The Subway in Zion National Park ranks as one of the best hikes in the world. If you have the skill, the right gear, and the physical ability, descending the Subway from the top is highly recommended. Swimming is often required on this route and the water is cold so you’ll want a wetsuit. However, you can still see some of the best parts by just hiking up from the bottom. For most photographers, this is the preferred route since it’s non-technical and you still get to see the famous Subway tunnel. This is the route I’ll discuss in this article. The shot below shows the furthest extent you can go without getting wet. My brother is posing for the shot after doing a very careful climb around the pool of water.
Fall is my favorite season to hike The Subway, especially the first couple weeks in November. The foliage takes on brilliant hues of red and yellow and the many fallen leaves make for interesting compositions on the canyon floor. The shot below is about halfway up to the tunnel. There are many small waterfalls like this you can photograph in route.
Pay close attention and you’ll see a small crack in the rock that channels most of the water in this short section. Click play on the video clip below to see it in action. Be careful because it can be very slippery around here.
Here’s another one of the waterfalls you’ll see during the hike:
The best part is when you get to The Subway Tunnel. You can spend hours photographing here! Watch the video clip below to get a good overview of the area. It’s hard to get a grasp of it with just still images. While I was photographing over a deep pool, I dropped the lens cap for my fisheye lens into the water. It’s very difficult to find a replacement for that, so I was dreading having to strip down and go diving. Fortunately, some guys in wetsuits came through. I offered them some food if they retrieved my lens cap. They were more than happy to do it! Afterwards, they had fun sliding down into the pools. You’ll see that at the end of the video.
One thing I recommend is that you collect fallen leaves before you get to the tunnel. You can then use them to enhance your photos. We did some long exposures of the small cascade above the big pool. To make it more dynamic, we threw leaves into the flow. It’s a great idea to bring a polarizer and neutral density filter to The Subway. Bring your widest angle lenses along with a mid-range zoom. A tripod is a must-have!
The Subway is also a great place to take portraits. You can get nice reflected light that almost looks like you used wireless flash with a diffuser! You can also get some nice silhouettes. Check out the 2 shots below:
Here’s a shot of all the leaves that collect in the big pool. I got down as low to the waterfalls as I dared. This was the spot where I dropped my lens cap for the fisheye lens!
Sooner or later, you’ll have to start heading back. Keep on the lookout for nice photo ops en route, especially if it’s overcast. The waterfalls along the hike are best in the morning or when there is no direct light hitting them.
The hike back up can be kind of steep, so you may need to take it slow. Ensure you save some energy for the last part! It’s a full day endeavor, especially if you spend a good amount of time photographing. Make sure you start early in the morning! My company offers guided photography tours in Zion, Bryce Canyon, Escalante, and the Vermillion Cliffs. We accommodate individual requests and private trips can always be arranged. Send me an email and let’s go exploring! http://actionphototours.com/
The Subway in Autumn