The Subway, Zion National Park, Utah

Although hiking to the Subway in Zion National Park is no easy task,  the wondrous sight of the tunnel carved out over centuries by the tributaries of the Virgin River is incredible! It is a hike that is limited to 50 visitors a day and requires a backcountry permit from the Visitor Center, which may be obtained several months ahead by lottery or if you are lucky, the day before or morning of the hike (see the NPS Zion permits site). This is an all-day adventure, and I recommend that one sets out before dawn. There are two approaches to this site – the top-down and from the bottom hikes. The former involves hiking down Russell Gulch starting from the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead to join the Left Fork and hike down through the Subway, which necessitates several rappels and cold swims. We are not rock climbers and thus chose the non-technical bottom hike, driving approximately 8 miles up Kolob Terrace Road from the town of Virgin, and descending 400 ft from the Left Fork Trailhead to the streambed (see Joe’s guide for details and maps on the approaches). This approach is listed at 3 miles each way, but it is approximately due to the constant ascent and descent of boulders surrounding the flowing water. Because we hiked during the early spring, the quickly flowing waters had to be crossed multiple times on top of wet, slick boulders. More than on a dozen occasions, we were up to just below our waist in brisk current. I am no rookie at hiking, yet this adventure was the most difficult I have ever undertaken, especially during this spring when the waters rose to twice their expected level. I recommend going during the fall, when the waters are much more manageable.

"Overflowing Archangel Falls"

On approaching the Subway, one is witness to multiple incredibly beautiful waterfalls, cascading from slabs of sandstone. The most famous one of these is Archangel Falls (or is it Arch Angel Falls) and is a must-photograph site.
Upon finally reaching the Subway I experienced two thoughts. One, how amazing it is to enter this structure with the water running over your feet, cascading from little waterfalls! Two, how do we get back in time before it is completely dark?! No wonder that the week we had navigated the Left Fork trail, at least two groups of hikers were lost, one for as long as 4 days, and required rescue efforts. Remember to know your limitations! We were back at the parking lot after a moonlit scramble up from the stream bed.

"Spring Rush at the Subway"


Technique: I avoided the cliche “back of the Subway” composition, and opted for more detail in the shot. The tripod legs were in a good 6 inches of fast current. The green pools were obscured and only brought out with this 20 second exposure, with the use of my handy neutral density filter.


All images are ©2011 Alexander Filatov Photography. All rights reserved.

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