Subway Cave - Arizona Photo Spot

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Subway Cave by Ashley Grems
Subway Cave by Ashley Grems

Subway Cave Sedona

The Subway Cave is a unique spot in the heart of Boynton Canyon where the rugged red cliff walls have worn away and resemble a subway tunnel. Located about 20 minutes north of Sedona, the Subway Cave is one of the many unique viewpoints branching off the Boynton Canyon Trail. However, finding the trailhead can be a challenge. In this post, we will share exactly how to find the Subway Cave and share some tips for photographing it.

For photographers, this shooting location is fantastic. Along this stunning trail, you pass through open desert, red rock ledges and thick forests en route to great views high along the canyon headwall. First, begin your journey at the Boynton Canyon Trailhead. There is parking here, and be prepared for a 10-11 km (7-mile) hike. Suitable footwear and water for hydration are essential.

Get a Pass

You will need a pass to park and hike here, and you can get a Red Rock pass either at the parking lot or at any of the locations listed on the Coconino National Park website. The funds for the passes help fund conservation in the area, so be sure to do your part and buy one.

Find the Subway Cave

Several well-defined trails branch off the main trail as you progress up the canyon – some lead to vortex sites, some to climbing routes, and some to exciting viewpoints. Whenever hiking in the region, please honour re-vegetation efforts and archeological sites by remaining on designated trails at all times. Also, keep in mind that this land is sacred to the area’s indigenous people, so do not litter and leave no trace.

Head north up the trail and stick to the main path as it winds its way along the edges of the Enchantment Resort. Once you are clear of the resort, the route will turn right and head almost due north for about 800 metres (half a mile). Then it will turn sharply to the left. After this turn, about 200 metres (600 feet), you will find a spur heading almost due north again.

Keep an eye out for a pile of sticks. Sometimes, people use the sticks to block the trail, and sometimes, they mark it. It can be easy to miss, so keep a sharp eye out for the turn. In either case, take this spur trail about 500 metres, and you should see the Sinagua ruins (a piled stone brick shelter) on your left. Once you see these, you are close. Continue on the trail, and while you will not see the cave as you approach (the surrounding rock hides it), the route you are on will end at the mouth of the cave. There are two ways up to the Subway Cave.

Most people go up to the cave where the trail ends, but this can be relatively challenging, especially with camera gear. As another option, you can turn left where the trail ends. Follow this trail to head up to a ledge where at the top, you can turn left to view the Sinagua ruins or turn right for the Subway Cave.

For GPS referencing, the cave is located at:
34.93247339526237, -111.8623116168107

N 34° 55′ 56.855″ W 111° 51′ 47.13″

Photographing the Subway Cave

The Subway Cave itself is relatively easy to photograph. Most variable zoom kit lenses will do the trick fine, and on most days, a tripod is not strictly necessary. However, having a light tripod in your kit is not a bad idea. You will have to expose manually because the contrast between the light inside and outside the cave is quite strong and will confuse most automatic settings. Be sure to expose for the cave’s exterior (outside) and anticipate some work in image editing software to bring out the detail in the shadows inside the cave. If you bring a tripod, some bracketed exposures will help extend the dynamic range for HDR processing later.

Be sure to arrive early in the day, possibly commencing your hike at first light. The cave starts to get busy at around 10:00 am, so if you can get there early enough, you should find parking and have some quiet for photography even at peak times of the year.

As you will be hiking in the wilderness in the morning, be careful and respectful of the wild animals (including wild pigs) native to the area. Also, going with someone else on a backcountry hike to any site like the Subway Cave is always a good idea.

(Sedona, Arizona, USA)

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