Canyon: Subway (Zion National Park)

The Subway is a canyon in Zion that, amazingly, looks like a subway. The canyon has a quarter mile stretch of rounded walls and train-like tracks splintering the ground. Because of the sheer beauty and the relative ease of access, (technically speaking, anyway,) it’s one of the most popular canyons in Zion. Because of this, it’s also nearly impossible to get a permit.

The Subway

So when a friend of ours called up and said he had achieved the impossible, we knew we had to make it happen. Back country permits are given out via a lottery system, and if you are lucky enough to get picked, a date is assigned to you. If you cannot make this date, you give up your opportunity. The permit we were given was just two weekends after getting back from our Scotland trip. After pleading with my boss for more time off, we were ready to hike.

Subway Trailhead

The weekend we tackled Subway the high in Zion National Park was 118 degrees. The technicality of the terrain, mixed with the heat and the general agreement that we didn’t want to be rushed had us starting early in the morning, knowing that the 9.5 mile hike would easily take us 11-13 hours.

The enormous scale of life in Zion.

We hiked for a while on a beautiful mountain trail that reminded me of the alpine slopes of Big Bear and Northern California. But soon we came to the splitting point, where half our group would continue on the non-technical approach, and half of us would go to a parallel trail that led to a short slot canyon, called Das Boot. (Named for the podiatrist that lost his boot there. Really.)

Das Boot was dark, dank, full of flies and muck, and quite a lot of fun. It also held a few of the more challenging potholes of my experience, and took a lot of organized thought to keep my focus. There’s a lot to say here about Das Boot that might just have to be for another post in the future. But bottom line for now is that it was just another part of our day of The Subway.

Chimneying down a short drop in Das Boot.
Chimneying down a short drop in Das Boot.

We finally reached the bottom of the canyon and the beginning of the portion that the spot is named for. The walls stretched high above us, and in a stroke of luck, there seemed to be cloud cover. The water was crisp and cool, and splashing in and out of icy cold pools made the heat easily tolerable.

I’ve never seen water this clear in a canyon. It was such a great change from the usual sludge!

The two groups got back together and we trekked on, running into other groups along the way. This is another spot where I can rant and rave for much longer than necessary about being prepared for the back country and not, generally, acting like an idiot. But I’ll save that too.

The famous Subway.

Group Shot of (almost) everyone.
Group Shot of (almost) everyone.

We played around more as we hiked, and the miles and hours stretched into the long light of afternoon.

Built in waterslide!
Nothing short of spectacular. Easily one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve been on… ever.

Finally we hit the final ascent – a grueling 1/4 mile climb back up the canyon walls that had been shading us all day. It was much more like climbing and less like hiking, and everyone was on their last legs before we even started it, which made it extra-super-fun. When we reached the top we were greeted with a meandering nature walk back to the shuttle car, a friendly trail that would, seemingly, never end.

Your cuteness is deceitful.

I started singing to my legs, talking to myself and marching “left right left right” on and on and on. I tried pretending my legs weren’t actually attached to my body and I was just watching my feet move on their own. Every mental trick I knew I used, my body had so incredibly hit the wall.

And then I looked up, and saw this.

I cannot appropriately describe the beauty here. It made me stop in my tracks, staring in awe and gave me worlds of new energy.

Soon after, we all got to the car. 11 1/2 hours and an incredible day.

My legs didn’t work right for a week. But it was worth it.


4 thoughts on “Canyon: Subway (Zion National Park)

  1. How spectacular of a place to hike… And the fact you need permits makes it all the more intriguing to me. I have never been to Zion, but it definitely needs to go on my to do list. Your photographs are beautiful!

  2. This is an amazing post! I found you through WP’s NaBloPoMo recommended blogs. While reading this and looking longingly at your photos (loved the animated GIF!) I couldn’t believe my eyes that there were only two bloggers to have left their footprints here.

    We hiked some of Zion’s trails back in 1997. I was using a film camera, though, so I only wound up with a handful of photos. Mostly, I wanted to soak it all in so left the bulky camera bag and tripod back in the parking lot. The camping was some of the most scenic I remember. Zion is on my bucket list for the near future with our kiddos. I sooo want to go back. Thank you for sharing your adventure.

    1. Thanks for visiting my little blog! I unfortunately didn’t last very long into NoBloPoMo, but hopefully will be making up for lost posts in the near future.

      It’s wonderful to hear of another Zion lover! The park is absolutely breathtaking, and I can imagine that camping would be incredible. Since cayoneering gets so offensively dirty, we always get hotel rooms so there’s a proper shower and soap available to all. It’s one thing to deal with being smelly for a short period of time, but a whole other ballgame to then sleep next to someone who smells like canyon-muck. 🙂

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