The Subway, also known as the Left Fork of Great West Canyon, is likely the second most sought after place to visit in Zion National Park after the Narrows. It often makes "Top Natural Wonders Of the World" lists.
Directions - Left Fork Trailhead (End Trailhead), Springdale (outside Zions NP)
Wildcat Canyon Trailhead (Beginning Trailhead), Springdale - 13 min apart on Kolob
Cost - Permits - $15 1-2 people, $20 3-7 people, $25 8-12 people (MUST have reservation to pick
up - see below. Pick up Wilderness Permits at the Wilderness Office in the North
Visitor Center of Zions and see what's left (8-430pm).
Permits are crazy to get. They allow 80 people into the Subway a day.
Peak Season - April-Oct
Advance Lottery - very difficult unless you can do mid-week. You
apply 2 months in advance of your date and you get 3 choices. $5 application fee.
(you also have the options below)
Off-season (Nov-March) you still have 3 different options:
1) Calendar Reservations Online - Sign up on the 5th of the previous month at 10 am.
$5 application fee
2) Last minute Drawing Online - can sign up for 2-7 days in advance and pay $5.
Notified 2 days prior at 1pm.
3) Walk In Permits - day before or day of. Go to the Wilderness Office in the North Visitor
Center of Zions and see what's left (8-430pm). No application fee.
Canyoneering Subway (Left Fork) - 9.5 miles. Several rappels up to 30 feet. This is a water canyon and you will be getting entirely wet https://www.roadtripryan.com/go/t/utah/zion/subway-left-fork-great-west-canyon
(*times are estimates from a 7 1/2 hr through hike)
First third (Hike in) - 3.6 miles difficult route finding from Wildcat Canyon Trailhead (pit toilets) to top of Subway. Recommend using a GPS app like Gaia or Alltrails. 20 min* to Hop Valley turn off to rt, 5 min to Northgate trail turn rt. Flat and shady trail. 1 min to Subway trail left, take another sharp left before the hill to the south. Dirt trail. Don't go down the rt slot/crack. There is a small cairn marking your trail above and over. Dirt trail. Stay left on the slick rock. Hike up to the "notch" - a saddle between two sandstone mounds. Stay left and head down. Trail braids. Stay left and out of the gully. Dirt trail turns sharp rt on edge of cliff and heads down rock trail into canyon and to first pool
Second third (Subway) - miles. Subway starts when you descend into the canyon and encounter your first water. (This report is from November - the rest of the year will likely have more water than here mentioned). There are over 20 pools from ankle deep to over the head. We had 3 swims in November and there are 3 rappels.
First rappel in 2 hrs from trailhead. First rappel is off a large boulder about 15 feet with 2 bolts. This was a great place to put on wet or dry suits as the base of rappel drops into about 2 feet of water with an undercut. 2nd pool was waist deep. The 8th pool, about an hour later was neck deep and right after was the first swim. About 10 min later, you hit your second swim with a large chock stone in the center and a log submerged below. No anchors and with the 3 foot drop you will go totally under unless someone lowers you down or you have a handline. Swim was only 10 feet. About 10 min later you get a spot in the sun to warm up when the canyon widens.
Second Rappel in 1 hr 40 min from first rappel or 30 min from last swim. 2 bolts on the right side of canyon with 10 ft drop. Tricky start off large chock stone in center. Will collect debri so be careful as this is the location of a death several years ago. Current anchor pendulums you to the left a couple feet. Land in 2 ft water if you step back. Cool keyhole formation on left of rappel. You are in the middle of all the cool Subway formations.
Third Rappel in 2 hr from first rappel or 20 min from last rappel. 2 Bolts on rt side of canyon over a 25 ft drop with a 5 ft platform at the top. Water is calf-thigh deep at the bottom with a waterfall to the left in waist deep water. You may need to swim this last section 5-10 ft. This is the iconic Subway and you will now see hikers from the bottom up. We changed out of wet and dry suits just around the corner in the sun but kept on our neoprene socks and boots.
Last Third (Hike out) - 3.5 miles of river walking/dirt trail. The trail goes back and forth in the river until it ascends out of the canyon at about 3 miles, so keep your neoprene socks and boots on. There are several trails that braid back and forth over the river, so choose your adventure. At about 7 hr the trail heads sharply to the left with 2 brown metal signs to mark the way. The river will have a small 4 ft waterfall if you have gone too far. Head almost straight out of the canyon and then the trail will turn left to the plateau top. 400 feet elevation gain. Took about 45 min to hike up and out. The last trail is flat and dirt and seems to take forever until you get to the Left Fork Trailhead (pit toilets).
Gear - wetsuit or drysuit (depending on conditions - can rent), canyoneering boots (can rent), neoprene socks, neoprene gloves, harness (can rent), helmet (can rent), carabiner, rappel device, (NO COTTON) thin liner pants, thin liner long sleeve shirt, hiking pants, fleece jacket, rain/windproof jacket, light puffy coat, headlamp, 2 L water, 8-10 snacks + packed lunch, handwarmers, first aid kit with small knife, sunscreen, sunglasses, light winter hat, dry bag. (Dry bag - extra liner top, phone, puffy, fleece). (We wore thin liner pants and long sleeve top under dry suit and were fine in November water temps). Anchor gear - 30 ft webbing, 3 quick links, carabiner (biner block) or carabiners and totem (Jester).
Wetsuit package (wetsuit, neoprene socks, canyoneering boots) $65/day (Zions Adventures); Wetsuit farmer john and jacket: $15/day (BYU Outdoors Unltd); Wetsuit farmer john only: $8/day (UVU Adventure Center)
Harness: $5/day (BYU Outdoors Unltd); $17 (BYU Outdoors Unltd)
Helmet: $4/day (BYU Outdoors Unltd); $4/day (UVU Outdoor Adventure Center)
Sample Itinerary -
Fri - 4pm pick up Permit
Sat - 630 set up shuttles
730 am - start hike from Wildcat Trailhead
730-430pm - hike
530pm - drop off dry suit/wet suit
630 pm - dinner
730-1130pm - drive home
Confluence with Russel Gulch
Subway below the last rappel
Hike out and dino tracks
Hike up to plateau