The Subway - Top-Down

Springdale, Utah

5.0/5
based on 13 reviews

Details

Distance

7.78 miles

Route Type

Point-to-Point

Description

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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Features

Hiking
Bathrooms
Forest
Scenic
Waterfall
Swimming Hole

Reviews

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!

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!

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.

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.

Beautiful, incredibly fun hike. I did this last summer (mid-June) and would recommend it to anyone interested in these kinds of excursions. I do a fair bit of hiking and dabble in rock climbing/rappelling, but this was my first canyoneering trip and I would say it's ideal for a beginner. Just challenging enough to keep it interesting while not being too advanced for newbies. Heads up: we did have some difficulty finding the trailhead, and apparently this isn't an uncommon problem - while looking for the trailhead we came upon a group in front of us who had also been searching for some time. We actually looked around for well over an hour before we found it, and during our search drank up most of the water we had on hand. The trailhead begins at the highest point of the hike, hence the top-down designation, and the high desert in June is (you guessed it) hot. Here's my advice to find the trailhead: follow the cairns (duh) down the slickrock, and where there appears to be a fork at the bottom, stay right. There will be another fork a short time later. Take a left here. It's pretty inconspicuous and the cairn is NOT SET UP where the trail branches off, but up a little bit higher on the trail. It's not easy to spot. Trust me, we sent several scouts off in that direction and neither of them found it. One of them had even done this trail already. So, yeah. Keep that in mind. Once you find your way from there it's very straightforward - I mean, once you get down into the canyon there's really only one direction to go. The water in June is COLD but refreshing, and there are several places where you have to full-on jump into the water, there's no other option. Another heads up: one of these water obstacles has a log coming out of two boulders which leads into the water. It would appear that you can use the rope situated nearby to slowly ease into the water. This is not the case. The log is super slippery and you'll end up falling on your ass. You're better off just jumping right in. Don't worry, it's deep enough. Oh, and the hardest part of the entire hike, by far, is the last 200 meters or so, which is pretty much a straight uphill to the parking lot. After that 8.5 mile obstacle course you just completed, it's pretty brutal, but when you get to the top and look down upon what you just completed, it's totally worth it.

I did this hike in mid november. I was a little scared that it would be freezing! We had wetsuits and neoprene socks though and we were totally fine. In fact I have done canyons in the middle of the summer that were much colder. I loved every moment of this hike, and even though it is pretty long I plan on going back and doing it over and over again.

This hike is an absolute blast. Like previous reviewers have mentioned, finding your way down to the start of the Left Fork can be a bit confusing at times. Here's a tip: getting there shouldn't require anything too crazy/scary to get down. We got sidetracked twice and both times the route in front of us was a bit sketchier than we imagined it should be for such a popular hike. Once you get down into the canyon, you'll have an amazing time. Note: This hike requires rappelling, so you and your group should have the proper equipment and knowledge.

Utah has some incredible canyoneering and this is one of the most spectacular options. The route ranges from squeezing through tight quarters, swimming in deep pools, rappelling over down boulders and hiking through the river surrounded by massive sandstone cliff walls. Summer is the time to go as the water will be warmer (spring and fall require wet suits). The subway brings out the explorer in you as you may have to try a few different options before finding the corrent entrance to the canyon. Make sure you do plenty of research and know as best you can where you're meant to go. Once you hike around the gulch before the canyon you'll have to keep a sharp eye out for the entrance and probably do some trial and error. If it seems like a really sketchy entrance into the canyon, back track and push forward looking for cairns and a trail heading up a mild hill. This will lead to a rocky, steep (but totally manageable) trail heading down to the canyone floor and towards the first obstacle - a large boulder that you will need to rappell. Always rappell if there is the option - many drops look like they are jumpable, and they may be, but many have tested their limits jumping down boulders and gotten injured. As far as gear goes, bring a lighter canyoneering rope rather than a climbing rope - it will be lighter and soak up less water. Everyone should have a harness, rappell device, locking carabiner and bring at least one form of an anchor so that whoever is leading and setting up can tie in while getting the others ready. I'd also advise to take it slow once you finish the rappells and are walking through the actual "subway" section. Sit down for lunch on the river or near the red waterfalls and soak it in. You've got a good climb out ahead of you so rest up and enjoy one of the most beautiful places in Utah!

A great day of canyoneering. The trail from the wildcat trailhead down to the start of the canyon can be a bit hard to follow, so make sure to keep your eye out for cairns. The canyoneering is fun and the rappels are short (and a couple are even circumventable if you're confident). Definitely recommend doing this in the summer, it makes the swims far more enjoyable! I'd definitely recommend the Top-down over the bottom-up hike!

Leave No Trace

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

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