Traveling through the heart of Zion National Park, the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway is the perfect way to experience the majesty of Zion National Park while touring the many incredible natural features in Utah and Arizona. In fact, it was built to make traveling between Zion and the Grand Canyon National Park an easier affair. I think after seeing these pictures, you’ll be darn glad they built this incredible road…
Running from Mt. Carmel, UT to Rockville, UT, Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway (also known as SR9 and the Zion National Park Byway), the drive is not a long one, roughly 30 miles (including several miles outside the actual park), but each mile is filled with some amazing scenery.
To build the road, engineers had to carve an over 5,000 ft. tunnel through the Great Arch, and today the tunnel remains an impressive part of the journey through Zion National Park. (There is also a 2nd, smaller tunnel you’ll travel through.)
Construction started on the massive tunnel in 1927 with its completion coming in 1930 with a price tag of a whopping $503,000. Unlike most tunnel, the unique geology meant crews treated the “tunneling” more like mining… When it was all said and done, the tunnel was the longest road tunnel outside a major city in the entire United States. Today, the tunnel does have some size restrictions, so if for some incredibly random reason you’re making this drive in a massively wide vehicle, you’ll have to call ahead so they can shut down two-way traffic for a bit.
While the road is packed full of great little pullouts and scenic viewing areas, the most impressive from the east entrance is Checkerboard Mesa…
Said to be given its name for the mesa’s resemblance of a checkerboard, thousands of years of erosion have created a unique pattern in this 900 ft. hill. While you can hike to it (about a 2 mile hike), the viewing area right off Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway gives a great vantage point if you’re crunched for time.
The scratches that run horizontal are the result of north to south winds while the vertical cracks come from thousands of years of weathering- freezing and thawing. One day, these forces will result in the Checkerboard Mesa being nothing more than a pile of sand and small rocks, so go check it out in this millennium, because neither you or the mesa will be there in the next.
Let the park rangers drive for you…
If you’ve ever been to a national park in peak season, you know they can get a little, uh, congested. Zion National Park has you covered. You can park in Springdale (along the highway) and just ride the shuttle through the park. (Parking is also available at the Zion Visitor Center, but it fills up fast, so don’t try parking there past early morning.)
From the National Park Service:
Parking is limited inside Zion, and parking lots at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center commonly fill by mid-morning. To avoid parking hassles, park in the town of Springdale and ride the free town shuttle to the park. You can park anywhere along the road in town that does not have a parking restriction. To find the shuttle stops, look for the ''Shuttle Parking'' signs throughout town. If you are staying at a lodge or motel, simply leave your car there and take the shuttle to the park. Tune your radio to 1610 AM for additional information.
More about Zion National Park:
Where to stay:
If you’re coming from the west, you’ll most likely want to post up in Springdale, UT if you need overnight accommodation. For those of you not too keen on camping, here are a couple lodges sure to please:
Majestic View Lodge
With a shuttle stop right outside, the Majestic View Lodge may not be the closest to the park, but it’s the easiest way to just wake up and get moving toward your day exploring Zion.
Just two miles outside the park, the newly renovated rooms pair with the views of the red sandstone cliffs of the park to create a great experience. Enjoy having a bite to eat outside as cottonwoods along the river relax and recharge you. Like the Majestic View Lodge, the shuttle will pick you up at the Driftwood Lodge as well.