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Subway Route From Above
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Zion National Park
Subway Route
Subway
Trailhead parking

Overview

The Subway from above is a great hike through a spectacular canyon in the high country of northern Zion. The route starts on trails on forested mesa tops, descends slickrock hillsides, and runs down a spectacularly narrow canyon (rope work and swimming required) for a total of about 9-1/2 miles. Trails and use-trails along some parts of the route permit quick passage, but much of the route is slow hiking in the water, and it takes a long day of hiking at a good pace to complete the route. The water can be quite cold, even during summer.

Link to map.

Subway
Trailhead info sign and start of Wildcat Canyon Trail

The logistics of this hike are somewhat difficult. Permits are required to hike the Subway, and the availability of permits depends, in part, on the weather forecast for the day of the hike. Permits must be obtained in person the day before or the day of the trip at the Zion Canyon or Kolob Canyon Visitor Centers. Check the park website for details. Also, this is a one-way route, so you need to arrange a vehicle shuttle of some sort. The concessionaire runs a shuttle service; contact them for details.

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...this is a long route with no real way to turn back after you get dropped off and your ride leaves. Be sure that you are up to the route before getting started.

Subway
Hiking through meadows and forest in high country

Water levels and water temperatures make a big difference on this route. This route probably is best during late summer when air temperatures are high (near 100 degrees) and the water level is low.

Thunderstorms can bring flash floods. Be aware of the weather and plan alternate hikes in the area in case the weather forecast is bad. Seek refuge on the highest ground possible if flash floods are possible. Permits are required to hike through the narrows, and the availability of permits depends, in part, on the weather forecast.

Ropes are necessary on this route to safely descend obstacles. I took two, 55-ft climbing ropes, which were more than enough for the rappels. Don't jump off boulders -- the area is too remote to risk a broken ankle, and there are many submerged rocks. Leg injuries from jumping in the Subway seem to be one of the most frequent causes of emergency evacuation from the backcountry!

Subway
Subway route leaves Northgate Peaks Trail (Wpt. 04)

Walking sticks (i.e., two trekking poles) are almost a necessity on this route. Most of the route is in the water, which often is too murky to see the bottom. I wore running shoes and was happy with my choice. Plan to get wet, and pack your camera and other sensitive gear in waterproof bags.

Hikers must swim on this route. We will take a life-jacket next time. GPS devices don't work in narrow sections of the canyon.

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and try to Leave No Trace of your passage. Also, this is a long hike in a remote area where rescue would be difficult, so be sure to bring the 10 Essentials.

Subway

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located in Zion National Park, about 3 hours northwest of Las Vegas.

From town, drive out to Zion National Park. From the Visitor Center (Table 1, Site 0863), drive (or hire a shuttle) south on Highway 9 to the south park entrance (about 5 minutes). Continue south and west, outside the park, for a total of about 14.3 miles to the town of Virgin (Site 1184). Turn right onto Kolob Terrace Road and drive north for 8.1 miles to the Left Fork Trailhead (parking area visible on right). Continue for another 7.5 miles (total of 15.6 miles from Virgin) to the Wildcat Trailhead Access Road (Site 1185). Turn right onto the Access Road and drive south for about 125 yards to a large dirt parking area with trailhead signs (Site 1186). Park here; this is Wildcat Trailhead.

Subway
Descending white slickrock

The Hike

From the trailhead (Table 2, Waypoint 01), the route departs on the Wildcat Canyon Trail (adjacent to the trailhead information sign) heading southeast. The trail runs across flat country through meadows and forests for 0.9 miles to a junction with the Hop Valley Connector Trail (Wpt. 02). Continuing on the Wildcat Trail, the route runs east for another 0.1 miles to a trail junction with the Northgate Peak Trail (Wpt. 03). The route turns right onto the Northgate Peak Trail and runs south for another 0.1 miles to yet another trail junction (Wpt. 04).

Here (Wpt. 04), the route to the Subway leaves designated trails and follows use-trails and cairn routes to the edge of the Left Fork Canyon.

bootprint sign
"Boot-print" route-marker sign

The use-trail runs off the edge of the mesa and down to the edge of sandstone slickrock (Wpt. 05). Continuing down the white slickrock, the route is marked fairly well by cairns and "boot-print" signs. The route eventually re-enters woods (Wpt. 06), and continues the descent via a well-used use-trail. The trail runs out onto sandstone again, then re-enters the woods (Wpt. 07).

The route is fairly easy to follow as it runs on and off the slickrock sandstone, then a steep descent ends in the bottom of Russell Gulch (Wpt. 08). Before getting all they way down, look south for a sandstone saddle with small hoodoos. The route will cross Russell Gulch and climb onto this slickrock saddle (Wpt. 09).

Subway
Hikers in forested section

From the slickrock saddle (Wpt. 09), the route descends slickrock to the south, then re-enters the brushy woods (Wpt. 10). Beyond this point, the use-trails diverge, but they continue south and coalesce in the bottom of a small drainage (Wpt. 11)

From the small drainage, the well defined use-trail climbs up and across the hillside to the south, arriving atop cliffs overlooking the confluence of Russell Gulch and the Left Fork of the Great West Canyon (Wpt. 12).

From the overlook, a steep 3rd-class route descends about 300 vertical-feet directly into Russell Gulch (Wpt. 13), arriving just below a very high pour-over and deep plunge pool. After hiking across hot slickrock, the cool and shade of the grotto make a nice place to stop and rest.

Subway

Continuing downstream, hikers quickly arrive at the confluence with the Left Fork (Wpt. 14), which can be seen through the tunnel from the grotto at the bottom of Russell Gulch.

A few minutes downstream in the Left Fork, the First Obstacle (Wpt. 15), a very large boulder, blocks the canyon. I understand that there is a "hole" around the left side of the boulder, but we rappelled off the front face using a sling around a flake on the right wall for an anchor. Pulling the rope over the face looked like it might be difficult, so I rappelled directly down an awkward hole below the sling anchor. If the rock face hadn't been covered with loose sand from hiker's boots, it might have been easy to downclimb the face to where a leap into the sand below would be safe.

Subway
Slickrock saddle with hoodoos on the horizon

Continuing downstream, GPS units lose track of the satellites in the deep, narrow canyon, but the route finding is easy: keep going downstream, dealing with difficulties as they are encountered.

The next substantive obstacle is a deep plunge pool below a low drop-off. We slid into the frigid water and swam across. Resist the urge to jump into the pool, as submerged rocks are hard to see.

The next substantive obstacle is the Bowling Alley: a narrow slot with downclimbs, deep wading, roped descents, and a long swim down a narrow slot (which passes under the bowling ball). I tossed a rope ahead, expecting to quickly swim over and pick it up, but it sank in cold, deep water and was difficult to retrieve.

Subway
Passing the slickrock saddle

Continuing downstream, there are many shallow waters to walk in, deep pools to wade through, and even some dry places to walk. Eventually, however, hikers reach Keyhole Falls (Wpt. 16). A short rappel, anchored by two bolts, delivers hikers into The Subway, proper.

Hiking through the Subway, a truly amazing geologic structure, hikers soon pass The Log, scramble around a short waterfall, and arrive atop a higher waterfall on the north side of the creek. The traverse to the south side of the creek requires using a log jammed at the top of the falls. Some hikers might want a belay here, as the fall would be painful and the log is uninspiring.

Passing the log, hikers arrive on a broad bench above the canyon bottom with a two-bolt anchor (Wpt. 17) facilitating a rappel down a broad, smooth face. Dropping into the canyon below, rappellers arrive at the last spot where hikers from the Left Fork Trailhead can get to.

Subway
Looking back at hoodoos on slickrock saddle

Before continuing downstream, wade back up under the waterfall into the Waterfall Room, literally the last place hikers from below can get to.

Continuing downstream, hikers arrive at the beginning of the Red Cascades. At this place inside the Subway, the rock can be very slick from algae growing in this shady area. Exiting the Subway (Wpt. 18), the Red Cascades continue, but they are no longer so slippery. GPS devices begin to work properly again near here.

Below the Red Cascades, the canyon opens, and the route becomes a slog through the creek or walking on one side or the other. About 1.6 miles below the Subway, look for a large slab of gray mudstone tipped up and resting on the north side of the creek (Wpt. 19). The mudstone preserves the tracks of a herd of dinosaurs that walked through this area long ago.

Subway
Approaching the jump-off point above Russell Gulch

Below the dinosaur tracks (Wpt. 19), the slog continues for 0.8 miles to the confluence of a large canyon that comes in from the north (UTM: 315610, 4129268). Beyond this side canyon, hikers can look ahead and down the canyon for a large basalt buttress on the north side. Approaching the buttress, use-trails depart the creek (Wpt. 20) and head upward (Wpt. 21) very steeply and ascending some 400 vertical-feet to a bench (Wpt. 22) overlooking the canyon.

use-trails diverge (Wpt. 23), but staying along the rim (Wpt. 24) is the better way to go. After leaving the rim area, a single trail runs southwest to the Left Fork Trailhead (Wpt. 25).

Subway
Descending 3rd-class gully into Russell Gulch
Subway
Sandy rocks in gully above Russell Gulch
Subway
In Russell Gulch, approaching confluence with Left Fork
Subway
Looking for Painted Redstart at the confluence
Subway
First Obstacle: big boulder blocking canyon
Subway
Liz rappelling off the face of a huge boulder on the first rappel
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Young Ben on rappel (it is a long way down)
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First Obstacle; view from below
Subway
Hiking in dry canyon
Subway
Minor obstacle
Subway
Looking for water bugs in wet canyon
Subway
Logs jammed between rock walls
Subway
Wading through a pool of water in the narrow canyon
Subway
Looking back across the first swim
Subway
Wading another pool
Subway
Downclimb boulder, then wade into Bowling Alley
Subway
Bowling ball suspended in the Bowling Alley
Subway
Old bolt anchor at drop into the Bowling Alley
Subway
Looking back at the Bowling Alley finale; yet another long swim
Subway
Lots of water -- glad the air temp was near 100 degrees
Subway
Wet canyon near Keyhole Falls
Subway
Wet canyon near Keyhole Falls
Subway
Top of the rappel above Keyhole Falls
Subway
Two anchor bolts at Keyhole Falls (the Subway in background)
Subway
Below Keyhole Falls in the Subway (the central trough is deep)
Subway
Inside the Subway
Subway
Inside the Subway
Subway
Inside the Subway
subway
Hiker crossing log jammed in crack atop waterfall
Subway
Hikers at top of last rappel
Subway
2-bolt anchor for last rappel
Subway
Hiker on last rappel
Subway
Last rappel slopes down to a vertical wall
Subway
Hiking upstream towards Waterfall Room
Subway
Inside the Waterfall Room
Subway
Wading a deep pool near the bottom of the last rappel
Subway
Rocks can be slippery (note 2nd hiker on knees after fall)
Subway
Cascade pools inside Subway
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Looking back into the Subway
Subway
Hikers exiting the Subway
Subway
Feathered friend (American Dipper) in canyon
Subway
Cascade in red sandstone
Subway
Cascade falls in red sandstone
Subway
Hiking down red cascades
Subway
More hiking in the water
Subway
Canyon Treefrog blending in with rocks and lichens
Subway
Dinosaur Tracks on huge boulder

Hand for scale on dinosaur track
Subway
A bit of dry hiking ...
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... and lots more wet hiking
Subway
Arizona Toad blends with red sandstone
Subway
Hiker on exit trail (note boot-print sign at right)
Subway
Trail sign where two use-trails converge
Subway
Steep trail on red dirt
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The hike out of the canyon at the end of the day is long and steep
Subway
Left Fork Trailhead

Table 1. Highway Coordinates based on GPS Data (NAD27; UTM Zone 12). Note: These are UTM-Zone-12 coordinates.
Download Highway GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Site # Location UTM Easting UTM Northing Latitude (N) Longitude (W) Elevation (ft) Verified
0863 Zion Visitor Center 323726 4118724 37.20019 112.98620 3,896 Yes
1184 Hwy 9 at Kolob Terrace Rd 306077 4119504 37.20371 113.18514 3,552 GPS
1185 Kolob Terrace Rd at Wildcat Rd 316185 4134509 37.34092 113.07503 6,829 GPS
1186 Wildcat Canyon Trailhead Parking 316179 4134397 37.33992 113.07507 6,821 GPS
1187 Left Fork Trailhead Parking 314262 4128308 37.28468 113.09517 4,980 GPS

Table 2. Hiking Coordinates Based on GPS Data (NAD27; UTM Zone 12). Note: These are UTM-Zone-12 coordinates.
Download Hiking GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Wpt. Location UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (ft) Point-to-Point Distance (mi) Cumulative Distance (mi) Verified
01 Wildcat Trailhead 316194 4134390 6,833 0.00 0.00 GPS
02 Hop Valley Connector 317415 4134332 6,900 0.90 0.90 GPS
03 Northgate Peaks Trail 317606 4134382 6,908 0.12 1.02 GPS
04 Leave Northgate Peak Trail 317636 4134277 6,923 0.08 1.10 GPS
05 Edge of Sandstone 317716 4134163 6,904 0.09 1.19 GPS
06 Edge of Woods 317858 4133978 6,769 0.18 1.37 GPS
07 Enter Woods Again 318213 4133737 6,552 0.31 1.68 GPS
08 Crossing Gorge 318893 4133232 6,084 0.66 2.34 GPS
09 Slickrock Saddle by Hoodoos 319030 4132929 6,143 0.22 2.56 GPS
10 Trail leaves slickrock 319179 4132641 5,890 0.23 2.79 GPS
11 Trail across Hillside 319316 4132336 5,771 0.27 3.06 GPS
12 Top of Descent 319299 4131927 5,760 0.28 3.34 GPS
13 Bottom of Canyon 319250 4131908 5,560 0.08 3.42 GPS
14 Confluence with Left Fork 319263 4131859 5,550 0.06 3.48 GPS
15 First Obstacle 319151 4131791 5,520 0.09 3.57 GPS
16 Keyhole Falls 318286 4131216 5,480 1.04 4.61 GPS
17 Rappel 318296 4130963 5,340 0.20 4.81 GPS
18 The Subway 318189 4130971 5,320 0.08 4.89 GPS
19 Dinosaur Tracks 316603 4129913 4,990 1.63 6.52 GPS
20 Side Canyon from North 315610 4129268 4,730 0.81 7.33 GPS
21 Trail Out 315266 4128790 4,650 0.45 7.78 GPS
22 Trail Sign 315187 4128750 4,689 0.06 7.84 GPS
23 Top of Steep Climb 314950 4128756 5,040 0.29 8.13 GPS
24 Trail Junction 314953 4128712 5,048 0.04 8.17 GPS
25 Main Trail 314903 4128686 5,033 0.05 8.22 GPS
26 Left Fork Trailhead 314280 4128315 5,072 0.53 8.75 GPS

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 120328

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