Location/Hike: The Narrows (Bottom Up), Zion National Park
A walk up The Narrows from the Temple of Sinawa shuttle stop (the last shuttle stop) is a very unique, accessible and rewarding experience. On a hot day, the cool water of the Virgin river can be very refreshing. While hikers definitely need to watch their footing to avoid an ego deflating splash in the water, I would not rate this as difficult as there is little to no elevation gain and we were able to hike in water that was never more than knee deep the whole way. For its uniqueness, ease of access and scenery I would rate this walk a 7 out of 10.
The short, general and uninspiring description of a bottom up narrows hike would be, “a 10 mile walk through the Virgin River”.
But of course that description would not do this hike justice. At the start of the walk there are more people, particularly if you don’t start out as early as possible. There is also more foliage and the river itself is a bit wider. As you travel a bit further upstream the crowds thin and the walls of the canyon seem to grow taller as the canyon narrows a bit. Both portions of this hike are equally appealing visually.
We started the hike in the morning after coming down from Observation Point. That meant we were able to hop on a morning bus at Weeping Rock trailhead and take it two stops to the Temple of Sinawa to start walking up the narrows. The downside of this approach is we had more gear on our backs than necessary (extra shoes, tent, overnight clothes, extra food) which made the walk up the narrows more taxing than it otherwise had to be and we weren’t able to start out as early as we wanted as we had to walk down from Observation Point that morning. The upside to this approach is that we didn’t have to ride the bus out of the canyon and back.
Some of the non-landscape scenery we witnessed included young ( 7-10 year old) kids making the hike in anywhere from shorts, t-shirts and tennis shoes to full-up dry suits (felt really bad for those kids). I point this out to highlight the difficulty level of this hike. If you wear good shoes that you don’t mind getting wet and take your time, then you are basically set. I wouldn’t let the folks that want to rent you a bunch of gear sway you otherwise. This of course assumes that it is a warm weather day. If the weather is cold it may be a different story, but then again the canyon could also be closed then too.
While the scenery is really unique and amazing, the canyon does start to look like more of the same as one keeps walking. Each bend is just far enough for you to say to yourself, “I wonder what’s around that corner”; but then you usually see a little more of the same. I don’t say that to deter anyone from making the trip, as it is well worth it; just know that once you make it 3 miles or so in to the canyon, the next 2 miles is about the same as the first 3. From a photography perspective I would suggest focusing more on timing, particularly getting up the canyon before any direct light has the chance to make it’s way too far down the walls of the canyon and especially to the floor.
I would also suggest taking a glance back before rounding each corner. There are a number of places where the view back is even more inspiring than the view forward.
Finally I would say if you see something that you think is worth shooting, do it! And don’t avoid shooting because you think it’s too early in the hike, and that the “good stuff” is just around the next bend. I ended up just carrying my tripod and camera out of the bag for a good majority of the hike. This meant I wasn't constantly looking for a place to put down my pack and get setup. We went slow and steady, but my gear never got close to being wet.
Again focusing on timing from a photography perspective, vice one of comfort, I would say that it would be difficult to start the hike too early. I would recommend starting an hour prior to sunrise if you are able to make it to the trailhead at that time. The trick is the buses don’t start until 0800 ish, depending on the season. I have yet to figure the perfect way to get to the Temple of Sinawa trailhead prior to the first bus, but on our next soiree up the Virgin river I intend to find a way to do just that.
In total, going slow and steady to avoid getting any gear too wet, I would agree with the NPS website’s postulation that one could pretty easily spend 4 hours up and 4 hours back for an 8 hour round trip in the canyon. This is particularly true if you are setting up to take shots frequently.
There are no permits required to make the bottom up walk up the narrows. Hurray!
Recommended Camera Equipment
Usual Suspects : Backpack with Camera, tripod, cable release, extra memory / battery, lense hoods.
Lenses: I used a 24-70mm and 14-24mm wide angle. I found them to be wide enough, and most of the time I was shooting between 14-24mm.
Filters: Polarizing filter. This is a must (for me) with the moving water. Soft & Hard 1-2 stop GND filters. These will come in handy as the light becomes more intense on the higher sandstone formations.
Recommended Other Equipment
Nothing crazy. We saw plenty of folks that had rented dry gear, but that really wasn’t necessary. A good pair of old hiking shoes does the trick just fine for your feet, while hiking shorts worked fine for our legs. Again, remember we hiked on a warm day.
A water bottle and filter. A couple of bars / snacks. A headlamp if you are ambitious enough to make it in to the canyon in the wee hours of the morning. External battery for smartphone. Ziplock bag for smartphone. GPS.
Temple of Sinawa Trailhead GPS Point: (Lat: 37.28529, Lon: -112.94791)
Your endpoint can be anywhere prior to Big Spring.
Keep in mind it is nearly impossible to get lost, you are in a riverbed with walls hundreds of feet high on either side.
Recommended Photo Opportunities
-- The River & Canyon Walls
Pay attention to the weather. If it is cold outside, then the cold water might not feel as refreshing as it does on a warm day. Watch your footing. Go slow and steady. This will help you ensure that your camera gear stays dry, which I would rate as critical.