If you’re planning a trip to Zion National Park, you’ve probably heard a lot about heavy traffic, shuttle transport and general concerns about getting around. That might have you wondering if it’s even possible to see Zion by car.
Well there’s good news for your road trip playlist and budding trucker’s tan: you are allowed to drive through Zion National Park! At least, most of it. Most of the time. Confused? We’ve got you covered.
The reason people might be unsure about driving in Zion National Park is because Zion Canyon, the road to the park's most popular hikes like Angels Landing and the Narrows, is closed to passenger cars for most of the year. From March through November (except the week of Christmas), you can only access Zion Canyon via shuttle or bike.
If you’d like to see Zion Canyon from behind your own steering wheel (and not a stranger’s head), visit in the off-season. Not only will you be able to drive right up to popular trailheads, but you’ll also enjoy cooler temps, smaller crowds and the possibility of catching the always mesmerizing sight of snow on red rock.
If you’re visiting between March and November (and statistically, you are), you can get on the Zion Canyon shuttle from the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. The shuttle is free and doesn’t require any reservations. Shuttles stop at all of the canyon’s popular trailheads, and leave about every 5-10 minutes, so you shouldn’t have to wait too long to catch one. Of course, the view from inside a shuttle isn’t quite as romantic as from the driver’s side window, but we’re betting you’ll forget all about that the second you hit the trail.
Outside of Zion Canyon, any park road that’s open during your visit is driveable. Zion’s main road, state Route 9, travels from the park's east entrance to the town of Springdale, where you’ll find most of the area’s lodging and services.
Lots of folks decide to stay in Springdale, and if you flew in from Las Vegas the nearby west entrance is the obvious way to enter the park. But if you want your drive through Zion to take your breath away even more than it normally would, the park’s east entrance offers the most show-stopping introduction.
From the entrance gate, you’ll travel about five miles before reaching the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, which is about 1.1 miles long. After traveling through the dark for a few minutes (with some sneak previews of the view to the sides), you’ll emerge to a sweeping view of the red-rock cliffs above and around you and the canyon floor 800 feet below. It’s a once-in-a lifetime view, that’s only made better by the build-up in the tunnel.
If you want to take the road less traveled (literally), make your way north of Zion Canyon to the Kolob Canyons district of the park. Tucked away in the northwest corner of Zion (aka the quiet corner), this under-the-radar drive will have you over the moon with incredible views and quieter crowds. It’s one of the most unique areas of the park, and one that most don’t make the time for. Here you’ll see rising and falling peaks of Navajo sandstone, along with some of both the oldest and youngest rock in the park. It’s also your best chance at some peace and quiet in the busy months.
The Kolob Canyons district is home to over 20 miles of hiking trails, but the scenic drive does a pretty dang good job of showing you the highlights. The road traverses a rising ridgeline, climbing 1,000 feet in elevation before reaching its turnaround point — the Timber Creek Overlook. Here you’ll get a panoramic view of the district that’ll have you saying “Narrows, shmarrows.”
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