Insider Guide to Hiking The Subway (Bottom-Up), Zion National Park

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The Subway is one of Zion National Park‘s geologic marvels — a curved, hollowed-out canyon reminiscent of a subway tunnel. When the light is right, the “tunnel” emits a warm, ethereal glow. A series of cascading pools, exquisitely sculpted into the bedrock, add to the remote alcove’s mystical allure.

To get to The Subway, you’ll need to descend a steep canyon, then hike three to five hours alongside the Left Fork of North Creek. The rugged trail, which is faint in places, has multiple river crossings.

This is a long, challenging hike, but the payoff is one of Utah’s most enchanting destinations.

Note: due to The Subway’s immense popularity, you’ll need a permit to hike the trail (see below).

The Subway Trail Facts

Rating: Strenuous
Hiking Time: 6–10 hours
Distance: 9 miles, round-trip
Elevation Change: 1,000 feet

Zion National Park requires all visitors to The Subway to have permits.

Subway Hiking Permits

The park service allocates 60 Subway permits a day, most of which are granted through a lottery three months in advance. A lottery for the remaining permits is open seven to two days in advance. Visit Zion’s Subway permit page to learn more about the process.

Note: The Subway top-down route (which also requires a permit) involves technical canyoneering.

Hiking to The Subway involves multiple river crossings over the Left Fork of North Creek. I highly recommend closed-toe water shoes and hiking poles.

The Subway Trailhead

The Left Fork (Subway) trailhead is located off Kolob Reservoir Road, 8.3 miles north of the junction with Route 9 in the town of Virgin. From the parking area, the trail drops through a piñon-juniper forest as it approaches the rim of Great West Canyon. The route is fairly obvious, but a sandy wash littered with footprints sometimes lures hikers off trail.

Trail Description

Canyon Rim (0.5 Miles) 

From the canyon rim, it’s a steep hike down to the Left Fork of North Creek. The steep trail is often interspaced with log steps, but in places the red dirt is loose and crumbly. Use great caution at sections near dropoffs. Hiking poles are helpful.

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Junction with Left Fork of North Creek (1 Mile) 

This junction is hard to miss on the way down but easy to miss on the way back. Scan your surroundings and take a strong mental note. Even better, take a photo with your phone for later reference.

From the junction, the trail parallels the river bank with some occasional stream crossings. Follow the well-traveled path, sometimes marked with cairns (small stone piles). If you get confused, don’t hesitate to backtrack to reorient yourself. Another option is strapping on water shoes and splashing upstream through the river.

En route to The Subway, you’ll pass several beautiful waterfalls and cascades. Be careful where you walk! The red rocks are extremely slippery.

Dinosaur Tracks (1.7 Miles) 

On the left (north) side of the river, two slabs of light-colored Kayenta Formation rock contain dinosaur footprints. The tracks probably belonged to a theropod, a three-toed dinosaur suborder that included velociraptors and Tyrannosaurus rex.

Red Waterfalls (4.3 Miles) 

Just before reaching The Subway, you’ll pass a dramatic series of waterfalls cascading over delicate layers of red rock. Most hikers, determined to reach the Subway, march right past them — which is a shame because they’re a worthy destination on their own. Take some time to enjoy the tranquil scenery.

The Subway pools, Zion National Park

The Subway (4.5 Miles) 

After rounding a sharp bend, the curved, streaked walls of The Subway appear. As you continue upstream, undulating walls envelop the canyon, nearly blocking out the sun. You are now inside the Subway. Cascading “potholes” shelter cold, clear pools a few feet deep. Watch your step! The floor of The Subway is often wet and slippery.

Deep pools eventually block further progress on foot, but swimmers can continue to a nice waterfall. Pass through the curtain of water to explore a hidden alcove known as the Waterfall Room.

You might encounter canyoneers rappelling into The Subway. These rugged adventurers dropped down from the canyon rim, which is an even more challenging way to visit The Subway.

Subway Photo Tips

Looking for the perfect Subway shot? The light shifts throughout the day, so it can sometimes be hard to take great photos. Check out Zion National Park: The Complete Guide for info on the best times to photograph The Subway.

Zion National Park: The Complete Guide

Discover the best of Zion National Park

The #1 Zion guidebook.