narrows is also subject to seasonal closures, due to the amount of flow in the river. If the North Fork Virgin River gauge registers more than 150 cubic feet per second, the National Park Service will issue a trail closure. The trail will reopen when the river has been below 150 CFS for more than 24 hours. Spring snow melt runoff can close the trail for months at a time. The best time to hike the Narrows is in the early summer and fall. Winter can also be a fantastic time to hike. Be sure to bundle up and bring the proper gear. There are many great outfitters in Springdale.
Day Hike Permits
No permits are needed to day hike the Riverside Walk Trail or the Zion Narrows.
Permits are required for all overnight trips in Zion National Park. Hikers can apply for permits 3 months in advance on the 5th of each month. There is a $5.00 non-refundable fee for an online calendar reservation, and there is an additional charge for a permit that is determined by the size of your group. About one third of backcountry permits can also be obtained the day before or day of a trip by walk-up only.
Suggested Packing List
Day Hike Packing List
- 3-4 liters of water (more in summer)
- Salty, calorie-rich snacks
- trekking poles
- sturdy shoes that can get wet and provide good ankle support
- wide-brimmed hat
- sunscreen, sunglasses
- cotton t-shirt (spring-fall)
- non-cotton t-shirt (winter)
- rain jacket
- warm non-cotton layer (even in summer)
- 1st-aid kit
Backpacking Packing List
- all items listed for day hikes PLUS
- multi-day backpack or dry-bag
- 3-season tent
- sleeping bag
- sleeping pad
- backpacking stove and fuel
- backpacking meals
- 2-3 pairs wool socks
- extra t-shirts
Please Respect Our National Parks – Leave No Trace
We strongly recommend abiding by all Leave No Trace ethics guidelines and practices so that our national parks and public lands are preserved for the enjoyment of future generations and for the people and animals who call these places home. Simple things like packing out your trash, obeying national park rules, and respecting the peace and quiet of our national park trails is a great start. If you’re going on a backpacking trip, you can read about more about the 7 Leave No Trace Principles.