1 Upper East Canyon Scenic Drive
If you come during the busy season and want to do a scenic drive, then we recommend driving to the East Canyon zone of Zion. You will take the historic Zion-Mt Carmel Highway (SR-9) through the famous 1.1-mile tunnel built by the C.C.C. in 1930, the longest such tunnel in the U.S. when constructed.
There are many incredible vistas to be seen in this section of the park highlighted by the Checkerboard Mesa and numerous scenic side canyons. Also on this route is the Canyon Overlook Trail that begins immediately as you come out on the east side of the big tunnel.
Take time to enjoy this scenic drive to the East Canyon zone: get out of the car, explore the many beautiful side canyons; gaze at the majestic mountain peaks, view the desert bighorn sheep that thrive in this section of the park. Do the 1-mile Canyon Overlook Trail or the Many Pools Trail for a welcome stretch of the legs—both hikes are short.
Added bonus: The crowds are light here. Also, this area of the park has the best bighorn sheep viewing—we see the bighorns nearly every time we visit the East Canyon. This zone of the park is underrated—it contains some of the most scenic sandstone peaks and canyons found anywhere on earth. We highly recommend visiting the East Canyon— nobody comes away from visiting this area disappointed.
2 Zion Canyon Scenic Drive
If you are fortunate enough to visit in the winter season, you can skip the shuttle and just drive directly up the main canyon on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive route. It is awesome to do this drive in the main canyon when you can drive your own vehicle and stop where you may. If you can get lucky enough to be here after a big rainstorm, you can see up to 25+ waterfalls that materialize from the canyon walls and fall hundreds of feet (and then disappear within a day or two). This display is mesmerizing.
3 The Kolob Terrace Road Scenic Drive
The Kolob Terrace Road accesses the upper and lower Kolob Plateau. Although rarely visited compared to the main Zion Canyon, this section of the park is extremely beautiful and showcases some of the most stunning scenery in Southern Utah. This zone of the park is a good option if you are looking to escape the crowds. A suggestion on what time of day for this drive: head up in the evening and you will be rewarded with some of the best views in Zion. It looks surreal with the sun hitting the mountains on the Kolob Terrace plateau — we have seen late evening alpenglow on the mountains here that rival any views seen in the desert southwest.
If you have time, drive all the way up to Kolob Reservoir, at nearly 9,000 feet in elevation. This alpine lake offers a pleasant contrast to the desert climate in Zion Canyon. The Kolob reservoir outlet is Kolob Creek, which drains into the Zion Narrows and offers hard-core canyoneering for those with the proper training and gear.
The Kolob Terrace Road zone is how you access many great hikes such as the world-famous Subway, the West Rim Trail (top-down route), and Northgate Peaks Trail.
The Northgate Peaks Trail is a great diversion to stop and hike while on this drive. You access this hike at the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead. The Northgate Peaks Trail is an out-and-back hike — so you may make it very short — or go the full 4 miles round trip. This hike is extremely flat and easy. The hike sits high above Zion Canyon at 7,000 feet above sea level, which makes for cooler temperatures. There are no crowds here.
The Northgate Peaks trail goes through majestic ponderosa pines and open meadows as well as offering sneak peeks into remote, wild canyons. The trail ends with a beautiful vista of the Northgate Peaks. This is a relaxed hike that is perfect for families. It is a great hike to do in the cool of the evening and make it back to your car just before nightfall.
4 Kolob Canyon Scenic Drive
Take a 45-minute drive from LaFave to see the rarely-visited Kolob Canyons zone. The Kolob Canyons section of Zion National Park is located at Exit 40 on Interstate 15. This zone features some extremely dramatic vistas. There is a small visitor’s center at the entrance of the canyon that has a few exhibits and features a small bookstore.
A five-mile scenic drive rising 1,000 feet along the Kolob Canyons Road allows visitors to view the crimson canyons and gain access to various trails and scenic viewpoints. Here in the northwest corner of the park, narrow parallel box canyons are cut into the western edge of the Colorado Plateau, forming majestic peaks and 2,000 foot cliff walls. The scenic road offers great views of the panoramic landscape.
The Kolob Canyons truly are a unique area of Zion National Park, with soaring peaks of Navajo sandstone, canyon streams and cascading falls, and over 20 miles of hiking trails.
Some of the prominent hikes that begin in this section: Timber Creek Overlook trail (1 mile), Taylor Creek Trail (5 miles), and the 14-mile Kolob Arch Trail — at 310 feet, it’s the second largest arch in the world.