Hiking the Subway Bottom-Up Trail Description – The Left Fork of North Creek in Zion National Park, also known as the Subway, is one of the park’s more popular and iconic hikes, taking you along (and through) the river to a tube-like, undercut slot canyon resembling an urban subway tunnel. It had become so popular, the crowding had put a strain on the land so a permit system was implemented, including an advance lottery, with only 80 permits given out per day. There are two routes used to complete the hike – one from the top-down, requiring rappelling (up to 30′), short down-climbs, and swimming through pools, and the second from the bottom-up, which is non-technical and no (mandatory) swimming. This is the Subway bottom-up trail description with no technical climbing.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Trailhead: Left Fork Trailhead, which is roughly 8.2 miles up the Kolob Terrace Road from the town of Virgin.
Distance: 9 miles roundtrip, out-and-back. (I’ve also read 6-7 miles. It felt like more than 9…)
Rating: “Moderate” non-technical (See my description below. The National Parks Service has this listed as “strenuous”)
Elevation Change: 400-ft descent from trailhead to bottom of canyon, then gradual 600-ft elevation gain up the canyon
Permits: Required (except November to March, due to low demand)
My Description / Rant of the Trail: Before I hiked this, I did a bunch of research and there seemed to be a lot of dire descriptions out there, which really prepared us for the worst. I kept reading over and over again how “strenuous” this hike is and how difficult finding the route can be. Maybe it was tougher a few years ago and things have changed, but the route was fairly easy to follow. A flash flood would alter the landscape and trail in a heart-beat, but when we hiked it (May 8, 2014), the trail was packed down, maintained, and there were cairns leading the way. There were a couple of “this doesn’t seem right” moments, but it was easy to recognize and backtrack a few feet. That happens with a lot of hikes. Plus, you’re hiking up a canyon – if you can’t keep one big-ass cliff to your left and the other big-ass cliff to your right, you probably shouldn’t be out in the backcountry anyway. In the end, it was a long day, but it was not a ‘difficult’ hike by any means. Sure, if hiked once or twice a year, I’d probably consider this tougher, but if you spend any time hiking at all, this should be a walk in the park for you. Literally.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Right from the parking lot at the Left Fork Trailhead, the trail starts off mellow and well maintained.
You come to an opening overlooking Great West Canyon, the canyon you will be hiking up. The loose trail heads down 400′ to the river.
In the Canyon
The trail continues to the left, past these small cascades.
You’ll come to the first set of what I’d consider “major falls.” This is where the trail began to go straight up the river. There are social trails to the right, but the park service had laid branches over them to try and deter people from using them. This is where you really begin to alternate between actual dry trails on both sides or just heading right up stream. Keep an eye out for the cairns – it was fairly easy to follow. When we were unsure of anything, we just went right up the river.
Arch Angel Falls. This was the second major set of falls and was simply spectacular. Again, hike straight up them in the river. You’re almost there.
This is the scene that greets you right on top of Arch Angle falls and it’s the first glimpse of a “subway” feature that I remember seeing. You can actually kind of see a social trail in the dirt on the right, but it was blocked off when we did it. There’s a small waterfall in the middle… head up the right-hand side in the river.
Right above that fall is the next large fall as well as another “subway” feature. Head up the steep embankment to the right of this fall, not in the river.
A well-known attraction on this hike is the crack. This lies just above those last falls. Literally – When taking this picture, I could still see over the last major fall. Continue hiking right up the river.
Up the river a few hundred feet later, you’re greeted with the main attraction. The Subway….
This was our turn-around spot because that pool was around 50º and chest-deep, but it turned out this is the turn around for most people since climbing becomes involved… At the time, there was a fixed line heading up the wall to the right from where I took this picture. That was the final rappel for the top-down route. However, when we hiked that route two weeks later, that line was gone and the final rappel goes right into this grotto.