Access to Zion Narrows ‘for sale’? Private landowner warns against trespassing in world-famous route; hiking permits discontinued

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Hikers in the Narrows, Zion National Park, Wednesday May 6, 2015.

“Own over 1 mile of the Zion Narrows,” promises a “for sale” sign affixed to a redrock canyon wall along the world-famous Utah hiking route into Zion National Park. “880 Acres. With Water. Resort potential.”

Park officials have discontinued permits for the hike through the Zion Narrows now that a private landowner has posted “no trespassing" signs in the popular canyon — and apparently plans to sell a tract of land around it.

“Effective immediately, Zion National Park has stopped issuing Wilderness permits to hike the Zion Narrows from north to south [‘top-down’],” park officials wrote in a news statement Tuesday afternoon. “... Zion National Park hopes to work with the landowner to resolve this situation.”

(Christopher Cherrington) | The Salt Lake Tribune)

The 16-mile, one-way hike through the Virgin River Narrows is one of the most renowned in the park. It begins at the Chamberlain Ranch trailhead and cuts between towering cliff walls to the Temple of Sinewava trailhead at the end of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.

The north part of the route crosses private land, park officials wrote, and a landowner recently closed about a mile of it to public access, posting “Private Property, No Trespassing” signs.

(Photo courtesy of Kenneth Steinsapir) Signs advertising the sale of a 1-mile section of the Zion Narrows Ñ along with a notice forbidding trespassing Ñ are affixed to a canyon wall along the North Fork of the Virgin River, which leads to the Zion Narrows in Zion National Park. Hiker Kenneth Steinsapir photographed the signs Monday on private land just outside of the park boundaries. Park officials discontinued permits to the world-renowned canyon hike the next day. The 16-mile "top-down" route through the Narrows has relied on access through private land. Visitors may still hike to the Narrows from the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, to the south.

Next to those signs are advertisements for 880 acres of riverfront property, confirmed Cindy Purcell, management assistant to the park superintendent.

The landowners did not contact park officials to communicate complaints related to hiker access, which has been ongoing for decades, Purcell said. Rangers first became aware of the signs during the weekend, Purcell said.

The Narrows hike from Chamberlain Ranch is permit-restricted; the park allows up to 90 hikers per day to enter the Narrows from the north, including 40 day-hikers and 50 overnight hikers who may camp along the Virgin River. Each day the park typically turns away at least 10 parties of up to 12 people, Purcell said.

Permits have been reserved through early November, Purcell said. Park staffers are trying to contact hikers to let them know they will not be able to do the hike from the top down, Purcell said.

“Even for tomorrow, some are international visitors,” Purcell said. “We may not be successful at getting ahold of all of those.”

The Springdale-based outfitter Zion Adventure Company plans to dispute the decision if the park is not able to reach a resolution with the landowner. The business runs four to six shuttles a day to the north trailhead at Chamberlain Ranch and plans tours for clients.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Hikers in the Narrows, Zion National Park, Wednesday May 6, 2015.

“When they called us this morning, they said, ‘We’re ceasing all access to the narrows as of today.’ We said ‘What? What are you talking about?’ ... It’s one of the main reasons why people come to Zion,” said Kim Hermann, Zion Adventure Company business administrator. “We think that after so many years of being a public access that you can not all of a sudden close it and make it private.”

The Zion Narrows still can be accessed by hiking upstream from the Temple of Sinewava trailhead. Access is open to the Big Spring area, about 4 miles upstream from the trailhead, but the park has closed the hike north of that point to the park boundary, to protect its wilderness character. Access to the Narrows via the popular Orderville Canyon — also permit-restricted — is not affected, Purcell said.

It is not clear how the closure may relate to a conservation easement, bought in 2013 by the nonprofit Trust For Public Lands for the express purpose of protecting access to the Chamberlain Ranch trail into Narrows. The Trust could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

Park officials would not immediately identify the property owner, but Washington and Kane counties recorders' maps show two private landowners adjacent to the hike. Neither could be reached immediately for comment. Calls to the phone number listed on that “for sale” sign went unanswered.

The Tribune will report further details as they become available.