Are We Hiking The Narrows or The Subway?

Whether you're hiking The Narrows or The Subway in Zion, it's important to know which hike you are actually on...

By: Phill Monson
July 14, 2016

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I had a great experience last month of taking my Dad to hike the incredible Zion Narrows. I had been several times, but it was a first for my Dad. Getting up at 4:30 am in order to make the 6:00 am shuttle was a chore, but it paid off in the end as we were the first people in The Narrows and had it to ourselves for over two hours. 

After a while some more folks showed up. One group in particular kept pulling out their map and looking around confused; I thought this was interesting as there is literally one way to go until you hit Big Springs about 5 miles up, and we were still about 2 miles from there. While I was talking some pics, a few in the group approached me and asked how close they were to the Subway portion of the hike. "The Subway?" I asked a little confused. "Yeah, you know, the Subway" and pulled out a phone picture to show me the classic Subway shot. Needless to say, it was an awkward next few minutes as I explained to them they were on a totally different (but just as awesome) hike. I could tell they were pretty deflated at this revelation, and ended up turning around to head home. 

Hence, I felt it necessary to explain the differences, and hopefully help out the confused adventurer from making a similar mistake:

The Narrows


Photo: Stephen Marshall

The Narrows is possibly the most famous hike in all of Zion, next to Angels Landing. If you go bottom up starting from the River Walk trail head, there is no need of a permit for the day hike. If you'd like to go beyond Big Spring and camp at the primitive campground, permits are required. Start your hike as early as possible, especially in Summer as the crowds by 11:00 am make the place look like water park wave pool on a 115 degree day. 

Despite the temps outside, The Narrows are always cold as they are kept in the shade, so a light jacket is needed. There's lot's of other great tips out there, but the main point is this - while the Virgin River flows through both, it is most certainly NOT The Subway. 

The Subway  


Photo: Scott Kranz

The Subway is part of Zion National Park, though accessed outside of the traditional park boundaries and is considered Zion National Park backcountry. There are two ways to access The Subway - Top Down, which requires some technical ability as well as rappelling gear, or the Bottom Up option which is easier, though maybe not as adventurous. Either way you go, you must have a permit from Zion National Park. Seriously. Going without one will get you a fine, and tighter restrictions for everyone else. 

Bottom Line:

Both of these hikes are incredible, and can be considered the hearts of Zion National Park - they both allow you to get deep within the park, and experience nature in an incredible way. That said, both are very different and at risk of being disappointed, a little research can go a long way. There are so many resources available on-line and in print to help plan your trip to Zion, as well as the friendly Rangers within the Park itself who will be happy to help.  

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.