From a distance it's a mysterious light-filled passage between two mountains of rock, an inviting gorge that beckons you to explore what's around the next bend. Though you'll be excited to see what comes next, the watery trail requires slow going. It's well worth the wait. Hiking the Zion Narrows, a 16-mile (26-kilometer) stretch of the Virgin River where it passes through the upper reaches of Zion Canyon in Utah's Zion National Park, is a wonderland of natural beauty. With towering perpendicular walls adorned with hanging gardens and set above streams of turquoise waters, Zion Narrows is a masterpiece set in stone.
Relatively few humans throughout time have appreciated the amazing beauty of Zion Narrows, mainly because its rocky terrain makes it difficult to reach. Native Americans have called the region home for at least 8,000 years, but European Americans only began exploring here in the late 18th century [source: National Park Service]. By the middle of the 19th century, Brigham Young led followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) to the areas, and soon Mormon homesteads were scattered along the banks of the Virgin River [source: National Park Service]. They are also responsible for its name. Originally called Mukuntuweap, the early Mormon homesteaders adopted the name Zion, which means "place of refuge" [source: Zion National Park]. By the early 20th century, roads and railways finally made the region accessible to tourists on a large scale.
Zion Canyon and the surrounding area was designated a national park in 1919 [source: National Park Service]. Since then, visitation to the park has increased steadily. Zion National Park is a now a tourist mecca, and Zion Narrows is its Times Square. In 2000, hiking the Narrows ranked No. 5 on National Geographic's list of America's best 100 adventures. In the next sections, we explore what makes it such a spectacular destination.