Some of the country's most unforgettable scenic drives are near or within national parks. It makes perfect sense, of course. There's no better way to get a first taste of a park than from behind the wheel (or in the passenger's seat). You get to enjoy the drive up to the park (which is usually just as epic as the scenery in the park itself) and can cruise past some of the iconic natural features inside, getting a lay of the land and some killer views along the way. Pulloffs, visitor centers, overlooks, and trailheads often line these routes as well.
There are several scenic drives within Zion National Park (although with the enchanting desert beauty all around Southern Utah, what route isn't considered scenic here?) If you're looking for a cruise that's just as fun to drive as it is beautiful, then the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway is for you. The route winds up and down precarious switchbacks, through tunnels bored right into the red sandstone, past seasonal waterfalls, and zig-zags in between towering cliffs. Take a route from St. George all the way to Mt. Carmel for maximum, awe-inspiring effect... and a few classically kitschy roadside attractions!
Start your trip through Utah by staying at the Inn on the Cliff, a highly-rated boutique hotel overlooking the beautiful scenery of St. George. Plus, you can get top-notch views of the sandstone cliffs in the distance at a pretty decent rate! All the sleek, modern rooms offer a private balcony with unforgettable views... and the Inn also offers a delicious complimentary breakfast, always an important consideration when finding a hotel. Since it's only a quick drive to dozens of fantastic outdoor attractions such as Sand Hollow State Park, Quail Creek, and, of course, the can’t-miss Zion National Park, Inn on the Cliff is smack dab in the center of it all.
Be sure to stop by Quail Creek State Park as you make your way from St. George to the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway. One of the more popular destinations within the state, thanks to its warmer weather, this state park is still considered one of Utah’s best-kept secrets to the rest of the country. Take a kayak or two out for a spin, spend the day fishing, camp out under the Milky Way, or hit the trails to soak in incredible sandstone mountain views. Less than an hours drive from Zion National Park, Quail Creek State Park has all of the red rocks beauty with none of the crowds. Oh, and remember to pack your swimsuit for an after-hike swim!
The newest addition to Utah’s world-class state park system, Sand Hollow State Park is quickly becoming a local and tourist favorite. Twice as big as its nearby sister Quail Creek, this 20,000+-acre park is the perfect place for a picnic or a few nights of camping. Plus, with golden sand beaches and crystal clear water, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better place for some fun in the sun. For a one-of-a-kind experience you won’t forget, rent an ATV and take a tour along the trails and through the park's rolling sand dunes.
Next, be sure to stop by the Virgin Trading Post and Fort Zion for an immersive experience in historical Western culture, delicious food, and some high-quality souvenir shopping. Whether you’re looking for an out-of-this-world burger or you just want to stretch your legs while you browse, this roadside attraction is a treat for the whole family. Don't miss the wide selection of authentic Native American gifts and Western-themed items, and make sure to grab a scoop (or three) of ice cream. Kids will love exploring the replica Western town, complete with a jail... and, as an added bonus, you can even play with and feed the petting zoo animals for an additional small fee.
Zion National Park is the crown jewel of the route. Zion was the first of Utah’s five impressive national parks, opening back in 1919. Home to breathtaking red cliff views, scrubby forests, world-renowned trails and majestic waterfalls, anyone could easily spend weeks exploring. Even just cruising along the highway, the park's landscape feels almost Martian. If you want to stop and immerse yourself in the beauty, there are dozens of trails for all hiking levels, a friendly and welcoming visitor center, and beautiful scenic overlooks. It's not hard to see why this is one of the country's most popular parks!
Take it slow as you cruise along the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway to really take in the otherworldly landscapes and views that Utah has to offer. This 25-mile scenic drive includes the famous Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel, built in the 1920s. At 1.1 miles, it was the longest tunnel of its kind when it was built; while that's no longer the case, it's no less impressive to drive through. Larger vehicles are allowed to use the tunnel, but they must obtain a permit for a fee and can only use the tunnel during certain hours. It's totally worth it to take the family RV through the tunnel, though!
Start your exploration of Zion National Park with some of the best views in Utah by making the quick hike to Canyon Overlook. One of the lesser-known observation points in the park, Canyon Overlook offers stunning views of the lush Pine Creek Slot Canyon, and ends at a picture-perfect lookout into Zion's main canyon. The short hike is only a mile roundtrip and is moderate in difficulty, plus the sights simply cannot be beaten. Best yet, you can stop off as you make your way through Zion-Mt. Camel highway. It's a pretty easy hike, but always remember to watch your footing!
Named for the checkerboard-like pattern in the rock, Checkerboard Mesa offers access to one of the most unique rock formations you’ll find anywhere in the U.S. Often overshadowed by some of the more well-known canyons of Zion, Checkerboard Mesa is still quite the stunner. The rare phenomena was created as a result of horizontal and vertical rock faults. Be sure to stop and get out of the car, because Checkerboard Mesa is known to be an excellent backdrop for the perfect family or group photo!
There’s no better way to explore all that Southern Utah has to offer than with a road trip through Zion. With hikes, roadside quirkiness, camping, and natural beauty galore, there's a little something for everyone. Whether you’re looking to hike up Canyon Overlook for some great views, stop by Virgin Trading Post/Fort Zion for some kitschy fun, or just get away and enjoy the serenity of nature, this road trip is destined to be one for the ages.
The St. George area offers the perfect combination of excitement, relaxation and adventure.