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The Subway - Top-Down

Springdale, Utah

based on 13 reviews



7.78 miles

Route Type



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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Swimming Hole

The Subway - Top-Down Reviews

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!

Probably one of my most memorable hiking/ repelling experiences. The trail is a little hard to find in some spots at the beginning, so definitely bring a map (or GPS if you have it, but make sure it's waterproof). But once you settle in, the hike is relatively easy and the scenery is amazing. Bring your repelling gear for at least 2 sections (some other's can be circumnavigated) and just be prepared for adventure. The pools are great, the ambiance is fantastic and it's just a freaking great overall hike. Warning though, be very mindful of the weather, don't even attempt if rain is in the forecast!!!

Funny enough I ran into Tyler Johnson (previous review) on the trail. Top Down is an amazing way to take in the Subway if you're comfortable with rappelling and anchors. You'll get the opportunity to swim through several pools that are waist to chest deep and see a whole new perspective of the canyon that isn't accessible from the Bottom Up Route. If you're planning to go top down here are a few things to keep in mind: 1) It's helpful to have a shuttle car for the thru-hike. Park one at the Left Fork Trailhead (37.2847443,-113.1328094) and then load up all passengers and head to the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead (37.339812,-113.1125852) to start the hike. 2) If at any point, you think you're off the trail before the first obstacle, head back to the last point where you knew you were on the trail -- we turned back 2x because we missed the direction the cairns were pointing. We saw cairns along the entire route up to the first obstacle when we were on trail. 3) At the first obstacle, you may see people jumping off the right side of the boulder. I'd recommend being patient and rappelling. Nothing is worse than getting an ankle injury this early in the canyon. 4) Wetsuits -- we didn't use them since we went July 30th, but they could be helpful early or late in the season as the upper canyon streams were a bit cold. Get out and enjoy it!

Leave No Trace

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