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Hiking The Zion Narrows with Kids

Hiking Zion Narrows

A really good example of “type two fun” is hiking with your kids.  You now remember the experience as being one of the greatest moments of family togetherness you’ve ever experienced, but at the time, you were considering running on ahead and leaving them behind.  (Of course, you’d pick them up on the hike back out, right?)

In early June, my family and I had the opportunity to experience this type of fun together.  For months, my wife had planned a two week road trip full of fun and adventure.  We had purchased a used pop up trailer and fixed it up specifically for this trip.  This was going to be a summer to remember.  First major hike of the trip was The Narrows at Zion National Park.  Yeah, we’re ambitious like that.

There are a couple ways to hike The Narrows, but only one way to do it if you don’t want to deal with the hassle of permits.  We chose to hike The Narrows from the bottom up, only going as far as the kids could handle.  We would then need to turn around and come back out the way we came in.  This option allowed us to bypass permits, but it also gave us the opportunity to cut the hike short if the kids just weren’t enjoying themselves.  As we can attest from experience, there is nothing worse than having a whiny kid on a long hike.  The only downfall was that we would be seeing the same scenery on the way out, but that seemed like the best option for our first time on such a hike.

The wife had done all her research, and we knew that a pair of sturdy hiking boots and a walking stick were the minimum requirements for this hike.  We were going the first week of June, so the water would be cold.  To minimize the complaining we would hear from kids with cold feet, we decided that neoprene or wet suit socks were also necessary.  After pricing everything out, it looked like our best bet would be to rent the equipment for each family member.  We’re a pretty active family, but we wouldn’t likely get the chance to use this gear again before someone outgrew it.  Rental gear it was!

We noticed that there were really two major gear rental companies near Zion.  After reading reviews and e-mailing both companies, we decided to use Zion Adventure Company.  They have a Narrows Warm-Weather Footwear Package that is exactly what we were looking for.  The package includes hiking boots, neoprene socks, and a hiking stick for $22.00 for a 24 hour period.  Their website is phenomenal, too.  Everything we needed to know about hiking The Narrows was right there.  We found a map, a FAQ section, and tips for planning our hike.

Zion Adventure Company

The night before our big hike, we headed to the town of Springdale, just outside the park, to pick up our gear.  Zion Adventure Company was great.  When we got there, we watched a short orientation video (which both excited and scared the kids).  Then Vanessa from ZAC helped us pick out our gear.  The socks and shoes are all color coded by size, which made things really easy.

Once we picked out our gear, we headed back to camp for dinner and a good night’s rest.  While fixing dinner around the campfire, we mulled over the map of the canyon again.  Vanessa had told us that most people make it to the end of Wall Street before they turn around and head back out.  It’s about 3 hours to the end of Wall Street, and the return hike is a little quicker and easier, since you are no longer hiking up river.  Our roundtrip hike would be close to 6 hours, which was pushing it a bit with an 11-year-old who is not fond of hiking, but we felt confident we could make it.

Zion Adventure Company Shoe Rental

The next morning was chilly and windy, so we decided to delay our hike a bit.  We had originally planned to take the shuttle at 8:00 a.m., as it was pretty much universally recommended to hit the canyon around that time.  When we finally boarded the shuttle two hours later than scheduled, it was still pretty chilly.  With the shuttle windows open, the kids shivered the entire  40 minute shuttle ride to the trail head.  At this point, we were pretty apprehensive about the hike.  Would the cold prevent the kids from fully enjoying the experience?  Was this even a good idea to begin with?  Too late to turn back now!

The gateway to The Narrows is at the end of The Riverside Walk Trail, which you can access from the Temple of Sinawava stop on the shuttle system.  It is the very last stop on the shuttle route.  The Riverside Walk is an approximately one mile paved trail that runs through the canyon along the Virgin River.  From there, you exit the trail and begin walking through the Virgin River into the canyon.

Zion Riverside Walk Trail

Once we got to the trail head, the wind had stopped, and the day was actually pretty warm and comfortable.  There are bathrooms at the trail head, which I highly suggest you use.  There aren’t any more bathrooms from this point on, and all waste has to be carried out with you.  It’s also pretty difficult to find a secluded place in the canyon.  From the bathrooms, we hit the trail.  Riverside Walk is actually very beautiful, despite the fact that it is a paved trail with heavy traffic.  We saw a deer grazing right off the path, and there are weeping rocks everywhere.

Riverside Walk

At this point, with a lack of difficult terrain, the boots start to feel pretty clunky.  Although we encountered many hikers in their rented footwear, there were quite a few people attempting this hike in their tennis shoes.  We even saw a few people barefooted or wearing flip flops.  I began to wonder if all this gear and planning was actually necessary.

Zion - Gateway to The Narrows

At the end of the Riverside Walk, the trail ends and there is a small stairway that leads down to the Virgin River.  This was the “gateway” to The Narrows we’d heard so much about.  Everyone was a little apprehensive to step into that cold water.  We’d been walking in the shade for a few minutes, and it was much cooler than at the beginning of the trail.  The wife was the first to step in, and she proclaimed that she didn’t feel a thing.  Sure enough, those neoprene socks kept our feet warm from the first steps until the last.  We didn’t hear a single complaint about cold feet.

From here, we just followed the throng of visitors heading up canyon.  There is no trail markings along the way.  You are expected to follow the river (and the people in front of you) as far as you want to go.  Even on a chilly day in the first week of June, there were still a lot of people hiking The Narrows.  Some seemed more prepared than others.  Now, we weren’t really sure what to expect with the kids, as we hadn’t encountered any families with children attempting this hike.  In fact, we actually got incredulous looks from some of the passing visitors, who seemed to be saying, “You’re taking your kids up there?’  We were confident our teenagers would have little problem, but was this too much hike for an 11-year-old?

As it turns out, our fears were unfounded.  All three kids loved the hike.  Our 11-year-old, who has a moderate dislike for strenuous physical activity, exclaimed that this was the best hike she’d ever been on.  There was something magical about the canyon bathed in the morning light.  Although we had quite a few hikers around us, it still felt peaceful and we were able to enjoy the stunning beauty around us.  Later in the hike, we encountered several families with children much younger than ours.  We discovered that hiking The Narrows with kids is absolutely possible.  It can even be extremely enjoyable.  You just have to know how much hike your kids can handle.

Zion Narrows Waterfall

Early in the hike, there is a small waterfall that flows down the rock face, called Mystery Canyon Falls on the Zion Adventure Company map.  It seemed to be a popular place for pictures.  The kids were fascinated by it, and we stopped across the river to admire it and have a snack.  We found that stopping to take in the beauty of the hike and letting the kids refuel a bit helped keep them happy and focused.  Much of the trail is rocky terrain, and in June, the water is about ankle to calf deep most of the way.  When the kids were at their best, we had fewer missteps.  Likewise, we noticed that when the kids started to stumble, it was usually time for a break.

Zion Narrows Cool Pool

The canyon has no shortage of gorgeous places to stop and take a break.  Some of these places had sandy beaches and were perfect for a dip to cool off a bit.  As we got further and further into the canyon, the crowds began to thin out.  Many of the people in flimsy footwear would turn back early on, so the canyon became even more secluded.  We were grateful for our sturdy footwear, as our feet stayed warm and blister free for most of the hike.  When we hit these more secluded spots where we weren’t bothering other visitors, I didn’t mind a little horseplay in the water, and we would often have “splash fights” to keep cool.  This actually helped keep the kids’ minds off the work of the hike, as they were focused on getting Dad back.  It lightened the mood at several difficult spots.

Zion Narrows Canyon

About two hours into our hike, we stopped for lunch.  Our friend, Vanessa, from Zion Adventures advised us to stop for lunch before we hit Wall Street.  She let us know that once we hit Wall Street, there was little high ground and few places to stop and eat.  Each kid had packed a Camelbak with water, lunch, and snacks for the day, and this worked out very well.  We stopped at a large rock overlooking the Virgin River and ate our lunch.  We didn’t snap any pictures, but it was pretty picturesque.  You just can’t beat the beauty of nature.

Zion Narrows

The walking sticks also turned out to be a necessity.  The rocks of the riverbed made for some pretty unstable footing, and that combined with the swift moving river made certain spots a definite slipping hazard.  We all had a tumble or two on the hike, but the walking sticks saved us in quite a few situations.

Deep Pool Narrows

Another benefit to having those walking sticks was that we could easily test the depth of the water in front of us.  There were several spots that dropped off suddenly, making for some really deep pools along the way.  We didn’t always want to go wading in chest deep water, and it was nice to know ahead of time so we could find another route.

The Narrows Hike

There are no signs along this hike to indicate how far you’ve made it.  The map at Zion Adventures is pretty helpful as far as landmarks by which to gauge your trip, but a few hours in, we were still not sure how far we had to go to get to Wall Street.  The only real indication we’d had that we’d arrived was that the river branches off to the right at Orderville Canyon (again, not marked) making the trail look like a Y.  We didn’t take Orderville Canyon this trip, but instead continued on to the left heading down Wall Street.  The views in this part of the canyon are very dramatic.  We encountered several photographers setting up their perfect shots, and with good reason.  Wall Street is gorgeous.

Zion Narrows - Wall StreetBecause there are no trail markings, it was difficult to determine how far we actually made it.  Just before the end of Wall Street, there is a deep pool marked on the map, and we know we made it past that landmark.  This was perhaps the funniest part of our entire hike.  I went through first, and instructed the family to follow behind, sticking to the sides of the river to avoid the deeper parts.  The girls did quite well, and made it through the waist deep water, managing to keep their packs dry.

Deep Pool Wall Street Narrows

My son, on the other hand, was quite sure he knew best and took his own route.  We all stood on the other side of the pool laughing as he blazed a trail straight through the center, the water reaching his neck and soaking his pack.

Deep Pool Narrows

Although unintentional, it was the perfect comedic break we needed at this point in the trip.  Even the neighboring hikers seemed to enjoy my son’s folly.  The kids were beginning to drag at this point, and we decided that it wouldn’t be long before we turned around and headed back.  Sure enough, within a few minutes the scenery began to change.  The canyon walls opened up, and we figured we had hit the end of Wall Street.  We encountered several other hikers who seemed just as bewildered about their destination as we were.  No one definitively knew where the “end” of Wall Street was, so, seeing as we’d already had an amazing hike and the kids were starting to wear down, we decided to head back before there were any meltdowns.

Zion Narrows Hanging Garden

Even though we expected it to be easier, the way back was much more difficult than the way up.  The way down was technically down river, but the canyon became more crowded as the day warmed up.  We were hot and tired, and it was more difficult to navigate through the throngs of hikers.  The kids were also anxious to return to camp, so we took fewer breaks along the way.  We did stop in several deep pools, but they were often crowded.  We also encountered several large guided groups of hikers who were headed out from their top-down trips.  We quickly learned why all the guides had recommended starting your hike early in the morning.

Zion Narrows

We also made another interesting observation.  Remember when we were concerned about seeing the same scenery on the way out that we had come across on the way in?  It turns out that the lighting in the canyon completely changes the way the scenery appears.  There were several times on our hike out that I remember thinking that we did not come this way on the way in.  Obviously, there is only one way in, so we had to have made that journey twice.  The journey out appeared quite different in the afternoon sun than it did in the early morning light.

When we finally made it to the gateway, the crowds were of Disneyland proportions.  That easy one mile paved hike was suddenly all that stood in the way of getting back on the shuttle and heading back to camp.  My wife and one of the kids had a few blisters from rubbing socks, and the last mile was exhausting to them.  There was almost a constant stream of tourists on the Riverside Walk, and dodging them proved to be a little tiring.  More than once on this hike we were glad we didn’t start our hike any later in the day.  We finally completed the last walk to the shuttle and were relieved to see bathrooms again.


Thankfully, the shuttle system at Zion National Park is great.  We didn’t have to wait at all for a shuttle back to our camp.  There was a constant stream of shuttles waiting to take tired hikers back to their final destinations.  The 40 minute shuttle ride back, once a hindrance, was now a God-send.  We were happy to put our feet up and catch the sights and sounds of Zion from aboard our own little touring bus.  The shuttle was also the perfect place to recap the best moments of our epic hike.

The wife and I also were able to determine what worked and what didn’t on this adventure, so we could apply it the next time we attempted The Narrows with kids.  Here’s our recap…

Zion Narrows Tips

Hiking The Narrows with your kids can be an amazing experience as long as you are prepared.  When we returned from our road trip, our Narrows hike was the unanimous favorite experience of the whole vacation.  As long as you make sure you follow a few simple guidelines, your Narrows experience can be just as memorable.

The Fun Scale

Tough_Mudder_Walk_the_PlankEver since I started capturing some of our adventurous activities, I’ve been asked, “What is type 2 fun anyway?” The short answer that I give has become our motto, “It’s fun when it’s done!” Basically, it’s an activity that is not fun at the time you are doing it–but you remember it being fun. That is type 2 fun in it’s simplest form, but it can actually get rather complex, rather quickly. What is fun?  What is fun for one person is not necessarily fun for another. As you can see, it is very subjective. There are actually three types of fun. If you are not aware of this already, let me introduce you to The Fun Scale:


The Fun Scale

Type 1:  An activity that is fun while you are doing it.

Type 2: An activity that is not fun, but you remember it being fun.

Type 3: An activity that was never fun and usually involves near death experiences or conditions so horrific that your life is put into jeopardy.


Now, in my opinion, the majority of people set out in search of type 1 fun.  This is the purest form of fun and the activity is enjoyable when it’s actually happening.  People want to enjoy themselves whether it be hiking, camping, biking, running, climbing, paddling, etc.  The list goes on and on.

So, when does type 1 fun become type 2?  This usually happens when the type 1 activity has gone on too long or has become so uncomfortable or painful that you hate it.  Type 2 fun is not fun.  Normal people usually don’t set out to find type 2 fun, it just happens.  The sneaky thing about type 2 fun is that, as time passes you start to remember it as being fun — the type 1 kind.  That is a dangerous thing, as you tend to repeat the same activities that were not fun at the time.

Type 3 fun is the furthest away you can get from actually having fun.  It usually involves extremely poor planning, bad judgement, or circumstances out of your control.  The phase “don’t die, don’t die, don’t die…” is usually running through the mind of someone experiencing type 3 fun.

To help illustrate the differences between the types 1 and 2  fun, here are some examples:

Type 1: Running in a light rain in the summer
Type 2: Running in a hail storm

Type 1: Hiking in a beautiful forest
Type 2: Hiking in a beautiful forest, getting temporarily lost, and ending up doubling your planned mileage… in the cold

Type 1: Rock climbing
Type 2: Rock climbing in the dark

Type 1: Morning  jog
Type 2: Obstacle course races (and yet we keep signing up)

Type 1: Road trips
Type 2: Family road trips  🙂

Like I said before, this is all very subjective.  A lot depends on your sense of adventure and pain tolerance.  Interestingly enough, the most memorable experiences usually involve type 2 fun and are the stories that are shared  around the campfire for years to come.  The important thing is that we’re out there looking for fun.  Even type 2 fun is fun… at least we remember it being fun.

Share your type 2 experiences in the comments below!




Pass Mountain Loop

If you’re a local Phoenix hiker, then you’ve done the Wind Cave Trail at Usery Mountain Regional Park.  It’s a favorite, especially for kids, as it has a pretty cool rock overhang at the top.  It’s a quick 1.5 miles that attracts hikers of all levels.


Being on the more adventurous side, Leo decided to make this a loop hike instead of an up and back.  He pre-hiked it and figured out the route that would take us past the Wind Cave Trail, summit Pass Mountain and traverse the ridge-line heading North. We would eventually catch up with the Pass Mountain Trail that led us back to the trail head.  Check out his solo trip here.

Here is a quick animated view of our route.


You can grab the GPS route by downloading the GPX file here.

Being at the trail head just after sunrise meant we had our choice of parking!  The only other people out seemed to be the dedicated trail runners, which was nice, as this trail can be quite congested at times.  We headed out on the Wind Cave Trail  and in a few minutes passed through a gate that put us onto US Forest Land.  The trail here is quite wide, with a very gentle uphill grade.  The trail eventually steepens, with an occasional switchback with the last .5 miles following the large band of rock that run horizontally through the mountain.

We reached the “Wind Cave” faster than I ever had…which was probably due to the fact that I usually have a few kids in tow.  We stopped for just a minute to make a game plan and take in the view as you could now see the sprawling city below.  There is a sign posted there that basically says ” Trail is not maintained, hike at your own risk”.  It’s the kind of sign that lets you know things are about to get fun!


There appeared to be many trails to choose from, which usually indicates people trying to find the best way up.  They all seemed to link up at some point and head for the summit.  A little rock scrambling was required but nothing technical.

Usery Pass Mountain

Once we hit the ridge we went South for  a 100 yards or so to the edge of the peak.  Above is our fearless leader showing of his new carbon-fiber trekking poles.  We all snapped a few pictures and sipped some water.

Usery Pass trail

We didn’t stay long before we headed for the ridge line.  We would take this route across the top of Pass Mountain with a rest at the summit, which was the half-way point.  Amazing views on both sides!



The trail was fairly well defined and only a few times did we have to re-route.  The trail is there, just difficult to see at times and is not maintained, just like the sign had said.  At the summit is a ammo can with a log book that peak-baggers can sign, although I would not really consider this a peak–more of a mountain top.  🙂

We continued the ridge line to the North and later began our decent.  Along the way we met a hiker coming from the opposite direction.  The great thing about this guy was that he was 86 years old and said that he hikes up here a few times a year.  We chatted with him for a bit and all hoped we’d be in that kind of shape when we reached that age.

Getting off the top was a bit sketchy.  The dirt is loose and can make for an exciting hike down.  We headed West until we hit the Pass Mountain Loop Trail.  This trail is very popular with the mountain bikers, so be alert.  We followed it South until we arrived at the trail head.

Another amazing Arizona hike completed.  Great weather, great views and great people.  Really enjoyed hiking with this group and hope to do it again soon!

Usery Pass Mountain panorama