Depending on the route you take, yes- you need a permit to hike the Narrows!
Zion National Park is in southwestern Utah and it is full of numerous hiking trails, slot canyons, and gorges. The most popular slot canyon, in my opinion, is the Narrows– and for good reason! It is the narrowest part of the canyon system and includes dozens of river crossings of the famous Virgin River amongst the towering walls of Zion Canyon.
From what I noticed during my many visits to Zion is that most hikers to the Narrows will opt to stick to the Riverside Walk, which allows you to get a general feeling of the Narrows without the need to bring than shoes and a bottle of water. For those wanting to go further in or explore the Narrows in full, it involves a hiking permit and a little more preparation.
That’s what I’m here to chat about: the basics of hiking and overnight permits for the Narrows and how you can get one.
When is a permit is required to hike the Narrows?
When you make the decision to hike the Narrows in Zion National Park, you need to be aware that you will need a permit if you are doing the top-down hike. If you plan on only spending a couple of hours at the Narrows and decide to do the bottom-up hike, you will not need a permit, as long as you do not plan on venturing further than Big Springs.
- You do not need a permit if you hike the Narrows from the bottom-up as long as you return back on the same day and don’t go further than Big Springs
- For overnight hikes or the top-down approach, you will need a permit to hike in the Narrows
What types of permits are available for the Narrows?
If you are going to venture past Big Springs on the bottom-up approach or hike the Narrows from the top-down, a permit is required for your Microadventure.
There are two types of permits available for the Narrows and they are appropriately called: advanced reservations and last-minute drawings.
Advance reservations for the Narrows
It is best to apply for a permit to the Narrows in advance because there are no guarantees you will get one if you arrive to Zion and try your luck with the last-minute drawings.
More than half of the permits available for each day can be reserved in advance online via the Zion National Park wilderness permit reservation system.
At the beginning of the month, on the fifth day at ten o’clock in the morning MST, all reservations for three months later are available for the taking!
You can fill out the application for your hiking permits at any time up until five in the evening on the day before your trip. However, the longer you wait, the less likely you are at successfully winning a permit for the Narrows.
Here’s a quick guide for when you can apply for permits to the Narrows:
- January dates: apply in October
- February dates: apply in November
- March dates: apply in December
- April dates: apply in January
- May dates: apply in February
- June dates: apply in March
- July dates: apply in April
- August dates: apply in May
- September dates: apply in June
- October dates: apply in July
- November dates: apply in August
- December dates: apply in September
As you can see, obtaining a permit to visit the Narrows via the advance reservation approach can be done up to three months before you actually hike. While you do not need to apply that early, it is recommended you do so if you want the date of your choice. For me personally, I’ve found huge success applying on the exact day the advance reservations open up for my desired trip date.
I play it safe and have applied for permits to the Narrows as soon as possible. As a result, I’ve won permits to the Narrows without any issues.
The advance reservation hiking permits do go quickly, especially during certain times of the year: spring and fall especially! The sooner you apply, the better your chances are of getting hiking and overnight permits to the Narrows.
Last-minute drawings for the Narrows
During the busy season (spring and fall) there are usually not many last-minute drawings available, but they do occasionally happen throughout the year.
One thing to know is that when the advanced reservations book up, the Zion National Park wilderness permit reservation system opens up hiking permits via a last-minute drawing process. Last-minute permits are available up to seven days prior to the date in question. They close two days before the date in question.
It is important to note that last-minute drawings are only for hiking permits and not overnight hikes, camping, or backpacking permits.
The only time you can receive a walk-in permit is when there are still permits left after the last-minute drawings have taken place. These permits need to be obtained on the day before your hike. In my experience, walk-in permits are extremely rare. I’ve never had any luck with either last-minute drawings or walk-in permits… your best bet is to go the route of advance reservations to hike the Narrows.
How much do Narrows hiking permits cost?
The cost of permits for the Narrows is dependent on how many people are in your hiking and backpacking group. There is also a fee of five dollars for online reservations, plus additional charges that are dependent on the size of your group.
Permit cost to hike the Narrows:
- 1 to 2 people: $15.00
- 3 to 7 people: $20.00
- 8 to 12 people: $25.00
These costs do not include the five-dollar fee for the online reservation, but you can see how the cost of the permit increases when there are more people in your crew.
How do I get a permit for the Narrows?
Getting a permit for the Narrows is as easy as going to the online Zion National Park wilderness permit reservation system three months before your trip and making a reservation. It’s that easy!
If you are successful at scoring hiking and overnight permits for the Narrows, you’ll pick them up at the Zion National Park Visitors Center. At that time, you will be told the rules and regulations for when you are on the trail. It is important to follow all these rules, considering the number of disasters occur in the Narrows because of flash floods and upstream weather events.
It may seem crazy to go through this whole process of obtaining a permit to visit the Narrows in Zion National Park. However, if you’ve never been before, you may not grasp the popularity of the Narrows and how small some of the sections are. Once you see how small this space is, you will understand why the number of people going through it is limited each day.
It really is a way to prevent regular disasters in the Narrows.
Therefore, know the importance of planning your trip early enough, so you can secure a hiking or overnight permit for hiking the Narrows.
If you’re considering a hike in the Narrows past Big Springs via the bottom-up approach or anything on the top-down approach, you will need a permit in order to be in the Narrows. In addition, any overnight hiking or camping also requires a permit. Fortunately, permits can be obtained in two different ways- each with plenty of spots available. If you play it safe and utilize the advance reservation system first and the last-minute drawing system second, getting hiking and overnight permits to the Narrows is a breeze!
Resources for the Narrows in Zion National Park:
- Zion National Park wilderness permit reservation system
- An introduction to hiking in the Narrows
- The bottom-up hiking approach for the Narrows
- The top-down hiking approach for the Narrows
- A guide to hiking the Subway in the Narrows
- A permit guide for the Subway in the Narrows
Nick is the owner and regular content writer for Southwest Microadventures. When he’s not writing, you can find him rock climbing, peak bagging, mountain biking, backpacking, or drinking strong coffee.