There are two hikes at Zion National Park that are notoriously their most popular. They are both rated as “strenuous”, but they are feasible hikes for the majority of hikers if you plan correctly. I will provide you with some tips so that you can make these hikes feasible for your family. Charlie (age 7) hiked Angels Landing with me and our entire family of five hiked The Narrows together.
Charlie and I hiked to the very top of Angels Landing together. This is a strenuous hike because it is steep hiking and quite dangerous. Most of the people who begin the hike to Angels Landing do not make it up to the top. They end up turning around and heading back down at some point. However, that is ok. The 2 mile hike up to where the chains begin is a challenging, yet rewarding hike. You can hike all the way to Scouts Landing, which is just before the chains begin. If you chose this hike I recommend making Scouts Landing your goal. Then when you get there you can assess whether you want to continue that last half mile of the hike on the chains.
We didn’t know if we were going to hike the chains. We decided that we would hike all the way up to Scouts Landing and then make the decision on whether we felt it was safe enough to continue. Doing the chains is difficult, scary, and high risk. That last 1/2 mile of the Angels Landing Hike on the chains is where 13 people have died since 2004. You must be aware of the risks before you venture any further than Scouts Landing.
The entire hike, including the chains is 4.5 miles. The average hike time for this journey is 4 hours. I read online to estimate your hike time between 3 and 6 hours. You may be a fast hiker, but there may be people ahead of you moving slow and there is often no room to pass on this hike. The chains can especially get crowded and some segments are only one person wide, so you must wait for an entire crowd or group to climb up before you can go down or vise versa. This hike took Charlie and I three hours and 45 minutes. We didn’t have much wait time for other hikers to pass, but it did happens several times and added at least 20 minutes to our hike. If you begin your hike 8:00 or later you can expect crowds. It will slow you down, especially if you plan to do the chains, so be aware that the hike may take considerably longer than you planned.
- Go Early. If you plan to hike to Angels Landing then go early. The shuttle begins to run at 6 am. The only way to get to this hike is to ride the shuttle. Cars are currently not allowed to drive anywhere other than the visitors center. You will need to get in line for the shuttle. There will be a line. We arrived at 5:30 am and there were already over 100 people in line in front of us. The majority of them also got off to hike up to Angels Landing (which is stop 6 on the shuttle). At the time of this article (July 2021) you did not need to register for passes for the shuttle. You just show up and get in line. You want to go early because later morning is really busy on this trail and late in the day it is far too hot in the summer to hike on this exposed trail. FYI- the highs while we were there in July were 112-114 degrees each day. You don’t want to be on Angels Landing trail in that kind of heat. It is too high risk and you will be miserable besides. Morning temperatures were pleasant for this hike, but we still required a lot of drinking water.
- Pack more water than you think you need, I packed approximately 110 ounces of water for myself (Charlie carried his own water). I drank all of my water. ALL OF IT. Pack many bottles of water in your backpack. It was still not super hot out while we hiked, but we drank all of our water in less than four hours. Pack more than you think you will need. You will need it on this hike. Dehydration is a common occurrence on this trail. I spoke with a ranger and he said that they have been having to assist 2-3 people a day for dehydration on this trail alone. We even saw one dehydrated person coming off the trail who couldn’t even walk by herself. She was ghostly white, yet had bright red splotches on her face. She looked on the verge of passing out. She wasn’t carrying a backpack or water when she came off the hike. Pack water in a backpack. You will not be able to carry the amount of water you need in your hands. You must have a backpack so you can carry plenty of bottles of water. If you have empty bottles that you need to fill, you can get off the shuttle at stop #5 which is the lodge. There is a water filling station at this stop. They are located outside. The spigots are mounted on an exterior building wall of the lodge located in the outside dining area.
- Wear good shoes for hiking. There are spots that get slippery on this hike because they are smooth surfaces that get a thin coating of sand. You need shoes that have good traction. I saw more than one person slipping and sliding on this hike and it was those who had flat bottom shoes without good tread.
- Be slow and patient on this hike. Everyone we encountered was patient, kind, and thoughtful on this hike. This is not always the case though. I have a feeling that as it gets busier people become less tolerant and patient. You must be especially slow and cautious when encountering people on the chains coming the other direction. You have to pass one another, so this involves someone having to let go of the chains to go around. It is risky and dangerous. Which is why we all must be considerate and kind on this hike. Treat the other hikers as though they are one of your loved ones and you obviously would not want them to fall. A fall from the chains portion can be deadly. Again, 13 people have died on the chains portion of this hike since 2004.
- Do not attempt this hike if you are scared of heights. This hike is not for anyone who has a fear of heights. There are many sheer cliff drop offs with no guard rails or protection. It is a risky hike, even hiking up to Scouts Landing.
- Do not take children if they cannot listen or if they run around. Children must be supervised on this hike at all times. There can be no pushing, shoving, or running anywhere on this hike because they would be putting themselves and others at risk of falling off a cliffside.
- The chains portion of the hike is not intended for children. Yes, I took my child on this portion of the hike, but he is an experienced hiker and does better on hikes than most adults. I definitely wouldn’t take my other two kids on the chains anytime in the near future. Maybe when they are teens, but even that is a big maybe. We saw one other kid, a nine year old, complete the chains while we were there. He was also an experienced hiker and listened to every instruction his father gave him. There is no room for error on the chains. If you have a child who may not listen to your instructions it could be dangerous for them, you, and other hikers. If you decide to take your child on this hike realize that it is very risky, dangerous, and strenuous. They also need good arm strength to pull themselves up on the chains in certain segments.
- Don’t bring poles if you plan to hike the chains. Unless your poles fold down and can be stored in your backpack, you should not bring them if you plan to hike the chains. Don’t think you can just hang them off your backpack either, as that would put other hikers behind you in danger on the chains. You need both hands free to do the chains and your poles can not be strapped to your backpack hitting the other hikers behind you on the chains. It is close hiking on the chains when it gets busy (and it is almost always busy), so make sure things aren’t swinging off your backpack hitting other hikers.
- Stay on the trail path. This is not a hike where you should ever deviate from the trail. Again, it is a high risk area, so stepping off the path can be very dangerous. Stick to the path and stay safe.
- Watch the weather. Know the forecast and conditions of the trail before you head out. If you are hiking in the winter make sure there isn’t snow or ice on this trail. Don’t get stuck in a thunderstorm on this hike either, because there is no place to find shelter throughout this hike. You will be exposed to the elements, so know how hot it is going to be while you hike. You won’t be finding any real shade on this hike.
The Narrows is a very popular hike at Zion National Park. It does require some planning though. To reach The Narrows you must get off the shuttle at the last top which is The Temple of the Sinawava. You will then hike a paved or groomed path for approximately 3/4 of a mile to reach the water. The Narrows is a hike between canyon walls in the Virgin River. There are parts where you can walk on the rocky shoreline, but for the most part The Narrows is hiking in water. The water can be anywhere from ankle deep to chest high. It depends on rainfall and the varying depths along the trail. The entire length of The Narrows hike is 16 miles long. If you plan to do the entire hike, you must obtain a backcountry pass to camp along the way. Most people hike out several miles and then turn around and head back. It is not a loop. It is a hike that is out and back. You do need some gear for this hike and some preparations ahead of time. Below are some tips to help your prepare.
- Rent gear if you are able to. We rented from Zion Guru in Springdale, not far from the Zion entrance. We went into their facility the day before our hike to rent. It was $29 per adult and $23 per child for a full water hiking package. This included water hiking boots, neoprene socks, and wood hiking sticks. You will need hiking sticks for this trail. It is very rocky, slippery, and difficult to walk without a stick. I saw far too many people on this hike trying to hold onto one another, moving at a snail’s pace, and still falling over. For the most part, you can’t see the rocks under the water, so you are blindly walking in the water. It is like walking on slippery bowling balls. Yes, the rocks themselves can be slippery. There is an algae in the water that has been there for the past 4 years.
- Know about the algae so you don’t go underwater or drink the water. The algae became a problem about four years ago, according to a guide we spoke with. This algae produces a bacteria that is a neurotoxin. This neurotoxin is dangerous if swallowed or inhaled through your nose. We were advised not to put our heads under the water or swim in The Narrows. The neurotoxin can enter through your nose and go to your brain. In very rare cases, this neurotoxin has been deadly for some people.
- If you can’t rent gear, then be prepared. If you can’t rent gear then you should wear hiking shoes of some sort. They will become completely soaked so make sure you are able to fully dry them out before your next hike. If you have old hiking boots you can use for this hike, then bring them along. Bring a hiking stick of some kind. The wood ones are the best for this hike. Unless you don’t mind getting your metal poles rusty or banged up on the rocks.
- Bring water in a backpack. It is cooler on this hike because you are in the water. We went in the middle of the afternoon in July when the temp that day was over 110 degrees. The water was the perfect temp and ranged from 68-72 degrees. This hike is not appropriate for cold weather unless you have appropriate gear to hike in cold water. You are at risk of hypothermia if you are hiking outside of summer months because the water can get so cold. Just because you are cool enough doesn’t mean you need less water. You are still hiking, so be sure to pack plenty of water for this hike. Don’t expect to find anyplace to find a drink out on this trail, so you must pack your water for the day.
- This hike is rated as strenuous. Because it is quite rocky and you can’t see what you are stepping on underwater, it is a risky hike for those who may have issues walking. Elderly, frail, or those with leg issues need to be very cautious if they plan to do this hike. We saw a variety of people on this hike. Some elderly were on this trail, but they didn’t go as far as most and they went more slowly to assure good footing with each step. That is the way to do it if you at risk of injury from falling. Brielle fell at least 20 times on this hike, just to give you a gauge on things. I fell twice. We were able to get back up and keep going. If we weren’t wearing the water hiking boots and just swim shoes, one of us would have likely ended up with a sprained ankle. I do NOT recommend doing this hike with swim shoes. They don’t have enough traction and they don’t have good ankle support for navigating slippery boulders beneath the surface.
- Check with a ranger before heading out on this hike. You must be aware of the conditions of The Narrows before you head out. Flash floods are common here during summer rainstorms and rain showers. Those showers can seemingly come out of nowhere. Know about the chance for rain before you hike and ask the ranger about conditions of the trail. The water levels may be too high if they had recent rainfalls. Ask so you know whether you are entering into a safe hike or not.
Enjoy your time at Zion. It is a magical place! But above all, be safe in all that you do while at Zion National Park.