Hiking the Narrows of Zion National Park in October

Any trip to Zion National Park ultimately leads to a stroll down the River Walk which ends at the southern terminus of The Narrows, the world’s largest slot canyon.

The Narrows photoLast October, I loaded the F-150 with enough gear for a base camp in the Watchman Campground and all the requisite gear for the 18 mile challenge of hiking the Narrows.

The Park Service maintains 12 designated campsites in the Narrows which must be reserved prior to the hike.  We were able to secure site #12, the southern most site in the string, when we drew our permits.

Our day started at 6am when we boarded the rickety old van shuttle that would bring excitement to our commute.  Swaying from side to side as we made our way to the trailhead, the van seemed to be as unsure about this adventure as we were.

October is cool in Zion National Park and the water temps hovered slightly above the 50 degree mark.  This, we discovered, was the perfect time to be hiking the Narrows.

The water levels tend to be lower and more stable with less rain fall that time of year.  The cool water temps ensure that a mid-day dip is actually refreshing.  And the nights are cool enough to limit bugs almost entirely.

Last October, the weather was perfect and the fall foliage was in full effect.  The first 2 miles of the hike follow the Virgin River as it cuts through the Chamberlin Ranch.  After you drop into the river, the canyon walls grow become more steep and it narrows with every step.

But despite the unforgiving landscape, there are countless trees, shrubs, and wall gardens that call The Narrows home.  The colors in October were fantastic and at times resembled fire more than the progression of fall.

If you have a chance to visit Zion National Park, consider hiking the Narrows in October.  You won’t be disappointed.

Comments

  1. Raj Kumar says:

    Hi, thanks for the post. One ques, what time during the day would be perfect to cature colors in the narrows? I m going in october first week.

    Thanks

    • The mid-day sun is really the only opportunity to capture the light directly. The canyon is so narrow in most places that the light only gets down to the bottom for a short period each day when it is directly overhead.

      If you’re hiking top down then you will have more chances.

      • Raj Kumar says:

        I would try to start the hike around noon then. I ll be doing bottom
        up as i m going solo and have not much experience in climbing )

        • No climbing required. Just be sure to give yourself a little extra time. The bottom section is mostly the high vertical canyon walls like in the Wall Street section. Further upstream it opens a bit and the wall gardens are visible.

          • Raj Kumar says:

            I saw some videos on youtube, people were doing downstream hike and they had to use ropes and stuff, but anyways i wont push hard, its my first time )
            One question though, I can’t swim, are there any part in the hike that might be trouble for me?

          • It sounds to me that perhaps you saw videos of The Subway, which is also in Zion but a completely different hike. I does have 3 rappels and a few spots where you have to swim.

            We did the Narrows top down for the entire 18 mile length in October of last year and we never went above mid-thigh. We never had to swim either. There were spots where we had to backtrack a little bit to change our approach and move down the other side for more shallow water but never had to swim.

          • Raj Kumar says:

            You are totally right, i just searched for The subway and yes that’s it, i was mistaken ). Good to hear about the water level part too.
            Thanks a lot for all the info.

          • Your welcome! Enjoy the hike.

  2. Hi, How cold was the water? Were you wearing wet/dry suit (at least pants)? I am doing Narrows Oct 5th this year. Trying to figure out what to take. I am getting my own neoprene 3mm socks, hiking poles. Planning to rent 5.10 shoes. What else is needed (from gear point of view)?

    Thanks!

  3. Were you there in early, mid, or late October? We were thinking of doing it in late October, but I’m a bit concerned we’ll miss the fall colors.

    • P.S. Thanks for the post. And the gorgeous photo!

    • Tim Miner says:

      We went in early October. The colors are a moving target as it changes with each year. Once you’re in the canyon, you won’t see as much foliage anyway. It’s just 1000 foot cliffs on both sides!

  4. Hi, Im also going in october. Did you need a wet suit or dry suit? Can you describe the deepest points along the river?

    • Tim Miner says:

      We rented dry pants from a local tour outfitter along with the walking sticks. It’s the best way to go for sure. As for deepest points, that also changes with each season. It really depends on the rainfall upstream. But there were no points where we had to swim. You can usually find a low point by exploring your options a bit.

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