Hiking the Narrows in Winter: Everything You Need to Know
Have you ever considered hiking the Narrows in winter? You absolutely should!
When we were planning what hikes we wanted to do in our trip to Zion National Park the first week in January, Matthew emphatically stated that we were definitely doing the Narrows. I, on the other hand, was initally not at all convinced that hanging out in icy water in the middle of winter was something I wanted to do.
Thankfully, he convinced me to go for it, and I am SO GLAD because the experience was absolutely amazing – it was our favorite hike the whole time despite the freezing cold water.
And the water was basically freezing – the day we hiked the water temp was 37 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite the cold water and the extra gear we needed, I would be as bold as to say that winter is the BEST time to hike the narrows!
Through the experience and talking to others, we picked up a lot of helpful tips for hiking the Narrows in the dead of winter. Here are our best tips:
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If You’re Hiking the Narrows in Winter, You MUST Rent a Drysuit Package
To successfully hike the Narrows in winter, you absolutely need to rent some gear.
Zion Outfitters or Zion Adventure Company are two locations that offer drysuit packages in Springdale. Wetsuits are not recommended because of the variable water height.
Since the water depth varies from ankle to waist deep, if you are wearing a wetsuit, the areas of your body that are wet but not currently in the water will get cold — very cold! I had initially considered just using a wetsuit and am very glad that I did not!
Both outfitter locations rent a drysuit package. You get a drysuit bib (essentially overalls) and around the ankles was a tight, rubber gasket. The rubber gasket kept tight to the skin so no water could come up the drysuit. It wasn’t uncomfortable at all for me – although Matthew did note that you can’t let the rubber roll up at all or it can dig in.
They also give you socks and boots that are made from wetsuit material. Water comes into the boots and socks. This is by design, but after a few minutes, the water warms up around your feet.
Well, that’s the theory anyway, and in practice it mostly worked like that. Sometimes when you stepped, the pressure squeezed out the warm water and fresh cold water would replace it. Overall, our feet stayed comfortable enough, though.
And the boots were actually really great to walk in, as they had a lot of grip and protected our feet well on the rocky riverbed.
The last thing we were given was a really sturdy walking stick. The walking stick was GOLD! It was so helpful for not losing our balance. Whether you hike the Narrows in winter or summer, get a good walking stick! (And no, hiking poles are not great for the Narrows – too flimsy)
Tip: Go to the outfitters the night before your hike to pick up your gear. That way you are ready to go first thing in the morning!
Zion Outfitters or Zion Adventure Company – Which Outfitter to Choose?
Zion Outfitters offers two different packages: a bib package ($48) and a full dry suit package ($58), which includes a long-sleeve top. The bib style is plenty high for the depth of the Narrows and you won’t get wet from hiking in that.
Zion Adventures offers just the full package with top, no bib option ($57).
If you are worried about losing your balance and falling in, the full top might be the way to go. We luckily did not fall in and were fine with the bib. If I was doing this hike again in the winter, I would choose that option again, unless the water level was projected to be much higher or we wanted to go farther, as the water does get deeper in some of the later sections that we didn’t go to.
Tip: If you are hiking the Narrows in warmer weather, you can rent a “warm weather package” ($25-27 depending on outfitter) that includes the socks, boots, and pole. If I came back in summer I would definitely consider getting this, because the boots were really supportive + the stick was essential in keeping our balance.
Tip: Grab a map of the Narrows from the outfitter when you’re getting gear. We found it very helpful as we hiked!
What Clothing to Layer Underneath
We debated a long time how much clothing to layer under the dry suit for the Narrows. It was recommended to just layer however you normally would for the weather that day. When we went, the high was about 55 degrees, although it was much cooler in the canyon and we didn’t get a lot of direct sunlight. It was about 25 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit when we started hiking.
I wore thermal underwear and thin joggers on bottom, and a thermal layer, sweatshirt, and windbreaker with a hood on top. Matthew did a base layer and pajama pants on bottom, and a t-shirt, sweater, and jacket on top.
Both of us also had a beanie and good winter gloves (DO NOT forget the gloves!) This combination of clothing was perfect for the weather we had in the Narrows that day.
Recommended Clothing & Gear:
Base Layer/Thermal Layer for Women: Base layers are so crucial for staying warm in cold temperatures! These ones are thin and comfortable but keep you nice and cozy.
Base Layer/Thermal Layer for Men: Similar to the women’s base layer, this set is thin and comfortable, and fits close to the skin to not add a lot of bulk. And with over 37,000 reviews, this is a well-loved set by many!
Beanie: Don’t just rely on your hood to keep your head warm!
Waterproof Gloves: I love my good, thick waterproof gloves – they make such a difference in keeping my body temperature regulated. (I would not recommend those thin gloves designed to work with smartphones – they just don’t keep you warm at all!)
Waterproof Backpack: While hopefully your backpack will stay completely dry, it’s always a good idea to have a waterproof bag when hiking in a river.
Hydroflask: Keeps your liquids warm or cold, and is perfect for filling with hot cocoa or coffee to sip on your hike.
Power Bank: You are FOR SURE going to want to take lots of pictures on this hike, and this power bank is my favorite for charging up a low battery. Remember – cold can drain batteries faster, so extra power is important!
A few other notes about Narrows clothing:
- You don’t want to over-layer on bottom, because with the dry suit it is a lot harder to remove layers.
- I would definitely recommend bringing an extra pair of gloves in case yours get wet. It’s not hard to accidentally get your hands wet and you want to keep your hands protected.
- If you go with the bib package, it’s also not a bad idea to bring an extra top layer that is easy to pack in in case you slip and get wet. We saw a group where one person got splashed and then quickly switched out for a dry layer. Staying dry is crucial for being comfortable.
- Cotton – especially on bottom layers – isn’t as good as wool as it retains water more. No clothing is perfectly waterproof and over time some water worked in through the dry-bibs around Matthew’s knees. By the end of the hike, the pajama bottoms soaked up and retained some water. It never got uncomfortable, but it was close. (I had no problem with this)
Getting to the Trailhead
Visiting Zion National Park in winter in general is a great time because crowds are so much lower than normal.
Because of the lower crowds, between the very end of November and March (except for the days between Christmas and New Years, and some weekends – verify the current schedule before you go) there are no shuttles and you can drive straight to the trailhead at the Temple of Sinawava. I loved this!
Just note that the parking lots are not gigantic and can fill up. When we went we started early because we were afraid of running out of parking spots, and there is not an easy overflow parking area, like by the Angel’s Landing trailhead. However, there were still tons of spaces left at the Narrows trailhead when we started at about 8am.
How Long Does the Hiking the Narrows Take?
We started from the Temple of Sinawava at about 8:30am. This is also referred to as the bottom-up hike. The first mile of the Zion Narrows trail is actually the Riverside Walk that ends where you get in the river and start hiking.
The Riverside Walk is paved, flat, and a good option if you just want to get a taste of the canyon and splash in the water for a bit. This section is about a mile long and will take about 20 minutes.
Once you actually get to river entrance point, things get awesome quickly. The canyon has been getting, ahem narrower, throughout the Riverside Walk, but now the canyon shrinks to the width of the river.
As you begin hiking in the water, you’ll notice the ice on the canyon walls. With the water being just a bit above freezing and the air temperature dropping below freezing each night, a lot of the gentle waterfalls or other “weeping” rocks turn into gorgeous ice falls and icicles.
Matthew especially loved the effect created as water flowed behind the ice sheets – it was mesmerizing – and a definite perk to hiking the Narrows in winter. There are several good examples of these in this first section of the trail.
After this, expect a nice variety of wall colors, rock formations, different size and style sandbanks, and all around gorgeous views. Walking from the ice falls to the Orderville Junction can take anywhere from 1-2 hours depending on your pace and how often you stop to take pictures.
I highly recommend taking the detour into the junction, but be aware that you are supposed to stop at the falls about a mile in. In the winter, the falls get pretty icy to traverse. (What? No! We definitely didn’t try to get over it. Why would you say that?)
This detour was actually pretty fast; the water level is lower in this branch and the ground relatively flat.
The last section of the Narrows hike we did was Wall Street. If you can get this far it is definitely worth it, as the canyon narrows even more into a slot canyon. You really feel overpowered by those tall canyon walls, in the best way!
You can keep going for up to 2 more hours from here until you reach Big Springs, but there are some very deep sections that you would want a full body suit for in winter.
For time and depth we stopped just after Hiccup Spring. The return trip went a lot faster. Walking with the current makes a difference, and we didn’t take as many pictures. All told we spent probably about 3 hours up, 40 minutes in the side canyon, and 2 hours back. And we loved every minute of it!
Was Hiking the Narrows in Winter Cold?
Well, yes, it was winter in the Narrows. But did we get cold? We started at 8:30 a.m. and for the first couple hours, yes, the water felt cold. The wetsuit boot definitely warmed the water up, but it was still quite chilly.
As we noted above, we think this was mainly because sometimes the water would refresh fast enough in the socks that our body heat wouldn’t warm it before more cold water displaced what was being warmed.
To combat this, we switched from hiking in the water all the time – it was fun and we were enjoying the novelty – to hiking in the water only until we reached a sandbar area (rocky, but we’ll call it a sandbar) and then hiked on the sandbar until it ended.
This strategy gave the water a chance to warm and really kept our feet from getting too cold, but still gave us plenty of water hiking time. An added bonus is you travel a lot faster out of the water.
I will also say that after a few hours of hiking and the temperature warming up a bit, we did not have any problems with feet getting cold. If you start the hike a little later in the day, or your temperatures are a little warmer, this might not be an issue at all for you.
What Food to Bring
Whatever trail food you like is going to be just fine for the Narrows trail in Zion. We brought a combination of dried fruit, dried meat, granola bars, muffins, and apples.
The 100% best thing we did, though, was in addition to bringing water, we also filled up our Hydro Flask with hot cocoa. Sips of the hot drink on the way through the canyon was so soothing (this was available at the hotel breakfast).
And don’t let the fact that you are hiking the Narrows in the winter fool you, you still want a good water supply. You will be working hard.
Other Practical Information about Visiting Zion National Park
Where to Stay
There are no hotels inside the national park, but there are several campgrounds. The Watchman Campground is the only one that is open in winter.
Most people stay in the town of Springdale when visiting Zion National Park – it’s just outside the park entrance and has many hotel and restaurant options. The outfitters mentioned here are also located in Springdale.
Here is where we stayed (and loved), plus a few other options for great places to stay:
My Personal Recommendation:
Hampton Inn & Suites: The rates were very reasonable, the breakfast selection was warm and delicious, the rooms were large and comfy, and the hot tub felt great after a day of hiking. They had a variety of trail food available at breakfast to take with you on your day’s hike.
This is where we stayed on our trip and I would definitely stay here again.
Rated: 9.1 of 10 ⭐ – read reviews here
Closest Hotel to the Entrance:
Cable Mountain Lodge: This is the closest hotel to the entrance of Zion – it’s literally just a couple minutes walk from here to the entrance, and is just next door to the outfitters.
Beyond the great location, Cable Mountain Lodge has beautiful, large rooms, an on-site coffee shop, and market, and an outdoor pool.
Rated: 9.4 of 10 ⭐ – read reviews here
Best Budget-Friendly Hotel:
Zion Park Motel: This is a great budget option, as the rooms are clean and comfortable and it’s located in the heart of Springdale. This is a particularly great option if you’re traveling with a family, as the family room includes a living room and kitchen for a very reasonable price.
Rated: 8.9 of 10 ⭐ – read reviews here
Best Boutique Hotel:
Red Rock Inn Cottages: This boutique hotel provides separate little cottages for each guest, with each cottage being decorated uniquely and with a desert theme. The accommodations and grounds are just lovely, and the proprieter is extremely helpful and friendly.
Rated: 9.6 of 10 ⭐ – read reviews here
What Airport To Fly Into
Las Vegas is the closest airport to Zion National Park. It takes 2 hrs 45 minutes to reach Springdale from Vegas. Alternatively, you could also fly into Salt Lake City and drive down – it’s about a 4.5 hour drive from the SLC airport.
Obviously, Vegas is closer and thus preferable, but if flying into Salt Lake is significantly cheaper, it may be worth arriving at that airport!
I recommend booking your rental with Fox Rentals via RentalCars.com. We’ve found that Fox’s prices are quite a bit cheaper than other companies in Vegas, and RentalCars.com is our go-to for best prices and availability.
Note: At the Las Vegas Airport, everyone has to take a shuttle from the airport to the Rental Car Terminal. However, to get to Fox Rentals, you have to take a second shuttle from the Rental Car Terminal to their own location. It does add another 15 minutes, but the lower prices have made it worth the extra time to double shuttle.
Can You Combine a Trip to Zion With Other National Parks?
Utah is blessed with an abundance of incredible national and state parks to visit. You can easily spend a day in Bryce Canyon National Park on the same trip as Zion, as the parks are just over 1 hour apart.
Capitol Reef National Park is just a little bit farther, at 3 hours from Zion National Park. Arches and Canyonlands are quite a bit farther – 5 hours from Zion. However, the views and hiking trails in Arches and in Canyonlands are absolutely gorgeous, and a road trip up to see them is definitely worth the hassle.
Not in Utah, but close by is Valley of Fire in Nevada – trust me, you definitely want to hit up this state park.
Why Winter Is The Best Time to Hike the Narrows
Now, I’ve only gone hiking in Zion during winter, but I know that Zion can get crazy crowded during the warmer months. And I just don’t love overly crowded places in nature!
When I was doing research before we went, I found these photos of The Narrows (via the National Park Service.) I mean, I’m sure it’s lovely in summer time, but dang that’s a lot of people.
I don’t think we were ever in the canyon with more than one other group. We were often all by ourselves for long periods of time. All by ourselves! In one of the most famous and gorgeous hikes in the United States! I’ll take it.
Beyond that, the cold wasn’t much of an issue with the right gear. So yes, while hiking the Narrows in winter is chilly, the trade-off is awesome!
Verdict: SO WORTH IT.