Road Trip, Baby: Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks

National Parks — By NileGuide staff on July 14, 2009 at 8:29 am

Whatever your thoughts about fossil fuels and the (over)abundance of cars on the tarmac, this simple fact remains: we are soooo infatuated with road trips! And let me tell you, Bryce and Zion National Parks are smack in the middle of the most beautiful drives you can cruise along.

As you head toward Zion from Vegas (home of the most common fly-in airport for this trip), you’ll pass through Springdale, the Park’s gateway town. If you’re not staying in town itself, stop! Or at least check it out later in the evening if you arrived early. Springdale is full of little cafés like locals’ fave The Mean Bean, hot spots such as the popular beer garden at Zion Pizza & Noodle (get a reservation if you want to be seated on a summer weekend night, including Sunday), or Oscar’s Deli (seriously good sandwiches).

In the Park itself, remember that cars just aren’t allowed on the Zion Scenic Drive in the peak months (usually April-November)–you’ve got to take the Zion Shuttle, which is totally free, clean-running, and includes six stops in Springdale. But, since we’re on a road trip here, after you’ve checked out the best parts of the Park (including Angels Landing, the Emerald Pools, and the Zion Narrows), you’ll zip up toward the east entrance of the Park, taking in the grandeur of the place. Honk as you go through the tunnel!

Now you’re rolling along the Zion-Mt.Carmel Highway, taking in such gorgeous sights as the Checkerboard Mesa. When you take a right (east) on to Highway 12 (an American Scenic Byway), look for hoodoos as you pass nearby Red Canyon, a spectacular little gem run by the Dixie Forest Service that will give you a taste of what’s to come: the incomparable Bryce Canyon National Park.

Bryce also has a seasonal shuttle system, but it doesn’t go to all the stops in the Park—you can drive yourself down to the southernmost Rainbow Point to ooh & aah. If you hit Bryce during the summer, check out the lunar calendar beforehand so you can take advantage of one of the popular ranger-led Full Moon Hikes. Happening more frequently are the highly-regarded Astronomy Programs, in which you can practically reach out and touch the stars in the amazingly clear night skies. If you want to see Bryce without working too hard yourself, go ride a horse with Canyon Trail Rides. They’ll take you on the back of a trusty steed along the very cool Peekaboo Loop, which can also be hiked on foot.

The one drawback to your road trip when you reach Bryce is the lack of great food in the totally rural remoteness at its entrance. Bring your own grub, or be prepared for possibly less-than-stellar cuisine. (But if you’re down with diner food, you’ve reached nirvana.) Do, however, take a bite of the scrummy pie at Bryce Canyon Pines.

This road trip can keep going…but that’s another post for another time! You’ve got plenty to check out by now. Happy driving.

Road trip photo courtesy of flat-black 66/Creative Commons,
Rainbow Point Photo courtesy of Alex1961/Creative Commons,
Zion Tunnel photo courtesy of Paraflyer/Creative Commons.
Tags: astronomy program, Bryce National Park, full moon hike, pie, road trip, Zion National Park, zion scenic drive, zion shuttle


  • Road Trip Ready says:

    Good stuff. We passed through St. George on our epic road trip a few years ago, but we didn’t check out Bryce or Zion. Opted instead to snake along the Utah-Arizona border as we traveled towards Kayenta, Arizona. Anyway, the red rock in St. George was dazzling. It’s hard to believe anyone actually lives somewhere that pretty.

  • Donna Hull says:

    Love those road trips! Thanks for reminding me that I’m overdue for a visit to Zion and Bryce. Continue on to Escalante for more of an off-the-beaten-path adventure.

  • Julie Trevelyan says:

    Oh, if you missed Bryce & Zion, you are due for a return visit! The red rock by St. George, while pretty, has nothing on these two parks.

    And yes, Escalante is fabulous as well. Next destination spot… All of southern Utah is amazing, of course. Which is why I chose it as my home ten years ago and haven’t managed to leave yet. There’s always something new to explore, and I love that.

    Thanks for commenting. 🙂


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