If any place has the power to inspire awe, it’s the Zion Narrows, southern Utah’s premier hike in Zion National Park. For 16 miles (26 kilometers), the canyon winds voluptuously through the crimson sandstone, in some spots stretching 2,000 feet (610 meters) high and narrowing to 20 feet (6 meters). Lush hanging gardens spring from the walls, stately ponderosa pines grow in nooks, and the water can turn a shade of turquoise that perfectly contrasts with the cliffs’ deep terra-cotta hues. The hike isn’t necessarily a cakewalk, however: For more than half the time, hikers walk in the Virgin River, which can be waist-high, and negotiate cobbles as large and slippery as bowling balls.
Still, the appeal of the area is certainly no secret, and the Zion Narrows attract plenty of keen hikers. Though it’s possible to hike top-to-bottom in one long day or do a shorter out-and-back from the bottom of the canyon, the ideal approach is to take two days, camping overnight at one of 12 designated campsites deep in the canyon. The stillness of evening and the otherworldly glow of moonlight make the perfect atmosphere in which to absorb the beauty of those towering canyon walls, sculpted by elements unfathomably more powerful than ourselves.
Need to Know: Zion Rock & Mountain Guides (www.zionrockguides.com) offers shuttles to the top of the canyon for $30, rents dry bags and trekking poles, and offers advice on flash-flood conditions. Contact Zion National Park (www.nps.gov/zion) to reserve a permit for the full 16-mile hike or overnight camping.
- Nat Geo Expeditions