Few drives are as exciting and ruggedly beautiful as the trip from Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon. As amazing as this drive is, however, it can be scary and dangerous at times.
The drive from Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon drive is 72 miles long, with roughly 1 hour and 50 minutes of driving time. On the way, you'll encounter plenty of switchbacks that take you up to high altitudes. There's also the danger of snow, ice, and flash floods.
There are things you can do to help mitigate these dangers and keep you and your passengers safe on this incredible drive. Read on to learn more about what to avoid, what to prepare for, and tips on how to make this drive as safe as possible.
Which route should I take from Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon?
|The Direct Route||85 miles||1 hour 50 minutes|
|The Arizona Route||140 miles||3 hours|
|The Utah Route||150 miles||2 hours 40 minutes|
Both Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon are areas of outstanding natural beauty. Bryce Canyon isn't just one canyon, but a series of canyons that are shaped like amphitheaters, making it well worthy of a road trip.
At Bryce Canyon, you'll discover distinctive red rock formations known as hoodoos. It's these spindly, thin rocks that make Bryce Canyon a unique visit for tourists.
The road trip from Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon National Park is entirely in Utah, although you can take an alternative route that passes through Arizona. Zion is in southwest Utah and the trip veers northeast all the way to Bryce Canyon.
The Direct Route is a very scenic drive and the most popular and quickest route. However, you can only drive this route between November and March.
Outside this season, Zion park uses a free shuttle to transport visitors to other parts of the park. Other routes, like the Arizona and Utah Routes, are considered a detour and take considerably more time. As with the Direct Route, you'll have to do these routes in peak season from April to October.
Driving on the safest route from Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon
We recommend taking the Direct Route. The Direct Route is safe - that said, you'll face sharp turns in the form of switchbacks. Switchbacks are roads with sharp ascents and descents cutting back one on another, so it's good to be prepared for this before you set off on your trip.
If you're scared of heights, there's no need to be concerned. Although it's high altitude there's no mountain driving where you drive along steep declines.
When leaving Zion on the UT-9 that's when the roads become twisty. But it does get easier after the first 10 miles when roads straighten.
There are five gas stations on the route. These are in Gravel Spring, Hatch, Panguitch, Bryce Canyon City, and Bryce Canyon (This gas station is, helpfully, also a Mini Mart).
There is very limited cell phone coverage in Zion and Bryce Canyon National Park. For best service go to the Visitor Center and Bryce Amphitheater.
Bryce is generally quieter than Zion. In peak season the car parks can fill up as soon as 9AM in Zion so arrive early or wait for the crowds to disperse in the afternoon.
Driving on the Arizona Route from Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon
The Arizona route will take you 140 miles and 3 hours of driving time. You'll get to pass the lovely town of Kanab on the way.
You'll make your way past Mt Carmel Junction and drive into Arizona and Colorado City. From here you'll go north, avoiding the switchbacks on Highway 9.
Driving on the Utah Route from Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon
On the Utah Route, you'll drive 150 miles and drive for 2 hours and 40 minutes. You'll get to stop in the wonderful town of Cedar City on the way.
Starting in Zion National Park you'll swing north, avoiding the switchbacks. You'll drive past Hamilton's Fort and then make your way east into Bryce Canyon.
Things to know that can impact the drive on the safest route from Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon
During the high season the road is closed. A free shuttle takes visitors along the road to hop on and off at the desired stops. If visiting between April and October you'll have to follow the other routes. Regardless of whether this route is open, go to the Zion National Park Visitor Centre to access the parking.
In winter some remote stretches may be closed due to heavy snowfall. Although snow plows are active all year. State Route 9 has suffered from road closures because of rockfalls. Make sure to check the conditions before driving.
The Mt Carmel Tunnel is a narrow tunnel where you'll face inspection. Large RVs have to pay a $15 permit in advance because the entire tunnel has to be closed to accommodate larger vehicles.
Tips to drive from Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon in the safest way
Taking all this information into account, there are a few things you can do to make the drive from Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon as safe as possible:
- If you don't have a four-wheel or all wheel drive you'll require certified snow tires in winter. This applies for vehicles below 12,000 lbs weight.
- Arrive at Zion before 9am. Or arrive mid-afternoon and stay the night before traveling to Bryce the next day. You can use the shuttle only road even in summer when staying at the Zion Lodge.
- Avoid traveling on weekends and avoid national holidays such as Memorial and Labor Day. Crowds and traffic will be at their worst which can make driving more dangerous.
- To avoid Zion Park Blvd, consider detouring via Colorado City or Hamiltons Fort.
- Make sure your vehicle is fitted with snow tires in winter. You may even experience snow in March and April as elevation increases.
- If you're hiring a car, make sure you get a vehicle with winter tires and chains.
- Make sure you have adequate fuel for your journey. Gravel Spring is the first stop on the Direct Route and Arizona Route to avoid running low. Use gas station at Parowan on Utah Route.
- Make sure you have adequate fuel for your journey. Gravel Spring is the first stop on the Direct Route and Arizona Route to avoid running low. Use gas station at Parowan on Utah Route
- Do not drive in extreme snow. If weather conditions are looking inclement, we suggest staying in a hotel Mt Carmel Junction instead.
- Always check weather, traffic and travel advisories before you travel, specifically this website for Zion National Park; and this for Bryce Canyon.
- Do a “virtual drive” using Google Street view so that you can prepare yourself and “see” the route for yourself beforehand. This will help you prepare for any obstacles or difficulties on the way.
- If possible, have two designated drivers to share the load so you can stay fresh especially if experiencing altitude sickness.
- Although many roads don't allow HGV's, be mindful when on U-89 of their limitations. Look ahead for heavy trucks crawling along.
- At Bryce Canyon, you'll find that the road leading to the amphitheater is the first stretch to get plowed. So start there if you arrive in snow.
- Note that Bryce has winter opening times (8 am to 4:30 pm) so calculate your route accordingly.
- Finally, travel with a two way radio, don't rely on cell phone coverage. This will allow you to communicate for help in areas with no cell phone coverage.
Alternatives to driving yourself from Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon
Other than driving, transport is limited. Some local tour operators, such as Zion Adventures, arrange bespoke guided itineraries, where you can request a custom trip. Bear in mind that this will likely come at a much higher cost than self-drive options, though.
Best time to drive from Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon
Summer and shoulder season are the best times to drive from Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon. Although Zion is open all year-round, 70% of the year visitors arrive between April and September.
Crowds in Bryce are more concentrated with June, July and August considered peak months. 60% of annual visitors arrive in June to September.
It is possible to visit during winter but there are several things to consider. While crowds are fewer in winter, prepare for adverse conditions. Particularly at Bryce where the altitude is high. In December and January temperatures can fall as low as 15 degrees Fahrenheit.
Check Bryce website for road closures and park openings. Some trails won't be open due to dangers caused by ice and snow which will limit the amount of things you can do.