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Can You Drive In Zion National Park? (What You Need to Know)

How to use the Zion Shuttle System

Zion National Park is a major tourist destination in Utah, and for good reason. The towering red rocks with the virgin river running through them paint an incredible backdrop to some of Utah’s most well-known trails and scenic overlooks.

One question that comes up often is, “Can you drive in Zion National Park?”

With some exceptions, vehicles are not allowed in Zion Canyon during the busy season – you must use the shuttle, ride a bike, or walk. From November until early spring, Zion Canyon is usually open to vehicles. ALL OTHER sections of the park, including Kolob Canyons, Kolob Terrace Road, and Highway 9 are open to vehicles year-round.

Our family has spent many hours hiking and driving through Zion National Park and it has quickly become one of our favorite National Parks.

Zion Canyon Overlook Trail

Keep reading because I will break down everything you need to know about driving through Zion National Park and all the must-stops along the way!

There are four roads

Driving Highway 9 in Zion National Park

There are four main roads in the park:

  • Zion Scenic Drive
  • Highway 9, also called the Zion-Mount Carmel Road
  • Kolob Terrace Road
  • Kolob Canyons Road

Let’s take a closer look into each of these roads, and what you can expect driving them. Including must-stop spots along the way!

The four roads of Zion

Zion Scenic Drive

Kayenta Trail Zion National Park

Zion Scenic Drive is by far the most visited part of Zion National Park, and it’s no wonder, with Angels Landing and The Narrows being only two of the amazing trails featured along this section of the park!

The Zion Scenic Drive takes you through the most famous spots in Zion National Park with stops for Angels Landing, The Narrows, Emerald Pools, and more.

Due to its popularity and multiple hiking trails, this part of the park is mostly accessed through a shuttle system. Other times, when shuttles are not running, Zion Scenic Drive is open for the public to drive on. Be aware that the pullouts and parking lots for hikes along this route fill up quickly and you may want to plan to arrive early.

When is the road open?

This road is open year-round, but most of the year is only accessible through shuttles. However November through March (most years), you are able to drive your personal vehicles up this road when the shuttles are not running.

The Shuttles

The shuttles are free to use and access and do not require any tickets or reservations. Most years shuttles run from March through November. They run only on weekends throughout most of November, February & March, and during the Holiday season in December.

When shuttles are running they take guests from the Zion Visitor’s Center up Zion Scenic Drive and make stops at the 9 shuttle stops along Zion Scenic Drive.

Learn more about how to use the Zion shuttle system and what to expect at the shuttle stops in Zion Canyon.

Zion Scenic Drive Shuttle Stops

Exceptions

Some vehicles are allowed on the Zion Scenic Drive even during the busy season:

  • Those staying at the Zion Lodge can drive into the canyon and park at the lodge. They cannot drive any further.
  • Those doing a horseback ride can drive into the canyon to the horseback trailhead. They cannot park here for the day; they must move their vehicles when the ride is over.

See below for more about the Zion Lodge & the horseback rides.

Speed Limit

When the shuttles are NOT running and you are able to drive Zion Scenic Drive, be aware that the speed limit is posted at 35 mph.

Zion Lodge

Located at stop 5 on the Zion Scenic Drive is the Zion Lodge. This is the only lodging option located inside Zion National Park. Here you can book overnight stays, as well as enjoy meals in between hiking through the park.

Grab a coffee & cinnamon bun or hot dog & fries at Castle Dome Cafe, which is open seasonally at Zion Lodge. Or sit down to a steak dinner at Red Rock Grill, open year-round, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Horseback Rides

Looking to explore Zion National Park in a new and memorable way? Experience the park on horseback.

Book your 1-hour or 3-hour guided horseback ride from March through October with Canyon Rides.

Bikers

Want to bike Zion Scenic Drive instead of riding the shuttle or driving? Bicycle year-round on both Zion Scenic Drive and the Pa’rus trail. Groups are limited to 6 people per group and must ride on the right side of the road in a single file line.

Note: shuttles have the right-away; bikers must move off the shoulder of the road to allow shuttles to pass.

You can also take your bike with you on the shuttles, as long as you can lift it on and off the bicycle rack by yourself.

Walking

It is possible to walk into the canyon, but the Scenic Road is 8 miles long. Some people walk it involuntarily: if you miss the last shuttle back to the visitor center, you have to walk out of the canyon!

Highway 9: The Zion-Mount Carmel Road

Canyon Overlook Trail Zion National Park

Highway 9 is a 14-mile stretch of road that goes through Zion National Park and connects the East side of the park to Zion Scenic Drive and Kolob Terrace Road.

You are able to drive this route freely throughout the year.

Many tourists drive this route every year to experience the marvel of the Mt. Carmel Tunnel which stretches for just over a mile, and when entering from the East side of the park, spits you out of the tunnel with incredible sweeping views of Zion.

Switchbacks

This highway boasts incredible views of Zion National Park and features six switchbacks as you travel from the East side of the park to where Zion scenic drive and the visitors center is located. The switchbacks are found as you exit the Mt. Carmel tunnel heading towards Zion Scenic Drive.

Mt. Carmel Tunnel (Need Permit if in RV)

Mt. Carmel Tunnel is a feat of engineering and was built between 1920-1930. Stretching for 1.1 miles, and dropping you into Zion canyon with incredible sweeping views.

When approaching the tunnel, you will usually be brought to a stop. When oversized vehicles such as large RVs or trucks drive through the tunnel, only one lane of traffic is allowed because the RVs have to drive in the middle of the road to fit through the tunnel.

These oversized vehicles need to pay a $15 tunnel permit in advance and show the permit to the ranger stationed at the tunnel. They can only drive through the tunnel during hours when rangers are present.

Information on when rangers are present can be found on the Zion National Park Website, along with more information about permits.

Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep can be found inside Zion National Park, and are usually spotted between the East Entrance and Mt. Carmel Tunnel.

Lambs can be spotted from mid-January through April, and mating season takes place from July to October. During this time rams can be seen battling each other by clashing their horns together.

Drive carefully, watch for wildlife and use pullouts to view the sheep. As always, be careful and keep your distance, and never feed the wildlife.

Speed Limit

Zion National Park has a speed limit of 35 miles per hour, unless otherwise posted.

Fun Stops

Must stops along Highway 9 inside Zion National Park include:

  • Canyon Overlook Trail: This 1-mile trail features footbridges, steep drop-offs and incredible views of the entire canyon. It is often referred to as a mini Angels Landing due to the stunning views it offers! This trail is doable for families, but kids will need to be watched closely, as there are many drop-offs.
  • Checkerboard Mesa: This Mesa is an iconic feature of Zion and can be a stop where you jump out for a quick photo, or you can choose to hike some of the backcountry trails along these stops. This is one of the great things to do in Zion with kids.

See the road before you go

To see what this spectacular drive is like, watch our video about it!

Bryce Canyon

If you’re visiting Bryce Canyon you can get there a few ways, one of which is on Highway 9. There are some cool sites to see between Zion and Bryce as well.

Kolob Terrace Road

Kolob Terrace Road (also known as Kolob Reservoir Road), stretches for 25 miles and brings you through a part of Zion National Park that is significantly less popular than Zion Scenic Drive but has equally stunning views as the rest of the National Park.

You are able to drive this road throughout the year, when not closed due to snow.

Leave the desert behind and climb up to over 8,000 feet in elevation up the Kolob Plateau. With trailheads for the famous Subway hike and West Rim Trail.

This road offers incredible views with fewer crowds.

Where It Is

To access Kolob Terrace Road, leave Zion National Park South Entrance on highway 9 towards Virgin, Utah. Shortly after entering Virgin, Utah you will see a sign for the turn-off for Kolob Terrace Road. Take this turn-off to access this section of Zion National Park.

No Ranger Booth

There is no ranger booth located along Kolob Terrace Road.

What to Expect

Kolob Terrace Road is a primitive area and has no services. Come prepared with your own water and all the gear you need for your hikes, along with emergency supplies in case of a breakdown.

There are some pit toilets located along this road, however. They can be found at Hop Valley Trailhead, Wildcat Canyon Trailhead, and Lava Point Campground.

If you are on the trail, make sure to pack out ALL your garbage and bathroom waste.

To protect the wilderness, group sizes for this area are limited to 12 people or less, and no pets are allowed.

Fun Stops

Kolob Terrace Road features some amazing trails and stops:

  • Hop Valley Trail: 13 miles with incredible views of hop valley, with towering rock walls.
  • Wildcat Canyon Trail: 5.8 miles featuring views of Northgate Peaks and Wildcat Canyon.
  • Northgate Peaks Trail: 4.2 miles featuring quaking aspens and views of Northgate Peaks, Guardian Angels, and more.
  • West Rim Trail via Lava Point: 19 miles, featuring views of Wildcat Canyon, Potato Hollow, Phantom Valley, and more. You can take this trail all the way down into the Grotto (stop 5 along Zion Scenic Drive).

Kolob Canyons Road

Kolob Canyons

Kolob Canyons is an incredibly beautiful part of Zion National Park and features many trailheads and incredible red rock views along the 5-mile scenic drive.

This section of the park can close due to snow and ice, but through most of the year this road is open and you can freely drive it.

Kolob Canyons features towering sandstone peaks, streams, and incredible waterfalls.

Where It Is

Located at Exit 40 off of I-15, 40 miles North of Zion Canyon and 17 miles South of Cedar City. Here you will see a Visitors Center and entrance to Kolob Canyons.

Ranger Booth

There is a Ranger Booth located at the entrance to Kolob Canyons where you will need to pay a fee to access the park or show your park pass.

What It Is

Kolob Canyons is a 5-mile section of beautiful Zion wilderness. With towering sandstone peaks, beautiful streams, and amazing waterfalls.

Groups of 12 or more are only permitted to hike on the Timber Creek Overlook Trail, in order to preserve the wilderness in this section of Zion National Park

Kolob Canyons can close in the winter due to snow, so be sure to check conditions before visiting.

Use the restroom and fill your water bottles at the visitor’s center. Pit toilets can be found at Taylor Creek Trailhead, South Fork Parking Lot, and Kolob Canyons Viewpoint.

Fun Stops

This road features three different trailheads, offering adventure for those who are willing to hike:

  • Timber Creek Overlook Trail: 1-mile trail, featuring views of Kolob Canyons, Kolob Terrace, and Pine Valley Mountains
  • Taylor Creek Trail: 5 miles, featuring a narrow box canyon, Kanarraville Fold, old homesteading cabins, and arriving at Double Arch Alcove.
  • La Verkin Creek Trail: 14 miles, featuring views of Kolob Canyons, Timber Creek, and Kolob Arch.

Driving Through The Park

Views Coming Out of the Mt. Carmel Tunnel

Driving through Zion National Park is a truly unique and incredible experience. Each section of the park is worth a visit and some exploration.

Do I need to buy a Parks Pass to drive through Zion?

With the exception of Kolob Terrace Road, you must purchase or show a pass to enter or drive through Zion (such as on Highway 9). They offer daily, weekly, and yearly park passes. The America the Beautiful pass covers entry to all national parks for a year and also works to get you through the ranger booths.

Can I drive through Zion without a reservation?

Yes, Zion National Park does not require reservations for park entry or shuttle service.

  • There are other things you might need reservations for! Read to find out what those are.

Road Closures

Kayenta Trail Zion National Park

While Zion National Park is open year-round, it can experience road closures for various reasons.

Rock Slides

Rock slides are an unfortunate occurrence in Zion National Park. They happen quite often in this ever-changing park.

Keep an eye out on the Zion National Park website for any road closures due to rock slides prior to your visit.

Snow

snow covered peaks

Every year snowy conditions close Kolob Canyons and Kolob Terrace Road in the winter months. Check the park website for snow conditions and road closures in these areas prior to your visit.

Floods

Floods occur along the Virgin River occasionally due to heavy rains. Most often occurring in July- September.

Flash floods can sneak up on unsuspecting hikers in the Narrows and throughout Zion National Park. Be prepared by checking the park website for closures and check the weather to be sure rain is not in the forecast before hiking the Narrows.

Construction

Construction causes road closures in Zion National Park on occasion. Check the park website prior to your visit for any road closures.

Parking in Zion National Park

Lower Emerald Pool Zion National Park

With 5 million visitors just last year, parking can become an issue at Zion National Park. However, there are options available to visitors.

Where to park in Springdale

Springdale is located just outside the Zion National Park South Entrance and has a shuttle system that will take you to the Zion National Park visitors center. The map below shows where the shuttle stops in Springdale, and you can park and get on at any of these Springdale locations.

Zion Shuttle Map

Where to park inside the Park

Inside Zion National Park, at the South Entrance, you can park at the Visitor’s Center as long as it is not full.

During Peak season be prepared to arrive early or late to get parking spots. Or choose to jump on the shuttle in Springdale to avoid parking inside the park.

If you are visiting other parts of the park other than Zion Scenic Drive, you can park along pullouts and parking lots available throughout the park. Once again, keep in mind that Zion National Park is very busy, especially during peak season, and finding parking may be difficult.

Is there anything else I should know?

Most travelers want to visit the most popular sites, yet still, avoid crowds. We have a detailed itinerary that gives you a step-by-step game plan so you can get to the best places at the right times! Bonus: it comes with an audio guide!

More Zion National Park Resources

ABOUT US

We’re Matt and Cheryl, and we’re in the Rockies. :) We are both teachers. Cheryl teaches special ed, and Matt teaches American history. We love the American West and the national parks. We want to help you have a great vacation on your next trip to the Rockies.

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