Subway Bottom Up, Zion National Park

Distance: ~8 miles (12.9 km) round trip
Trailhead Elevation: ~5,200 ft (1,585 m)
Date: April 5, 2011

The Subway of the Left Fork of North Creek in Zion National Park is one of the best hikes in the park and showcases one of the most interesting canyons you will ever see.  To experience all of the Subway, it is best done in summer from the top down, which requires wading and rappelling through the stream.  For those who do not wish to go on the more difficult and often dangerous top down route or want to experience the subway early in the season or even any time of year without a wet suit, you can hike out and back to Keyhole Falls from the bottom.

The first cascade, which you can walk around.   This is similar to, but much smaller than  the upper cascades that you must walk through.

This trail, which does not appear on official maps and is not maintained, departs from the Left Fork trailhead along the Kolob Terrace Road.  However, you should check current conditions and must obtain a free permit from the Zion Canyon Visitor Center prior to your trip.   Permits can be picked up the day of your trip early in the season, but will often require reservations during peak season.

One of the middle cascades, which can also be walked around

From the trailhead the trail goes a short distance the the edge of the Left Fork canyon, which at this point is has no resemblance to the Subway.  The trail descends 400 feet into the canyon and follow the stream over 3 miles to just below the Subway.  You know when you are getting close to the Subway because the canyon walls steadily encroach on you, and the trail runs out of room on the stream banks. The trail may be difficult to follow at times and requires several stream crossings that can be done without getting wet, but as long as you stay in the main canyon you will reach the Subway.

The entrance to the Subway

As you approach the Subway you will begin to see several cascades, and after the first few of them you will have to walk through the stream channel and up the cascades.  That is unless you are able to fight through the Gambel's oak on the very steep side canyon sides and find just the perfect route through as I was able to on my way out.  At the time of my visit the water still high, but not so high that it made walking through the stream difficult aside from being extremely slippery while walking up the steep sections.  In the summer when the water and air temperatures are higher these sections make for a fun way of getting out of the section just below the Subway.

Looking downstream out of the Subway from just before the first pool

Once you get through this last steep section, the stream flattens out and you can see the canyon walls converge to only about 20 feet and the tubular lower section that gives the Subway its name.  You can likely  walk carefully along the bank until you reach the first pool without getting wet because the stream in this tubular section becomes deeper and faster flowing than what you just walked through.

For those who visit in the summer or with a wet suit you can continue on a very short distance until you reach keyhole falls bay wading through several pools, which can get quite deep.  At this point you cannot continue any further, and yet you have only seen a small section of the Subway.

© Copyright 2017 Matthew Pintar. All rights reserved.


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