Why Zion National Park's Beautiful Canyon Hike Constantly Closes

Zion National Park, located in Utah, is 148,733 acres of awe-inspiring canyons and rugged rock formations that attract visitors from around the globe, according to the National Park Service. For many outdoor enthusiasts, it's a bucket list destination for hiking and rock climbing.

The most discerning feature of the park is Zion Canyon, with its towering red sandstone cliffs carved by the meandering Virgin River. Zion is home to some of the most epic hiking in the United States. During the right conditions, the hikes offer unparalleled opportunities to experience the natural beauty of the unique landscape. Unfortunately, the same hikes can quickly become deadly under certain circumstances.

The Narrows is one of the park's most popular and adventurous routes and a must-see for many visitors. However, some hopeful hikers are left disappointed when they arrive to find The Narrows closed for safety reasons.

Park rangers regularly close The Narrows when there is a risk of flash floods. Imagine wading through the knee-deep river with 1,000-foot cliffs towering on either side and seeing a wall of water coming toward you at lightning speed. There is nowhere to run, nowhere to escape. The experience can turn from magic to tragedy in a matter of just a few seconds.

If you are planning the ultimate trip to Zion National Park and hope to hike The Narrows, it's worth taking every possible precaution and following safety procedures. Whatever you do, don't try to attempt the hike when there is a risk of flash flooding.

What to expect when hiking The Narrows

Zion National Park is one of Utah's crown jewels. The canyon began being formed around 250 million years ago. Massive prehistoric rivers carved through the rugged terrain, forming the cliffs and canyons visitors love today. As many as 5 million people visit Zion each year, according to the National Park Service, making it one of the most popular National Parks in the United States.

Established in 1919, the park became the first nature preserve in Utah. It's known for famous hikes like Angel's Landing, Hidden Canyon Trail, the Emerald Pool, and The Narrows. The Narrows is aptly named, as it is the narrowest part of Zion Canyon and the scenery is almost otherworldly. Most of the time, the hike involves wading through the trickling knee-deep Virgin River.

If you're hoping to experience The Narrows without the risk of being swept up in a flash flood (or simply don't want to get your feet wet), it's possible to take in the views from an easy 2.2 mile-long stroll along the Riverside Walk. The path is wheelchair accessible, making it an ideal option for anyone with mobility issues. Aside from the Riverside Walk, the only way to experience the Narrows is to wade through the Virgin River, as there is no trail. Some hikers opt to spend just a few hours wading through the water, while others apply for a wilderness permit and spend 1-2 days hiking and camping.

How to stay safe

Hiking The Narrows through the Virgin River is challenging, and following some basic safety precautions is crucial. Summer and fall offer the warmest water temperatures. Unfortunately for safety-conscious hikers, the warm months coincide with Zion's monsoon season, which runs from July through September.

Flash floods are a severe risk and can result in walls of water that can knock multiple hikers off their feet and sweep them downstream. The National Park Service issues warnings when flash floods are possible, and the hike will close down when floods are deemed likely, but rainfall from miles away can cause unexpected flooding, leaving hikers unprepared.

That happened on August 19, 2022, when a mighty flash flood knocked over several hikers, according to the National Park Service. The incident resulted in the loss of life for a solo hiker, whose body was later found 6 miles south of the Narrows after a multi-day search effort.

To stay safe during your hike, The National Park Service recommends that you keep an eye on weather conditions and check the flash flood potential early and often. Visitors Centers and ranger stations throughout the park will have up-to-date information and tips for the hike, so be sure to stop in and discuss your plans when you arrive at Zion National Park.

Adventuring through The Narrows is an unforgettable experience. However, if you're visiting Zion during a flash flood warning, save this particular hike for another time — and save yourself from a potentially life-threatening situation.