Zion National Park – Subway Trek Part Three – Inside the Subway

The first major stop on the Subway Trek is Archangel Falls, covered in part 1 of the Subway trek. Moving upstream, one comes up to a flat area where flowing water carved a deep crack in an otherwise flat surface. The second area is known and “The Crack” and was covered in part 2.

This set of images is from inside the Subway.

Feature Image Details

The key to this image is reflected light. In fact, that is the key to all the images in the subway series. Direct sunlight would ruin any of the shots.

There is no direct light in the subway, but you do need strong sun and no clouds to have light bouncing off the canyon walls to light up the subways walls. Noon, normally an awful time for photography, is perfect for the subway (at least it was in November when we went on the trek).

Polarizers help intensify the colors. They also increase the shutter speed, a very desirable effect to enhance the swirls.

Hike Comments

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.

Lens Selection

If I had to pick two general purpose lenses, the 16-35 and the 24-105 would be clear standouts. Those were the only two lenses I had with me for this 6.5 mile hike.

Reduce weight and hike happier!

Since there is overlap, I would prefer the second lens to be 35-135 or 35-150 instead of 24-105. Canon does not make my preferred choice.


Those interested in my equipment and recommendations can find it here: Mish’s Equipment List.

Second Subway Image

Notice the flowing water next to the wall on the upward slope. That area is extremely slippery. One person took a plunge. The waterfall and the cascade in opposite directions show the source of the beautiful swirls.

What Could I have Done Better?

I always ask myself “What could I have done better”. In this case, I should have used a longer exposure. Most of my images showed few swirl patterns that I like, but these images did have nice swirls. A longer exposure would have been much better. Somewhere between 30 seconds and a minute would likely have been ideal.

A problem with anything over 30 seconds involves “sharing”. About 5-6 people can take the first image without getting into each other’s way, but precisely one person fits in the spot immediately above. Also, the above image requires others to back off. You cannot exactly ask six people to back off while you take a 2-minute exposure.

I got the image when a cloud passed overhead, the light vanished, and most of the people left. The light came back out and there were only a few of us still inside the subway. The others did back out for the time it took to get the image.

The waterfall shot was at 16mm. 14mm would have captured more of the subway walls. But 14mm would have been too wide, making it very hard for people to get out of the way.  Also, you cannot use a  polarizer or filters of any kind, other than gel filters in the rear, with the Canon 14MM F2.8 L Lens.

More Subway Images

For more information regarding the “Subway Trek” and a nice shot of Archangel Falls as well, please see Zion National Park – Subway Trek Part One – Archangel Falls

Also, see Zion National Park – Subway Trek Part Two – The Crack

Equipment List

Those interested in my equipment and recommendations can find it here: Mish’s Equipment List.

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Mike “Mish” Shedlock

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