The Subway: A Classic Canyoneering Route in Zion National Park

The climatic subway tunnel in The Subway, Zion National Park

The extremely colorful namesake section of The Subway, Zion National Park. Photo Credit: Daniel Peckham

I came across some wonderful images of Zion’s Subway route the other day, and the photographer, Daniel Peckham, graciously granted me permission to display them here. Above is the climactic “subway tunnel” after which The Subway takes its name. The colors in this section are dazzling; it looks like someone dumped a truckload of gasoline in the water, creating the shimmering, iridescent colors typically seen in oil or fuel. I asked a local botanist about this once, thinking the colors might be from a bacteria in the water. Turns out the colors come from chemical leached by a few different plants in the area. Either way, it’s nice to know these sorts of visual effects are completely natural (and nicely captured by Mr. Peckham).

A deep, narrow cleft funnels water in The Subway

A deep, narrow cleft funnels water in The Subway. Photo Credit: Daniel Peckham

A little ways past the classic subway section, this micro slot creates a gorgeous whitewater flume and showcases the fault-induced nature of The Subway. The canyon, properly called the Left Fork of North Creek, runs directly above a minor fault line, creating the weaknesses that the water follows downcanyon. Over millions of years, water followed the narrow fault cracks through the harder Navajo sandstone and reached the softer Kayenta layer, below. Since the Kayenta layer erodes much more quickly, the “subway effect” followed – a wide bulb developed under a narrow neck of sandstone, which is revealed today as The Subway. The above image captures one of the best places in The Subway to easily and tangibly see the Left Fork fault line.

Small waterfalls in The Subway, Zion National Park

A beautiful series of cascading waterfalls below the Subway section. Photo Credit: Daniel Peckham

Further downcanyon, The Subway’s last liquid treat is the series of thin cascades on gorgeous red rock. In autumn particularly, draped with yellow leaves, this spot is heavenly. Though footing can be slippery here, it is a great spot for butt sliding; I’ve watched kids take 20 – 40 repetitions on the choice slip n’ slides here. Alternatively, you can spend some time as Mr. Peckham did, trying to capture the essence of the cascades with your camera. During summer, I like to picnic in the cascade area until the sun falls below the canyon walls. When it does, I know it’s safe to start to slog down the Left Fork and up the steeeeeeeeeep hill to the Left Fork trailhead.

If you’re keen to hike The Subway yourself, please be aware this is a technical canyon, requiring the use of ropes, harnesses, and rappelling skills. Many folks each year take our Half-Day Basic or One-Day Basic canyoneering courses to prepare for a Subway descent. If this looks fun to you, contact us to see how you can reserve a course for you and your group.

Thanks to Daniel Peckham for sharing his photographs here. You can find his landscape photoblog by clicking any of the above images or this link.

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About Nick

Nick Wilkes found ZAC in 1996, working first as an outfitter, then a guide, then as webmaster. An ardent adventure enthusiast, Nick's recent exploits involve laying down roots in Wisconsin, chasing his kids around the house, working as a Madison, WI photographer and growing his Wisconsin climbing business. Connect with Nick on Facebook, Google+, or directly via email.
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