Subway: The Left Fork
Description: This is an overnight hike that will take you into the wilderness area of Zion National Park, where you will rappel down Left Fork Canyon.
Distance: 8.1 Miles
Highest Elevation: 6,990 Feet Above Sea Level
Dangers: Flash Flood Possibility
Required Equipment: 50 Feet of Rope for Self-Rappelling and a wading staff for hiking in water.
Jurisdiction: Zion National Park
The trailhead for Left Fork is The Wildcat Canyon Trailhead. Drive up Kolob Terrace Road to mile 16 and begin your hike at The Wildcat Canyon Trailhead.
This is one of Zion National Park’s more popular trails. Along the way are such prominent points as The Subway, where hikers going all the way through will need rappelling gear and will need to plan on spending the night. (If you are going to hike The Subway from the bottom-up instead, all you have to do is a day hike that will take you 3.4 miles to The Subway where the canyon will then become impassable.)
Beginning at The Wildcat Canyon Trailhead, you will hike to the first junction and turn left for the Wildcat Connector trail, followed by a right onto the Northgate Peaks trail. After a few steps on the Northgate Peaks trail, you will be in an area where the pine trees give way to sagebrush in a meadow. The trail you will see heading off to your left is the start of the Left Fork Trail and will take you to slickrock above the forest.
You will hike southward on the slickrock, remaining above the forest until you arrive at a rather barren hilltop. From this hilltop, you will follow the rock to the bottom where the trail runs through the densely growing stands of manzanita until it reaches another portion of slickrock where Russell Gulch will be clearly seen, along with many Navajo sandstone cliffs and Greatheart Mesa.
You will follow the slickrock on the southwest side of the draw, pass through another pine tree area and then back onto more slickrock until you cross the draw at an area where there is a hoodoo by the stream. After crossing the draw here at the hoodoo, you will head northeast across the rock to get to the bottom of Russell Gulch and continue hiking downstream.
You will soon head back onto the slickrock to head up towards the pinkish stine where you will hike into a small saddle and out through a large stone bowl. At the bottom of this stone bowl area, the trail will be sandy and will head to a pine forested butte. Below this butte, you will traverse a ravine before walking on level ground again that will take you through forests of ponderosa, oak, and up to a high point where you can clearly see the confluence of Russell Gulch and the Left Fork. You will follow a rough path that takes you down to the Left Fork and around into Russel Gulch. This part of the trail is quite steep and is covered with loose rocks and sand, so you will have to be careful not only that you do not fall; but also that you do not accidentally roll boulders down the hill onto other hikers who may be below you. You will eventually reach the bottom on the floor of Russell Gulch.
From the floor of Russell Gulch, you will turn right to head down Left Fork where, for a short time, you will have an easy walk; but you will soon come across a large rockfall which, after passing through, will leave you looking down a twenty foot dropoff. You will either have to try your hand at climbing down this twenty foot drop into the sand below, or rappel down the steep, round side of the large boulder with rope.
Once you reach the bottom of this dropoff, you will head down the slickrock where you may have to do some wading in the pothole areas. The second major obstacle of this hike are the two deep, cold pools of water that block your way here the trail goes into a narrow canyon. You will have to swim both these pools and the water is always very cold in both of them. The first pool is about a 30 foot swim and the second pool is about a 10 foot swim followed by a wading area with a rather slippery ledge.
Shortly after crossing these deep pools, you will find a place where the water springs from the ground and flows down the canyon. Soon after this is a place where you must climb onto a ledge with a low roof just above it and make your way across the slippery ledge in order to avoid the pour-offs that would otherwise bar your way entirely. After the roof above you rises to the point where you can again walk upright, you will walk make your way down a sandy slope and rappel down a steep rock area to get back down to the stream.
You will continue downstream, wading in areas as deep as your waist until you get to Keyhole Falls where the rock walls on either side of you rise up to 500 feet and the canyon continues to narrow in. Keyhole Falls is a 6 foot waterfall into a deep pool. You will use rope to get down Keyhole Falls and heads through a beautiful area of the canyon where the water has formed many unusual figures and gouges into the rock. The canyon will veer westward from here and open up into the area known as The Subway, where the rounded rock overhead almost forms a complete tunnel roof. There are a number of places in this area where you will need to make use of ledges in order to continue past drop offs that would be impassable otherwise and at one point you will need to rappel down from a ledge. It is this point that marks the last of the areas where ropes are a necessity.
After this final rappelling section, you will pass several blue pools of water on the floor of the canyon before arriving at the mouth of The Subway. It is here that you will find some good places to camp beneath the overhangs as well as a few more sites just around the corner where the canyon opens.
After passing these camping areas, you will pass many small, beautiful waterfalls until you reach an area full of sagebrush and a few cottonwood trees. Just beyond the area after this are several slabs of stone that are covered in dinosaur footprints. The dinosaur footprints are believed to have been made by a two-legged carnivore from the genus Eubrontes, such as a Dilophosaurus. “Eubrontes” is not the name of a type of dinosaur; but is the name of the type of dinosaur footprints. The actual species of biped dinosaur that makes a “Eubrontes” print is, by definition, unknown.
Once you reach the dinosaur footprints, you will walk below a set of lava cliffs that are above the north side of the canyon and you will follow the path to Little Creek, which is usually dry. Do not follow any of the cattle trails that lead upwards to Lee Valley; but stay in the canyon and go past Pine Springs Wash, which always has water. From here, you will see Tabernacle Dome up above you with its many hoodoos. Your trail will soon leave the stream where there are some well-used camping areas and will make a steep climb upwards to the top of some lava cliffs. The trail will become level again at the top of the plateau and you will have a great viewpoint of the many cliffs in the area, and of the red Tabernacle Dome. You will soon cross a wash that is full of boulders and will be at the Left Fork Trailhead on Kolob Terrace Road, which is the end of this hiking trail.