The “Subway” is the premier hike in Zion National Park.
The route is not suitable for masses of photographers all vying for the same spot at the same time. The park’s solution is a lottery system and competition for slots is very high.
We went in the second week in November. Starting in November there may be openings without having to use the lottery system. That was the case for us. As an added bonus on our trip, Autumn was a week late so our timing was perfect.
Feature Image Details
- Canon EOS 6D (I now use and highly recommend the EOS 5D Mark IV )
- Canon 16-35MM F4 L Lens: (my favorite lens)
- F14 for 3.2 seconds ISO 100
Here is the image from the lottery link above.
The light is clearly better in my shot but that is not my key point. Notice the viewpoint angle. I was very low and very close to the waterfall, no more than a foot away. I was also inches above the river bed. In the group I was with, the photographers were all standing up, taking pictures at eye level. Their perspective was similar to that in the brochure.
Also, instead of standing mid-stream, I stood way to the left as that was the prettiest rock formation. Finally, a long exposure (3.2 seconds) provides a nice smooth flow to the water.
Before your trip, the first thing you should do is pick up Joe’s Guide to Zion National Park. It’s free. Joe describes all the major trails and offers recommended hikes including information on the Subway.
The subway hike is 6.5 miles round-trip and is rated strenuous. I would rate it moderately-strenuous. The elevation change is mostly gradual except for a steep 600-foot change at the beginning (down) and end (up).
For comparison purposes, I would rate Angel’s Landing with a 1500 foot elevation change as strenuous. Yet, the Subway requires scrambling and the trail is very slippery in spots. I fell twice and one person slipped into the pool at the Subway (it’s deep). Get or rent a pair of shoes suitable for wet slippery conditions. The outfitters near the park can help.
Mark your entry/exit spot with GPS, by time, or both. There is no clear path to the end of the Subway trail. Two hikers we came across were convinced they passed the exit spot. They were going to scramble up loose rocks to the top. They were convinced their car was at the gap at the top. I talked them out of it.
It is better to be lost on the main route than lost where only a search party may find you. It turns out, they were a mile away from the path up.
To get the best images, be at the trailhead before dawn and set out as soon as you can see, if not before (using headlamps). Once the sun hits the waterfalls the best light is gone. Reflected light is best. Strong reflected light is required for a great shot in the Subway itself.
Those interested in my equipment and recommendations can find it here: Mish’s Equipment List.
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Next up “The Crack”
Mike “Mish” Shedlock