Hiking The Narrows at Zion National Park!!!

narrows river bend walking hike
On Day 4 of our Out West Adventure, we finally got to check off a big bucket list item: camping in Zion National Park and hiking the Narrows!

**This is Day 4 of a series of blog posts chronicling our family trip Out West 2018 in which we faced some massive car issues while pulling our pop-up camper.  If you’d like to catch up, here’s Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3.**

We were exhausted, we were still in a rental vehicle, but the vacation itinerary moved on regardless, so we got up as early as we dared without the kids staging a mutiny and drove through sweet little Kanab, Utah, waving to the van at the auto repair shop as we went by. Kanab looks very charming and I’d love to go back and explore it some day under better circumstances.

The road into Zion National Park turns red when you enter the park boundaries, which is super cool, and we all cheered when we saw the Zion National Park sign.Red Road into Zion National Park

Zion is immediately beautiful and otherworldly, as soon as you get in the park. We oohed and aahed and then came to a screeching halt in a long line of cars. Yikes!

We found out later that the tunnel into Zion is not tall or wide enough for two-way traffic consisting of big tour buses and tall RVs, so they have to stop traffic in one direction to allow those big vehicles to drive in the middle of the tunnel, using both lanes.Tunnel Into Zion National Park

There are two tunnels you go through at the East entrance to Zion, and they are both very cool. Driving through the second tunnel, you really get a sense of the height of the canyon walls. It was pretty amazing, and something I’d love to experience again!! (That will be a recurring theme of this vacation, I can promise.) At the East entrance to Zion National Park, you kinda start at the top of the canyon and hairpin-turn your way down onto the valley floor. Once down there, you see the turn into the canyon which leads to the Narrows and Zion Lodge on your right, and soon on your left you pass the South Campground. The next left turn for Watchman Campground is also the turn for the Visitor’s Center. The parking lots for day visitors are routinely full by mid-morning.

We made it into the campground, parked in our woefully vacant reserved campsite and immediately hustled to get in line for the shuttle.

Zion is so crowded that you have to park your car and ride the shuttle everywhere.There’s no place to park your car at all the features otherwise.

waiting in shuttle line zion

We stood in line for 45 minutes and took the shuttle to the Temple of Sinawava stop. From there, we followed the Riverside Walk to where it ended at the Virgin River. This was the start of the Narrows hike, almost entirely done in the river.

If there was ONE THING on my bucket list for our trip, it was this hike.

I was totally psyched. The hike is frequently closed because of the danger of flash floods in this narrow little canyon, but thankfully, today was a good day for a hike in the Narrows.

At first I was really disappointed. The river was so, so crowded. In all of the pictures I had seen, it was this solitary oasis of mountain water and high canyon walls, beautiful and contemplative. The current reality was like a very basic water park with crying babies and selfie-takers everywhere.

But of course, any time you go to a place as iconic as Zion on a hike as popular as the Narrows, there is bound to be a lot of people. I’m not sure why I was so surprised. I mentally made peace with my expectations and enjoyed it for what it was (so critical when you’re on an adventure like ours). And, like every other National Park outing, the farther you go, the less crowded it gets.

emma in zion canyon

Always be willing to hike long; it’s worth it. While it was never just us, the crowds thinned a good bit, and the beauty of the place showed itself. Every bend in the river presented a fresh display of God’s glory; it was good for my heart and soul.

I will say though, that hiking upstream in a river filled with round, slippery stones is not easy! Imagine walking on bowling balls coated with Vaseline. You have to remind yourself to look up, then look down, then look up, then look down. We probably hiked around two hours upstream; no one was racking up the mileage because it’s tedious work. It’s something I would like to do again sometime, for longer. You can get a wilderness permit and hike downstream, but it’s an
overnight trip – something like 16 miles. One day maybe…

So here’s where it got crazy, and one of the reasons why we had to turn around. We still had miles to go before we slept that night.

After our hike, we came back out of the Narrows, rode the shuttle, got the rental car, went to Kanab, picked up the van (Hello Old Nemesis), turned the Jeep in, drove back up to Jacob Lake (with the van working but making a
new and unidentified noise just to keep us freaked out), thanked the campground
hosts who felt bad for us and had let us stay for free the second night, packed up the camper, hitched it up, drove back through Kanab and into Zion (now completely in the dark) and set up the camper.

I mean, that was a long day.

BUT for the first time in our trip, we were camping where we were supposed to be, so for us, it was quite a milestone.

Another first for us was to actually have
electrical hookups for the camper! As long as I’ve been camping, I’ve never had or used hookups.

Let me tell you what happens when you plug your camper into power: lights turn on, magically. The air conditioner runs and makes sleeping such a pleasant experience with its cool breezes and soothing white noise hum. You can charge your phone. You can plug in the Instant Pot and cook supper. You can even plug in little twinkle lights and drape them charmingly along your camper awning.

Hook ups change the camping game, in a good way. Also, shout out to Watchman Campground for having clean and very nice bathrooms! I am always appreciative of a well-lit, well-maintained bathroom facility, and since Jacob Lake only had pit toilets, hand sanitizer, and dryer sheets festooned about to minimize the smell that comes along with pit/vault toilets, flushing toilets and soap and water to wash your hands felt like the height of luxury.

car with camper at watchman campground zion national park

Watchman is a great campground and I’m so glad we got to stay there. We made those reservations the minute they went live six months ago because it books up completely, immediately.  It was so nice to be in the park and just walk over to the shuttle each day. There are deer that freely meander through and we saw snakes! You can’t put your hammock in the trees, though, which was a bummer but understandable, given the high occupancy and limited tree canopy of that park.

We had great weather while we were there, but we couldn’t have a campfire because the risk of wildfires was too great. In fact, we never had a campfire our whole trip, which made me a little sad, but honestly our days were so full, we did not do a lot of lounging at the campground, so it wasn’t such a big letdown.

What a day! What a magnificent, crazy day. The Narrows Hike was worth the madness for sure. It’s an experience our family will never forget.



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