ZION NATIONAL PARK, UT
The Narrows - at Zion National Park are perhaps the most famous location in the park and is viewed by many as one of the very best hikes in Zion. If I had time to do only one thing while in Zion, without a doubt, it would be to hike the Narrows.
From a photographic standpoint, The Narrows are a cornucopia of incredible images. This hike is strenuous and demanding, but the dramatic patterns of the sandstone walls bathed by reflective light make for many unique photographic opportunities. A different view and photographic prospect greets you at each turn in the canyon.
Trail Difficulty (3 out of 5)
I would rate the difficulty of this trail as a 3 on a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being most difficult). The Narrows is a 6-mile round trip hike through the knee-deep water of the Virgin River, where you are walking/hiking over bowling ball sized rounded rocks. For the hike in, you are walking upstream, which can be very taxing. The key to this hike is take your time, look for the easiest path, and always double check each step in high water areas.
GPS Coordinates & Elevation
Google Maps Birds-Eye-View
Click on image to enlarge
CLICK HERE to get driving directions to the Temple of Sinawava (starting point for the hike into The Narrows).
There are two different hikes to The Narrows: the bottom up and the top down. For this summary, we are highlighting the bottom up option.
The entry point to The Narrows is at Temple of Sinawava. To get here, you will need to ride the Zion shuttle into the Canyon all the way to the last stop, which is Temple of Sinawava (the shuttle ride from Springdale usually takes 30-45 minutes, depending on the season). From Temple of Sinawava you will hike 1.2 miles on a fairly level concert sidewalk to the water entry.
At this point, you will simply walk north into the Virgin River at your own pace. You can hike in as far you would like and turn back at any time. From the water entry point, the hike to the Wall Street area is roughly 1.5 miles, which will take about 2.5 hours. If you hike to the end at Big Springs, add another 2 miles. The return trip takes about 2/3rds of the time, as you will be walking down stream. Allow 6 to 10 hours round trip, depending on how far you walk.
Best Time of Day to Shoot
For me, the best time for photography is in the mid morning and late afternoon (3 hours after sunrise and 3 hours before sunset), as this is the best time for reflections in the canyon. This means starting out in the early morning, as it takes a couple of hours to get deep in the Narrows. Also, as the days go on, the crowds become large and intrusive.
Best Time of Year to Shoot
You can shoot The Narrows in the spring, summer, or fall. However, the VERY best time is in the fall (first week in November), as the crowds are greatly reduced and the trees, brush, and foliage are yellow, golden, and red.
What Lens(es) Do You Need
TYou will mainly be shooting with a wide angle lens (16mm – 35mm).
There are no permits required to hike the lower part of the Narrows.
Direction of the Shot
You will be deep inside a slot canyon the whole time you are in The Narrows, so the direction of the sun is not helpful.
Special Nuances of Shot
Photography in The Narrows is all about colorful reflective light, the water flow, boulders, and the occasional tree. The reflective light changes during the day, as the sun moves across the sky, so a view on the way into the canyon will most likely be different on the return trip.
If you are going to include the water flow, most photographers get as low to the water as possible (as you feel comfortable) to create depth. Always remember to double-check each step while in the water when you are carrying your camera equipment. As we all know, water and electronics don’t mix.
Special Equipment Needed
Absolutely essential items are a dry bag, a dry suit/wet pants, neoprene shocks, wet shoes, hat, sunscreen, and a walking stick! You will be hiking in the knee-high water of the Virgin River 90% of the time. Additionally, you will need a tripod, a polarizer, and potentially a neutral density filter to reduce your shutter speed to create the silky water flow.
Don’t forget food/snacks and water/Gatorade. Limit the liquid in-take as much as possible, as there are no facilities along the way. The dry bag is not only for your camera gear, but also for your wallet and car keys. This is essential, as you stand a good chance of falling in the water somewhere along the way.
For the hiking equipment (dry suit/wet pants, neoprene shocks, wet shoes, and walking stick), there are several good outfitters in Springdale, UT, that rent by the day/week.
Zion Adventure Company
36 Lion Blvd, Springdale, UT
7 Zion Park Blvd, Springdale, UT
792 Zion – Mount Carmel Hwy, Springdale, UT
Number of Other Photographers to Expect
The Narrows is an extremely popular hike. Depending on the time of the year, you will always be surrounded by tourists and other photographers.
Zion is known for a wide range of weather conditions. Temperatures in the summer can exceed 100° and get below freezing in winter. Temperatures vary with changes in elevation and the day/night temperatures may differ by up to 30°. The most important thing to be aware of is the possibility of flash floods. They come quick and can be deadly.
I use Verizon, and there is NO cell service in The Narrows. There is cell service as you get closer to Springdale, UT.
The Narrows are just north of Springdale, which is a GREAT little town on the south entry point to Zion National Park and has an abundance of nice lodging and outstanding eating establishments.
There are two nice campsites just inside the south entry to the park (just north of Springdale): South campground and Watchman campground. The South Campgrounds have 117 campsites on a first-come basis. The Watchman Campground has 175 campsites and can be reserved up to six months prior to your arrival date online at www.recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777. Reservations are strongly suggested: The campground is full every night during the reservation season.
There is also an excellent RV Park call Zion River Resort, with campground and cabins located in Virgin, UT, just by the Kolob Terrace Road turnoff of UT-9 to get to the Left Fork Trailhead. It’s a very nice place with a grill and self-service, coin-operated laundry mat.
Nearby camping and lodging
Camping - click on the campground below for directions
Lodging - click on the lodging below for a TripAdvisor review
Desert Pearl Inn
707 Zion – Mount Carmel Hwy, Springdale, UT
Cable Mountain Lodge
147 Zion – Mount Carmel Hwy, Springdale, UT
Hampton Inn & Suites Springdale
1127 Zion – Mount Carmel Hwy, Springdale, UT
As mentioned, Springdale is a GREAT little town with no shortage of excellent restaurants and brewpubs. I have my favorites for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For breakfast, I split time between Oscar's Café and Meme's Café. For lunch, Oscar's Café and Cafe Soleil are always good. For dinner, the Spotted Dog Café and King’s Landing Bistro are good choices. Again, there is no shortage of good dining in Springdale.
Nearby Restaurants - click on the restaurant below for yelp review
The Spotted Dog
428 Zion – Mount Carmel Hwy, Springdale, UT
948 Zion – Mount Carmel Hwy, Springdale, UT
205 Zion – Mount Carmel Hwy, Hurricane, UT
849 Zion – Mount Carmel Hwy, Springdale, UT
Other Photography Opportunities Around
The closest airport to Zion National Park is in Las Vegas, NV. McCarran International Airport (LAS) services most of the major airlines in the US.
Area Guides and Workshops
If you were looking for a photography guide for a trip into The Narrows – I would recommend Enlighten Photography Excursions. Seth Hamel is based out of Springdale/Zion and knows the park and canyons very well. He is a super nice guy and an excellent guide/instructor.
Enlighten Photography Excursions
The Photographer's Ephemeris is a very valuable tool for landscape photographers to determine the direction of the sunrise/sunset & moonrise/moonset from any place on earth on any day (past and future). Click here to take you to The Photographer's Ephemeris for this location.
Here is a link to a great recourse for all things Zion National Park (Joe Braun’s Zion National Park visitor’s website). It is packed with excellent material for the Subway hike and many other features in the park. This link takes you to Joe's detailed description of the Subway trail - Joe's Guide to Zion National Park (The Subway from the bottom).