You can’t always drive into Zion Canyon. For most of the year, from the end of March until mid-November, the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is restricted to the park’s shuttle buses. During the winter, however, you have the freedom to drive in, stop where you want, and see a few places that are harder to reach during the rest of the year.
I’ve ridden the park shuttle into Zion Canyon so many times that I can recite parts of its audio-taped tour from memory. It’s not a bad way to see the park, and it does cut down on congestion (which would be terrible in the busy season, if everyone was driving their own vehicle). But, I’m always glad when I have the opportunity to drive myself into the canyon.
During my visit in March, 2013, the road was still open — but just for one more week. I think it’s the perfect time to visit the park. Winter is over, temperatures are moderate, skies are blue, and trees are just starting to sprout new green leaves. Best of all, the crowds haven’t arrived yet.
I set up the Drivelapse camera on my dashboard, and set out from Springdale, into the park and up the canyon. Watch the video, or scroll on down for a few highlights.
There are plenty of places to stop and hike, as you drive through the canyon. I’d recommend Angels Landing, Observation Point, Hidden Canyon, Emerald Pools, and the river walk into the Narrows — and that isn’t even a complete list. Check out the Guide to Zion for more ideas.
As you saw in the video, the drive itself is a treat. In places, you’ll pass below steep, sheer cliffs, like this one, where a new arch is starting to form.
I stopped near that wanna-be arch, along the Virgin River, to admire the Great White Throne. There are dozens of peaks in the area, but the Throne really stands out, with its white sandstone and towering cliff face.
Cable Mountain is also viewable from the riverbank. It received its name, from the early timber operation that helped build the buildings in Zion Canyon. At the top of Cable Mountain, still visible (but not in this picture), there’s an old framework that was used to run a cable from the mountaintop to the valley floor. Trees were cut at the top, then lowered by cable into the canyon.
Menu Falls is also worth a brief stop, as you tour the canyon. This almost-hidden spot is easy to pass up — it’s in between bus stops, and there’s no sign along the road. I’ve included more information on Menu Falls on this page.
Zion is one of my favorite destinations, and the drive through Zion Canyon never ceases to make me ooh and ahh, while straining my neck to see my surroundings. Plan to spend several days in Zion National Park, if you can. And if you can’t, you’ll still be able to enjoy its majesty (and you’ll instantly start planning your next visit).
Zion National Park is located in southern Utah, east of Interstate 15, on Utah Highway 9. The nearest town is Springdale, on the park’s southwest side, and the nearest sizeable city is St. George, about an hour away.
To drive into Zion Canyon, enter the park at Springdale, and follow U-9 to Canyon Junction. If the road is open to private vehicles, turn left here. If not, drive back to the visitor center and hop on a shuttle.