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The Subway is one of the highlights of Zion National Park and is located outside the main canyon. The Subway can be done from the top down or from the bottom up. To do the top down route you will need climbing equipment and rope for rappelling. We did the nontechnical bottom up route which takes you out and back to the Subway. In this guide we will describe the bottom up route to the Subway.
Time Required: 5-7 Hours
Trailhead: Left Fork Trailhead
Distance: 12.5km (8 miles) round trip
Elevation Gain: 180m (600ft)
Difficulty: 7/10 – Elevation gain, distance
Season: Year-round. Spring and fall are most pleasant. Summer can be very hot and busy. Winter can be cold
Additional Requirements: If attempting in winter, dry suits are highly recommended.
From St. George: Travel on the I-15 North towards Salt Lake City, after 11 km (7 miles) merge onto UT-9 East via exit 16 and travel 20km (12.5 miles) through Hurricane and then up to La Verkin. Take a right turn in La Verkin to continue on the UT-9 East for 9.6km (6 miles) until you come into Virgin. Take a left on Pocketville Rd, then another left onto Kolob Terrace Rd. Continue on Kolob Terrace Rd for 12.5km (7.8 miles), and the trailhead/parking lot will be on your right.
Note: The trailhead for The Subway is not in the main Zion canyon. The Zion Canyon Shuttle Service doesn’t go to the trailhead for The Subway.
WHAT TO BRING
- Footwear: Bring shoes that can get wet! In the summer water shoes are a good idea. In the winter we recommend the boots and neoprene socks that come with a dry suit rental from Zion Adventure Guides. The water will be cold!
- Water: This hike is long and tiring. Be sure to bring enough water for 5-7 hours of physical exertion.
- Snacks: Bring some of your favorite snacks to enjoy along the hike as well as a light lunch for when you arrive at the turnaround point. Some of our favorite snacks are trail mix, bananas, beef jerky and licorice.
- Weather appropriate clothing: Depending on the time of year you do this hike it could be very hot, or quite cold. Check the water temperature as well as you will be walking through water.
- Swimsuit: If you do this hike in the summer it is advisable to bring a swimsuit as you will get wet!
- Dry Suit: If you are doing this hike in the wintertime, bring a dry suit. You will need it to walk through the cold water. You can rent them from the Zion Adventure Company in Springdale.
- A walking stick: A walking stick will come in handy to keep your balance on the rocky terrain underneath the water. They can also be rented from Zion Adventure Company
- Sunscreen: If it is sunny and you’re like Mattson, who easily burns, bring sunscreen!
- Camera: There are numerous photo opportunities you won’t want to miss.
- This Guide: Print a copy of this guide to reference throughout the hike
Flash Floods: It’s important when hiking through water flow areas (The Subway and The Narrows), to check the local forecast for rain and always be on high alert for noticeable changes in the weather. The Zion Visitor Center posts river flow rates for these hikes and can advise when they are safe to do. Flash floods are a real danger and can sneak up on you when you least expect it. If you do find yourself in a flash flood situation, get to high ground on the side of the canyon as quick as you can to stay safe.
Wilderness Permits: A Zion wilderness permit is required before doing The Subway. This hike has gained popularity over the years and park authorities are trying to regulate traffic and damage done to the hike. A wilderness permit can be purchased on their website. If you are planning a trip to Zion in the busy summer months there is a lottery for permits where you must submit 2 months in advance. There are also walk in permits that can be acquired first come first serve the day prior to doing the hike.
Leave No Trace: It is important that we enjoy the outdoors responsibly and sustainably. Some key principles to consider when hiking to “Leave No Trace” are:
- Plan ahead and prepare: Proper planning allows adventurers to hike safely while minimizing damage to the land.
- Travel on durable surfaces: Stick to the trail when possible. If there is no trail, or you must travel off trail, stay on durable surfaces to reduce your impact.
- Dispose of waste properly: Pack it in, pack it out.
- Leave what you find: Leave rocks, plants, archaeological artifacts and other objects of interest as you find them.
- Respect wildlife: Observe wildlife from a distance. Never feed wild animals.
- Be considerate of other visitors: Be courteous to others to allow everyone to enjoy their outdoor experience.
To learn more about “Leave No Trace” visit http://www.leavenotrace.ca
Summary: The bottom up route to the Subway is a relatively straightforward hike. From the trailhead a well-marked trail will take you down switchbacks to the bottom of the canyon. From that point there is a creek that you will follow upstream all the way to the Subway. Along the creek there isn’t a well-defined trail, it is up to you to find the best way around boulders, through pools of water and up small waterfalls.
The hike starts at the Left Fork Trailhead (Route marker #1 on the map) at the top of the canyon. To start the hike, follow the trail from the parking lot northeast for about 800 meters as it zig zags into the canyon below.
When you get to the bottom of the canyon the trail runs into a creek (Route marker #2 on the map). There is a small sign marking the trail you just came down. Make a note of it so that you don’t miss the turn off on your return trip! There’s nothing worse than missing your exit and hiking extra miles you don’t have to.
From here on out the hike is straightforward. Keep following the main creek upstream and eventually you will reach the Subway. Along the way there isn’t a defined trail to follow so how you navigate the route is up to you. There are massive boulders to climb over, little ponds to walk around, waterfalls to climb and rock hopping to help keep your mind occupied as you hike along the creek.
From the trailhead it’s about 4 miles to The Subway. As you get closer to The Subway the canyon walls narrow and there are more waterfalls that you’ll have to walk over. After walking through the final sections of waterfalls and pool you will reach the tube of the Subway (Route marker #3 on the map). It’s a long, round, curved tube eroded into the canyon from hundreds of years of waterflow and you can walk right through it.
Inside the subway you will notice “potholes” filled with water, and if you keep going deeper water leading further into the canyon. This usually marks the turnaround point for the hike but if you want to wade through the water for the few minutes you can reach what is known as the waterfall room (Route marker #4 on the map). If you’ve got a dry suit on, or the water is warm, it is worth checking out before turning around and making your way back out to the trailhead.
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Have fun out there!