Northeast of St. George and Springdale in the Zion National Park, the Virgin River Narrows Trail is considered the best hiking in Utah and one of the top ten hikes in the USA. Overall, the Narrows Trail is a 16 mile hike, though 90% of hikers explore only the first 3-4 miles as an out-and-back from the lower end. The Virgin River has carved a spectacular gorge through the Markagunt Plateau in the upper reaches of Zion Canyon. The resulting slot canyon narrows to 20 feet wide in sections and has walls up to 2,000 feet tall. Along the Narrows Trail, you’ll be walking in the shadow of soaring walls, sandstone grottos and hanging gardens.
There isn’t really a marked or maintained trail since the route follows the river bed. About 60% of the hike is spend wading, or even swimming, in the river itself. From the start, you can expect to have wet feet the entire time, and most of the year, the cold water necessitates gators or waterproof pants. With the cold water, hypothermia is a real and constant danger with wetsuits being a necessity from November through May. Moreover, the current can be quite swift at times and the rocks are known to be quite slippery. The Narrows Trail is actually closed when the current exceeds 120cfs. Flash floods are a constant danger as well, so you need to be aware of current weather forecasts for the region. In the Narrows, a flash flood can raise the water level over 30 feet in a matter of minutes.
The most popular section of the Narrows Trail is called Wall Street and starts about 2.5 miles (2 hours) from the lower end. The Wall Street section of the Narrows has walls over 1,500 feet and only 22 feet wide. The section is about 1.5 miles long, so the full out-and-back is 8 miles and takes about 6 hours. The lower starting point is at the shuttle stop for Temple Of Sinawava. From the shuttle stop, it is a one mile walk along a paved trail to the start of the slot canyon where you’ll enter the water. After hiking up the river bed for another 1.5 miles, you reach the intersection with Orderville Canyon, which is a popular hike in itself, and this is the start of Wall Street. The Wall Street runs another 1.5 miles up to a pair of large boulders blocking the river.
The entire Narrows Trail is a 16 mile trek with 1,700 feet of elevation change. It is typically attempted from the upstream upper end at Chamberlains Ranch and hiked down to the lower Temple of Sinawava trailhead. While serious hardcore trekkers attempt the hike in a single day (12 hours), most backpackers camp halfway down to truly enjoy the beauty of the canyon. Near the mid-point, there are 12 high water campsites, but keep in mind that all human waste must be packed out via Restop 2 bags. One of the more scenic points along the route is the fern-covered Big Springs.
The Chamberlain Ranch trailhead is about a 1.5 hour drive from Zion Canyon along paved and dirt roads. The dirt roads may be closed due to snow, and are impassible for 4WD vehicles when wet. To reach the trailhead from the East Entrance station, head east on SR9 for 2.5 miles. Turn left on paved road for 18 miles. Just across the bridge over the North Fork of The Virgin River, turn left and continue for 0.25 miles to the gate. Continue through the gate (make sure it is closed afterwards) for another 0.5 miles and park before the river crossing. Continue hiking on the road for 3 miles and enter the river where the road ends.
The Temple of Sinawava trailhead is only accessible during the day by the Zion National Park shuttle from the Visitor Center located just east of Springdale. The shuttle bus is known to get quite crowded, so make sure to get an early start.
Overall, Narrows Trail is the 4th most popular hiking trail of all 38 hikes in Utah.