The Left Fork of North Creek is one of the most beautiful canyons, and certainly one of the most most popular day hikes within Zion National Park. The canyon carved by the Left Fork is home to many picturesque waterfalls and rapids, but the most memorable section of the canyon is called “The Subway,” an incredible, tubular, half-mile stretch of slot canyon that, well, resembles the shape of a round subway tunnel!
The Subway is most easily accessed by a 9.5 mile round trip hike, from the Left Fork Trailhead, in the west side of the park. It is not hard to reach, by any means, but the hike is fairly time consuming due to the fact that once you descend the 400 vertical feet of switchbacks into the canyon, there is no official trail along the rest of the way. Hiking, wading, bushwhacking, and scrambling up and over gigantic boulders and river banks for four miles each way can take hours, and be downright exhausting at times – despite presenting little to no physical challenge to the average hiker. It is worth noting that the National Park Service issues a quota of 50 daily hiking permits for this area, to control erosion and other damage to natural resources. So, to complete this hike, you must pick up a permit from the park office in Springdale. They can be reserved online here.
In the autumn, when the cottonwoods and box elders are changing colors, many trees drop their leaves into the creek upstream of the Subway. These leaves, trapped in the Subway’s many shallow pools, swirl around in eddies indefinitely until water levels rise enough to push them further downstream.
Just a few hundred yards downstream of the Subway, the Left Fork has cut a narrow fissure into the sandstone, creating the famous and aptly titled, “Crack.” In the autumn, many leaves are blown from trees, and stick to the wet rocks that surround the Crack. I took it upon myself to re-arrange them in a slightly more photogenic manner. Some people may frown upon this, including myself at times, but in this situation, I just couldn’t resist the urge.
Additionally, a few hundred more yards downstream of the Subway and Crack, are the 30 foot-tall series of cascades that tumble over layers of sandstone, combining to create Archangel Falls. This waterfall, located underneath a massive sandstone enclave and surrounded on both sides by cottonwood and juniper trees, is an amazing sight to behold – especially in the autumn. I can see how a waterfall in the Utah desert could be a bit of a strange concept, but the stark contrast between the rushing water and red sandstone is a feast for the eyes!