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The scenic drive will take you along towering sheer cliffs of red rock and twisting canyons cut by the Virgin River. But in amongst this stark landscape you’ll find surprising grottos of lush ferns, waterfalls and Emerald Pools.
For many, the bucket list hikes are the main draw and you’ll find many, from family friendly Riverside Walk, to the classic slot canyon adventure The Narrows to the strenuous and vertigo inducing Angels Landing. To enjoy these hikes safely, plan ahead and be prepared. Lots of water, snacks, check trail conditions and monitor changing weather conditions.
Looking for a place to escape the crowds? Perhaps the short drive to the ghost town of Grafton, a historic Mormon settlement with a small group of ageing wooden buildings and well preserved cemetery will peak your interest. It certainly inspired the moviemakers of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to use it as one of the filming locations.
You can drive much more directly to Bryce Canyon National Park thanks to the construction of the Zion-Mt Carmel Highway (RT 9 connector) in 1930. It’s a highly scenic stretch of road with its switchbacks and sweeping views back to Zion’s towering cliffs and the Great Arch. Its most impressive features however are the 2 tunnels, the longest being 1.1 miles. Gallery “windows” were created inside the tunnel to provide peekaboo views through to the stunning landscape.
The commentary continues for the entire 1.5hr drive that connects the 2 parks, along Highways 12 & 89.
Whether you call them hoodoos, goblins or fairy chimneys, you’ll be amazed at the sheer number of these formations in Bryce Canyon National Park. As you scan the amphitheatre suddenly you’ll start seeing shapes, faces and figures come to life in the rocks.
Each stop along the drive highlights a different view. Will your favourite be Sunrise, Sunset or Inspiration Point? Or maybe it’ll be at the furtherest point along the 18 mile drive at Yovimpa Point, which is one of the best spots to see the Grand Staircase coloured steps on show.
Get a closer glimpse by hiking one of the many trails that descend into the canyon. Queen’s Garden and Navajo Loop are two of the most popular.
Return at night and cast your gaze upwards. Without the light pollution we experience in cities the dark skies open up and the Milky Way and up to 7500 stars are visible in the sky.
La Verkin, Widtsoe, Henrieville, or Panguitch
Zion – Spend 1 full day exploring the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and enjoy some shorter trails. Enjoy another 1/2 day driving the switchbacks, the tunnel and East Zion including Checkerboard Mesa or include those on your travels between Bryce and Zion. Add more time if taking on some of the “big” hikes.
Bryce Canyon – You can see all the major highlights of Bryce in just one day. If you plan to do some longer hikes, or to go star gazing, it’s nice to have an extra day or two.
The complete tour route is approximately 120 miles each way including highways 12, 89 and 9
Zion National Park have introduced a timed ticket system for the shuttle that runs along the Scenic Drive from Canyon Junction to Temple of Sinawava for the months March through November. This does not affect the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway or the Kolob Terrace Road.
Tickets must be purchased online and in advance from recreation.gov
You are still free to enter the Park by foot, bicycle or e-bike. Remember to bring your earbuds to keep enjoying the tour along the way.
The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is narrow with little parking, so non-winter visitors are required to take the shuttle bus into the park and should park at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center or in designated parking areas in the town of Springdale from March – October.
The tour commentary will still play automatically even if riding the shuttle, just remember to bring some earbuds for the ride.
The rest of the park is open for self-driving including the 12 mile Mount Carmel Highway 9 for the tunnel, switchbacks, Checkerboard Mesa etc.
Hwy 63 extends through the park, past the visitor center, the campgrounds and all of the park’s scenic overlooks all the way through to Rainbow Point.
At busy times many visitors use the optional shuttle to return and access the four most iconic viewpoints of Bryce Canyon National Park (Bryce, Inspiration, Sunset, and Sunrise Points).
Shuttle season typically runs from mid-April to mid-October and buses from 8 am to 8 pm, every 15mins with shorter hours in April and October.
It takes about 1 hour 20 minutes to drive between the 2 Parks. You will hear tour commentary throughout this drive as well.