A half or multi-day hike up the Virgin River through one of the south-west’s most beautiful canyons.
Yes, Zion in peak seasons is incredibly busy and when you arrive at the trailhead the crowds could be off-putting. However, like many places of interest, the further you hike from the trailhead the less people you’ll see. And that’s why I’ve included some Zion hikes in a collection of more off-the-beaten-track trails. You could easily spend a week or more at Zion hiking the main trails (some easy, some strenuous), but if you’re reasonably fit and only have time for one, this is it. It’s often voted as one of the best hikes in the world.
My version of this hike takes you from the trailhead at the Temple of Sinawava to the best part of the narrows, just beyond the junction with Orderville Canyon. You don’t need a permit to hike from here, though you do if you’re hiking the entire canyon from the north end. Be prepared to get your feet (and legs) wet because 80% of the hike is in water. The best time is during the summer months when the water is warmer and the level is at its lowest, from 6 inches to 2 feet although there’s a greater danger of flash floods at this time. Note: some hidden pools are much deeper! Do check the signs before you hike in. Kids love this hike (well, it’s in water, right?) but smaller ones (under 4 feet tall) may have difficulty making it all the way to the Narrows. Make sure you lead the way to avoid those deep pools.
Don’t be tempted to hike this in bare feet, better to use an old pair of sneakers, as the river bottom is uneven. A hiking pole or two is useful for faster, safer progress although you may be lucky to find a discarded long stick at the trailhead (if you arrive early enough). You can hire specialist rubber boots and poles from outfitters in Springdale too.
The earlier you set out the better to avoid the crowds. The mandatory shuttle buses start from the visitor centre at 6-7am, depending on the season. From the shuttle stop at the Temple of Sinawava it’s a pleasant 20 minute stroll on a paved trail beside the banks of the river to the trailhead. Here you enter the water, walking upstream following the twisting, turning river. The canyon walls gradually get higher and more confined. After about a mile you reach a small waterfall and soon you’ll begin to notice less people around you. Some sections of the trail are on the riverbanks or over sections that cut off a wide corner so there’s plenty of opportunities to stop for a snack and relax. Continue for another mile or so past stunning scenery until you reach Orderville Canyon on your right. This is a worthwhile side trip as it’s also very scenic – and narrow. At this point the walls of Zion Canyon are just 20-30 feet apart and over 1000 feet high. The next half-mile section is called Wall Street and there’s no escape from the river. It will have taken you 2-3 hours to get here and this is where most people turn around.
Hiking in water is strenuous and you’ll be pleased to see the trailhead on your return. Don’t forget it’s another 20 minutes back to the shuttle stop plus another 45 minutes back to the visitor centre. But if you made it as far as Wall Street you’ll feel you’ve had one of the very best days of your life.