Hiking up the Virgin River into the Narrows in Zion National Park, UT has been on my bucket list for a long time. We were finally able to go on October 8, 2016. I had done a little bit of research ahead of time, which helped, but I have many lessons learned.
Overall, the hike was full of adventure, GORGEOUS, and totally worth wading up the Virgin River in thigh-high water with all of my camera gear. I LOVED it and would do it again!!!!
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Are you ready to hike the Narrows yourself?
Keep reading below to see how I found parking, rented hiking equipment, and used the park shuttles so I could photograph and navigate the Narrows at Zion National Park!
Planning to photograph the Narrows starts with good gear
You don’t need a ton of gear for this hike, however, a tri-pod is a MUST!!! It is a bit cumbersome as you are stepping on slippery rocks, but if you want to get crisp images and soft, smooth water photos, it is essential. Another tool I had which was very helpful was my shutter remote tool. This allowed me to set a timer for 2 seconds without touching my camera for maximum sharpness on my photographs. I also brought extra CF cards and several different lenses (Canon 100mm macro lens, Canon 16-35mm wide angle lens, and 135mm Canon L Lens). That said, I only used my wide angle lens so hindsight I could’ve left the rest at home.
Bring a friend with you
I highly recommend bringing someone with you on this hike to help you with your gear. I was lucky enough to have my husband, Dave. Prior to coming, I called Zion to find out the temperature and water level of the river. I didn’t want to be in any unsafe conditions. For this hike, we left the kids at home. The water was pretty deep in places, and I was glad I didn’t have to worry about them. Perhaps another time:)
Rent good slip-resistant waterproof shoes
We began our trip by going to Zion Outfitter to rent some gear. It was totally worth it! We rented some neoprene socks to keep our feet warm in the cold water and some water hiking boots. We also rented a hiking stick, a waterproof backpack, and some waterproof pants. The waterproof backpack was very helpful in storing my camera gear and keeping it dry. Having a hiking stick also proved useful in keeping me from slipping and falling. That said, I DID NOT like the pants at all and opted to return them, wearing my yoga capris instead. Honestly, they were just fine and I wasn’t too cold. Dave was glad to have waterproof pants though, so it is a personal preference.
The shoes, however, were TOTALLY worth it!!! They saved me many a fall as I walked along the Virgin River bed and I didn’t have to worry about ruining my personal shoes. I would not do the hike without them.
Arriving at Zion National Park
We were coming down to Zion National Park after my husband’s mission reunion in Provo, Utah, so we opted to stay overnight in Beaver, UT. It’s about a 2 – 2 1/2 hour drive to Zion from Beaver. While it was a great little place to stay, we left later than I had wanted in the morning and I was completely unprepared for the crowds that awaited. Hindsight, I would have stayed in the park or close to Zion National Park so that I could leave earlier to hike the Narrows and have less crowds.
The park ranger had encouraged me to arrive at Zion National Park around 7 am and they were right. If you leave at that time, you will be able to get to “Wall Street” in the Narrows around 10 am which is just about the right time. You will still be okay until about 3 pm (at least in October) lighting wise, but the crowds make taking photos a LOT harder.
You can park outside Zion National Park if lines are long
When we first approached Zion, we drove through Springville, UT. Zion Outfitter is located JUST before the entrance to Zion National Park. When we got there (around 10 am) a large crowd entered just before us and started renting gear. I panicked at first, as I thought they wouldn’t have enough gear available, but it was fine. The line of cars into the park was HUGE. Because of this, we opted to pay for parking ($10) at Zion Outfitter and walked right into the park. There is a little foot bridge just behind the building.
I used my National Parks Annual Pass so I didn’t need to pay. I love hiking, being in nature, and visiting National Parks, and so I renew this pass every year. It is worth it’s weight in gold if you like to travel. From the park walking entrance, we got in line to take a shuttle.
To get to the Narrows you have to take a shuttle and get off at the Temple of Sinawava
It was like waiting in line at Disneyland to go on a roller coaster. Seriously??? At the time, I was anxious and upset. I had come all this way to take photos and I was afraid that I missed my chance. The bus ride took about 40 minutes to get up to the Temple of Sinawava. The stop was the very last one and there were a lot of people on the bus waiting to hike the Narrows.
There is a bathroom at the shuttle stop before the hike begins
We drove the 40 minutes and finally arrived at the stop for the Temple of Sinawava and the Narrows. Be sure to go to the bathroom before you begin your hike. There is really no private place to go once you start.
The hike into the Narrows IS the Virgin River – You will get wet
Upon beginning your hike, there is a little path along the Virgin River that you follow until you reach the above location. At this point, you have to go down a few paces and into the river. The first thing I noticed was PEOPLE. Honestly, I like people, but not when taking photographs of nature. I decided to wear my camera around my neck, keep the tri-pod packed up, and just make the best of it in spite of the large crowds. This was all part of the adventure, right?
Depending upon the time of year and weather, the Virgin River can be low or high
It didn’t take long before we entered knee-high water. Use caution when hiking the Narrows. The weather can change at any moment and the river can swell. Going in October proved to be a little bit cold, but not too bad. I quickly got used to the water temperature. In spite of that, there are a lot of sandy places on the edges which provided a great spot for photography as well as an occasional dry spot in the river bed. Both Dave and I were grateful for these reprieves.
Being surrounded by cliffs on both sides in the Narrows was breathtaking
In spite of my concerns with the crowds, the hike is simply spectacular. You are surrounded by red cliffs around 2,000 ft. tall and it is completely awe-inspiring.
Honestly, everywhere I looked it was amazing. Dave took Geology at BYU, Provo and was fascinated by the many different rock formations and strata. It is a geological story of nature at its greatest.
Nature never ceases to amaze me
One thing I was amazed at was all the greenery. Here we are in the middle of the desert in southern Utah and there are tiny bushes and trees growing in this carved out canyon.
Be aware of hidden deep pockets in the Narrows
Along our journey, we encountered spots where the Virgin River got deeper (about thigh high for us). I noticed that at times if we walked along the cliff edge, there were deep pockets. Luckily someone fell into one before I got there and I was able to spare my camera (I used a Canon 5D Mark ii – LOVE IT!). It may have been wiser to keep it stored in our waterproof pack, however, with the large crowds, I often had to seize the moment and so I found keeping it around my neck was a lot easier.
Be respectful of nature and others around you
I loved being a part of this adventure. There were piles of stacked rocks from other hikers, but other than that, and the large crowds, there was a great respect for nature. I didn’t see any litter. Awesome!
When hiking the Narrows, make sure you leave enough time to get back to your shuttle
This part of the hike was the larger and more open part of the Narrows. We were getting a little bit worried about time as we knew we had to leave enough time to get back to our shuttle. I think the hike is a few hours in to get to the infamous “Wall Street” section, and the last shuttle left at 7:30 pm. I did NOT want to be stuck in the Narrows overnight. Um…no thanks.
As Dave and I continued our hike, I would stop and ask people, “Are we close? How much farther?” I found that most people really didn’t know. Some said we were a few minutes away and others said hours. So, we kept on hiking.
Allow extra time when photographing the Narrows in Zion National Park
Several of these photos here took me 15-20 minutes to take. I had to allow hikers to pass and just when I was ready to shoot, more would come from the other direction. While some were considerate, most unfortunately were not. I get it, kind of…
Try to be respectful of other photographers
Then there was the lady in the purple shirt. She hiked up ahead of us and then stood in the river for a LONG time. I patiently waited for her to pass me and then started taking my long exposure photos. No sooner had I started when she decided to walk back the other direction SLOWLY. It took at least 20 minutes of patience but I ultimately got the shot I wanted. Good thing Dave and I packed lots of water and snacks.
Orderville Gulch Turnout
This little turn out to the right (pictured above) is your cue that you are almost to the narrowest section of The Narrows. It is the small entrance to Orderville Gulch. A lot of hikers turn around at this point, but if you have the time, DON’T! Some of the prettiest sections are yet to come!
Entering the infamous “Wall Street” in the Narrows
Honestly, I’m not sure when I hit “Wall Street” or if it was all considered this section of the Narrows. It was just beautiful. All of it.
You have to be patient to get good photographs. I used a remote shutter to minimize camera shake in my photos.
I also used a Singh Ray Variable Neutral Density Filter and Polarizer. A costly piece of equipment, but high quality and necessary for some of the softer water shots. The lighting in the canyon was simply beautiful.
Enjoy the beautiful light on the canyon walls
Then we turned a corner and saw the sun peeking through the canyon walls.
All I can say is WOW!
Although you get crowds, in order to get light bouncing off the walls in The Narrows, you need to be there just as the sun is over the open roof. I think this above shot was taken around 2 pm, early October.
I have always loved rocks and water, and this canyon provided both.
Time to turn around
After hiking a little while, we decided it was time to turn around and head back as we didn’t want to chance missing our shuttle.
I paused from time to time, taking as many pictures as I could.
My favorite photograph and spot in the Narrows
This one (above) is one of my favorite photographs that I took in the Narrows at Zion National Park. The lighting was absolutely magical. There was a photographer across the river from me to the right as I took this shot. It was hard to take as a steady stream of hikers kept going through. That said, I was able to finally get this as a hiker went behind the rock. Sometimes you need to be creative. It can be difficult doing slow water shots as your need to be perfectly still and leave your shutter open for a longer amount of time, however, the end result is worth it! I took the above photograph at ISO 100, 35mm, f/10, and 2.5 sec shutter speed. Remember, I used a Singh Ray Variable ND Filter and Polarizer which allowed me to get a slower shutter speed without overexposing the photograph.
For some reason the river felt a lot faster hiking back. I think it’s because we were headed back down stream.
When photographing the Narrows sometimes you need to get creative
Another favorite photograph is the above one. When you are battling streams and streams of people, sometimes you need to change your perspective. I crossed the river and set up my tri-pod near these amazing rock formations so that you couldn’t see any hikers. Don’t you just love the end result?
Heading home, grateful for my travel buddy
Dave is a trooper. I am so grateful for an adventurous husband who will travel along my side, help carry my gear, and humor me as we make memories together.
I will never forget our trip into The Narrows.
Our trudging through thigh-high water…
And our journey through the steep red sandstone cliffs together. May you enjoy your journey into The Narrows at Zion National Park, and if you can’t do it, at least you can see it and experience it through my photos!
Thanks for reading and sharing this journey with me!
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