Virgin River Narrows Safety

Search and rescue in The Narrows.

Plan Ahead and Be Prepared

Traveling into the Virgin River Narrows, even on short trips, can be challenging and risky and requires careful planning before you begin. Your safety depends on your own good judgment, adequate preparation, and constant observation. Speak with park rangers at park visitor centers about current conditions, weather forecasts, and flash flood potential ratings.

Flash Floods

  • Flash floods, often caused by storms miles away, are a very real danger and can be life threatening.
  • During a flash flood, the water level rises quickly, within minutes or even seconds. A flash flood can rush down a canyon in a wall of water 12 feet high or more.
  • Know the weather and flash flood potential ratings before starting your trip. If bad weather threatens, do not enter a narrow canyon.
Example of a National Weather Service Flash Flood Potential rating in southern Utah.
Example of a National Weather Service Flash Flood Forecast for southern Utah.

Flash Flood Potential Forecasts

NOT EXPECTED: Flash Flooding is not expected.
POSSIBLE: Some slot canyons may experience flash flooding.
PROBABLE: Some slot canyons are expected to experience flash flooding.
EXPECTED: Many slot canyons are expected to experience flash flooding.

Flash floods can occur during periods when they are not expected. When the National Weather Service states that there is a 30 percent chance of rain, they are not stating that there is a 30 percent chance that it will rain. They are stating that 30 percent of the forecast area will be affected by measurable precipitation. Continuously evaluate weather conditions. If bad weather threatens, avoid traveling in a slot canyon. Watch for these indications of a possible flash flood:

  • Any deterioration in weather conditions
  • Build up of clouds or sounds of thunder
  • Sudden changes in water clarity from clear to muddy
  • Floating debris
  • Increasing roar of water up canyon

If you observe any of these signs, seek higher ground immediately. Even climbing a few feet may save your life. Remain on high ground until conditions improve. Water levels usually drop within 24 hours. Despite the forecast, flooding is possible at any time, and floods have occurred on days they were not expected. A possible or probable flash flood potential should be a serious cause for concern.

The Virgin River Narrows will be closed when the National Weather Service issues a Flash Flood Warning


Cyanobacteria and Water Sources

Carry enough water, one gallon per person per day, and drink it. Water is available at visitor centers, campgrounds, and the Zion Lodge. Water flow at natural springs can vary, check for information at visitor centers. Do not drink untreated water. Water collected in the wilderness is not safe to drink without treatment.

All hikers should be aware that there may be a risk of cyanotoxin exposure when recreating in water in Zion. In remote Wilderness areas, current cyanotoxin conditions may be unknown. Cyanotoxins may cause illness and/or death if ingested or absorbed through an opening in the skin. The risk of exposure increases during and immediately after any precipitation events. Do not drink from in-stream water; no known filtration methods are effective at reducing toxin levels safe for drinking. Water should be filtered directly from spring orifices.

Footwear and Trekking Poles

Hiking in the Virgin River is like walking on slippery bowling balls. It requires balancing on algae-coated rocks in the middle of a swiftly flowing river. Sturdy footwear is essential. Hiking boots with good ankle support are best. Sandals and bare feet are not appropriate. Inappropriate footwear often results in twisted ankles and crushed toes. Trekking poles are highly recommended and will help you maintain balace. Trekking poles can be also be used to check and measure water level depth when the river is cloudy with sediments.


Year-Round: The temperature of the water in the Virgin River is often colder than the outside air temperature, breezes blow steadily, and very little sunlight penetrates to the canyon floor. Regardless of the time of year, always take additional warm clothing stored in a dry waterproof bag. Clothing made of wool or synthetic fibers has the best insulation. If you had to spend an unplanned night in the canyon due to an injury, how prepared would you and your group be?
Summer: Even in mid-summer, the temperature of the river can be cool. Average summer water temperatures range from 56° to 68° Fahrenheit (13° to 20° Celsius). Although you'll probably hike in shorts, take extra warm clothing for each member of your group.
Spring and Fall: Hike with multiple layers that can be removed and added as needed as the outside air temperature changes. In the early spring and late fall months, neoprene socks, pants or bib overalls, or a wetsuit may be necessary to hike in the river. Average spring and fall water temperatures range from 41° to 53° Fahrenheit (5° to 12° Celsius).
Winter: A neoprene wetsuit or dry suit with warm layers may be needed. Average winter water temperatures range from 38° to 45° Fahrenheit (3° to 7° Celsius). During the winter months ice may form within the canyon. Watch for falling ice and be prepared for very slippery conditions.

Water Depth and Dry Bags

Water levels in the Virgin River Narrows, even when the CFS of the river is low, can range from ankle deep to full swims. Most of the time the river is ankle to knee deep, but all top-down hikers should be prepared for deep sections where swimming is required. Even the most experienced hikers occasionally fall in the Virgin River. It is a good idea to waterproof all of your belongings. Many hikers bring or rent dry bags to protect all of their gear. Smaller resealable bags provide extra protection for cameras and other valuables.

Flashlight / Headlamp

Every week, hikers and canyoneers spend unintended nights camped in the Wilderness of the park. A headlamp could make the difference between spending the night in the canyon and making it out.

First Aid Kit

Even a minor injury can cause major problems in the Zion Wilderness.

Extra Food

Food keeps your energy up and helps you stay warm if you remain out overnight.

Do Not Jump

Lower leg fractures are the most common injuries suffered in the Wilderness. The most common cause of lower leg injuries is jumping from rocks. Do not jump.


Hypothermia occurs when the body is cooled to dangerous levels. It is the number one killer of outdoor recreationists, even in summer, and it usually happens without the victim's awareness. It is a hazard in narrow canyons because immersion in water is the quickest route to body heat loss. To prevent hypothermia, avoid cotton clothing (it provides no insulation when wet) and eat high-energy food before you are chilled. The signs of hypothermia include:

• Uncontrollable shivering
• Stumbling and poor coordination
• Fatigue and weakness
• Confusion or slurred speech

If you recognize any of these signs, stop hiking and immediately replace wet clothing with dry clothing. Warm the victim with your own body and a warm drink, and shelter the individual from breezes. A pre-warmed sleeping bag will also help prevent further heat loss.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body loses more fluid than is taken in. Signs of heat exhaustion include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, headaches, pale appearance, stomach cramps, and cool clammy skin. If a member of your party begins to experience any of these symptoms, stop your hike immediately. Find a cool, shady area and rest with your feet up to distribute fluids throughout your body. It is important to drink fluids, but it is also important to eat. Drinking lots of fluids and not eating, while suffering from heat exhaustion, can lead to a potentially dangerous condition of low blood salt. If heat exhaustion symptoms persist for more than two hours, seek medical help.

Heat stroke is an advanced stage of heat exhaustion. It is the body's inability to cool itself. Symptoms include confusion, disorientation, behavior changes, and seizures. If you believe that a member of your party is suffering from heat stroke, it is imperative to cool them using any available means and obtain immediate medical assistance.


Last updated: August 21, 2023

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Mailing Address:

Zion National Park
1 Zion Park Blvd.

Springdale, UT 84767


If you have questions, please email Listen to recorded information by calling anytime 24 hours a day. Rangers answer phone calls from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. MT, but a ranger may not answer if they are already speaking with someone else.

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