Photo Credit: Photo by Jamie Hagan
Everything You Need to Know To Hike the Temple of Sinawava
Geography in the United States is so diverse. You can enjoy big cities like New York and Los Angeles, wriggle your toes in the white sandy beaches of Miami, or zip down snowy trails in Colorado and Washington state. But if you haven’t had the chance, there’s nothing as awe-inspiring as the mountains out west, specifically in the southwest. Known as part of the Grand Circle, Utah in particular is home to several popular hiking trails nestled in one of the most iconic national parks, Zion.
If you’re a hiker, Zion National Park, along with several others scattered across Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona are definitely on your short list of must-visits. But in particular, Zion offers a variety of natural landmarks on the grounds that are perfect for reconnecting with nature, or unplugging from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. If you love a good hiking journey, you can’t go wrong with a trip to Zion, but you do need to plan accordingly.
The massive park is located in southwest Utah. You can book guided tours, but many people choose to go on solo or private group trips. So, know what you’re getting yourself into, when to go (and when not to), and what to expect if you want to stop by the iconic Temple of Sinawava.
The Temple of Sinawava is a natural amphitheater nestled in Zion National Park. It sits along the Virgin River and is accessible via two main trails, Riverside Walk and The Narrows. The easiest way to start your trek is by using the canyon shuttle system and taking the Zion Canyon Shuttle Bus to stop #9 at the end of the canyon.
Like many of the parks in the American southwest, this land was previously occupied by indigenous peoples over several centuries. This includes early hunter-gatherer settlements and later the Paiute before later giving way to European American settlers like Mormon homesteaders. However, the canyon’s trying conditions with extreme flooding during the rainy season and intense drought during the summers made it an unrealistic place to build a community. Fast forward to 1909 and the area was designated as Mukuntuweap National Monument under President William Howard Taft before being renamed Zion National Park by Congress in 1919.
Permits and Regulations
The Temple of Sinawava sits in Zion National Park and you don’t need a permit to enter it. You will, however, need to pay the park fee by purchasing a weekly park pass. There are no daily passes. As of the time of publishing, park fees are usually $20 per person or $35 per private vehicle. Park passes for Zion National Park are only sold on-site, using cash or credit and debit cards.
While you don’t need to display the pass on your car, you should keep it with you in case you leave and want to re-enter. Alternatively, if you’re an avid hiker, consider purchasing either an annual pass starting at just $20 for seniors ages 62 or older (free for active duty military), or lifetime passes starting at $80 for seniors.
Trail Highlights and Points of Interest
The easiest way to start your trek to the Temple of Sinawava is with a ride on the park’s canyon shuttle. Remember to get off at the last stop, #9. You can bring bikes with you since the shuttles have bike racks. Compared to other trails across the American Southwest, the trek to the Temple of Sinawava is a fairly short one that usually takes about two miles round trip. However, there are two ways to get there, and you’ll want to pick the right one that aligns with your agility level. Remember that many of the National Parks in the U.S. are independent hike opportunities — meaning you won’t always have access to guides or experts.
If you’re not a seasoned hiker, stick to Riverside Walk. Of the two trails that will take you to the Temple of Sinawava, this one is paved and is designed for people of all abilities to easily tackle. This trail begins immediately at the last stop for the canyon shuttle. The roundtrip hike is just under two miles and can take about an hour or two to complete. You’ll enjoy a relatively level pathway and even people in wheelchairs can access it, making it ideal if you’re in a group with varying levels of mobility. Key highlights are the gorgeous scenery, including the Virgin River and any animals that you might see along the way.
To reach The Narrows trail, you’ll still start with Riverside Walk. As the name suggests, this is an incredibly narrow trail that runs through a massive gorge sometimes spanning thousands of feet tall and in many places, just 20 or 30 feet wide. You have to wade the Virgin River as part of this hike since it runs through the gorge. Unlike Riverside Walk, The Narrows is much more challenging and depending on river conditions, can’t be attempted at all times.
Experts recommend hiking The Narrows between summer and early fall when the water is not only warmer, but at its lowest level. Still, flash floods are a real risk in The Narrows — especially during monsoon season. Winter and spring are less popular for attempting The Narrows since the water is usually colder and higher. Often the park will close the trail as a safety precaution, usually between April and June.
Riverside Walk is a generally safe trail that is open year round unless the National Parks Service (NPS) closes Zion National Park. Your biggest concerns will be bringing the right clothing so you’re either not sweating or freezing depending on the time of year.
By contrast, The Narrows is a lot more challenging, and can be life-threatening if you’re not careful. Because of the natural geography, flash floods are your biggest concern. The canyon rock doesn’t absorb water, so intense rain from storms causes runoff that flows rapidly through the canyon. Water levels can rise instantly, leaving people stranded, injured, and even killed. Avoid this fate by checking the weather forecast and any potential warnings NPS releases before heading into The Narrows trail.
Additionally, toxic cyanobacteria is also a real risk with the Virgin River. This is a type of bacteria that can make people sick with irritation in the skin, eyes, nose, throat and lungs being the most common symptoms from wading through contaminated water. However, if ingested, people might also suffer from:
- Stomach pain
Note that the Virgin River water is not safe for drinking. Hikers are urged to bring their own bottled water. While NPS does post current cyanobacteria levels for the park, you should still use caution when entering water ways.
Camping in the Park
You can easily hike to and from the Temple of Sinawava as a short half day trip. But if you’re including it as part of a greater Zion hiking adventure, you can also camp in the park. There are three official camping sites in the park, Watchman Campground, South Campground, and Lava Point Campground.
Watchman Campground is open year round, but you need to make reservations, which can be done up to six months before your visit. South Campground is currently partially closed as part of a rehabilitation project. Still, you can make reservations up to two weeks in advance. Lava Point Campground is closed in the winter, but is about an hour away from Zion Canyon. Between March and mid-November, your maximum camp stay park-wide is 14 nights. The rest of the year you can camp for up to 34 consecutive days in the park.
You can bring RVs or camping equipment into the park. But if you’re renting equipment and having it delivered to a campsite, do it from a reputable vendor that has a permit to do business in the park. Note that the South and Watchman Campground are located in desert terrain and can get very hot with few shady spots available.
All Zion National Park campsites are drive up, and you can bring up to two vehicles, although only one can be an RV or trailer. Each campsite can accommodate up to six people maximum with two tents. You can use hammocks, but they need to be within the campsite boundaries. Additionally, check out is 11:00 AM.
There are on-site comfort stations with working toilets, cold running drinkable water, and trash containers. However, there is no electrical supply and no shower. Every campsite has a picnic table and fire pit that has an attached grill. Pets are allowed, but you need to keep them on a leash that’s no longer than six feet. However, pet hiking is limited to roads and the Pa’rus Trail. Also note that quiet hours are between 10:00 PM and 8:00 AM. Keep your food stored in your vehicle or a locked container, and don’t leave trash unattended.
Alternatively, if the on-site campgrounds are full, you can pick from several options that are a quick drive from the park.
What to Bring to The Temple of Sinawava
If you’re planning a day trip to Zion National Park and The Temple of Sinawava, depending on the time of year there are a few things you might want to bring with you to enjoy your trip. Comfortable shoes, a light layer of clothing in case it gets chilly on early morning or evening hikes, a water bottle, camera, sunblock, a hat to shield you from the sun, a light backpack, and maybe snacks are all you require.
If you plan on traversing The Narrows, bring water resistant shoes and clothing that dries quickly since you’ll have to wade through the Virgin River. Depending on the time of year, this might mean the river is deeper. If you’re camping on or off-site, you can leave your valuables secured in your campsite and only bring the essentials.
Hiking Tips and Techniques
Good walking or hiking shoes are a must for Zion National Park. Even though the Riverside Walk trail is fully paved, there are plenty of other trails in the park that aren’t. Depending on your plans, you might spend time in wet and dry conditions, so a good pair of shoes with solid grip is critical. For short day trips, avoid bringing too much gear since you’ll only be in the park for a half or full day. If you struggle with balance, collapsible hiking poles are ideal for stability.
Stay hydrated and be mindful of rest stops for replenishing water bottles and recovering in the shade. Depending on the time of year, Zion National Park can be a blisteringly hot place. Bring a hat, sunblock, and even possibly sunglasses to stay comfortable.
As with many natural attractions, being a good environmental steward is critical. NPS has a national program called Leave No Trace which focuses on being a responsible visitor. Simply put, the campaign has a seven-point guideline:
- Don’t destroy the natural beauty by carrying all trash out with you (including food waste)
- Protect natural vegetation by staying on the established trails — note this is also a safety issue since many hiking trails are along cliffsides
- Not setting up campsites in restricted areas
- Using restrooms in designated areas only and packing out all other human waste if you must go along the trail
- Not engaging in vandalism, including not messing with rock cairns that serve as trail markers
- Not starting a campfire when fire warnings are posted
- Respecting the wildlife and leashing your pets in campsites as an added precaution
Questions People Ask About Hiking To the Temple of Sinawava
How difficult is the hike?
If you choose the Riverside Walk trail, this is the easiest option that anyone can traverse thanks to the nearly flat, paved ground. The Narrows is more challenging and can be dangerous depending on water conditions.
How long is the Temple of Sinawava hike?
The round trip hike usually takes about one to two hours regardless of the trail you choose.
Can I visit the Temple of Sinawava by myself?
Most people will make this hike independently. Pay attention to trail markers especially for The Narrows since it winds through the canyons. However, you can also look for guided tours through tour packages.
Are there restrooms along the trail?
No, there aren’t. There are relief areas throughout the park, but once you start either the Riverside Walk or The Narrows trails, you won’t have access to toilets. If you must go on the trail, NPS requires that you carry out your human waste and dispose of it in designated trash recepticals. This includes diapers, toilet paper, and hygiene products. If you think this might be an issue, be sure to bring human waste disposal bags with you.
Do I need a permit to hike to the Temple of Sinawava?
You won’t need a permit to hike to the Temple of Sinawava, but you will need to pay for the park pass. Zion National Park only offers weekly and annual passes that start at $20 per person.
When is the best time to hike to the Temple of Sinawava?
If you take the Riverside Walk trail, it’s open year round. However you should always be mindful of NPS notices if the park is closed. Typically Spring through early Fall is the best time. The Narrows trail can be risky during monsoon season so usually between April and June it’s closed. Summer is best to traverse this trail since you have to walk through the water and it will be warmer and at its lowest point.
Should I bring money with me on the Temple of Sinawava hike?
There are no gas stations or grocery stores in Zion National Park. At best, you can buy a refillable water bottle at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, Human History Museum, Zion Canyon Lodge, and Kolob Canyons Visitor Center. So, if you think you might want a souvenir bottle, bring money. Otherwise, you can leave your valuables secured in your car or at the campsite.
Is the Temple of Sinawava trek safe?
This is a generally safe trek for most people to attempt. The Riverside Walk is the safest since it’s a paved path with gentle slopes. The Narrows trail can be more treacherous because of the flash flood risk. However, remember you’re in a National Park that’s home to wild animals. So, it’s possible to encounter them on your hike.