Top Ten Scenic Drives in the United States

West: Geological Wonderland: Zion National Park Scenic Byway, Utah
  |  Gorp.com

From St. George head east to Zion National Park and Zion Canyon, the Utah rock carved into fantastic shapes by erosion and richly colored by iron and manganese. Inside the canyon a free bus—mandatory to combat overuse and overcrowding of the park's most popular destination—shuttles down Zion Canyon Scenic Drive; the North Fork of the Virgin River cut Zion's soft sandstone into the canyon it is today, with 2,000- and 3,000-foot-high cliffs. At the drive's end, visitors can hike the Narrows—a twenty-foot-wide passage between the cliffs—by wading through the river.

Heading east from the canyon, the byway switchbacks up steep plateaus and passes by the Great Arch, cut from the sandstone by erosion. The road continues through the mountainside via the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel; at points along the tunnel, natural windows in the rock allow drivers to peer out across the canyon. After the tunnel the highway runs past the Canyon Overlook trailhead and the Pine Creek narrows—long ropes and climbing experience are required to explore this deep slot canyon. From here to Mount Carmel Junction, the highway curves past sand dunes, slickrock, and the crisscrossed sandstone of Checkerboard Mesa.

Just the Facts

Route: East from St. George to Zion National Park. Guided bus ride (closed to all private vehicles in summer) through Zion Canyon. Drive continues to Mount Carmel Junction.

Length: 54 miles (half a day)

Season: April through October

Features and activities: Hiking past waterfalls and hanging gardens on the Emerald Pools trail. Climbing up to Angels Landing (5,990 feet; not for acrophobes). Horse and mule rides through the canyon. Plant and wildlife viewing (800 native species).

More Zion Scenic Drives

More Utah scenic drives

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Check out three Zion backcountry hikes


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