Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon Driving Time and Scenic Highlights

zion national park - zion national park to bryce canyon driving time

These two incredible destinations are a short hop from each other, so it’s a popular choice to do both together in one vacation. If you go direct from Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon, the trip is a distance of 72 miles and takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes to complete. 

That’s if you go direct, though. There are really two ways to get from Zion to Bryce Canyon—the fast way and the scenic way. The fast way might seem highly appealing to you, depending on how much you hate the driving part of a road trip, but we think we can talk you into the scenic route. Or at least, we’re going to give it a shot.

First, Though, the Fast Route

To get from Zion to Bryce Canyon quickly, leave Zion from the East entrance, using UT-9E. This will take you Mt. Carmel Junction. You’ll hit a T-intersection, where you’ll head left onto State St./Highway 89 N. 

After 43 miles, you’ll veer right onto Scenic Byway 12, which will take you past the Bryce Canyon Resort. Head south on UT-63/Main St. You’ll go through Bryce and enter Bryce Canyon National Park about 2 minutes further on. Easy peasy.

What’s to See Between Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon?

But, what you’ll miss if you drive straight from one national park to the other are astounding lookouts; out-of-the-way hikes; opportunities for adventure; caves, caverns and canyons that are a little less travelled than the most popular tourist spots; and, of course, the chance to spot some elusive desert bighorn sheep. 

You could easily spend a few days in this area and still feel astonished at every turn. There are hidden gems spread out all along the main highways, let alone the smaller backroads. Many of these gems involve hiking, but some are museums, viewpoints and short, accessible trails, so don’t discount the area if mobility is a challenge for you.

Are There Amenities on the Road?

There are lots of places to eat, sleep and get gas and supplies in the areas between the two parks if you do decide to make a longer trip of it. 

Mt. Carmel Junction is closest to Zion (it’s 12 miles east) and largely serves as a jumping off point to explore the park. You can find gas stations, RV parks, hotels and a few gift shops. You can also find gas, cafés, restaurants, lodgings, a dollar store, a grocery store and souvenir shops further down the highway in Orderville. 

Another 5 minutes east is Glendale, which has a few different options for lodgings. Hatch, a town half an hour east of Glendale, offers a range of accommodations, as well as a saloon. The final stop outside Bryce Canyon is, appropriately, Bryce. There you’ll find hotels and lodgings, restaurants and a laundromat. 

Accommodations of various kinds are sprinkled along the highway, and other, larger urban centres are fairly close by, as well, so resting, restocking and refueling shouldn’t be difficult. Just make your hotel or campground reservations well ahead—these are popular destinations and rooms and sites book up quickly.

The Scenic Route from Zion to Bryce Canyon

rock formations - zion national park to bryce canyon driving time

Unless you have somewhere you absolutely need to be, we can’t recommend the scenic route enough. The landscape here is nothing short of spectacular and it would be a shame to miss some of the amazing highlights. 

Here are just a few of them.

East of Zion

The first place to stop as you exit Zion is the Canyon Overlook Trail. Located just east of the Mt. Carmel tunnel, this is an easy hike that’s 1-mile in total but whose view would be worth a 100-mile slog. 

Mt. Carmel Junction has some fun hikes, canyons and caves. Belly of the Dragon is a short tunnel (that used to be a water culvert) that’s a half-mile hike round trip. You can extend it with a further 4-mile hike into a slot canyon.

If instead of turning left at the T-junction you head south on the 89 for 3 miles, you’ll find the trailhead for Elkheart Cliffs Slot Canyon. This is a 3-mile hike, but those miles are challenging, so it’s better for adults than young kids. The rewards, however, are great if you love wide vistas and dramatic landscapes. And we think you do.

If caves are more your jam, keep driving south on the 89 until you come to the Sand Caves, 11 miles out of Mt. Carmel Junction. These caves were made by sand mining operations in the 1930s and ‘40s, and are a lovely way to get into the shade and enjoy some beautiful views. You can see the caves from the road, so it’s not a long jaunt, but there is a scramble up to the caves themselves. 

Moqui Cave is just north of the Sand Caves, and is a great spot to learn about the paleontological and anthropological history of the area. It’s a natural history museum with a large collection of Native American artifacts and dinosaur footprints.

Red Hollow Canyon in Orderville is about a 25-minute drive from Zion. The trailhead is just south of town. This is another short (1.2 miles roundtrip), relatively easy hike that gives you disproportionately rewarding scenery for your efforts.

Dixie National Forest

Head into Dixie National Forest, on UT-14 W between Glendale and Hatch. There’s a lot to see and do here, with activities ranging from the accessible to the challenging. 

Duck Creek Ice Cave is a small cave that got its name because it used to remain cold enough that the floor would stay iced over, even in summer. With climate change upon us, you may or may not get that experience.

The hike to Cascade Falls is a little more than a mile round-trip, and it makes for a great side-adventure. The hike goes along the rim of a canyon and ends at the falls themselves. Don’t get excited about the Falls—despite the promising name, they are not the highlight of this walk. They are very small. Do get excited about the adventurous trail and the majestic views of the surrounding areas. 

Mammoth Cave is a slight detour off the 14, but worth your time if you have an interest in caves or little future spelunkers in the car with you. 

Cedar Breaks National Monument is a 45-minute drive from the junction of the 89 and the 14. It’s one of the real treasures of this area and if you can get there, you should go. A geologic amphitheater sitting 10,000 feet above sea level, the monument offers spectacular hiking, including multi-day treks, a geological wonderland of colours and rock formations and a dark sky park for stargazing.

Once you turn onto Scenic Byway 12, keep an eye out for roadside lookouts for the Red Canyon. There’s an extensive trail system that give travellers opportunities to get up close to the canyon’s iconic red sandstone formations and ponderosa pines. 

One such short trail is the half-mile Arches trail. There are only so many adjectives one can use to describe the extraordinary scenery of this place, but know that whatever adjectives I could put here, the views would surpass them. 

The Red Canyon Visitor Center, located on the 12, will give you many more ideas for area hikes, as well as for biking spots and spots where you can just plain marvel at it all.

And then you’ll be pretty much there at Bryce Canyon, your destination, having hit up two stunning national parks, gotten off the beaten path a little and explored an area so rich that every turn could be a destination in itself.

Feature image: Jamie Hagan; Image 1: Cameron Cress

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