John Guilford's Hikes
Subway, Zion NP, Utah on 2002-05-26
Location: Subway, Zion NP, Utah
People: (including myself): Joe Tarantino
Start: 11:40 0
Left Fork: 12:15 0.9
Subway: 2:35 3.5
Leave Left Fork: 5:00 4.4
Top of hill: 5:20
Out: 5:30 7
As it was the middle of the Memorial Day Weekend, we decided it was
probably a bad idea to leave Zion and try to find a campground elsewhere.
So we extended our stay another day and decided to hike the Subway. The
Subway is unique among Zion hikes not in that it is limited to 50 people
per day but that it is the only hike for which one can make reservations
weeks or months in advance. The do reserve 10 spots that open up the day
before or the day of. When I inquired the night before, it turns out that
Joe and I were numbers 48 and 49. So we just fit in.
The Subway can be hiked as a canyoneering through hike, but that
requires rappelling several times, wading the river for a while, plus a
couple of swims. We weren't prepared for that, so we did the less
challenging (and less interesting) hike up from the bottom, returning out
the bottom. Some day I'd like to return and do the through canyoneering
To get to the trailhead, one leaves the Springdale entrance to the
park, drives west on Rt 9 to the town of Virgin where one continues north
on Kolob Road. Soon this road climbs up onto the Lower Kolob Plateau.
This is an interesting place that sits on top of an old lava flow with
valleys on either side. You drive up the top of this ridge until you reach
the Left Fork Trailhead. One would continue further (after dropping a car)
if one was doing the through hike, but we weren't so we merely parked.
The trail goes a short distance along the plateau before dropping
(rather steeply) down into the Left Fork valley. The trail steeply
switchbacks down the canyon side until it reaches the Left Fork of North
Creek. This is very well marked so that hikers on the through hike will
know when to exit the canyon.
At the creek we found trees, vegetation, and cactus in bloom.
The trail pretty much follows the creek upstream. In many places
there seems to be a couple different trails one could take. Sometimes the
main trail was on one side of the creek, sometimes it was on the other.
The creek was small enough that crossing it wasn't a problem. Sometimes
the trail climbed the hillside briefly before descending on the other side
of some obstruction. The day was warm and we stopped for a snack along the
way. Nearer to the actual Subway, we met a couple of National Park Rangers
coming the other way. One happened to be the same one that gave me the
permit the previous night. I think they were there checking to make sure
that everyone on the trail had a valid permit. Since he remembered me, he
didn't ask to see my permit.
Just before the Subway proper, the trail goes alongside a giant
ampitheater-ish canyon wall. About this point, it becomes easier to wade
the creek than not. The creek is spread out over a wide expanse of rock,
however, so it isn't deep at all. Surprisingly, the rock wasn't that
slick. Climbing up a rock slab and turning a corner, one finally gets to
the Subway. It is named the Subway because the canyon is reminiscent of a
real subway tunnel. The canyon starts off as a slot higher up, then it
reaches some softer rock where it carved out a rather cylindrical canyon.
It is this cylindrical section that looks like a subway (or a "tube" to any
Brits out there). This section of the canyon, while interesting, is rather
short. We soon arrived at a section where the pools were deep and would
necessitate swimming to continue further. That exercise was rather silly
as just around the bend (where we couldn't see) was Keyhole Falls. In
fact, we were just at the location where through hikers would rappel into
the canyon just above the Subway. We even found the bolts in the wall that
they might use.
After some pictures and some more snacks, we headed down. On the way
down it seemed like it was somewhat easier to find the "correct" trail than
on the way up. I'm sure we didn't exactly follow the same path as we had
come up on, but either because we had been there before or that it was
easier to see the path when you are headed down hill, we found the going
easier. Gratefully, the sun was passing beyond the canyon rim, cooling
things down a bit. We wouldn't have wanted to climb the canyon side in the
hot sun. Just before we turned away from the creek we met up with a group
of through hikers who were somewhat concerned about missing the trail
turn. We assured them that it was impossible to miss, and in fact came
across the turn with them. We then climbed up out of the canyon, crossed
the plateau, and returned to the car.
The timing worked out well as we had time to return to our Zion
campground, clean up a bit, and then return to Springdale for dinner after
the worst of the dinner crowd was gone.
Left Fork valley.
Joe in top end of valley (not too far from the Subway).
Water running over the rocks.
What I've called the "ampitheater".
The "Subway" from inside.
John as high as we could go without swimming. "Keyhole Falls" is around
the corner to the left behind John. The slab at the upper right is bolted
for rappelling into the canyon. Just beyond John the water gets deep.
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Last updated on: Mon Jun 8 16:50:16 PDT 2015