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The Subway (Bottom Up)


Trail Length: 9 miles (round trip)

The bottom-up route of the Subway is the more popular route of hiking the Subway. It avoids the technical challenges of the upper section, but the hike is still very difficult and will take many hours. plan at least 6 to 8 hours. Also, this hike requires a permit which is obtained through now.

Getting Here

To get to the beginning of the trail, follow Kolob Terrace Road which heads north from Highway 9 just outside of the town of Virgin. The trailhead you are looking for is called Left Fork Trailhead. There is a small sign followed by a pull-off on the right side of the road as you head north on your journey. It is a few miles up the road from here, or about 10 to 15 minutes after leaving the town of Virgin. The trailhead is found right in the parking lot. A permit is required and I do believe you need to have a permit displayed in your window to be parked here.

Trail Description

The first half mile of the trail is flat and pleasant and in no way prepares you for what is coming next. After this pleasant half mile the trail turns into a cold killer and suddenly takes a sharp right straight off a very steep "cliff" slope and drops over 400 feet to the river below. Remember this fact when you have to turn around.

From here the trail wanders in a north-easterly direction following Left Fork North Creek. The actual trail is sort of a mess as this trail is technically wilderness. Though there is a generally well-defined path, it doesn't mean it is pleasant. Most of the trail is over smooth cobblestones and boulders that can easily lead to a slip and fall. There are plenty of moments of having to duck under and climb over branches and trees. Though I never really felt challenged for most of the trail, the next day after completing the lower half of the trail I just hurt all over. The hike is not a simple stroll but a full-body hike.

I do want to mention something here. I never really found this area difficult, it doesn't mean you will. On a regular basis, it's this section that creates the most problems for hikers. One gentleman got trapped in quicksand here and had to spend the night getting rescued. I have watched people stumble and fall and get hurt and I have stories about the climb out. So don't consider the middle section trivial.

Now, since most of the lower trail is not actually all that exciting, I am going to fast-forward a bit (You can't really get lost, just follow the stream). The first three miles as I mentioned are the hardest part of the trail, but as you get towards the end (about the last mile) things get interesting. The canyon walls narrow up and you begin to run into a series of cascades and waterfalls.

Veiled Falls

I do believe the first waterfall you arrive at is Veiled Falls. To navigate past it, go to the far right of it and continue upstream. The next major cascade is called Archangel Falls, which can be simply walked up though I generally recommend sticking to the side to avoid slippling. From here there is the famous water crack in the rock followed by the final turn into the lower grotto of the subway.

A series of cascades that are surrounded with trees in brilliant fall colors
Archangel Falls

The lower grotto of the subway is where all the famous images of the slot are generally taken. You cannot hike up from here as the grotto has a 30 foot waterfall that needs to be navigated via rappel when coming from the top. So this is the end of your journey. Sit back photograph and enjoy the views. You made it to the end of the trail.

The Exit

Now I do want to remind you that the journey out of here is the same 4.5 miles in. Waiting at the end of is also that 400 foot plus climb back out. My advice is when you get to the bottom of the huge slope when you first come down, put a waypoint on some sort of GPS app so you don't miss it on the way out. That is a common issue. In addition, make sure you rest before you climb out. I have watched multiple people almost pass out on the way out. It is hard, especially after all those miles.

Nathan's Take

This is a great hike. It is hard, rewarding, and filled with great photographic opportunities. I have not been in the summer since 2014, and have focused my efforts in the fall, so I don't have up to date information doing it in the summer. I generally do not rush into the hike and start it late morning when I do bottom up. This allows me to catch the end of the trail in decent light so I get good canyon glow. I also take a few precautions and bring along with me a GPS and a map on my phone with a few pins marked at the exit and other spots along the way as needed. I also never do this route alone. There are too many spots where things can go wrong. If you can, bring enough food and a water filter if things turn south so you can be down there for a bit.

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