The “Subway” is aptly named after the tunnel shaped slot canyon located deep within the Left Fork in Zion National Park. There are two ways to explore the Subway: the Bottom Up hike is a difficult, non technical 9 mile hike, that involves creek crossing and boulder scrambling. The Top Down route is an even more strenuous 9.5 mile hike that requires canyoneering skills, route finding, repelling, and even swimming through slot canyons. With it’s rise in popularity, both routes require a lottery awarded permit. I applied for my permit 3 months in advance on the Zion National Park service website and was rewarded a single day entry.
I hiked the Subway from the Bottom Up route. Although, the Top Down route sounded like an adventure, it’s best for experienced hikers with canyoneering skills. With that said, I still found the Bottom Up route to be challenging. In the first half mile, the trail descends 400 ft into the canyon, with a gradual 600 ft gain up to the Subway. Once you descend to the canyon, take a look at your surroundings. You will want to make note of where to catch the trail back up when you return.
The trail down Left Fork involves frequent creek crossing and boulder scrambling. Even though the rangers will advise you otherwise, wetsuits are not required. At times, my feet were submerged in the creek, but only in ankle deep water. I saw some other hikers wearing hiking sandals and some wearing water shoes. I wore old hiking sneakers that still had decent tread and managed just fine. Definitely check the weather before you start. Do not attempt the hike if there is any chance of rain as flash floods are likely.
Keep an eye out for petrified dinosaur tracks, located halfway on the trail to the Subway. They are on a large white rock face on the right hand side of the trail. At first glance they look like nothing more than pock marks in the rock, but upon closer inspection you are able to see distinct dinosaur footprints!
After about 3 miles of hiking upstream you will come across two 15ft waterfalls. Although a little slippery, you can climb up these cascading falls like a grand staircase. Shortly after the second waterfall, the iconic Subway tunnel comes into view. Take time exploring the tunnel and it’s unique rock formations and aqua pools. If you’re feeling a little adventurous (and don’t mind swimming in neck deep, freezing cold water) you can continue on to what’s called the “waterfall room”—a 20ft waterfall created by a log jam.
When you’ve finished taking in the Subway’s majestic beauty, simply retrace your steps and hike downstream out of the canyon. It took me about 6 hours total to finish—I hiked at a leisurely pace, taking plenty of breaks. This is a hike you definitely don’t want to rush!