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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

If you love beauty and adventure, you won't find a better day hike. As described above, the top-down hike requires a permit, and the permits are extremely popular and hard to get, but the trip is well worth it. The subway offers much of what is best about Zion national park. The canyon is challenging enough that even experienced hikers will find themselves engaged, but welcoming enough that even novices can enjoy it as long as they travel with someone who really knows how to rappel and manage basic canyoneering obstacles. Three important note on the trail: 1) Just after way-finding through the sandstone bowl, as you are preparing to drop into the canyon itself, there is misleading false approach that takes off to the right. We re-set cairns yesterday (7/30/2015) to show the appropriate way to approach the drop-in (the correct trail takes off more to the left or straight on, depending on how you're viewing things), but it's quite easy to miss. If you make your way down the false approach, you'll find yourself confronted with an impassable down-climb of about 30 feet over a series of uneven, sloping, unsafe rocky ledges. This appears dangerous (especially from the bottom) and should not be attempted. The correct entry, which takes off straight ahead/more to the left, leads to a very manageable approach down a rocky trail with some boulder hopping. 2) I've hiked Subway before doing everything possible to avoid rappelling, but did it yesterday with harnesses and rope at the ready and found it to be much more enjoyable. The rappels are short, but great fun. The last obstacle, in particular, can be approached either straight on (bolt and webbing are slightly to the right) or by skirting around to the left and using bolts in the wall there. I've previously always gone left, but yesterday we rappelled from the straight-on/slightly right and found this made for a 25-30 ft rappel that was a lot of fun. 3) The trail down the riverbed (after leaving the slot canyon) takes quite a long time, so know that even after you've managed all the obstacles, you've still got a good few hours before you'll make it back to your car. All of that aside, there is nothing quite like this canyon. Within the canyon, you'll find places where you need to jump from a boulder into a pool and then swim across as well as others where you walk along in waist deep water only to find your footing suddenly gone and yourself in water up to you shoulders (or above your head). The subway itself is spectacular and unique and is preceded by a fantastic little redrock slot is followed by a series of stream beds where Zion's bright red rock mixes with green algae and white foaming water and a blue sky to form one of the most striking and gorgeous of nature's canvasses. All in all, a spectacular trip.

Leave No Trace

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


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