It’s nearly impossible to answer when people ask me what my favorite stop on our roadtrip was. How do you choose between the Arizona desert, the Colorado mountains, and the California coast?
However, if they really press me, I usually say that Bryce Canyon (still to come!) and Zion were two of my top spots.
Remember when I said we went to bed in the pitch darkness and were waiting to see what we’d wake up to in the morning? Well, we woke up to this:
The cozy little town of Springdale set against massive, deep red rocks striped with evergreens. Because of the heavy clouds sitting on top of them, we couldn’t even tell how tall they actually were.
Spending the night right on the national park’s doorstep meant that we were all set to go in the morning – after tending to the necessities, of course.
We stopped for breakfast and caffeine at Deep Creek Coffee, which was charming and adorable and set the bar very high for all independent coffee shops to come. The baristas (possibly owners?) were really friendly and we had a good chat about Front Porch and the Outer Banks before Amity and I went on our way.
It was sprinkling as we drove through the park entrance, but that didn’t detract from the views!
After only a few minutes, the rain let up and the foggy clouds very slowly began to lift away from the rocks.
We drove down into Zion Canyon, where there’s a bridge overlooking the rushing river that’s cloudy with rainwater and fine red dirt.
During the winter off-season, the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is open to private vehicles, so you can drive north of the bridge and take your time seeing some of the park’s most well-known sights, including access to the famous Narrows and Subway gorge hikes. We were there at the very end of the fall season, when the Scenic Drive is open only to shuttle buses, so we decided to skip the lines and big groups in favor of seeing the eastern part of the park on our own.
We forked right and drove up the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, which winds up the sides of the canyon pretty quickly, offering amazing views back down to the canyon floor.
After the road climbs about halfway up the canyon walls, it dives right into them. The Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel was constructed between 1927 and 1930 and is the longest road tunnel in the US National Park system – an engineering marvel!
When you emerge from the tunnel, 1000 feet above the canyon floor, you’re in a different kind of landscape. The jagged peaks give way to rolling hills of rainbow slickrock, sandstone that’s been smoothed and polished by the wind.
A few of Zion’s biggest landmarks are on the east side, such as East Temple (seen from the side here)…
…and Checkerboard Mesa (named for the crisscrossing fissures on the cone):
We left through the East Entrance, knowing we’d left a lot unseen but happy with our few hours in Zion. There was one more surprise for us, though! Barely a mile or two outside of the park exit, we pulled over and scrambled through a few yard of rocks and bushes to find this view staring back at us:
I don’t know what this canyon’s called or if it actually has a name, but it was an exciting roadside find!
Some of it was the first day wonderment of it all, but mostly it was the sheer impressiveness and uniqueness of the landscape that puts Zion near the top of my roadtrip list. Someday I’d love to return and do some of those gorge hikes!
The Details: $25 entry fee per vehicle | Open year-round with a few seasonal road closures | Website HERE