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The Subway


Getting There Lodging Restaurants Hiking Backpacking The Narrows The Subway Springdale

To say "Hiking" through The Subway is misleading. We're talking here about the Left Fork of the North Fork of the Virgin River. It carves out a delightfully narrow and twisted slot canyon which is a "top down" canyoneering route thought to be one of the most scenic technical descents in the country. You can't do it without specialized training, prior experience and good equipment. The average hiker does not possess any of these, so the Wilderness Office ranger is not going to grant you a permit.

However, there is a bottom up route that allows hikers to see some of the spectacular scenery of the Subway before being blocked by walls that require that training, experience and equipment.

This is still a serious day's hike which is not for beginners. It requires a permit from the Wilderness Office. Instead of canyoneering skills, you need route finding skills, because there is no official trail. There's a "route" other hikers have taken. You have to be able to read a topo map and do some serious routefinding. You need the same equipment as in the Narrows hike : river shoes, neoprene socks, hiking sticks. and a drybag or drypack.

Like in the Narrows hike, you need to accept that you're going to get wet. You'll be hiking IN the river part of the way.

You start by driving out of the park and heading west on Route 9. At the village of Virgin you find Kolob Terrace Road and head north. In 8.2 miles you'll come to the Left Fork Trailhead. The hike is four miles in for 8.0 miles total. But they'll be a difficult eight miles.

You'll start by following the trail for about half a mile, then dropping down 400 feet into Left Fork Canyon (photo, above). This is a hairy descent across loose sand and rock. You're off the trail now, following the "route." It roughly follows the stream bed. Sometimes there will be an actual path along the bank, and other times you'll just be walking up the stream.

You have to be careful here because these rocks are extremely slippery. If you fall here and get hurt, you'll be in a serious situation, because that is some rugged country for two hiking partners to haul you out of.

However, the scenery just keeps getting more and more dramatic, with waterfalls, high walls and narrow clefts.

Finally you reach the dramatic chamber shown in the top right photo, the lower exit of the so called Subway. This will be your turning point. To go further you need a technical permit, which you don't have. And your way will be blocked by a difficult ascent which you cannot make without ropes and harnesses.

Somewhere around here you need to find a dry rock or sandy spot to have lunch. If you left the trailhead at 9 a.m. it's now around 1 p.m. You need to be heading back by 1:30.

But first you need to be watching carefully along the right bank. There is a very large rock slab tilting down. In that slab are perhaps two dozen tracks, as seen in the photos right and below.

These are Velociraptor tracks. They are among the finest Velociraptor tracks anywhere. Paleontologists from all around the world come here to study these tracks.

They were made when this land was lower and further south. Over millions of years, this plateau was raised much higher, forces pushed up and tilted these rock layers, and the tectonic plate drifted north. The Dinosaurs died out, but these tracks remain as proof they once ruled the Earth.

You will now spend an hour or two descending the Left Fork, then face perhaps the most difficult challenge of the day : route finding your way to the top of the ridge.

Hundreds of hikers have missed the correct place and continued to follow either the Left Fork or Russell Gulch. Some of them have had to spend the night down here.

To avoid this, keep looking up for the black volcanic rock outcropping, and when you see it, immediately search for the point where disturbed rocks and sand on the right indicate the trail coming down. Scrambling up this loose slope will be a challenge but you should be able to find the trail up on the ridge.


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