Zion Narrows, Widely Populated, and Dare I Say, Overhyped

Distance: ~10 miles RT

Difficulty: First and last 1.7 miles is on flat pavement–easy. After that–hard, due to icy water immersion (from ankle deep to hip deep) and treacherous footing over slippery rocks. Water is so murky that you must use your hiking stick / poles every step of the way.

Fortunately, my friend and I were of the first few to step our feet into the icy waters of the Narrows that morning so we were able to soak in its beauty in solitude. Unfortunately, on the way back, the multitudes had arrived—unruly mobs descending on a magnificent citadel destroying all vestiges of a nature’s magnificence.

The waterfall in the feature picture above is the official turning around point for the Narrows. If you wish to add on a nice side trip on the way there, on the way back, or as an alternative, check out Orderville Canyon. It’s the right fork at about the 2.5 mile mark. It’s much greener, and in my opinion, prettier than the Narrows itself. Unfortunately, my bettery dies so I wasn’t able to take any pictures there. Guess, I’ll have to return. Orderville Canyon is also a bit less traveled, which in my book, is always a win

Yes, the Narrows is cool, but in my opinion, over-hyped. I’m so fortunate to be discovering so many equally or more beautiful, less-populated spots all over Utah. Zion National Park’s inability and/ or unwillingness to minimize crowds is discouraging and certainly offputting.

There is a 17-mile top-down challenging route that requires canyoneering and some swimming, likely it rules out the masses, but there’s no avoiding them for your final 5 miles when you’re most likely to be a bit hangry anyway… I’ll let you know if and when

Soapbox: In my opinion, ZNP needs to permit this hike ASAP to preserve the area from the irreversible impact of the HORDS of HUMANS and enhance visitor experience. They do it for the Subway and it works well. Never felt overwhelmed there, but the Narrows felt like being in a city subway. Perhaps they should flip the names.

Notes: Water temperature ranges from 40 to 60 degrees. In the fall, winter and spring, dry gear is recommended. (My first time was inMarch and I froze. Came back in July and was fine in shorts.) Rent info: https://www.zionguru.com/narrows-rental-equipment  Hiking sticks/poles are a necessity. Go early to avoid the crowds as much as possible.

Zion’s Sublime Subway: Bottom Up—Is Tops!

Distance: ~9 mile round-trip (out and back)

Elevation: ~1900ft

Difficulty: Moderate, depending upon your fitness level. (Zion National Park’s rating is strenuous.) Steep and exposed initial descent and return ascent, otherwise fairly mellow trail with lots of stream crossings / stream walking, some rock-hopping, and minor scrambles over boulders. (Good idea to have some longer hikes with some elevation challenge under your belt before attempting.) Since footing can be precarious at times, especially at the Subway itself, but also along the way, expect the hike to take longer than mileage would indicate. Also, you’ll want to take the time to savor the beauty that surrounds you.  Average hike times range from 5 to 9 hours.

Definitely one of my favorite Utah hikes so far—epic scenery, waterfalls, the magnificent, iconic beauty of the Subway, and a solid workout.

More than 1 of us accidently took the wrong “trail” down.  Not sure how that happened – maybe it too early in the morning, too much excitment. If it looks and feels like you’re navigating down a precipitous, vertical avalanche area —retrace your steps back to the trail and continue on. While the descent and ascent are steep, they are on a definite trail.

The hike description noted a strenuous and steep descent / ascent so we didn’t think we’d gone astray until we found the real trail (pic on right) on the way back.

Apparently, there are some dinosaur tracks just off the “trail” somewhere – their whereabouts remain a mystery to me. I’ll let you know if I find them on my next trip.

Keep your eyes out for snakes, toads, and trout.

And yes, there’s also a top-down route to the Subway that requires canyoneering, rappelling, and swimming. It may be in my future—will report back, if and when.

Heads-up:

  • Walking stick with a solid rubber end and grippy shoes highly recommended. (You’ll be traversing many slippery rock sections through the stream and at the subway itself. Be cautious – safe is better than sorry. Many helicopter rescues occur here. Don’t be one of them.)
  • Be aware of flash flood danger and heat exhaustion exposure. Get the weather report and double-check with rangers. I went in April and it was 90 degrees by midday—some fellow had heat stroke on the trail. (Bring plenty of water, a hat, and sunscreen.)
  • This is a day use only area and permits are required. An advance lottery system applies from April to October and calendar reservation applies from November through March. There is also a last-minute drawing and you can always check for cancelations day of—unlikely, but we met a couple who nailed both a same day cancellation opening for the hike and a campsite so you never know. (Permits are $15 for 2, $20 for up to 7, and $25 for up to 12 people.) Lottery, reservation, and permit details here.

Good luck – it’s soooooooo worth it!

Getting there: Left Fork Trailhead on Kolob Terrace Road

Happy Trails!

Cable Mountain, East Zion NP— Easy Hike With A Big View Reward

Difficulty: Easy—“walk in the park”, perfect trail running terrain, very gradual incline

Length: ~8 roundtrip

Elevation: 1,155 ft

Take a walk on the East side of Zion for fewer humans and similar vistas. There are a couple of different trails to Cable Mountain. I opted for the Stave Spring Trailhead route this time. It’s a pleasant hike on smooth, foot friendly terrain through a recently burned ponderosa forest that yields big views and historic remnant rewards at the turnaround point. (Not much to see along the way.)

Highlights: Vertigo inducing views of Angel’s Landing, Observation Point, and of the water below winding its way to the North fork of the Virgin river. You’ll also find remnants of the Cable Mountain Draw Works. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the structure was an aerial tramway used to move lumber and timber off Cable Mountain and down to Zion Canyon from 1901 to 1927.

The view through what’s left of the aerial tramway
Tramway remnants

Takeaway: You get a similar view payoff as Angel’s Landing (and a view of Angel’s Landing) without the big incline, crowds, and the life-risking part…

Getting there: East Zion, go through the park tunnel and follow the signs for Zion Ponderosa Resort. Make a the left onto the dirt road that goes by the Resort and follow the signs for Cable Mountain.

Note: Dirt road and trail conditions will vary with rain or snow. It is doable by car, but beware there’s a huge dip right before the trailhead parking so proceed with caution (if your vehicle has the mojo) and /or park just prior.

Hiker tip: (Hardcore hikers might find this hike a bit too easy and a bit too bland, except for views at the turnaround point. Great for casual / beginner hikers who want to challenge their distance.) Y There are options to add mileage and elevation gain for those who are looking for more than a “walk in park, including other connector hikes from this trailhead. More on these later…