Adam and I had been to Zion in the winter and after surviving (and enjoying) The Narrows, we were keen to experience it in the summer where we could skip the dry suits and gloves. Since Adam had a business trip to Vegas, I tagged along and we started the trip by spending the weekend in Zion National Park.
We spent our two days split between a backcountry hike called “The Subway” and The Narrows, both hikes through majestic canyons.
The Subway is a famous part of a hike on the the the Left Fork of the Virgin River. You can do this “top down” to see the majority of it or “bottom up” which is less technical yet still strenuous.
We did not have our ropes with us and were concerned that it may be too technical so we opted up for the bottom up, 10 mile roundtrip hike. From everything we read, we figured that we would finish this in about 7-8 hours but boy, were we wrong.
The hike started at the left fork trailhead with the first half mile being relatively level and well maintained. We then reached the cliffs overlooking the Left Fork and zigzagged down a 400 foot steep descent into the canyon.
Once at the bottom, we followed the Left Fork upstream until we reached The Subway. There is no marked trail so it’s more of a ‘choose you own adventure’ type of hike. We alternated between following sections of trails using the banks of the Left Fork, scrambling across boulders and hiking directly through the stream itself.
I was wearing my waterproof hiking boots and initially I was nervous of getting my feet wet since the water came in higher than my shoes. Eventually, I learned that it was inevitable and part of the experience to wade through the water and gave into this which made the path slightly faster.
Generally though, given the amount of scrambling over boulders and carefully placing our feet over rocks in the river, our pace was slow — we were averaging one mile per hour.
After a few miles of hiking, the not-so-interesting scenery started to turn into something more beautiful. We passed several small waterfalls, which felt like a giant staircase.
Eventually, the canyon made a sharp turn right and we started to experience the dramatic section known as “The Subway”, where both calls of the canyon come together and there are pools of water. We continued a little further by jumping into the pool and swimming to the famous “waterfall room” to see a small 20-foot waterfall created by a logjam.
It was then time to turn around and trace our steps back. The way back just felt long and it was a race against time. We were not any faster as we were watching our footing against the slippery rock. We were carefully rationing our 8-liters of water to makes sure we had enough to the end, and while we took breaks, we were very focused on trying to manage our time and make it back before sunset.
We had read about many missing the exit, and while we had a GPS pin on our map, we now understand why – as you meander between both sides of the left fork, it’s easy to miss the turn off to go back up as there is only one small sign marking the exit. Fortunately, despite a lot of concern that we would never figure out way out, we found the sign! We were exhausted and ready to be done, but we still had the final steep ascent to the top.
Ten hours later, we landed back at the trailhead and were famished. We headed straight to King’s Landing for an amazing dinner and a celebratory cocktail before crashing for the night.
The Narrows is the North Fork of the Virgin River and probably one of the most famous canyons to hike. It is the section of the Virgin River just upstream from the Temple of Sinawava, where the road of the main canyon ends. It is part of the slot canyon where the walls close in to form a tall, narrow canyon with just enough space for the beautiful flowing water to pass though.
After spending the day hiking The Subway, we questioned if we were up for yet another hike through the Virgin River. I had recalled our winter experience to be quite difficult and was nervous about making the trip on my tired feet. Adam had the same apprehensions but in the end, we decided that we had come to Zion to do this hike, so we had to go for it!
The first mile of The Narrows is actually just a riverside walk, which is a very simple walkway down to the Virgin River. Once at the end of the walkway, it was time to put on our neoprene socks and wet hiking boots and start our course through the river.
Despite it being 85 degrees out, the first few steps in the water felt brisk. But as our bodies warmed up, it actually felt good to be in the water. And surprisingly, walking through the river was a lot easier than we remembered. We weren’t sure it if was because we had different shoes or if the weather and current were different, but it felt a lot less slippery and much easier to navigate through The Narrows.
Of course, the journey through the river was also a lot busier than it was back in December. While we appreciated the hike, it didn’t have the same magic – the peaceful walk through the river without the crowds or the icicles lining the sides of the canyon were all gone. It was certainly special in its own way and we enjoyed the walk through the river once again.