Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon Road Trip

The road trip from Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon is a scenic and unforgettable journey through the heart of southern Utah. While it’s only a relatively short trip, there’s a fantastic variety of landscapes and things to see. You’ll pass through some of the most spectacular scenery in the American West, including towering red rock canyons, deep gorges, and towering mesas. You’ll also experience two of America’s finest national parks, Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park, at either end of your journey. Whether you’re trying to squeeze in a visit to both parks into a single day or planning a multi-day itinerary, this is a spectacular trip that will live long in the memory. 

What's the Distance from Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon?

Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon are just over 80 miles apart when traveling on the most direct road route. It’s a journey that typically takes 1 hour and 45 minutes to complete, but it can also take considerably longer during the peak summer months. The route starts on UT-9 E at Zion National Park before joining US-89 for most of the trip. The final stretch is on UT-12 E, which takes you through to Bryce Canyon. 

Best Road Trip Route Between Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon

The journey from Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon is a breathtaking adventure through some of Utah’s most stunning landscapes. The route begins at Zion National Park, where you’ll be treated to scenic views of the towering red rock cliffs and the lush greenery of the surrounding canyon. You continue along the famous Zion-Mount Carmel Highway (UT-9), which offers winding roads with tunnels carved into the rock. The highlight is the famous Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, a mile-long engineering marvel carved through the rock.

As you approach Mount Carmel Junction, the landscape changes, transitioning into a mixture of colorful rock formations and vast desert scenery. This area is known for its striking geological features, including the unique “Checkerboard Mesa,” which showcases a patterned grid of lines and squares on the rock face.

At Mount Carmel Junction, you will switch to US-89. It’s a road that will take you through picturesque towns and small communities, allowing you to soak in the charm of rural Utah. As you venture further north on US-89, the scenery becomes more dramatic, with sweeping views of expansive plateaus and distant mountain ranges. Between the towns of Hatch and Panguitch, you need to exit US-89 onto UT-12, otherwise known as Scenic Highway 12. This spectacular road leads you to the edge of Bryce Canyon National Park.

As you approach Bryce Canyon, the landscape transforms once again. The road meanders through the Ponderosa pine forests, and as you ascend in elevation, you’ll begin to catch glimpses of the iconic Bryce Canyon hoodoos in the distance. 

Starting Out in Zion National Park

Zion National Park, located in southwestern Utah, is the starting point for this trip. It’s a spectacular natural wonder renowned for its towering cliffs, deep canyons, and stunning red rock formations. The park encompasses 229 square miles of diverse landscapes, which range from desert terrain to lush canyons.

Zion National Park is best known for Zion Canyon, a dramatic gorge carved by the Virgin River. The canyon walls rise up over 2,000 feet and showcase a spectrum of colors, from deep reds to vibrant oranges. The Virgin River meanders through the canyon, creating a tranquil and picturesque setting.

The most popular activity in Zion National Park is hiking, with trails catering to various skill levels. One of the most iconic hikes is The Narrows, where you wade through the river in a narrow slot canyon surrounded by towering cliffs. Another popular alternative is Angel’s Landing, a challenging but rewarding trail that offers panoramic views of the park. There are also the Emerald Pools trails, ranging from easy to moderate. These trails lead to serene pools and waterfalls, providing a refreshing escape.

Whether you’ve spent a few hours or days hiking, kayaking, canyoning, or horse riding in Zion National Park, you’ll need to hit the road at some point. It’s not a long trip to Bryce Canyon, but it is a spectacular one. And you might just be surprised; your time on the road might be the best part of your entire trip. 

Zion canyon in Zion National Park
The dramatic red cliffs of the Zion Canyon in Zion National Park.

Best Things to see and do Between Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon

Despite the short distance between the two parks and the relatively barren landscape, there’s plenty to see and do along the way. While not all attractions are directly on the route, most can be reached via a short detour. We’d highly recommend trying to take in at least a few of these stops, as they showcase Utah at its very best. 

Zion Mount Carmel Tunnel

The Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel is a remarkable engineering feat within Zion National Park. Completed back in 1930, the tunnel spans approximately 1.1 miles and cuts through the massive sandstone cliffs on the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. The tunnel was constructed to provide a direct route for vehicles to access the eastern side of the park and connect it with the town of Kanab. It’s one of the most exhilarating and fascinating stretches of road between Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon.

Red Canyon

Red Canyon is a spectacular natural wonder that’s well worth a visit. Nestled in the heart of the Dixie National Forest, Red Canyon boasts some stunning geology. This includes impressive red rock formations and towering hoodoos. The hoodoos, in particular, create a surreal and otherworldly landscape unlike anywhere else. The vibrant colors, unique rock formations, and the contrast of the blue sky with the Red Canyon make it a hugely photogenic location. 

Red Canyon offers an abundance of excellent hiking opportunities with numerous trails that cater to different skill levels. The Hoodoo Trail and the Birdseye Trail are great options for beginners, providing a relatively easy hike that showcases the remarkable rock formations up close. For more experienced hikers, the Cassidy Trail offers a challenging but rewarding trek that winds through the heart of the canyon.

Mossy Cave Trail

The Mossy Cave Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, is a hidden gem that offers a delightful and accessible hiking experience. This short trail takes you to a moss-covered cave with a waterfall, creating a serene and magical atmosphere. With its easy accessibility, clear and informative signage, and less crowded nature, the Mossy Cave Trail is an excellent trail for those seeking a tranquil adventure amidst the stunning landscapes of Bryce Canyon National Park.

Kodachrome Basin State Park

Kodachrome Basin State Park is another hidden gem, best known for its striking and colorful rock formations. The park’s unique name was inspired by these vibrant colors reminiscent of Kodachrome film. Kodachrome Basin State Park is also home to towering spires, chimney rocks, and intricate sandstone layers. These spectacular structures and much more can be seen on various trails throughout the park. Most trails allow you to explore these fascinating geological formations up close. The park’s tranquil atmosphere, stunning landscapes, and rich biodiversity make it a must-visit for those seeking an off-the-beaten-path adventure.

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Cedar Breaks National Monument, nestled in the high plateau of southern Utah, is another stunning sight. It showcases the breathtaking beauty of eroded cliffs, vibrant rock formations, and a spectacular natural amphitheater. Often referred to as a “miniature Bryce Canyon,” Cedar Breaks offers visitors a mesmerizing landscape at an elevation of over 10,000 feet. The monument boasts vibrant hues of red, orange, and pink, creating a dramatic and picturesque backdrop. With numerous viewpoints and hiking trails, you can immerse yourself in the grandeur of the amphitheater and explore the rich surrounding alpine meadows. From wildflower-filled meadows in the summer to snow-covered cliffs in the winter, Cedar Breaks National Monument is a year-round destination that offers unparalleled scenic beauty.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

The Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, located close to Kanab, is a shining example of compassionate care. It’s the largest no-kill sanctuary in the United States, providing a safe and loving refuge for thousands of needy animals. The sanctuary encompasses over 3,700 acres of pristine land, offering a peaceful, secure, and picturesque environment for animals.  Visitors can take guided tours, interact with the animals, and learn about the vital work being done to save lives and promote animal welfare. Whether you are an animal lover, a volunteer, or simply looking for an inspiring experience, visiting the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah is a great little side trip. 

Little Hollywood

Little Hollywood is a unique and charming destination that takes visitors back in time to the golden age of Western films. Also known as the “Hollywood of the Desert,” this historic town was the backdrop for numerous iconic movies and television shows. Today, you can explore the remnants of movie sets, stroll down the main street, and immerse yourself in the nostalgia of classic Westerns.

The town offers guided tours, allowing you to learn about the fascinating history of filmmaking in the area. Additionally, Little Hollywood boasts museums and exhibits that showcase memorabilia, costumes, and props from the era, providing a deeper insight into the rich cinematic heritage of the region. Whether you’re a film enthusiast, a history buff, or simply seeking a one-of-a-kind experience, Little Hollywood is a great stop.

Finishing Up in Bryce Canyon

You’ve seen Zion National Park, traveled the roads of Southern Utah, and enjoyed a few side trips along the way. It’s time for your final destination, Bryce Canyon, set within the Bryce Canyon National Park. Known for its unique and mesmerizing rock formations called hoodoos, the park offers a spectacular, surreal, and otherworldly experience.

At the park’s heart lies Bryce Canyon Amphitheater, the park’s main attraction. This expansive natural amphitheater is filled with thousands of intricately carved hoodoos, which are tall, thin rock pillars. The hoodoos are an array of vibrant colors, ranging from reds to oranges and whites. The spectacular setting is best viewed from Sunset and Sunrise Points. These areas offer some of the best vistas, where you can witness the mesmerizing interplay of light and shadows on the hoodoos.

While the amphitheater is the main attraction, hiking is the main activity in the park. Various trails cater to all different skill levels and preferences. Perhaps the most popular route is along The Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden Trail. This is a classic combination that takes you down into the canyon, allowing you to immerse yourself amid the hoodoos. The Fairyland Loop Trail is a longer but less crowded option, offering sweeping views of the park’s unique landscape.

Bryce Canyon Amphitheatre
Bryce Canyon Amphitheatre is home to the largest collection of Hoodoos in the world.

Best Time to Visit Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon

The best time to visit Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks largely depends on what you plan to do during your visits. Each season offers a slightly different experience.

Here’s a breakdown of the different seasons and what to expect during each:

  1. Spring (March to May): Spring is a beautiful time to visit both parks as the temperatures are moderate, and the landscapes come alive with blooming wildflowers. However, the idyllic conditions mean it can be a bit crowded, especially during spring break.

  2. Summer (June to August): Summer is the peak tourist season for both parks due to the warm weather and summer vacations. The parks are bustling with visitors, and popular trails can be crowded. Be prepared for hot temperatures, especially in July and August, which can become increasingly uncomfortable. It’s advisable to start your hikes early in the morning to try and beat both the heat and the crowds.

  3. Fall (September to November): Fall is a great time to visit Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. The weather is pleasant, with mild temperatures, and there are fewer crowds compared to summer. The fall foliage adds vibrant colors to the landscapes, creating a stunning backdrop for your visit.

  4. Winter (December to February): Winter brings a different charm to the parks, with fewer visitors and a peaceful atmosphere. However, both parks experience cold temperatures, and snowfall is common, especially in Bryce Canyon. Some roads and trails may be closed or require special equipment at this time of year. Winter visits are ideal for alternative activities such as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

In our opinion, the spring and fall seasons offer a good balance of pleasant weather and fewer crowds. This combination probably trumps the summer months when the heat and crowds can become overbearing.

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