Why Zion’s popular Narrows hike could be closed for months
Mar 16, 2023, 4:09 PM | Updated: Mar 17, 2023, 6:06 am
(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
SPRINGDALE, Washington County — The Narrows and all routes that exit through it at Zion National Park are currently closed to hiking and canyoneering as a result of high water volumes in the Virgin River.
That’s because the river, boosted by both heavy rains and snowpack runoff, jumped to as much as 2,140 cubic feet per second Wednesday. It dropped to 408 cubic feet per second by 9 a.m. Thursday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. However, that is still more than 2½ times the limit when park officials close the popular hike due to the strong currents.
The park routinely closes the trail to hiking and canyoneering in the spring when snowmelt runoff exceeds 150 cubic feet per second. According to the park’s website, walking can be “challenging and crossings of mid-thigh deep are frequent, with pools that can be chest deep” once the river exceeds even 70 cubic feet per second.
Riverside Walk, a paved trail that begins at the Temple of Sinawava, remains open.
But a park spokesperson told KSL Wednesday that the Narrows hiking closure could potentially last months because of how much snowpack is yet to melt into the river. The lengthy closure will ultimately depend on when the snowmelt begins in earnest, though. So if it does reopen anytime soon, it would likely be temporary.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service reports the Southwestern Utah snow basin, which helps replenish the river, is now up to 23.6 inches of snow water equivalent (the amount of water in the snow). It’s more than double the 30-year normal of 11.7 inches, which means there is plenty of water to end up in the river.
The park has had to close the Narrows to hiking and canyoneering as a result of strong snow melt levels about half the years in the past decade. Some of these closures were short. It only lasted 10 days in 2012, and a couple of days the following year, though both of those years posted below-normal snowpacks.
A lengthy closure wouldn’t be unprecedented.
In 2019, when the snowpack reached 18.7 inches, park rangers closed hiking access to the Narrows from April 6 to June 22. They also closed access from March 11 to May 21 in 2017, when the snowpack reached 15.1 inches.
All closures will end once the river flow drops to 150 cubic feet per second for 24 hours.