Photographing the Subway - Mike Carr

Getting the Most Out of Hiking The Subway 


There are only a handful of places I’ve dreamed of photographing since I was a young boy in northwestern Montana. I still have a few places on that list I’ve yet to see, and as I’ve grown, there are a few new additions I’ve added to the list, but one of the biggest feathers I’ve added to my cap is The Subway in Zion National Park.

I don’t intended to make this into a tutorial of exact steps you have to take to get a beautiful picture of the Subway. My intent is more focused on giving you some tips from someone who’s been there so you can have the best experience possible.

Tip #1: Permits

I love this hike! I’ve done probably 80% of the hikes in Zion, and this is still my favorite by a long shot. Though, to be fair, it's almost a canyoneering route, but I still feel like it’s more of a hike. The first obstacle you face in exploring the Subway is not water, elevation gain, boulders, or brush—it’s permits!

It can be extremely frustrating trying to secure a permit in Zion for one of their coveted routes. Luckily there is an easy way around this for The Subway. All you have to do is be willing to compromise a little. You will find it much simpler to get a permit in the fall and winter. I would recommend around Thanksgiving specifically because there’s still a chance of good fall colors and the weather is still pretty nice (fall comes really late in southern Utah).

Tip #2: All the Little Things

It’s really easy to get blinded by the actual “subway” shaped section of this trail and be so focused on it that you miss all the other seemingly little things on this trail. As a photographer, I’ve fallen prey to this, and I have plans to return this fall to rectify my blunder. Try to learn from my mistakes.

One of my favorite shots I’ve taken was just outside of the main section. There is a crack in the rock that fills up with water and makes an incredible close up, abstract shot. There are dozens of little waterfalls and one larger section of falls that look a bit like stairs called Arch Angel Falls. That’s my primary target on my next return trip. Just remember to keep your eyes open and drink in the whole thing. There’s a lot to appreciate.

Tip #3: Have the Right Equipment

Everybody has different styles, and some of you may not even care too much about the pictures you take while doing this hike, but there are two pieces of equipment I’ve found to be invaluable for shooting the Subway: a tripod and a neutral density filter. With careful timing and patience, you can get away without the latter one but the tripod is a must. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just sturdy. With all that flowing water, it’s a crime not to take a longer exposure and get that smooth, silky look. The filter can be worked around by being there in the early morning or late evening when the light is less harsh. But if you want to shoot in normal daylight, that filter will enable you to darken a long exposure so it doesn’t get blown out on a 1 to 2 second exposure.

This is a popular hike for good reason. You’ll have a blast doing it and hopefully come home with some amazing images. Don’t let the permit system get you down. Keep trying, because as someone who has done it multiple times, I can tell you it’s absolutely worth it. If you have any questions for me about your Subway photo adventure or just want a little more info just let me know in the comment section.