Travelreports,  USA 2018 (EN)

Day 6 – 19.09.2018 – The Subway

This was the day I’ve been waiting for so long. You can’t do the hike to the Subway whenever you want, because you need a Permit for this hike. But the number of permits is actually limited to 80 per day.


To get such a Permit, you have to participate in an Online Lottery ($5) about 3 months prior to your visit and you need a bit of luck. The number of lottery permits is limited to 60 per day and of course more than 60 people want to get such a permit. On the website you have the possibility to enter up to 3 days on which you want to do this hike. Even before entering the lottery, you have the chance to see which days are the most favorite ones. Naturally, most of the time this is on a weekend or national holiday. On these days, you can have more than 1000 hikers that want to have a permit.

During week days your chances for a permit are way better than on a week day, therefore I got into the lottery for all 3 days which were planned for the Zion National Park. And beginning of July I actually got a mail that I won the lottery and got the two permits I applied for. Once I got these permits, I already entered some information online, e.g. which route we wanted to used (Top Down or Bottom Up).

The actual permit has to be picked up a day prior to your hike at the Visitor Center, it’s not possible to get it earlier. Once again you have to tell the Rangers whether you’re doing the Technical Hike (Top Down) or the Non-Technical Hike (Bottom Up). Additionally you’ll have to put in the license plate of your car and give some emergency contact information, in case something happens to you or you don’t come back. In exchange for this information (and additional $15 for the permit), you’ll get to sheets of paper: First of all a printed and signed (by the Rangers and you) Permit, as well as a Post It with the Permit Number, which you’ll have to put into the windshield of your car at the Trailhead. The Rangers will check, if there’s any car parked at the Trailhead which doesn’t have a Permit. You’ll have to carry the printed Permit with you all the time in case a Ranger comes by.

The Permit for the Subway

We were in for the Non-Technical Hike, also known as Bottom Up. The Ranger told us to get our feet wet, as soon as we reach the river and walk through the river. Your feet will get either way and it’s better to do this early on.

The Routes

On the next morning, we started early, once again. The hike to the Subway is a hike for the full day, it has about 9 miles in total. And as mentioned earlier, there are two Routes to the Subway: Bottom Up and Top Down.

The Top Down Route starts at Wildcat Canyon and ends at the Left Fork Trailhead. This is a technical hike, where you have to rappel down several times and a wetsuit is recommended because you’ll have to go through cold water. The length is about 9.5 miles (15 km).

We decided to use the easier route, the so called Bottom Up Route. This route starts and ends at the Left Fork Trailhead. You’ll hike down into the canyon, once you’re down there, you’ll hike upwards along the river towards the Subway. The way back is the same way you entered. This route is about the same length of 9 miles (15 km), but there’s no need to rappel.

The Hike

We arrived after a drive of 30 minutes at about 7:30 in the morning at the Trailhead. There still was some preparation to be done, like getting into the hiking boots, putting the permit into the car and of course put on some sun screen. Afterwards we were ready to start. You’ll find an Information Sign directly at the Trailhead with the most important information (e.g. no guns).

Information Sign at the Trailhead for the Subway.

This is also your last chance to go to a toilet. If you have to do some “big business” lateron, you’ll habe to pack it in and take it with you. At the Visitor Center you have the chance to buy Human Wate Bags. A couple of meters after the first sign, you’ll find a second one, which tells you once again, that you’ll need a permit from now on. You’re not allowed to go on without a permit.

Once agin the information, that you’ll need a permit. The maximum group size is limited to 12

One thing most of the trails have in common: the beginning is quite easy. On this trail the first half mile (1 km) is quite flat, although a bit stony. Early in the morning the sunlight lets the top of the mountains glow, a beautiful view.

Once you’re past the first half mile, you’ll enter the hardest part – for the first of two times. You have to go down about 500 ft (150 m) into the canyon, stony and slippery serpentines along the wall of this canyon. Watch every step, or you’ll slip.

A stony way down into the canyon

Be careful, that you’re actually taking the right way and don’t go down another way, otherwise it’s getting even more steep and slippery. Really helpful would have been hiking sticks, which give additional safety while going down. I didn’t have any and I wouldn’t do this hike a second time withouth those.

Once you’re down in the canyon, you’ll see a small river, the “Left Fork North Creek”. The hike follows up along the river. Every once in a while you’ll have to cross the river and you’ll find small waterfalls or cascades.

Many hikes are marked with small stone pyramids, so called “Cairns”, this one is an exception, there are no markings. The easiest way follows the river, just look for footprints of other people and you’ll find your way. Another possibility would be to just walk through the river, if there’s not too much water. Sometimes you’ll have to walk next to the river and climb some small hills.

One of the smaller hills you have to climb on your way to the Subway

After about 4 miles (6-7 km) you’ll reach the Archangel Falls, small cascades with a length of a couple of meters. The water is falling down a couple of inches several times. If there wouldn’t be the Subway, this would have been the reason to hike this trail.

The Archangel Falls
Longterm exposure of the Archangel Falls (30 seconds, ND 1000)

If you’ve been to Zion at least once, you might have noticed the Archangel Falls. You’ll find a photo of the Archangel Falls inside the Main Canyon’s Bus.

It’s not far from the Archangel Falls to the Subway, only a couple hundred foot. If you didn’t get wet feet yet, now’s a really good chance to get them wet. The rest of the hike takes you through the river, which isn’t that deep in this area. Nevertheless this isn’t that easy, because the stone here is slippery and you have to pay attention where you walk. There’s one passage left where you’re going to leave the river and hike up a hill.

The Subway

Once you’ve climbed the hill and went around the corner, you’ll see the entrance to the Subway. We finally reached our destination.

The Entrance to the Subway

The entrance actually looks a bit unspectacular, but the Subway Tunnel is easily recognizable. If you expected a huge tunnel or cave, you’ll be disappointed, the Subway isn’t that big. But I like it nevertheless. From the inside you actually have the feeling to be inside of a subway tunnel.

The Subway from the inside

Once you’re inside, you have to be careful again, because of the water the rock is slippery and we saw a couple of people who fell down. Looking back outside is actually the reason why we did this hike. We did have the luck and were there at the right time, the sun was shining into the tunnel. You don’t get lucky every time.

Looking to the other side of this tunnel or cave, you’ll see a somehow bigger pool and the end of this cave.

A view of the end of the Subway

This is the area where both routes (Top Down and Bottom Up) merge. While we entered through the “main entrance” into the Subway, the Top Down Route enters from the end and you have to rappel down.

By chance we saw two hikers coming this way. The rappelling wasn’t interesting. But you have to swim through the Pool to exit the Subway. I took a photo when the woman went into the water. Take a look at her and her husband’s faces.

Two Hikers have to swim through the cold water to reach the other side of the Subway

There’s a good reason both of them have wetsuits, the water isn’t cold, it’s freezing! And to be honest, I don’t know, which face I do like more. Her’s while realizing the water’s really cold or his just having fun seeing her like that.

Other people are even bolder, or you might actually say tired of their life, because they enter the pools half naked withoug any wetsuit. After this long and tiring hike this sounds like a good idea, but for me it was too cold.

After taking a couple of photos we relaxed in the sun, drank and eat a bit before going back to the Trailhead.

The way back

During our lunch time we also talked a bit with other people and actually met Suki and Mike, two Americans, as well as two Israeli, whose names I unfortunately don’t remember, which we then joined on our way back.

We made our way to the Subway most of the time with dry feet, only short before entering the Subway our feet got wet. The others were quite clever, they either had water shoes or a second pair of hiking boots. The others went ahead – through the river.

The way back was easier and faster. If we would have known this beforehand, we also would have rent some water shoes ins Springdale. Now we had wet feet and wet hiking boots.

Our way back through the river

Overall, we joined a great group and had much fun. On the way is one point, where you can find some Dinosour Tracks. We actually found some small tracks.

Dinosaur Tracks

At the end, the last thing that you want to do, is to actually climb the 400 foot high canyon wall, but there’s no chance not to do it. We had to climb these 400 foot from the morning back up. And I didn’t have any hiking sticks, which would have made it way easier. I made it nevertheless, but if you want do it, I do recommend hiking sticks.

After 9.5 hours we were back at the Trailhead, the first thing I did was change into some dry shoes. Afterwards we did a group photo of our hiking group.

Our Hiking Group


The last thing to do – after taking a shower – was to get some dinner. Stephan remembered a place he got a great Burger, somewhere between Sprindale and La Verkin. So we used again the car and drove to Virgin. Short after the corner towards Kolob Canyon is a place called “Buffallo Trails Trading company”.

Sign at Buffalo Trails Trading Co

The past year I’ve been driving by this location several times and didn’t see the restaurant, just thought of it as a place where you can buy some indian jewelry etc. This is actually the case, but you can also get some food here.

We took a look at the menu, but didn’t find the Burger. Bob, the owner, asked us if we’re looking for the Burger and told us, it’s right there in middle on the top of the menu. It’s not just a burger, it’s actually “Bob’s world famous Buffallo Burger”. OK, I didn’t have a Buffallo Burger in the past, and a if it’s world famous you gonna have to try it.

The Restaurant itself

There’s actually another reason why you should visit this place, and it’s Bob. He’s a crazy but very nice guy. When you get the Burger, he’s giving you one rule that you better should follow: Don’t put ketchup on the Burger! The ketchup is only for the fries. There’s a simple reason for this, there’s already some handmade burger sauce on it. The Burger was really great and I can only recommend this place. I’ve been there a second time in 2019 and will most probably come back a third time.

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