Zion-Mount Carmel Highway Scenic Drive

by | May 28, 2020 | USA, Utah

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The Zion Mount Carmel Highway is a scenic drive which cuts through 10 miles of Zion National Park. The highway connects the South and East entrances of the park. It passes over bridges, along switchbacks and through a tunnel which cuts through the deep stone mountain.

Zion Mount Carmel Highway Scenic Drive

Driving the Zion – Mount Carmel Highway

 

Zion Mount Carmel Highway

The entire Zion Mount Carmel Highway runs 40 miles from the South Entrance of Zion National Park to the Mount Carmel Junction with US Route 89. It was built in 1930 to allow easier access to the park and allow visitors to connect between Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon and Zion National Park.

Zion Mount Carmel Highway Scenic Drive

Zion – Mount Carmel Highway

 

The Best Stops on the Zion Mount Carmel Highway

The views along the Zion Mount Carmel Highway scenic drive are incredible and there are lots of places to park up and take a short hike to explore some more. Starting from the South Entrance of the Park, some of the best sights along the Zion – Mount Carmel Highway include:

 

Zion National Park Visitor Center and Zion History Museum

The Zion Mount Carmel Highway passes by the park’s Visitor Center and History Museum. The Zion Human Nature Museum is an excellent stop and showcases the rich human history of Zion National Park. The Visitors Center has lots of information on how to navigate the park and protect the fragile park environment.

Zion Mount Carmel Highway tip: these are also accessible via the Zion shuttle. The Zion National Park Visitor Center is stop 1 on the shuttle and the Zion History Museum is stop 2.

Zion Mount Carmel Highway Scenic Drive

Zion National Park

 

Canyon Junction Bridge

Canyon Junction Bridge is one of the most popular photo spots in the park. It showcases Zion beautifully with the Virgin River flowing underneath and the Watchman towering in the distance. The scene is spectacular at sunset when the Watchman basks in a soft golden glow and the contrast with the deep red canyon walls is beautiful. 

Zion Mount Carmel Highway tip: Canyon Junction Bridge is one of the most easily accessible viewpoints in the park. There are a few parking spaces close to the bridge but its popularity often makes it difficult to get a spot. The Zion Shuttle stops at the bridge – it is located at shuttle stop 3.

Zion Mount Carmel Highway Scenic Drive

The view from Canyon Junction Bridge

 

The Switchbacks

A series of switchbacks climb over 800 feet to the top of the canyon. The winding road is fun to drive and the surroundings are beautiful. There are parking spots along the route if you want to pull in and admire the view or capture some photos.

Zion Mount Carmel Highway Scenic Drive

The Switchbacks on the Zion – Mount Carmel Highway

 

Zion – Mount Carmel Tunnel

The Zion Mount Carmel tunnel is a 1.1 mile long tunnel which cuts through the sandstone rock

following the profile of the Pine Creek Canyon Wall. The tunnel has 6 huge windows with spectacular views over the highway. However, it’s no longer permitted to stop in the tunnel – the windows were cut for light, ventilation and to dump lose rock into the Canyon below.

The Zion Mount Carmel tunnel was built in the 1920s to allow visitors direct access to Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon from Zion.

Zion Mount Carmel Highway tip: there are restrictions on large vehicle use in the tunnel. Vehicles taller than 11 foot 4 inches and wider than 7 foot 10 inches must pay an additional $15 fee for traffic control measures. When these larger vehicles need to pass through the tunnel rangers stop oncoming traffic to allow them to drive in the middle of the tunnel without oncoming traffic. Vehicles over 13 foot 1 inch tall, buses over 50 foot long, bicycles and pedestrians are not permitted in the tunnel.

Zion Mount Carmel Highway Scenic Drive

Upper Entrance to the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel

 

Great Arch

The Great Arch is a blind arch indented in the Navajo sandstone rock face atop which sits the Canyon Overlook Trail. In fact, it was known as the Great Arch Trail until the 1940’s! As you drive along the highway you will spot the 600 foot span of Great Arch eroded into the rock.

Things to do in Zion National Park

The Great Arch

 

Canyon Overlook Trail

One of the only formal trails on the east side of the park, the trail head for the Canyon Overlook is located just past the east entrance of the Zion – Mount Carmel Tunnel. The trail leads hikers 1,000 feet above the Zion canyon floor and the viewpoint, Canyon Overlook, has one of the most spectacular views in Zion National Park. The 1-mile trial showcases some of Zion’s most incredible rock formations and is an iconic photography spot in the park. For more info on the trail, check out our guide to the Canyon Overlook trail.

Zion Mount Carmel Highway tip: the Pine Creek trail head is also located on the highway. However, this is permit only slot canyon reserved for canyoneering.

Zion Mount Carmel Highway Scenic Drive

The epic view from the Canyon Overlook Trail

 

Checkerboard Mesa

With its distinctive crisscross pattern Checkerboard Mesa is easy to spot along the highway. Wind, rain, freezing and thawing have eroded the rock and led to its checkerboard pattern.

Look for Checkerboard Mesa on the south side of the road at the eastern boundary of the park along Hwy. 9. Eons of freezing and thawing created vertical cracks, while erosion by wind and rain accentuated the horizontal bedding planes of this distinctive petrified Navajo sandstone mountain so that over time a pattern of irregular crosshatches emerged, creating the checkerboard effect.

Zion – Mount Carmel Highway tip: the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive (the road which cuts through the floor of the canyon and passes by most of the hiking trail heads) is not accessible on this drive. . Access to this drive is usually restricted to the Zion shuttle bus. It is only possible to drive along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive on the limited occasions when visitor numbers are low and the shuttle bus service is suspended. For a better understanding of how to navigate Zion check out our guide to Zion National Park.

Zion Mount Carmel Highway Scenic Drive

Checkerboard Mesa

 

Bryce Canyon National Park

The Zion – Mount Carmel highway allows easy access to Bryce Canyon National Park and many visitors allow time for both parks. Bryce Canyon is a collection of huge rock amphitheaters featuring the signature hoodoo rock columns that are a distinctive feature of the park.

Zion – Mount Carmel Highway tip: it is a 90 minute drive between the east entrance of Zion and Bryce Canyon. Around 15 minutes of this is on the Zion – Mount Carmel Highway from the east entrance of Zion to Mount Carmel junction.

Zion Mount Carmel Highway Scenic Drive

Bryce Canyon in Winter

 

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