The Subway in Zion National Park is one of my favorite day hikes that you can do as an out and back hike or a through canyoneering trip, but both need a permit. The out and back hike is called the Bottom Up Route and is a non-technical route that brings you to a slot canyon that gets its name from its unique shape. The Park Service has set a limit to how many people can visit the canyon per day, and a permit is required.
There are two ways of exploring this canyon, from the top down or bottom up. While the Top Down Route is generally the preferred route, it requires a couple of rappels, a shuttle, more gear, and experience. The Bottom Up Route gets you to one of the canyon’s great features, albeit a little longer with the total round trip being 7.3 miles. Note that, with the exception of the trail at the beginning, this is a route that runs along the creek-bottom, so some route finding and navigating boulders, logs, etc is needed. (note that this hike is not featured in the Day Hikes of Zion National Park due to some of the route finding involved)
After a drive up the Kolob Terrace Road to the Left Fork Trailhead, you hit the trail. It starts out nice and mellow, but quickly begins making its way down the steep embankment to the Left Fork North Creek. This trail is not a typical Park trail, so mild route finding is necessary. When you finally make it down to the creek, make note of the surrounding terrain and the small trail sign, so as not to miss it on your return.
From here, you’ll follow a fairly well established social trail that goes in and out of the creek. Water shoes are a must, however, a walking stick is optional and may become more a nuisance when climbing over large boulders and logs that you will encounter along the way. The water can be avoided for much of the trip, but it is much easier at times to just walk up the creek. Lizards sun themselves on the rocks while fish swim underneath you in pools.
As you get further up, the creek changes from boulders, rocks, and sticks to red, flat rock with wonderful cascades. Footing here can be challenging at the rock can be very slick. It is less work from here and builds up anticipation to the feature known as the “Subway”.
Finally, you’ll round a corner and see the unmistakable Subway. There is a thin rift in the canyon that bells out to a round tunnel of sorts. A walk into the Subway reveals pools at your feet and a ceiling that almost completely closes up. As you walk deeper into the tunnel, the walls close in with little ribs sticking out where the water has carved and swirled around. At the end of the tunnel there is a little alcove containing a waterfall called Keyhole Falls. This is the obvious end of the hike and turn around spot for hikers doing the Bottom Up Route.
Trailhead: In the town of Virgin, UT, take the Kolob Terrace Road north to the signed Left Fork Trailhead. The trail takes off from the parking lot.
Elevation Gain/Loss: 1,200ft / 360m