Taking a Scenic Drive Through Zion National ParkDec 15, 2019
Zion National Park is known for its stunning overlooks and challenging hiking trails. But if you ever get tired of hoofing it to the park’s most popular viewpoints, you can always take a break from hiking and hop in your car instead. The park is home to several incredible scenic drives, where you can enjoy a taste of Zion’s natural beauty from the comfort of your car.
Keep reading to learn three spots to enjoy a drive through Zion National Park, as well as a few tips to help you stay safe on your cruise through the canyon.
Zion Canyon Scenic Drive
Late Spring, early Fall, and all Summer long are wonderful times to visit Zion National Park. The weather is warm, if not hot. The sun is often shining, making the park’s red rock canyons and cliffs pop against a brilliant blue sky. And the Zion Canyon Shuttle makes it easy to get where you need to in the park without having to worry about fighting for one of the limited parking spots.
But while the shuttle is a great tool for experiencing the park when it’s busy, everyone should try to see Zion during its winter season at least once in their lifetime.
Zion National Park has mild winters, with temperatures regularly reaching into the mid-50s during December and January, and the high 50s or low 60s through February. While it does snow occasionally, in the lower canyon, these are often flurries or light snows. Just enough to make the park even more beautiful.
When the shuttle closes for the season after Thanksgiving, guests can drive their own vehicles through the canyon for a truly unique and breathtaking experience. The shuttle does start up again in late December to help ferry holiday visitors, before closing again from January to President’s Day weekend.
Scenic Byway from Highway 9 to Mt. Carmel Junction
If you choose to visit Zion while the shuttle is in operation, don’t worry. You’ll still have a chance to take a cruise through the park in your own vehicle. There is a scenic byway that runs directly through Zion, taking travelers across the park and out the eastern side. Whether you just want to take a beautiful drive through a different part of the park, complete with some unique geology like Checkerboard Mesa, or you are taking a day trip to Bryce Canyon National Park, this scenic byway is the way to go.
The byway actually begins about 9 miles outside of St. George, where Highway 9 and Interstate 15 intersect. Take Highway 9 towards Springdale. You’ll wind through the town before finding the park’s main entrance gate (you will need to pay the entrance fee or flash your America the Beautiful or Zion annual pass to get in). From there, you’ll travel past the visitor center before veering right up a winding switchback road. Along the way, you’ll pass through the famous Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel, which is a mile in length. Be aware that traffic may be restricted to one way at a time several times a day to accommodate larger traffic like RVs or buses.
Kolob Canyon Road
Another beautiful drive through Zion National Park is located 40 miles north of the main canyon, in the Kolob Canyons section of the park. While it may be just 5-miles long, Kolob Canyon Road winds through crimson canyons, cascading waterfalls, and stunning views.
Along the road, you’ll also find access to the section’s trails. With fewer visitors making their way to the Kolob Canyon section than the rest of Zion, trails here are quiet and tranquil, making for an excellent break from visiting the park during the summer season.
If you’ve already purchased a pass to Zion for the week, an American the Beautiful annual pass, or a Zion National Park annual pass, you’ll get free entry to Kolob Canyon as well. There’s even a visitor center there, where you can talk with a ranger, pick up a map, or shop for souvenirs.
Taking a Scenic Drive in Zion National Park
Any of these scenic drives through Zion National Park are a great addition to your visit. During the summer months, they are a great way to take a break from the heat, while in the winter, a scenic drive is a great way to warm up or get to see the park when ice makes trails impassable.
But while these drives are an easy way for anyone to see the park, drivers need to practice caution and be prepared for conditions in the park. Zion’s roads twist and turn through the canyon, often with sharp drop offs at the edge of the road. When it does rain and snow, these roads may be slick, and ice can fast on the park’s bridges.
Wildlife also poses a hazard. Drivers need to be on the watch for mule deer, bighorn sheep, and other wildlife on and around the roads, and be prepared to stop quickly. In the lower canyon, people, pedestrians walking to and from trails and overlooks may cross the road both in and out of crosswalks.
If you’re looking for other beautiful drives to enjoy in Southern Utah, check out these 7 day trips less than 2 hours from Zion.