Summer Road Trip – Zion to Bryce Canyon
According to Google Maps, it only takes an hour and a half to drive from Zion to Bryce Canyon National Park. However, there are quite a few things to see along the way, so it’s worth taking your time. Read on to find out about some of the places to see along the way, showing that there is more to Utah than just the national parks.
Zion – Mt. Carmel Highway Scenic Drive
Heading out of Zion National Park and east towards Bryce Canyon takes you along the Zion – Mt. Carmel Highway Scenic Drive through the east side of the park. After some impressive switchbacks, you soon come to the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel.
This was an impressive feat of engineering for the 1920s, when it was built. They even built in windows so you can see some of the scenery from the tunnel, which is a unique feature.
It’s a bit narrow by modern standards, so if your vehicle is tall or wide (e.g an RV) you’ll need a permit, and the rangers will arrange for batches of one way traffic to facilitate the larger vehicles.
Right after you exit the tunnel there’s a parking lot on the right side of the road. Park there and walk across the road and you’ll find a short but interesting trail overlooking the canyon. Note, the first part is quite steep, and it has some uneven surfaces and steep drop-offs. It does give a different perspective than the the trails that start from the valley floor.
The next place worth stopping is probably the most impressive sight on the journey from Zion to Bryce Canyon – Checkerboard Mesa. The combination of horizontal sandstone layers, expansion and contraction of the rock and erosion has created this unique cross-hatched pattern. It’s right next to the road so it’s a quick stop to pull off and grab a picture or two.
Zion to Bryce Canyon – Wildlife
The eastern side of Zion National Park is where you can see bighorn sheep, and we were lucky enough to see a couple. One was demonstrating the agility they are famous for.
The other one we saw was attempting to answer the age-old question – why did the bighorn sheep cross the road?
Beyond Zion National Park
Once you pass the park boundary, it won’t be long before you get to Mt Carmel Junction. Grab some gas here if you’re running low before heading north towards Bryce Canyon. After a little more than forty miles of fairly uninspiring highway, you’ll turn right onto another one of Utah’s scenic roads, Scenic Byway 12.
One more place worth a stop before you get to Bryce Canyon is the Red Canyon area of the Dixie National Forest. It’s worth a stop at the visitor center for a quick hike. We had bright sunshine and blue skies on the day we were there, which showed off the vibrant colors of the canyon walls. As a bonus, there is no entry fee, so it’s definitely worth a stop if you have the time.
You even get to drive through another “tunnel” (although you won’t be impressed after experiencing the Zion – Mt Carmel Tunnel).
Arrival at Bryce Canyon National Park
Soon after Red Canyon you’ll reach the turnoff to Bryce Canyon National Park and your Zion to Bryce Canyon journey will almost be complete. Before you get to the park entrance you’ll pass through to a small community (a lodge, some souvenir shops and hotels). We stopped here for lunch at the Canyon Diner. I recommend that you don’t do this, the food is much better at the lodge in the park. Wait until you get there if you can hold out.
Check out our next post to read about our visit to Bryce Canyon National Park!