May 23, 2015
Zion National Park(Utah, USA)
Left Fork Trailhead
The Subway is arguably the most popular and sought after destination in Zion National Park although it is one of the hardest to reach. If you are successful in winning a permit the hike itself is a strenuous 9 miles with several sections walking through the creek and over obstacles. The route described here does not require any canyoneering.
The hike begins at the Left Fork Trailhead on the edge of a canyon overlooking North Creek. The trail provides excellent vistas of the canyon as it descends to the creek. A majority of the trail closely follows the creek as it carves through red rocks, crossing it several times. As it approaches the subway formation the creek cascades become more extravagant until the trail forces you into the water to walk over them.
At this point the “trail” through the creek gets pretty slippery and requires some minor bouldering and route finding around the cascades. Soon after that the first recognizable subway tube will come into view and the canyon closes in until it forms a tight tube all around. The subway itself is only a small portion of the trail but it is an absolutely amazing natural formation. The tunnel rounds one bend filled with small lagoons until it ends in a turquoise pool. The water here is chest deep but if you can tolerate it there is a small waterfall around the corner. This is where the “top down” canyoneering route joins up. The route back is identical.
The Subway can take a full day for some hikers so make sure to start early enough to reach the end and to avoid higher temperatures later in the day.
The most popular time to visit Zion is April through October. Summer months can be extremely hot, exceeding 100F. It is very important to check the weather report and avoid entering slot canyons if rain is expected. This can cause very dangerous flash flooding.
A permit is required to hike the Subway and they are becoming increasingly popular and difficult to win. There are 3 options for obtaining a permit:
Apply for the monthly lottery up to 3 months ahead of your trip. The application is online, you select 3 date options, and may only submit one application each month. The application website includes a list of all requests submitted for that month to give you an idea of which dates have better odds. Of course weekends and holidays are most popular. For example, for June 2016 (requests made in March) there were between 1200 and 1500 people looking to fill 60 spots on a typical Saturday.
Note that there is a $5 non-refundable fee regardless of whether you win the lottery, in addition to the actual cost of the permit if you win.
In the off chance that spots remain or are cancelled after the lottery, they are available through the online canyoneering reservation system.
There is one last chance for obtaining a permit 2-7 days before your trip if your choice date is completely reserved. The last minute drawing is another online lottery that runs 2 days before the trip date. The last minute drawing gives away 20 spots per day.
This lottery also has a $5 fee.
Zion National Park is located in Utah between the 15 and 89 highways. It’s about 2.5 hours from Las Vegas and 6.5 hours from Los Angeles depending on traffic.
The Left Fork Trailhead is actually outside of the main park entrance so a shuttle bus ride is not required. From state route 9 turn left on Kolob Terrace Rd. Follow this road for 8.2 miles to reach the trailhead on the right.
Updated April 2016
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