The Subway, Zion National Park

Ron Niebrugge Photos, Travel, Utah, Zion National Park 28 Comments

The Subway, Zion National Park

The Subway portion of the Left Fork of North Creek, Zion National Park, Utah. 

We are visiting some wonderful areas during this two month trip, but the one place I have been looking forward to over all others was the Subway in Zion.  What a fascinating place! 

It is interesting, I didn’t notice the leaves in the pool moving, but I guess the 30 second exposure was enough time to capture even minor movement.

To access the Subway, you need a backcountry permit.  The Park Service issues up to 50 per day.  When we checked on the permit count at the end of the day on Tuesday, they had only issued 2 for Wednesday – we knew it would be a perfect day!  The Subway is not a very large area, I can’t imagine sharing it with 50 other people!  We did see the other 2 permittees, one on our hike out, the other was a photographer who choose not to photograph the actual Subway.  Janine and I had the marvelous place all to ourselves!  I understand last weekend they sold out the 50 permits, and I believe in the summer they can be hard to get and require advance reservations.  They do set aside 40% for walk-ups the day before, but you better be their early during the busy times. 

 The trail-head is about a 45 minute drive from the main Zion entrance in Springdale, west of the main Zion Canyon area.  The hike in is time consuming.  It is only 4.5 miles each way, but it isn’t on a park maintained trail – the going is somewhat slow as you scramble over boulders, cross the creek numerous times, and backtrack around obstacles.  The guide books say to allow 2.5 hours each way – it took us less time, but I think that is a reasonable estimate. 

Even though there isn’t a maintained trail, the route isn’t hard to follow.  A short distance from the trail-head, you drop 400 feet down a hillside into the North Creek Canyon.  From there, you follow the main creek bed upstream until you reach the Subway.  The best chance for getting lost would be to miss the climb back out of the canyon at the end of the day.  If you make a mental note of the hills around the canyon near the exit at the beginning of your hike, the exit route is pretty obvious.  In addition, the Park Service has a couple of signs in the bottom of the canyon notating the exit route.

I have a few recommendations.  We hiked in our canyon shoes which can be rented in Springdale from the Zion Adventure Company.  The rock in the Subway is very slick, we didn’t have a bit of trouble using these shoes with their unique ability to grip rock.  It also made the hike easier as we often just stayed in the creek bed.  Bring extra food and water.  You figure if you spend a hour or two taking photos, and five hours hiking, it can be a long day.  I finished off both my large Nalgen bottles of water and it wasn’t a hot day.

The Subway isn’t the only attraction in the area – there are some other really cool photo opportunities near the entrance to the Subway – I will post a couple of shots over the next couple of days.  I’m getting a big queue of photos to post – I guess that is the beauty of being in a place like Zion!

 I should add, you can hike down through the Subway from upstream, but that does involve some technical ability and ropes.  The route I described is from the “bottom”, and the preferred route when hauling a lot of photo gear.

Here are more photos of Zion National Park and the Subway

Comments 28

  1. Beautiful pic. I didn’t have the time to go there when I was at zion in April but will make it a must the next time I’m out there.

  2. That is some wicked light you have here Ron. I always thought the Subway was in the Narrows, guess I was mistaken. I’d like to do the Narrows too someday. Don’t have the right equipment to get in there though. Did you need to protect your camera with waterproof materials while getting here? This is so cool, it looks subterranean.

  3. Post

    Thanks Michael – yes, I would make this place a must!

    Thanks Richard, that light was reflecting in really nice.

    You don’t need any fancy equipment – you can rent the shoes from Zion Adventures, and really you could even wear just running shoes, they are going to get wet and may be slick, but they would get you there. Those pools are really deep, probably over my head, but you can get in there without having water any more then ankle deep – I didn’t do anything special with my camera, I just put it in a small pack. It is just a long walk!


  4. Kudos Ron! I was their with you and I sure didn’t “see” this but then again that is why you are the photographer and I carry food and water :)! Beautiful shot and composition!


  5. I’m jealous. I had the permit to go, but I had such a bad skin burn on the back of my knees from the neoprene wetsuit I wore while hiking the narrows the day before, I wasn’t able to do the hike. 🙁

  6. Post

    Hey Thanks Gary!

    Next time rent the dry pants – they are way more comfortable then the wetsuit. Now you have something to look forward to!


  7. Great photography Ron.

    Gary C. ate too many nachos the night before we were going to hike to the Subway last year. So we didn’t make the hike.

    Looking forward to your Narrows & Watchman photos.


  8. Post

    Thanks Michael,

    Now I’m getting the real story!

    We are doing the Narrows today – I’m really looking forward to it.


  9. Wow, this place looks like it was well worth the walk Ron. Such a unique one too. Are there special light conditions you have to look for when going here? I really have to get out to Zion someday. Looks like you could spend a month there and not scratch the surface of all there is to explore.

  10. Post

    Hi Mark,

    I think you would love this place! We have been here two weeks, and now my list of places to see here is longer then when I got here!

    I believe in the middle of summer you need to hit the Subway a little before or after mid-day to avoid getting direct sunlight into the canyon.

    This was a little before mid-day (11:00), and I think that is a great time for this time of year because the sun is hitting the far walls of the canyon outside the Subway. This provides that nice warm glow of reflected light into the canyon. It is so dark in there, all you want is some reflected light at the entrance, direct light it too bright.


  11. Hello Ron,

    What a FANTASTIC photo! The Subway is one of my must-do-places to photograph! I’m wondering if you might reveal to us any extra photo tips on how to take this shot (the exif data, any special filters used, anything you might have done differently, etc.)? What month was your visit and do you remember the water temp? I would love to plan a trip for this year and I would be most grateful for any advice!

    Thanks so much,
    Kristy 🙂

  12. Post

    Thanks Kristy!

    This was taken this past October 31st. It seemed like a pretty good time of year. It was a little chilly in the morning, I think I wore pants with zipper legs. I know I was down to shorts for the hike out. The water didn’t seem too cold, and you are not in it very long.

    Nothing special otherwise. This was shot at ISO 200, f/22 and 30 seconds. Needless to say you will need a tripod.

    Hope that helps,


  13. Ah, Halloween in the Subway! spooky 😉

    Must have been a really fun time though. Thanks for the photo info, it seems pretty straightforward. Congratulations on a successful trip and on a wonderful shot!

    Take care Ron,
    Kristy 🙂

  14. Hi Ron,

    Awesome photo!

    Thank you very much for your nice write-up of the Subway! I’m doing it in a few days, and have been reading everything about the hike. I will be doing the “bottom up” portion of it like yourself.

    Do you remember about how long it took you to actually hike to the entrance to the Subway? Once inside, how much further did you go before you had to turn back?

    Any tips are greatly appreciated! 🙂



  15. Post

    Thanks Frank,

    I think it took us about 2 hours each way, but we pushed hard. There isn’t much of a trail, so you will lose some time route finding. It was slow going for only 4.5 miles. I finally pulled out my GPS because I couldn’t believe we weren’t there already given how hard we are going, but we hadn’t – it is just a long hike.

    Once you enter the Subway, you can’t go very far unless someone is there climbing down from above and offers their ropes – I hear that happens. You basically enter and wrap around a bend to your left and then run into a steep rock wall, I bet it is only a 100 yards or so. I am standing about as far as you can go when I captured the above photo, and the light you see is coming in the entrance.

    Be careful carrying your camera around, the floor is really slick.

    You are going to have fun, it is an amazing place!

  16. Hi. I am thinking of heading to Zion next week. Does anyone know the status of leaves there right now? Am I too late? Just wondering since we still have some nice color in Boulder Colorado right now.

  17. Post

    Hi Ben,

    I’ve seen some photos from last weekend that showed near peak colors in the Subway – they are probably past peak in the higher country, but I would still expect good color in the lower elevations.

    Have fun!


  18. Question please? I am going to Zion next week to shoot photos., I am tryiny to go somehwat light on equipment but….. want to get the amazing shots. I have Canon L lenses 24-105, 17-40 and a 100-400. Do you think I need the 100-400? It weighs alot! please email me back at with any suggestions you have learned from shooting Zion and Bryce. Would be greatly appreciated

  19. Post

    Hi Julie,

    Sounds like a great trip!

    I mostly used the 24-105, but I did use my wider angle zoom on occasion, along with my 100-400. I wouldn’t bring the 100-400 on the longer hikes like the Subway or the Narrows, but I think you will want it in Bryce for isolating individual hoo doos, and for photographing wildlife, and you can often see deer in both parks.

    Have fun,


  20. Hi Ron,
    I am going to hike the subway in august and am super excited about it. I recently bought a new dslr and I really want to take it to the hike to get some good pictures. I have a 14-42 and 40-150 lenses which are fairly light. I was wondering how you kept your lenses and camera dry? How good are the dry bags in keeping water out and preventing condensation? Did you also take a tripod with you? How do you dry bag a tripod? I am extremely torn if I should take my camera or not, I dont really want to ruin my new camera or lenses. Please advise.

  21. Post

    Hi Ravi,

    I did the hike from the bottom up, so keeping things dry wasn’t really a problem. In Alaska, I use a dry bag. I would take your camera, and just put it in a dry bag. Just pull it out where it is safe and you shouldn’t have any problems. I did use a tripod – it was fairly dark in there.

    Have fun!

  22. Hi Ron,

    Great information about the Subway. I will be going there in the first week of November. If 11 AM is right for the Subway, what time do you suggest for the North Creek waterfall to have the water in shade and the reflected light on the canyon wall above/behind it.

    Thanks for your help

  23. Post

    Hi Jeff,

    You should have a great trip! I don’t remember for sure, let me look back at my timestamps and I’ll let you know.


  24. Post

    Hi Jeff,

    I don’t know if I can rely on my time stamps – I don’t always remember to update the time when I leave Alaska. I know we caught it in shade with some decent reflected light and we started hiking very early. I don’t remember the time, but it was still fairly dark.

    Have fun, you are going to like it!

  25. Pingback: Athletic apparel catalog models must die « Bloggertobenamedlater

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.