Who doesn’t love to take a good road trip now and then? The anticipation of seeing what may be around the next turn can be addicting. And some of the best places to take a drive is through a national park. They all offer beautiful landscape that is often able to be viewed from lookout points on or near the road, unique flora and fauna, and memories that will last a lifetime. We might be a little biased, but we think that Zion National Park is one of the best places for a scenic drive.
Photo Credit: Zion National Park, Utah.
The most popular route to take for a southern Utah scenic drive is Highway-9. This byway is about 54 miles in length and can be driven as part of a loop, either taking you north and coming down over Cedar Mountain, or going south through Kanab, Utah and Fredonia, Arizona.
Photo Credit: Gunther Hagleitner on flickr
The different sections of the byway are known by different names depending on where you are at. The section that cuts through the heart of Zion National Park is known as the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. It is about 10 miles and takes you from the east entrance of Zion to Mt. Carmel, where it connects to Highway-89. The road is full of switchbacks and sweeping views, waterfalls during the rainy season, numerous lookout points, and takes you past some of its more popular landmarks, such as Checkerboard Mesa. Checkerboard Mesa was created by years and years of freezing and thawing, which caused vertical cracks in the rock. Wind and rain has helped to accent the horizontal lines and the two combined creates the “checkerboard” appearance.
Photo by Don Gilman
There are two tunnels along Highway 9, one being just over 1 mile long! While there are no pull-offs or lookouts while in the tunnel, there are windows that allow you to still look out over the parks vast canyons.
Keep in mind that these tunnels were built back in the 20’s when vehicles were much smaller. If you have a larger vehicle (such as an RV) you may be required to get an escort through the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel, because traffic has to be stopped in order for you to go through.
The road runs along the Virgin River in many areas and cuts through a cute little town called Rockville. Near Rockville is the ghost town, Grafton, which was featured in the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” This makes it a must-see photo stop!
Once you hit I-15, whether you are traveling north or south, there is a lesser known part of the Zion National Park that is located right off the freeway and is about halfway between Cedar City and St. George Utah. Kolob Canyon has two amazing different roads, Kolob Canyon and Kolob Terrace Road, that offer breathtaking scenery as well. From start to finish it is hard to say how long the drive will take, as it completely depends on how many stops you make to admire the scenery. Our advice would be to be prepared to spend some time so that you don’t miss any of the beauty!