The Subway in Zion National Park

“The Subway in Zion National Park” is by Nikhil Shahi (Website | Facebook | Instagram). The photos were shot with the Nikon D850 and the Nikon 14-24 lens with the WonderPana CPL kit (see also his previous guest posts):

The Subway in Zion National Park has been on my bucket list for quite a few years. Ever so often, I would come across some beautiful photos of this surreal landscape, tucked away in the inner depths of Zion. It seemed like a distant wonderland, something that was really hard to get to. Well, earlier this year, I finally got a chance to visit ‘The Subway’, and man, oh man, it really lived up to the hype.

In March of 2019, I decided to go on an extended road trip across Arizona and Utah. In the process, I spent a good deal of time in Zion National Park. During one of the cold winter evenings, I got chatting with a ranger who asked me if I had been to The Subway yet? I told him that I hadn’t thought about it as I ‘assumed’ that a permit would be unavailable due to the heavy demand. He told me that several permits were available for multiple days as it was winter and there just weren’t many people that wanted to do the hike, especially given the increase in water levels due to the excessive snowmelt. I looked online and sure enough, there were plenty of permits available for multiple days.

I reserved a permit online and the day before my hike, headed to the Zion National Park Visitor Center in Springdale, to collect it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware that the Wilderness Desk at the visitor center in Springdale, was only open until noon and since I arrived a few minutes after noon, I was told that the permit couldn’t be issued at that location. My choices were to either collect it the following morning from the Springdale location or to drive 40 miles to the Kolob Canyon Visitor Center, which could issue the permit that day. Since I wanted an early start for this hike, I chose to drive to Kolob Canyon to collect it. It is worth mentioning that the $5 one pays to reserve the permit online, is for just that – reserving the permit. You have to make an additional payment for the actual permit, once you go to collect it. The cost varies, depending on how many people are in your group.

The day of my hike, I woke up well before dawn, and headed to the Left Fork Trailhead. The trailhead is around 8.3 miles from the town of Virgin, on the Kolob Terrace Road. I desired to commence my hike at the start of civil twilight, as I wanted to arrive at ‘Archangel Falls’ near The Subway, before the sun’s rays hit the water and washed out all the color. I figured that it would take me around 2.5 to 3 hours to get to that location, given the weight of my backpack (25 lbs) and the high water levels due to the spring snowmelt. Well, it ended up taking me exactly 2 hours and 45 minutes to get to ‘Archangel Falls’ from the Left Fork Trailhead parking lot. The hike itself was strenuous due to the backpack weight and the high water levels – involving lots of scrambling over rocks and wading in waist deep water. I had rented a dry pants package from Zion Adventure Company in Springdale, and was nice and cozy during the hike. BTW, I subsequently did this hike in summer (August 2019), and the much lower water levels, made the hike a lot easier (as one could just walk in the water instead of scrambling over boulders).

By the time I arrived at Archangel Falls, the cliffs in the background were lit up with this beautiful reflected light, making them glow. I wasted no time and started shooting some photos with my camera on a tripod. The water was flowing fast and I had to be very careful when placing my tripod on the slickrock. I used my Nikon D850 coupled with a Nikon 14-24 lens, on an RRS TVC-33 tripod. The Nikon 14-24 being an ultrawide lens, doesn’t take regular filters. I had been on the lookout for a decent and reasonably cheap filter system for this lens and ended up purchasing the WonderPana 145 Essentials CPL Kit. This sub $200 kit is of surprisingly good quality and I have been very pleased with it – great value for money.

After spending an hour or so at ‘Archangel Falls’ and the beautiful ‘Alcove Falls’, I headed up to the main event – The Subway. Due to the strong water flow, the creekbed wasn’t slippery and I had no problem with traction on the slickrock. High water levels meant that some of the famous potholes were covered with water – I thus had to get a little creative to capture the essence of The Subway. I should add that I did not see more than 5 to 6 hikers throughout my time there. I guess the high water levels and the cold weather, were a deterrent for many.

In conclusion, I would highly recommend this hike, especially in late winter/ early spring, to capture a different perspective of this oft photographed subject. Due to the high water levels, there are countless opportunities to get some great shots of the waterfalls and The Subway. I would also recommend going in the summer to contrast your experience with that in the spring. The Left Fork of North Creek is a strenuous, albeit gorgeous hike, that offers the landscape photographer, great opportunities to get some lasting memories.

This post was initially published here. All photos and text copyrighted Nikhil Shahi© and used with permission.

If you have an interesting idea for a guest post, you can contact me here.

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