Southern Utah, and the rest of the state in general, is known for its breathtaking national parks. But while many visitors come to the region for hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and other outdoor adventures, a less-recognized attraction is the area’s incredible scenic drives.
Maybe you’re experiencing a little cabin fever from isolating yourself at home in the wake of the spread of coronavirus. Or you’re looking ahead to brighter days and starting to plan your summer vacation. Either way, keep reading. We’re bringing you a few of the best scenic drives Southern Utah has to offer.
Zion Park Scenic Byway
Zion’s shuttle system is currently suspended to help visitors to the park keep their distance from one another among fears of spreading COVID-19. Because of this, guests can drive their personal vehicles through the lower canyon. But with many choosing to visit the parks at this time, eager to practice a little social-distancing outdoors, the road into the lower canyon has been closing early each day once parking spaces fill. If you do want to drive into the lower canyon, plan to get to the park early in the day, or drive in after 4 p.m. when crowds begin to thin.
But while many visitors head to the lower canyon, where popular trailheads like Angels Landing and Emerald Pools are located, there’s an entire other section of the park that’s always open to personal vehicles.
Entering Zion from the South Entrance of the park, you’ll keep to the left as you pass the turn off where most of the time only shuttle buses and guests of the Zion Lodge are allowed to drive. By keeping right, you’ll stay on Utah Highway 9. Following a series of switchbacks with incredible views of the canyon below (don’t stop for photos unless it’s at a designated pull-off!), you’ll enter the famous Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. After that, you’ll be above the canyon, where the landscape changes but the incredible views at every turn continue. Here you’ll find Checkerboard Mesa, Pine Creek Canyon, and other lesser-known icons of the park.
Highway 9 continues out the East Entrance of the park, where you can then connect to Mount Carmel Junction and Kanab, or continue on to Bryce Canyon National Park. The Zion Park Scenic Byway technically stretches 60-miles total, beginning in Hurricane, Utah, continuing through the park, and ending in Mount Carmel Junction.
Highway 12 Scenic Byway
About 40 miles north of Mount Carmel Junction, Highway 89 intersects with the beginning of Highway 12. This scenic byway first takes drivers past Bryce Canyon National Park and it’s towering hoodoos and stunning amphitheater. Turning south, the road goes through the town of Tropic before passing the entrance to Kodachrome Basin State Park, one of Utah’s best-kept secrets. Highway 12 follows the edge of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Along the way, it passes through a variety of small western towns, like Escalante and Boulder. It ends in Torrey, Utah, on the west side of Capitol Reef National Park.
Highway 12 Scenic Byway stretches 124 miles in total and is paved throughout. During the roughly 3 hour drive, you’ll pass red rock domes, slick rock canyons, heavily wooded mountainscapes, and more. This is a great way to experience some of Utah’s most stunning landscapes from the comfort of your car.
Johnson Canyon Road and Skutumpah Road
About an hour away from Springdale, Utah is Kanab, Utah. Here you’ll find a shorter scenic drive with some awesome views. Johnson Canyon Road begins eight miles from Kanab to the east. The 18-mile road climbs upward along a cliff-line canyon. You’ll then find yourself on the far western edge of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Along the way, you can stop at a number of pull-offs to catch views of stair-step rock formations. From one of these pull-offs, you can even see the remains of a 1960s replica of Dodge City that was used as a set for the TV series Gunsmoke, which lies on private property.
When you get to the end of the 18-mile road, you have two choices. You can either turn around and descend back into the canyon or continue onto Skutumpah Road. This rough route continues 33 miles along the edge of Grand Staircase-Escalante and ends at Kodachrome Basin State Park.
Other Ways to Enjoy Southern Utah Without the Crowds
Whether you’re looking for some space or just want to enjoy more of the incredible scenery that the region has to offer, a scenic drive is always a good choice.
If you’re looking for other ways to enjoy Southern Utah away from the more popular attractions, check out this list of the top 5 scenic spots to enjoy next!