Hike The Subway - Top-Down

Details

Distance

9.5 miles

Route Type

Point-to-Point

Added by Scott Kranz

The Subway is a challenging, unguided canyoneering day trip and arguably the most popular backcountry adventure in Zion. It is one of the most diverse and beautiful slot canyons in Utah.

The Subway (rated 3B III), also known as the Left Fork of the North Creek, is the most popular backcountry hike in Zion. It is one of the most diverse and beautiful canyons, as well as a fun and challenging day trip canyoneering adventure. There are two ways to explore the Subway: from the bottom up or the top down. The top-down route is a strenuous 6-12hr, 9.5+ mile hike that requires rappelling skills, down climbing skills, 100ft of rope, route finding experience, swimming through several deep pools of cold water and a sense of adventure. May through September are the ideal months to take on the Subway—when the water and air temps are warmer. September is optimal, since the park in general seems to be less crowded and permits are easier to get.

Due to its popularity, the Subway is managed under a quota system and permits are required. Reservations are available online via lottery (several months in advance), a last minute drawing (also online, 2-7 days in advance), or at the visitor’s desk inside Zion National Park. Purchasing the permits online, as they are date-specific and have a tendency to sell out is the best method—especially during high season/summer months. Pick up your passes at the visitor’s center prior to the day of your hike, since you’ll want to be hitting the trail before the visitor center opens! Besides picking up your passes, it’s a good idea to check in with the rangers to find out the weather forecast and the latest conditions in the canyon. Because this is a slot canyon, flash flooding is a major danger and conditions can change dramatically in a short time. You can also check the local weather and current Subway conditions online (www.nps.gov). There’s a book you can purchase at the visitor’s center or online prior with a detailed route description (Zion: Canyoneering by Tom Jones).

Online there are great charts with rough guidelines (please note times are approximate, based off of those bombing through the canyon in ~6hrs. Also note the mileage has the chance of increasing, depending on how many times you cross the stream below the Subway): CanyoneeringUSA.com

Additional Considerations:

  • The canyon’s pools are spring-fed, so water is available to filter once in the canyon
  • Check weather conditions, since flash flooding is a major danger in any slot canyon
  • Comfort with rappelling, down climbing & setting up/using anchors
  • All rappels are bolted (as of 2012)
  • Many people take on the three short obstacles/rappels via hand lining, however, this is NOT recommended and has gone horribly wrong. Aside from this, choose your anchors carefully, since the established anchors are not all suitable for hand lining
  • If attempting the Subway in the winter/spring—the red ledges immediately after the Subway are icy and require crampons. Also, with the snow melt, there are several weeks in spring when the Subway floods and it is NOT safe for passage
  • Port-a-potties available at both trailheads
  • GPS coordinates are only references and may or may not be accurate, as GPS has limited capabilities in the canyons. Do NOT rely on a GPS as your sole method of navigation
  • Check zionnational-park.com out for Subway GPS coordinates
  • Some people have not planned well and have ended up spending the night in the canyon. Give yourself plenty of time
  • Professional guide services are not permitted on this adventure
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Know for

Swimming
Hiking
Bathrooms
Forest
Scenic
Waterfall
Swimming Hole

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Reviews

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Amazing!

We did it March 11 and we were told by everyone that we shouldn't do it because it was too dangerous; they probably thought we were a bunch of clueless kids. Little did they know, we were very prepared and had one of the most amazing adventures I've ever had. I would definitely recommend it to anyone!

🥉Contributor

over 4 years ago

Gorgeous Hike!

This is a great experience, and a "must have" on your bucket list. Being so, there are lots of people. I suggest leaving early am to beat the crowds. Nice hike, the crawl out is steep, but do able for sure. Make sure and take plenty of water and energy snack!

Amazing canyoneering experience

The Subway Top-Down route is incredibly fun and features beautiful views from start to finish, but I wanted to echo some others' notes that this isn't a walk in the park for everyone even though it's tempting to view it that way. Be careful not to take too large a group because of the amount of time it'll add and the impact it has on your experience, but more importantly, it'll be way more fun if everyone is comfortable rappelling. I think it's easy to take for granted that everyone intuitively understands the mechanics of rappelling, but the last thing you'd want to deal with is someone hurting themselves halfway through the canyon. That said, you're likely to have an awesome adventure regardless.

Great Challenge

Epic!

Key Hole

I've done the subway more than 12 times and I would have to say a fun side-note on this hike is the key hole swim you can do in one of the first swims. Halfway through a longer swim, on the left, is a hole. If you drop in that hole of water there is a hole in the rock a few feet down you can go through and swim out the other side. It's pretty cool.

1766 total saves

5.0/5

Leave No Trace

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on.

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