Zion National Park – Drive Through the Park Road


What? :

Zion is one of the most iconic national parks of the US.

There are many things to see, visit and explore at the park. The main "attraction" in the park is visiting the central Virgin River Canyon, see the huge red-pink colored mountains towering above you on both sides of the main road. Here, in this canyon you will have the opportunity to hike some of the best trails in the US.


I wrote other blogs describing my visit to Zion National Park, what to do in the park and how to arrange your visit here.


In this blog I will describe the drive through the park on highway 9, from west to east. This is something we did during our April 2024 visit when we did not have the time for a “proper” visit here.



Where? :

The large park is in the southwest part of Utah,

The park is located 3 hours north of Las-Vegas, less than an hour drive east off of highway I-15.

The town of Springdale is located just on the park west entrance on highway 9.

Highway 9 cross the park west east and it is open all year to traffic.

From the east park entrance, it is about 1.5-hour drive north to get to Bryce National Park and 35 minutes’ drive south to the town of Kanab, Utah.


Google Map Link



When? :

The park is open year-round.

This is a very popular park and 70 percent of visitors come between April and September so if you can plan your visit to less crowded time, it is highly recommended.

Summer is hot, especially mid-day. July to September are the monsoon season that can bring heavy rain. Be aware of flash floods warning and trail closures.

Winter are cold and rainy, and you may have snow accumulation the high elevation. Some of the trails may be closed depending on weather conditions.




Due note 1: This is a national park, so your America the Great year pass is in effect here. The park $35 per vehicle entrance fee is good for 7 days.


Due note 2: There is a large visitor center just at the west park entrance. Zion Canyon Visitor Center is open year-round. Here is also the Zion Canyon shuttle bus stop.


Due note 3: When hiking always remember to bring plenty of water, sunscreen & hat, maps, insect repellent and good footwear.


Due note 4: Pets are not permitted on trails.


Due note 5: At most of the year months you can't drive into the main Zion Canyon road - you do have free shuttle service starting from the park visitor center, located near the southwest entrance. Always look in advance at the park website, check for shuttle arrangements and open of locations/trails.


Due note 6: Some of the trails need special permit (like: Subway, and the last section of Angels Landing hike), some are close because of seasonal flooding, rock instability, check in advance.


Due note 7: Permits: You do not need a permit or reservation to enter the park or to visit most areas in Zion Canyon. No need a permit or reservation to ride a park shuttle. You do not need a permit to hike the Narrows from the Temple of Sinawava going upstream in the Virgin River. Hiking to Scout Lookout do not need a permit but everyone who hikes up to Angels Landing needs to have a permit. You should get your permit through the park website. You do need Wilderness Permits for hiking the Left Fork of North Creek (Subway).


Due note 8: There one large campgrounds near the visitor center.


Due note 9: Backcountry camping must have a wilderness permit that can be reserve online at recreation.gov or in-person at the Zion visitor centers.


Due note 10:  This is a VERY popular park so try to arrive early morning to get the shuttle in or late at the afternoon, another option is to use bike to get to the different trail head spots. During late morning (after 9am) the park visitor center parking lot can get full so you will need to park your car at Springdale and take a shuttle into the park, thing that add a lot of time, come early and park near the visitor center.


Due Note 11:  For most of the year the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is open to shuttle buses only. Private vehicles are not allowed on the Scenic Drive beyond Canyon Junction during the shuttle bus season. All shuttle bus start and end at Zion Canyon Visitor Center. Please check the exact time of the first/last bus going into the canyon, and the last bus out of the canyon from Temple of Sinawava out of the canyon to the visitor center.


Due Note 12:  The buses have room for backpacks, climbing gear, and normal bicycles (E-Bikes do not fit). While in Zion Canyon you may get on and off the shuttle as often as you like. Only service dogs are permitted on the shuttles. If you have accessibility needs, please speak to a ranger at the Visitor Center.


Due note 13: Gas stations can be found in the town of Springdale, or at the east side of the park at Mount Carmel Junction (highway 89).


Due Note 14: You can find hotels at the town of Springdale located just at the park entrance (there is a shuttle from the town main road into the park visitor center) or at the east side of the park at the small town of Kanab, Utah. If Bryce Canon National Park is your next destination than I recommend staying at Bryce Canyon City (1.5 hours’ drive).




My thoughts:

One of the best US National Parks, amazing views of the red canyon walls and the white cap mountains above. This park has the two of the most iconic hikes in the US: The Narrows and Angels Landing.

I see it as a must visit park, even if this is only for one-day visit.

If you are coming early take the shuttle and do one hike in the main canyon, or you just drive through highway 9 crossing the park, enjoy the view, stop on the way for inspiration views.

During this visit to the park (April 2024) we started our day late and made a short visit in small Grafton Ghost Town on our way to the park. We arrive late, around mid-day and we had only 2 hours to drive through the park.

We drive through the park, stop at several viewing points, and did a short hike in the east side of the park.



The Drive:


As Utah’s first national Park, Zion National Park offers many outdoor activities as: hiking, camping, backpacking, climbing, and more, making it as a popular summer vacation spot for all.

The park cover 232 square miles of sandstone canyons, creeks, soaring cliffs, and mountain wilderness.

The 7-mile-long road that enter Zion Canyon is probably the park highlight and the starting point for many hikes.

If you are short in time or do not want to take the shuttle bus getting into that road you can still enjoy your park visit, just by driving along the park main road that cross it west to east.


In the description below I will share our few hours experience driving through the park.

We start around 11am, at this time all the parking lots in Zion were already full and people had to park at the town of Springdale and take a local shuttle to the visitor center.


Because we visit this park several time in the past we decided to directly drive into the park and skip the visitor center. We look for parking spots along the road or near the Zion Human History Museum, unfortunately also this small parking lot was also full.


We drive pass the left turn into Zion Canyon Rd, that is allowed to shuttle traffic only.


If you can find parking near the pine Creek crossing it is recommended.

There is a small trail that is getting into the creek.


From this point the road start to climb the side canyon cliffs with several large switchbacks. 

As you are driving up there are several side road parking lots with strategic viewing points.

Find an open parking spot and stop.

From many of the viewing points you can enjoy the panoramic view of the 2,000 ft red cliffs and white mountain caps on the other side of the canyon.


After few more switchbacks and viewing point, you will reach the tunnel.


When approaching the tunnel be aware of your surroundings and slow down. Watch for tunnel rangers, pedestrians, and other traffic.

When we came here there was a 20-minute line of cars waiting before the west entrance.


Zion–Mt. Carmel Tunnel:

Few points regarding the tunnel that connects Zion Canyon to the east side of the park, highway 9.

The 1.1-mile-long tunnel was built in the 1920s when large vehicles were less common.

Nearly all RVs, buses, trailers, fifth-wheels, dual-wheel trucks, campers, and large boats require one-way traffic control. Oversize vehicle drivers MUST pay $15 per vehicle (includes two tunnel passthroughs within 7 days). Do not drive a large, oversize vehicle through the tunnel when rangers are not present to manage traffic (8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m).

Rangers will stop oncoming traffic so that you may drive down the center of the road in the tunnel.

Do expect long traffic line when one-way drive is enforced, this can add 30 minutes waiting to your drive.

Please DO NOT STOP in the tunnel.

No vehicles over 13 feet 1 inch (4m) tall.

No bicyclists or pedestrians are allowed in the tunnel !

After passing the long tunnel you will get into the east side of the park.

This side of the park is the high elevation section of the park (mountain peak of above 8,500 ft), the tunnel east elevation is about 1,500 ft above the canyon floor.

After the tunnel rode 9 is travel for about 5.5 miles through the beautiful east park slickrock mountains formations and drainages, following local creeks cutting through the sandstone layers.


When you exit the tunnel east entrance you will arrive to Zion east and higher elevation section of the park.

There are several trails in the upper East Canyon, all trailheads are starting at the different pullout parking along the road.


The most popular hike here is the trail to Pine Creek Canyon Overlook.

This is 1-mile easy out and back hike that led to incredible viewing point at the end of the trail.

The main “problem” with this hike is that the very small parking lot and roadside parking is VERY limited in this spot. You do not have place to park when you are getting out of the tunnel or approach it when driving west. You need to park on far parking spots and walk on the busy road to the trailhead.

We did this hike few years back, so we skip it at this trip.


We did not manage to find any parking lot near the trailhead, so we decided to hike the Clear Creek trail that follows Route 9.

We parked and went down to the creek, but soon after crossing the tunnel below the road we were blocked by a pool of deep water that prevent us to progress into the creek canyon.

Just not to feel we did not hike at all, instead of walking back to the car we went from the same trailhead and hiked a 1-mile section up into pine creek, out and back.


Along the drive the roadside pullouts provide many opportunities to stop and enjoy the scenic view from all sides.


On the far east of the road, just before exiting the park, you should stop on the large roadside parking on the left side of the road and see Checkerboard Mesa.


From this point it is a short drive to the park east entrance.









Additional Pictures: