Did the top down, 16-mile overnight hike a number of years ago, so this is a bit of a tardy review. One of the most amazing hikes I've ever been on. You need to get a permit from the ranger station. And if you do the overnight, you need to pick one of the campsites in the canyon. You can also do the through hike in one day, but it's a bit of a long sprint. We wanted to take our time, and I'm very glad we did. Permits are obviously very dependent on weather, as flash floods occur and can trap you in the canyon. We lucked out, as the weather was perfect.
The overnight hike obviously requires a bit more gear, which is the downside. You also need to waterproof your pack, since there can be some short wading/swimming depending on water levels. We used waterproof bags for the most important stuff, and for the rest, just lined our packs with trash bags, which did the trick. A good walking stick and neoprene shoes are absolutely essential, and we rented ours from Zion Adventures, who were very helpful and had great advice.
You start by catching a shuttle to Chamberlain Ranch, the start of the hike. After they drop you off, you are on your own. Luckily, navigation is not a problem - just follow the river. The hike starts along the river, in a pretty open area, but after a while, the walls start to rise, first on one side, then on the other, and soon on both. As the river winds back and forth, there are sandy dry areas, so even though you are following the river, you actually spend a decent amount of time at the start on solid ground, criss-crossing the river repeatedly. Walking in the river can be a bit tricky, as the rocks can be slippery and the current strong. This is why having a sturdy walking stick plus the right footwear is essential. Also at points, there may be areas where you need to wade through some water or even swim a short bit.
The campsites are all located before the truly narrow portion of the Narrows, on the higher sandy ground within the canyon. We lucked out as there was only one other group in the canyon spending the night at a different site. (There was one other group, but they were doing the one-day hike and sprinted off as soon as we were dropped off). As a result, it really felt as though we had the entire canyon to ourselves. Very quiet at night, as you might imagine.
The second day, you start going through the narrowest part of the canyon, where the walls go up more than a thousand feet on either side. This really is the most amazing part of the hike, where the walls close in and walls shoot straight up. Because of the height of the walls, much of the hike takes place in the shade, so it's good to bring some warm clothing. Also, because of the shade, if you are into picture taking, a tripod might be advisable, although we didn't have one. There are a few side canyons during this part of the hike, but we didn't do more than just venture a little ways up one of them. Finally, near the bottom, you start encountering the first of the day hikers coming up from the bottom, which is a sign that you are near the end.
All in all, just a spectacular and very unique hike. The beautiful colors of the sheer rock walls, the constant sound of the river, the moving water. It feels like you are in another world. Highly, highly recommended. Just an amazing experience.
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