This has been a hike on my bucket list now for years and I finally was able to do it. I figured it would make a sweet birthday gift to myself. If you are interested in doing this adventure, a permit is required. Only so many people are allowed to go a day and it’s a lottery system, so acceptance is not guaranteed . Other note: this hike is 9.5 miles long. It will take well over 5 hours to do unless you are by your self. Leave early in the morning to get there before the sun heats up the whole area. A water purifier is also a good idea to bring to refill water and reduce the amount of weight you have to bring.
- Dry Bags
- Wet/ dry suits depending on year (mid summer is fine without)
- repelling gear is a big benefit, but not necessary.
The Subway (From Top Down)
The Subway has two ways in which it can be hiked. Bottom up or top down. The top down is the more technical rout but it contains the majority of the amazing scenery of the hike all together. The lower section of the hike is mostly a rocky river bed until you get up the the section of the canyon dubbed the subway itself. If I were you I would go top down, it is way cooler.
Two cars are needed to do this hike. Leave one at Left Fork Trail Head (bottom of the canyon a.k.a your exit) then carpool up to Wildcat Trail Head. There is a bathroom at this point, I suggest use it now or you will have to wait till you get out of the canyon.
The beginning of the trail is flat and relatively easy. The first section of the trail is about a mile then you will intersect with the Wildcat trail. Turn left here and follow the trail till you see a small sign post with the “subway” carved into it and follow the arrow. From here you will see an additional sign that directs you the proper way to go.
Soon the trail will put you out onto a large sandstone mesa. The trail here is only marked by cairns. Follow them. Do not try to take short cuts and wander off. It can eventually lead to large cliffs. This is the point in the trail that requires some decent route finding skills but over all it’s not to bad and is well marked. You will travel across this mesa sandstone trail for maybe a mile or two. At the end of this you will pick up a decent trail that eventually drops you down into the subway.
The decent down into the subway is very very strenuous on the knees. The trail basically goes down the side of a rugged drop off and is steep and requires quite a bit of down scrambling. This is the most strenuous part of the top down approach.
From here the canyon narrows up and you begin your journey through the slot canyons.
Through out this point you will need a 60 foot rope to continue. You cannot do this hike with out it. It is way to dangerous and will probably result in broken limbs. Repelling gear makes this much easier, but it can be done free hand.
The first repel can be negated with some down scrambling instead of of using rope. The opening is off to the right side of this huge bolder. My buddy did it, so I know it is possible.
From this point the trail continues down the canyon until you arrive at the first tight slot canyon. Here you will need dry bags and depending on the time of year, wet suits. Because at this point it is time to swim. Water from springs comes out of the canyon walls and fills the slot canyon with pools of icy cold water.
Around this time you hit a section of the canyon known as the bowling alley. I had seen photos of this and only saw a rock crammed into the slot canyon, but when we went it was very different. A tree had been wedged in there and you have to creep under it. The tree drops into the water so when swimming under it only the top few inches of your head is poking out.
The canyon continues on for a ways before you hit the next serious slot canyon where some rope is required to descend. There are attachment points on the rock. Since there is a waterfall at this point, you have to lower yourself by hand down this drop unless you have repelling gear. We ended up tying knots in the rope to enable us to lower our selves down. At first it was a bit nerve racking, but after the first person went, it was really easy to follow.
Here the canyon takes you into the actual section of the subway. The actual section of the subway is really short. Maybe a quarter mile max. The section that looks like the first image is only a hundred yards or so.
Here is where the third and final repel is. There are two options for this though. You can either jump the river (mind you there is a 30 foot fall if you screw up) and go down the easy slop with a ten foot drop at the end. The other rout is a 30 foot repel that is a serious drop and would require harnesses. Since most of my crew were too afraid to jump the river we got some help from a few travelers that had harnesses and let us barrow them.
After this the trail for the subway dies really fast in excitement. Once you leave the subway section of the canyon the river goes through a series of cascades that are known for being very photogenic. Then the trail simply turns into rock scrambling for 4 1/2 miles. If you have ever done the Narrows in Zion, it has some of the same strains that are experienced there. There are many places to roll an ankle, slip and get hurt, and so forth. Take caution, the longer you go on this part of the trial the more you will feel fatigued and this is when injury can occur.
The end of the hike is marked by a sign that points you to the bottom parking (left fork trail head parking) The ascent to get out of the canyon is very steep and is made up of loose rock. The trail easily rises 500 feet off the canyon floor till it reaches the top of the plateau. This is the hardest part of the trail on the way out. Many people start this hike too late in the day and get to this point and have it be dark and are without lights. This can be a very dangerous combination because it is very easy to make a one wrong step and fall a hundred feet down a rocky slope.
One on top of the plateau it is only a short walk back to the car.
Additional Photos are posted on my photography blog! Check It Out