By Robert Bestor
I sure enjoy an adventure. But on the other hand, these days I’m not really excited about roughing it. In fact, I’m man enough to admit that any adventure that features easy access, quality rental gear, spectacular scenery, and a hot shower and soft bed at the end of the day is right up my alley. Our recent visit to Utah’s Zion National Park and our “conquering” of its magnificent Narrows Trail is a perfect example of a perfect day in the wilderness for me.
The USA’s spectacular national park system is one of its greatest treasures. And while we’ve had the pleasure to visit more than a few, we were brimming with anticipation about our trip to Zion, as it had been a long while since we’d explored any of its most famous offerings.
We flew into Las Vegas, which is about a 3-hour drive from Zion. And, after a taqueria stop along the way, we headed straight to Zion Outfitter (they’re right at the south park entrance) where we rented their “Warm Weather” equipment package, which includes canyoneering boots, neoprene socks and a hiking stick. The package was $24 per person for the day, worth every penny, and we were able to pick everything up late in the afternoon, prior to our Narrows adventure the next day. Getting our gear in advance was key to getting on the “trail” bright and early to beat the crowds.
For the easy access portion of our Zion visit we rented a cozy Airbnb in Orderville, Utah, which is about a 40-minute drive through the park to its southern entrance. We chose Orderville because it is close to Bryce Canyon National Park as well, which we also visited on this trip (story to come in a future eNews).
To beat the aforementioned crowds, were up before dawn. After our drive back to the park we found ample parking and were soon on a free park bus en route to the trailhead. Most of Zion is accessible only by bus. The buses run early and often and help to keep the park quiet and traffic free.
The Narrows Canyon trail begins at the Temple of Sinawa, which is the last stop on the park bus, and when we hopped off at about 8am only about a dozen other hikers hopped off with us. And soon after we set foot in the Virgin River (which begins after a one mile paved walkway) and had all spread out, it really did seem like we had the place to ourselves. At the end of the day we’d discover what a good idea it was to beat the crowds.
It was a gorgeous morning. Perfect for hiking in the cool water in shorts and windbreaker. And with our canyoneering booties and hiking poles, moving through the water was fairly easy. The booties are surprisingly grippy and the water was crystal clear which made it easy to see where we needed to step. And don’t think that you don’t need the hiking stick. We saw a couple of hikers without them and even though we were there on a relatively low flow day, they didn’t look very comfortable negotiating the uneven surfaces, slippery rocks and rushing water. We spent most of the day in water about ankle to calf high, with a few spots where the water went to our thighs. The water flow was 30 cubic feet per second (CFS) on our visit.
The canyon is sublime. Its walls tower upwards of 1,000 feet above and are painted with earth tones that seemed to continually change in color and intensity as the morning light worked its wizardry. Early in our day we turned to look behind us and were astounded by a shining gold rock wall that was simply not there when we viewed it from the other direction. It was quite a sight.
According to Nancy’s Fitbit we put in about 11.5 miles on our out-and-back hike, which included a leisurely lunch in the sun and a short side trip up Orderville Canyon, which is an even narrower offshoot. We took our time and made lots of stops for pictures, snacks and to simply sit and enjoy our stunning surroundings.
It wasn’t too long after we decided to turn around that we started to run into more of our fellow hikers. It was a trickle at first, but of course, the closer we got to the trailhead, the more crowded it became. We got back to the paved trail at about 3pm and over the mile leading up to that point we saw hundreds and hundreds of hikers (if not more!). It was quite the contrast to our early morning experience and made our pre-dawn wake up entirely worth it.
Soon we were back to civilization and looking for a burger and a beer. We found both and it wasn’t long after that we were sitting on the porch of our cute little airbnb, drinks in hand, reliving the day. It was then that I realized that I had seen The Golden Wall of the Zion Narrows and was set to sleep in a soft bed the same night. Perfection indeed.
The Narrows does close frequently in the spring, whenever the water flow is above 150 cubic feet per second. This is most common in March and April. It also closes when there is a flash flood warning.
We bought a seven day Zion National Park Pass for our car that cost $35. If you’re going to at least three national parks in a year’s time, the annual national park pass is the better deal, at $80, valid for 12 months.