Gateway hike to the famous Narrows, the Zion Riverside Walk Trail is scenic, easy, and all-activity-level-hikers-friendly.
If you pick the Zion Riverside Walk Trail in the hope of hiking to the popular narrow section of Zion Canyon later on, well done. The panoramic, paved pass runs along the Virgin River in the far end of Zion National Park’s main section, eventually meeting the Narrows trailhead. Yet the difference between these two trails is immense.
Brimming with astounding nature scenes and occasional wildlife, the Zion Riverside Walk hike feels like a walk in a city park. No steep ascents or descents spoil your leisurely stroll. Crowds of hikers both streaming to the nice “patio” as the end of the trail and venturing deeper into the Narrows abound, though.
Interestingly enough, the Riverside Walk Trail was known as “Gateway to the Narrows” until the 90s. The old name, however, stirred away families with kids not interested in tedious hikes. But “strenuous” has nothing to do with the Zion Riverside Walk hike. On the contrary, it’s a place to relax, take in the views, and probably deep your feet in the river. The water, however, is oh… cold. I must say even freezing cold. At least it’s how it felt in early April.
Although as a family with a small child, we intended to hike along the Zion Riverside Walk Trail only, I hoped to catch a glimpse of those mysterious Narrows. There couldn’t be any walk in the water when you travel with a three-year-old boy. Yet for a relaxing family activity with at least a distant possibility to see the widest section of the Narrows, the Zion Riverside Walk Trail was all we could ask for.
Why Zion Riverside Walk Hike?
From such a lengthy introduction, it may sound that you should embark on a tedious journey to the Narrows rather than a leisurely hike along the bank of the Virgin River. Yes and no. As much as I coveted the epic views of the towering cliff walls, I was equally – if not more – excited about the Zion Riverside Walk hike. And here is why.
1. Scenic Views and Iconic Places along the Way
The Zion Riverside Walk hike may sound unimpressive based on its difficulty level. How hard can be walking along a flat path, winding along the river bank? The dramatic views of the surrounding area, however, far outweigh this “shortcoming”. From the remarkable Temple of Sinawava to hanging gardens, a towering waterfall, and the massive cliff walls, the Zion Riverside Walk hike displays the heart and soul of the park.
2. Easy Access and Hike
Ease of getting to the trailhead is as important as the journey itself. Unlike the Narrows, which require a preliminary hike, the Riverside Walk Trail starts right near shuttle stop. Just get off the bus, head to your right where a sign with unquestionable “Riverside Walk Trailhead” stands, and enjoy the hike.
3. Kid-friendly Hike
We happened to visit Zion National Park during spring break when families with kids traversed every section of the area. It was a late afternoon when we finally started our hike along the Riverside Walk Trail. Even at this time (or maybe because of it), at least one kid accompanied every adult on the paved path.
“Not a big deal. Aspiring hikers often travel with their children and take them on nature trips, regardless of the difficulty of the latter,” you may assume. And you might be right. Yet hardly any kid who could walk enjoyed a ride in a carrier on the back of his or her parent.
The children hiked the entice distance to the concrete deck at the end of the trail. About half hour later, they joined their parents on the trail again and did the entire hike back to the shuttle stop all on their own. With that said, the Zion Riverside Walk hike is by far one of the kid-friendliest activities in Zion National Park.
4. The Easiest Way to Take in Zion National Park’s Scenery at Your Own Pace
Truth be told, the Zion Riverside Walk hike is not the only place to enjoy the quiet splendor of the area. Plentiful stunning trails, waterfalls, canyons, and hidden alcoves adorn the park, making it one of the most astounding places to visit in Utah. At the same time, many popular trails, such as the Zion Canyon Overlook Trail, are too narrow and too overcrowded, making you feel obligated to move forward to avoid “hiking jam”.
The Zion Riverside Walk Trail also doesn’t lack the overzealous crowds of nature enthusiasts. The path is, however, broader. Numerous benches and off-the-trail “destinations” near the river bank further allow to slow down and do the hike along the Zion Riverside Walk Trail at your own pace. No pressure to hike faster. No guilty feeling of slowing down everybody behind you.
5. Gateway to Narrows
I couldn’t leave it behind. The Riverside Walk Trail is a preliminary hike to the awe-inspiring Zion Narrows. The cliff walls still sit far away from each other at the end of the Riverside Walk Trail. The area, however, allows you to feast your eyes on that section of the park where the canyon starts to narrow and a mysterious feel about them allures every adventure seeker.
In essence, the end of the Riverside Walk Trail is where a hike to the Narrows begins. And while many travelers pause at the shaded “balcony” overlooking the Virgin River, the experienced trampers step into the freezing cold water and continue their hike to the coveted cliff walls.
The Best Time to Hike along Zion Riverside Walk Trail
The well-maintained trail ensures a pleasant Zion Riverside Walk hike all year round. The paved path hardly has any elevation gain and stays relatively dry during the rainy season.
In winter, icy packs may be present on the the trail, making the hike a little bit difficult. Occasionally, trail closures happen even in this favorable section of Zion National Park. The rest of the year, the winding paved path remains in good condition for the hiking or walking adventures in the park.
Moreover, surrounded by the towering cliff walls, the Zion Riverside Walk Trail enjoys a fair amount of shade even in summer. The secluded alcove normally offers safe haven for hikers exhausted by the scorching heat.
During any other seasons, these same cliffs force the area to stay cooler than the rest of the park. It definitely feels chillier here. So mastery in layering should be achieved before the Zion Riverside Walk hike is attempted.
How to Get to Zion Riverside Walk Trail: Location, Direction, Parking, and Shuttle Rides
Sitting at the far end of the main section of the park, the Zion Riverside Walk Trail prefers solitude and tranquility. With no other official trails nearby, it, however, can enjoy the peace only when the visitors are out of the park.
Thus, considering its isolated location, getting to the Zion Riverside Walk Trail takes time. In fact, the park’s shuttle takes approximately 40 minutes to get to the Temple of Sinawava (shuttle stop #9), the last stop and home to the Zion Riverside Walk trailhead.
Direction and Shuttle Rides during Busy Season
The bus operates along the Zion Scenic Drive from mid-March through November, being the only vehicle allowed in the main canyon at this time. Usually the first shuttle departs from the Zion Canyon Visitor Center early in the morning. The last chance to catch a ride back is at 7:15 p.m. If you miss it, add additional 8 miles, a distance from the shuttle stop #9 to the Visitor Center, to your hike along the Zion Riverside Walk Trail.
Good to Know: For a while, Zion Nation Park adhered to a shuttle ticket system to control the number of visitors exploring the main section of the park and consequently eliminate the spread of COVID-19. As of May 28, 2021, the temporarily program is discontinued.
Our Experience: As we road-tripped through the American Southwest, stopping at Zion National Park, in early April, the shuttle ticket system was still in operation. You needed to purchase your pass way in advance or a day before your visit. The tickets were gone in minutes. Those who missed the opportunity to secure a spot on the shuttle could wait for the afternoon bus, which was free and served on a first-come, first-served basis.
Many articles still instruct you to purchase your shuttle ticket in advance. As of today, however, no pass is needed to get around the park, including reaching the Zion Riverside Walk trailhead, by the bus. Furthermore, the shuttles are loaded to pre-COVID-19 capacities and operate on a first-come, first-served basis.
Getting to Zion Riverside Walk Trailhead during Slow Season
During the slow season, which is usually the winter months, the shuttle reduces its services to accommodate the park’s guest only during holidays.
On weekdays and most weekends, the visitors should plan for an alternative way to get to the Temple of Sinawava and hike along the Riverside Walk Trail. Driving, biking, and even walking (although the latter might be too time consuming) count when it comes to making your hiking adventures along the river bank come true.
For those who drive, a parking lot sits across the road from the trailhead. The spaces, however, are limited. You should arrive early in the morning to claim one for yourself. Otherwise, your Zion Riverside Walk hike might need to be cancelled or postponed until a parking spot opens up.
Zion Riverside Walk Trail Stats
- Distance: 2-mile, round-trip trail
- Difficulty Level: Easy
- Elevation Gain: 57 feet. The Zion Riverside Walk hike is mostly flat. The area has very little elevation gain.
- Time: 1-2 hours
Hike along Zion Riverside Walk Trail
Once you get to the Temple of Sinawava either by the personal vehicle or shuttle, follow the sign to the Zion Riverside Walk trailhead, located to the left of restrooms. The route appears as the right fork of the paved path that runs from the shuttle stop. Enveloped by the massive cliff walls, the place immediately instills a feeling of awe and expectancy of something novel to happen.
The trail remains the same throughout your walking journey, neither getting broader nor narrower. As you hike farther along the Zion Riverside Walk Trail, though, the cliff walls come closer toward each other. The canyon gets narrower, and the intriguing realm of the rocky giants becomes even more profound.
It’s all about the Hike: Highlights
The majority of Zion’s visitors agree that the Riverside Walk hike is all about enjoying the walk and taking in the sights along the way. The destination is not as important as the trail itself.
A dirt path forks from the official trail shortly after you start hiking. While the paved path unyieldingly winds near the towering cliffs to the shaded “patio” at the Narrows trailhead, the unofficial path diverges to the left. It comes closer to the Virgin River and runs along its bank for a while. Soon ashamed of its frivolous behavior, the dirt path rejoins the main trail. The Riverside Walk hike becomes more directed and mission-oriented at this point.
Lingering on the bank of the Virgin River, however, is not the only side activity during your Zion Riverside Walk hike. Ferns, trees, moss, and wildlife accompany you, seducing to stay longer on the trail. The astonishing surroundings engages even one threadlike waterfall that falls from the top of the towering cliff and dissipates before reaching the ground.
Eventually the Zion Riverside Walk hike ends at the paved platform with stairs descending to the water. Most visitors stay here, testing the water with their toes and spending a few minutes before going back the same way. Some of those hikers, however, continue on through the river all the way to the Narrows. Their Riverside Walk hike might be over, but the Narrows adventure is about to start.
Zion Narrows Hike from Riverside Walk Trail
All in all the Zion Riverside Walk hike is a prelude to the Narrows, the coveted section of Zion Canyon. While the walk along the paved path running parallel to the Virgin River entertains a share amount of Zion’s guests, many of them still long for the deep waters and closer views of the giant cliffs.
The Narrows hike that starts at the end of the Zion Riverside Walk Trail doesn’t remind a leisurely walk in the park any longer. The path runs into the river and upstream to the narrowest sector for the canyon on the North Fork of the Virgin River. Braving the freezing cold water, you must simultaneously watch your every step. Such a journey lasts on average 6 hours or as long as you want to hike before returning to the Riverside Walk Trail.
The views along the Narrows Trail make hiking in knee- and waist-deep water worth it. From the end of the Zion Riverside Walk Trail, hike toward Orderville Canyon, Wall Street, and eventually Big Springs and enjoy the vistas you haven’t seen in Zion yet.
The entire hike, including the Zion Riverside Walk Trail, consists of traversing approximately 10 miles. Similar to the Zion Riverside Walk Trail, the Narrows don’t require a permit. Keeping an eye on weather forecast, however, is necessary. Flash floods are common in the area.
Zion Riverside Walk Hike with Kids
I wouldn’t recommend hiking the Narrows with the kids, although I saw people doing it. The Zion Riverside Walk Trail, on the other hand, is a great hike to do with your little explorers. It’s easy, beautiful, and instills a sense of adventure from the early age. If you attempt the Zion Riverside Walk hike with the children, follows these recommendations to make the walk enjoyable for all of you.
Enjoy the Walk
It’s a hike, not a race. Walk at your and your child’s pace, making frequent stops along the way. Trust me, there will be many of them.
Being curious souls as they are, the young hikers will want to test the water in the river with their hands and possibly feet. Let them enjoy the hike along the Zion Riverside Walk as best as they can. Thus, be prepared to spend a longer time on the trail and bring along snacks or lunch. And just in case, pack a change of clothes.
TIP: Don’t let your kids submerge their heads in the water. Toxic cyanobacteria was found in the North Fork of the Virgin River.
…but at a safe distance. Squirrels and chumps are used to people and might linger around. Don’t let your children approach and feed the animals. Furthermore, restrain your young hikers from even touching the wild inhabitants. (I know, those squirrels might be very irresistible.)
TIP: During our visit, the park was warning its guests of toxic cyanobacteria that could be transmitted by the animals. Don’t take chances. Instead, teach your children to enjoy, but never touch or otherwise disturb the wildlife.
Bring a Stroller Along
Hiking with a baby or a toddler? Bring along a stroller. The Zion Riverside Walk hike is stroller- and wheelchair-appropriate. So while you hike, your youngsters can sleep soundly. It’s a win-win situation. Similarly, you can have your kid in a carrier for the entire hike. This option, however, never worked for us as our little explorer disliked the baby carriers.
Turn Your Riverside Walk Hike into a Picnic
With the kids walking alongside you, it alway takes longer to finish the hike, even along the easy Riverside Walk Trail. So take a break and enjoy your family lunch on plentiful benches along the river, surrounded by the majestic, towering cliff walls.
How much Time do You Need for a Zion Riverside Walk Hike?
The Zion Riverside Walk hike can take anywhere from 40 minutes to 2.5 hours to complete. Prepare for a longer adventure if you plan to hike to the Narrows. An average adult spends less than an hour on the Riverside Walk Trail, taking in the views and stopping for photos.
Families with kids certainly need more time to hike along the entire Zion Riverside Walk Trail. As a rule of thumb, look at spending 1.5-2 hours in the area when traveling with the children.
Tips for Hiking Riverside Walk Trail
Stop and Smell the Roses
…figuratively speaking. Zion National Park is packed with the scenic trails you want to do, but might not have enough time. If you have only a couple of days to spend in the area, be selective with your hiking adventures. For those who pick the Zion Riverside Walk Trail, make your hike memorable. Look up and around often and enjoy your surroundings. It’s gorgeous. Don’t let it escape your attention when you rush to the end of the trail.
Get Waterproof Gear or a Change of Clothes
If you intend to walk to the Narrows after finishing the Zion Riverside Walk hike, wear waders or any other waterproof clothes. This gear comes in handy even if you just want to linger in the freezing cold water at the end of the Riverside Walk Trail. The equipment can be rented at Zion Adventures in Springdale.
TIP: Many hikers test the water without any special equipment. The river is indeed tempting. If you don’t intend to hike all the way to the Narrows, then at least cross to the other bank. Do as you please, but make sure to have an extra pair of dry shoes to put on later.
Use Facilities at Zion Riverside Walk Trailhead
The bathrooms and a water filling station are located only at the trailhead. Use them before setting off on the Zion Riverside Walk hike.
No Pets on Riverside Walk Trail
It’s not something dog owners would want to read, but you can’t do the Riverside Walk hike with your pets running alongside you.
Follow Park’s Regulations
This tip can’t be simpler. If the sign indicates that you must not hike in specific areas to preserve vegetation, please comply. The parks reminds again and again that feeding the animals is not allowed. What’s so difficult about it? And in case you didn’t know, violators can be fined.
Poison Ivy Warning
Poison ivy grows near the trailhead. So protect yourself and don’t hike off the Riverside Walk Trail.
More Information about Zion National Park
- Hike Zion Canyon Overlook Trail – Canyon Overlook vs. Observation Point
- Zion Secret Trails: Shelf Canyon Hike Near Canyon Overlook
- How to Get around Zion National Park
- Where to Stay in and near Zion National Park: Camping and Lodging
- 10 Things to Know before Visiting Zion National Park
- 2 Days in Zion National Park: Itinerary for a Perfect Weekend Getaway
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