Zion National Park – Autumn – Hiking “The Narrows” Part I

The premier hikes in Zion National Part are “The Subway” and “The Narrows”. Competition for the Subway is intense and there is a lottery system as explained in my previous posts (links below).

This set of posts covers the “Narrows”, a hike whose only trail is the Virgin River itself. Some parts of the hike are relatively open, but other sections are narrow, between water-carved sandstone walls rising over a hundred feet on each side of the river.

In the summer you can hike in shorts, but in November, when we went, a wetsuit is best. The feature image is just before the narrows. I have more dramatic images coming up, but I like autumn colors and the stream reflections in this image.

Feature Image Details

Reflected light is the key to this image, and images in the Narrows in general. There is no sunlight on the water, the tree or the canyon walls. Rather the light hits one canyon wall and bounces off it providing a glow everywhere else.

I used a polarizer on this image as I did every image in the Narrows.

Many photographers carried cell phones with HDR (High Dynamic Range) programs to see what images would look like before deciding whether or not to taking their cameras out of their dry bags and setup.

It seemed easy enough to me to tell whether or not I liked an image without having to rely on a cell phone app to check.

Narrows Equipment

That’s what hiking the Narrows looks like. I took the image using my tripod and a self-timer: ISO 800, 21mm, F13, 1/5 second.

We rented wetsuits, hiking poles, and shoes suitable for river hiking. In addition, I rented a dry bag for my camera (the gray bag in front of me). Those are full wetsuits. Unless it is really cold, I strongly recommend a half wetsuit. If you have to pee, full wetsuits are more than a minor nuisance.

There are numerous places just outside the park to rent equipment.

On my back is a CamelBak Backpack. CamelBak makes a great hiking pack. The model I have is called HAWG NV. On B&H, the equivalent seems to be the Fourteener 24 22 L Hydration Backpack with 3L Reservoir. This is a wonderfully light pack and it comes with a water hydration system. It is well constructed and I am not worried about leakage. Pick one that meets your needs. In addition to 3 liters of water, the backpack will hold a couple of lenses, batteries, a flashlight, filters, ect., but not large lenses.

I only took two lenses with me: A  Canon 16-35MM F4 L Lens and a Canon 24-105MM F4 L Lens.  Add a polarizer and a tripod (the latter is a necessity), and that is all you will need. If you are in the canyon and you think you need a flash, you are shooting in the wrong light.

I saw people carrying massive telephoto lenses and I was constantly wondering “What they hell do they need those lenses for?”

The hike is not strenuous if the water level is low. If the water level is high and fast, they close the hike. If a big rainstorm is on the way, you will not survive the narrowest sections.

There is no elevation change but you are hiking in the river, against the current on the way in.

Riverwalk Area


One can take the above image without getting wet.

Relatively speaking, I found the upper Emerald Pools Trail more difficult than the Narrows, but we were fortunate to have easy conditions. The rental places and the park visitor center can assist if you have questions.

Other Zion National Park Images

  1. Zion National Park – Subway Trek Part Three – Inside the Subway
  2. Zion National Park – Subway Trek Part Two – The Crack
  3. Zion National Park – Subway Trek Part One – Archangel Falls
  4. Zion National Park Autumn – Great White Throne
  5. Zion National Park – Autumn – Lower Emerald Pools Part 1
  6. Zion National Park – Autumn – Lower Emerald Pools Part 2 (After a Rainfall)
  7. Zion National Park – Autumn – Middle and Upper Emerald Pools
  8. Zion National Park – The Watchman – Autumn


Those interested in my equipment and recommendations can find it here: Mish’s Equipment List.

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Coming up:  More Narrows 

Mike “Mish” Shedlock

6 thoughts on “Zion National Park – Autumn – Hiking “The Narrows” Part I

  1. Your photos are positively fluorescent, Mish. Is that a manipulation of the originals?
    Be interested to hear how they look so technicolour. Certainly spectacular results.
    Regards John D

    1. Thanks John
      These shots are actually pretty easy with good technique. Except for the smooth water, one could have got this on iPhone with an HDR app, and possibly even without.
      Reflected light is amazing. This was a 5-second exposure to smooth the water. A polarizer adds 1.5 or so stops of exposure. ISO 50 adds 2 stops of light vs 200. At ISO 800 the with no polarizer exposure would have been for something like 1/8 or 1/16 a second instead of 5 seconds. Cut the aperture back to F8 and one could hand hold the shot and it would look pretty nice, but not this good.
      One does need a bit of technique with curves adjustments in Lightroom, but it is not that hard.
      The key is great composition, tripod, great light. And yes, it pretty much does look like that to the eye, except for the water. Tripod is mandatory to get this effect. Polarizer highly recommended to reduce scattered light.

  2. Fantastic report and pictures, Mish! I have never had the blessing to win any lottery and have never seen the Subway or the nearby Wave, but this spring I did get time off and made my way down to Buckskin Gulch. Definitely loved that place; way better than Antelope Canyon.

    If y’all get the time, do the Titcomb Basin hike in Wyoming. I’m sure you’d kill it with the pictures there.

  3. We saw people with the boots and pants when we were there back in May. We did not hike up the narrows, but the Riverwalk was a beautiful easy hike. I like that you included the personal photo!

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