There are three central factors to consider when choosing which time of year to hike the Virgin River Narrows in Zion National Park. These are (a) temperature (b) flow and (c) floods.
Read-on to learn more, or skip to the bottom for some simple takeaways.
In some ways, temperature is actually the least important factor to consider in choosing when to hike the Zion Narrows. Flow permitting, the Narrows is open all year round. And considering this is the most popular hike in one of the most popular National Parks in the United States, colder weather may actually be better weather — i.e. frigid temps thin crowds… (somewhat).
Whatever the weather, Wildland Trekking provides temperature-appropriate river-hiking-gear for every Narrows trip, every time of year. Depending on the season and the immediate conditions, this could mean a full dry suit … or, a simple pair of river sandals. In the early spring, our groups often hike in dry pants. Late-spring and late-fall groups typically hike in neoprene (i.e. “wet suit”) pants.
All groups typically wear special canyoneering shoes (provided) with neoprene socks (also provided); the exception is during those hot summer months when it’s simply nice to hike in your very own set of river sandals.
The National Park Service closes the narrows whenever the water flow is above 150 cubic feet per second, which can happen frequently during the spring snowmelt. If you book a Zion Basecamp or Lodge-based Tour from mid-March to early-April, you should be aware that the Narrows could very well be closed. This is not a problem, as we have many wonderful alternate hikes available, but if the Narrows is on your bucket list, your best bet is book for the fall.
You can check out the current Narrows flow here, or look at historical monthly averages on the chart below. Remember, if the river is flowing at over 150 Cubic Feet Per Second (CFS), the Narrows is closed.
|Virgin River Narrows Flow, Monthly Mean CFS|
Spring brings dessert wildflowers but also a greater chance of both rain showers and flash floods. (Sudden snowmelt can also cause flash flooding.) Summer is nice and warm in the Narrows, but the North American Monsoon can bring-on rapid afternoon rainstorms. Fall has the most stable weather.
Unless there is an official Flash Flood Warning from the National Weather Service (meaning that a flash flood is imminent), the Park does not typically close the Narrows for flash flood danger. Flash floods can happen at any time, and we will not be hiking the Narrows if there is significant flash flood danger.
A 344-square-mile watershed feeds into the Virgin River Narrows, so it only takes a few drops to create a flash flood.
|Month||# Days with Precipitation|
- March and April = snowmelt can cause closures
- May and June = generally stable
- July and August = monsoon season can create flash flood risk
- September, October and November = most stable part of the “high season”
- December, January, February = cold but often the best time to avoid the crowds
If hiking the Narrows is on your bucket list (i.e. a must-do), going in the fall will give you the greatest chance of success.
Finally, be wary that years will vary (see charts above).