No stretch of road in Southern Utah provides more must-see destinations than the scenic highways connecting Bryce Canyon to Zion National Park.
Travelers hoping to experience the Mighty Five National Parks of Utah will quickly learn there is enough to see in-between these destinations to merit an extra few days on their road trip itinerary.
In this travel guide, you will discover all the incredible destinations and unique desert landscapes of the American Southwest that are tucked away along scenic highways 12 and 89. In addition, one of the most overlooked treasures of the region lies just a short detour away at Cedar Breaks National Monument.
**If you’re planning on traveling in the opposite direction, check our Zion to Bryce Canyon guide as we’ve already reversed the order for you!
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Bryce Canyon to Zion FAQs
Most travelers have the same questions regarding the journey from Bryce Canyon to Zion. This section quickly covers these frequently asked questions.
How long is the drive from Bryce Canyon to Zion National Park?
It is a 75-mile drive from the exit gate of Bryce Canyon National Park to the East Entrance of Zion National Park. Without stops, the drive takes about 1 hour and 22 minutes.
To get to the more popular west section of Zion, you have to pass through Carmel Tunnel. From Bryce Canyon, it is a total of 85 miles to the Zion Visitor Center and takes about 1 hour and 50 minutes without stops.
Can you do Bryce Canyon and Zion in one day?
While it is technically possible to visit both Zion and Bryce Canyon in one day due to their relatively close proximity, we wouldn’t recommend it. Not only will your day be very fast-paced, making it difficult to truly enjoy the parks, you will also miss all the incredible stops between Bryce Canyon and Zion.
What are the best things to do between Bryce Canyon and Zion NP?
Those with the time and physical ability have a vast variety of must-see destinations on the drive from Bryce Canyon to Zion. You will find a complete, detailed list in this guide, but some of the highlights include Cedar Breaks National Monument, Dixie National Forest, Red Canyon, and a handful of hidden slot canyons.
Where can I find services between Bryce Canyon and Zion?
You will find gas, groceries, accommodation, and restaurants at Carmel Junction, Orderville, Hatch, and at the Bryce Canyon Village. Additionally, those who make the detour to Cedar Breaks will find small towns with all necessary amenities at Brian Head and Panguitch. However, food is expensive in these towns so it’s well worth packing your favorite road trip food in advance!
How much does it cost to enter Bryce Canyon and Zion?
Weekly passes cost $35 per vehicle for each individual park. This means a total of $70 for the two parks. We, therefore, highly recommend buying an annual America the Beautiful Interagency Pass for $80. Not only does it grant access to both Bryce Canyon and Zion, but it also allows you to enter more than 2,000 recreation sites for a year.
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Bryce Canyon to Zion Map
Before reading about each of the must-see stops on your road trip from Bryce Canyon NP to Zion, it may be helpful to orient yourself with the map below. Click here or on the image below to open the Google Map. This interactive map shows where each stop is along the way.
You can find photos and complete information for each destination below. Additionally, all can be accessed with standard 2WD vehicles though some roads may be impassable following flash flooding.
Bryce Canyon to Zion Itinerary
Unless you are trying to visit both national parks in a weekend, there is too much to see and do between Bryce Canyon and Zion to simply drive from one to the next. Along the way, you will discover some incredible attractions ranging from must-see to hidden gems.
If possible, allow at least 1-2 days for the journey so that you do not miss any of the lesser-known treasures along the way.
This section has been ordered in the most time and fuel-efficient sequence. Additionally, it has been broken down into specific segments of the drive.
Utah Scenic Byway 12
Perhaps the most impressive highway in all of Utah is Scenic Byway 12. You will begin your journey to Zion from Bryce Canyon along this impressive stretch of road and will rarely be afforded a chance to catch your breath.
As soon as you reach the roundabout outside of Bryce Canyon Village, you will begin a short scenic stretch of Highway 12. Time and interest permitting, there are a handful of hikes and roadside attractions to see along the way before turning south onto Hwy 89.
Most visitors do not realize how many amazing trails and sights are available in the Red Canyon region between Zion and Bryce and drive right past. If you have time, stop by the Red Canyon visitor center on the way. Here you can find a list of all available trails, some of which begin right in that very parking lot!
Of particular note, we can personally recommend a few short hikes that provide spectacular views of the Mars-like canyon. These include Photo Trail, Tunnel Trail, Golden Wall Trail, and Pink Ledges Trail.
Losee Canyon – Arches Trail
Just a mile after leaving Red Rock Canyon, you will find a dirt road on your right that leads to Losee Canyon. From here several beautiful hikes are available. However, the one you absolutely should not miss is the Arches Trail.
The Losee Canyon trailhead is located a couple of miles up a dirt road. It is easily found on Google Maps and can be accessed with standard 2WD vehicles. Upon arriving at the trailhead, you will see signs for many hikes but NOT Arches Trail!
If you are looking at the main information board, instead look to your left and find a small paper sign that just has the words “Arches Trail” typed on it. You will have to scramble into the wash from here but should have no trouble finding and staying on the trail. The entire trail is less than a mile in total, with the Arches Trail loop itself totaling about half a mile. There are many small arches throughout, but one large one that made for a special place to do some stargazing.
Dixie National Forest Detour
Total Detour: 1h 15m, 50 miles
Eventually, Byway 12 will end at the junction of Highway 89. The most direct drive to Zion NP is to turn left and travel south through Hatch toward Mount Carmel Junction. However, those with the time and interest in nature should consider a detour into the Dixie National Forest. This can be done as a short loop by turning RIGHT at the junction headed toward Panguitch instead.
Explorers will discover a wild beauty here completely different to much of the surrounding regions. Expect to pass by unspoilt alpine lakes, waterfalls, and even some caves. The biggest reason to consider the Dixie National Forest detour, however, is to visit Cedar Breaks National Monument.
After passing through Cedar Breaks, continue onward toward Duck Creek admiring the mountainous beauty before returning to Hwy 89. At this point, you will be back on track for a direct route to Zion.
Below are all the things to see and do along this scenic detour between Bryce Canyon and Zion NP in the order that you will discover them.
Panguitch Lake Resort
On your way around, you will immediately pass through the resort town of Panguitch as well as a beautiful lake with the same name. This is a great place to consider staying if the alpine-town charm appeals to you, otherwise you can enjoy its beauty from the driver’s seat as you pass on through.
Cedar Breaks National Monument
This is the main reason to consider a detour on your way to Zion from Bryce Canyon. No National Monument can really be described as a hidden gem, but Cedar Breaks is certainly close! After seeing Bryce Canyon National Park, you may not be quite as impressed at first glance. Both provide similar hoodoo-filled amphitheaters and unique color palettes, but Cedar Breaks is much smaller with no hiking access to the hoodoos.
Unlike Bryce Canyon National Park, however, Cedar Breaks is never very busy. Additionally, the vistas from the viewpoints at Cedar Breaks are far better for sunset photography than they are at Bryce, which shines at sunrise. Both are spectacular places for stargazing.
The other feature Cedar Breaks can offer that Bryce Canyon does not is a collection of ancient bristlecone pine that make for intriguing subjects in the foreground of your photos.
Navajo Lake, Duck Lake, and Aspen-Mirror Lake
After leaving Cedar Breaks NM, you will begin to descend in elevation slightly before happening upon a series of scenic alpine lakes. The first of these is Navajo Lake, which can be seen from an overlook or driven to if desired.
The next will be Duck Lake and Aspen-Mirror Lake. Both of these are located near the town of Duck Creek and are favorites for everyone from landscape photographers to anglers to picnickers. If possible, plan an overnight visit to wake up to a perfect mirror-reflection of sunrise at Aspen-Mirror Lake.
Also Nearby: Duck Creek Ice Cave and Cascade Falls.
Mount Carmel Junction
Whether you have elected to take the detour to Dixie National Forest or taken the direct route, you will inevitably end up back on Highway 89 headed south toward Mount Carmel Junction. This small town has a couple of fuel stations, restaurants, a golf course, and a handful of hidden gems just past the junction for those willing to make another small detour.
Red Hollow Slot Canyon
Drive Distance: 7 minutes, 5 miles north of Mount Carmel Junction
Hike Distance: 2 miles roundtrip
The first short detour after turning back onto Hwy 89 will be a stop at Red Hollow Slot Canyon near the town of Orderville.
“Slot Canyons” do not exist in many places on Earth outside the American Southwest, so we try to see as many of these as we can. The great thing about Red Hollow is that it does not require canyoneering equipment.
*If you are as fascinated as we are by these natural marvels, check out our comprehensive guide to Utah Slot Canyons.*
Know before you go that construction nearby makes the trailhead more difficult to find. Follow these instructions to ensure you do not miss it:
- Locate Red Hollow Slot Canyon in Google Maps.
- When Google says you have arrived, look directly in front of you for a construction site with signs that only say “detour” and point right.
- Drive around the corner in the direction of the detour to a well-maintained dirt road.
- Drive the dirt road to the water station nearby (you can’t miss it).
- Park anywhere you can and find any of the small, unnamed trails that will inevitably lead to the creek wash.
- Turn left whenever you hit the wash and continue about half a mile up to arrive at Red Hollow Slot Canyon.
It may sound challenging, but the drive and walk are both easy and getting lost is almost impossible.
Orderville Slot Canyon Tours
If you want to add a little extra adventure to your Bryce Canyon to Zion itinerary, consider a tour of some of the other spectacular slots canyons in the area. Both of these tours begin in Orderville and are a great way to discover more of the beauty of the Southwest.
Take a thrilling UTV ride followed by a stunning hike in a slot canyon on this Slot Canyon Exploration and UTV Tour. Alternatively, if you want to give canyoneering a try, this Rappelling Slot Canyon & UTV Tour will take you on a rappelling adventure by UTV. No experience is necessary and the tour has drops for every skill level, even those with no prior rappelling experience.
Belly of the Dragon
Drive Distance: 2 minutes, 1 mile from Mount Carmel Junction
Hike Distance: <1 minute
The Belly of the Dragon tunnel was constructed to be a water drainage for Highway 89. Nowadays, it is a popular stop for visitors of all ages on the way to Zion from Bryce Canyon.
The parking area is located just a mile from Carmel Junction. Unless you are claustrophobic, there is no reason to skip this hidden gem as there are no entry fees or long hikes required.
Elkheart Slot Canyons aka Huntress Canyon aka Diana’s Throne
Drive Distance: 4 minutes, 3 miles from Mount Carmel Junction
Hike Distance: 1-5 miles roundtrip, depending on desired distance.
The Elkheart Slot Canyons are a semi-technical series of slot canyons. Be aware that they are also known as the Huntress Slot Canyons and even Diana’s Throne. However, Diana’s Throne is actually a feature within the canyon.
If you use Google Maps to find the Elkheart Slot Canyons trailhead, it will accurately deliver you to a large dirt lot. There are no signs or markings, just a dirt lot located on a sharp corner of the road.
You will find a dirt road with tire tracks but only ATVs and 4WD vehicles should attempt this stretch. Most of you will need to walk this section by foot. After a quarter mile, you will encounter telephone wires that intersect the path. Local guides know the fastest route, but there is no way to identify it otherwise. Instead, follow any of the unmarked trails toward the canyon wall until you arrive at the wash.
From here, there are sections of slot canyons requiring different levels of fitness and ability in both directions.
Drive Distance: 11 minutes, 11 miles from Mount Carmel Junction
Hike Distance: N/A
The Moqui Cave is a historic roadside attraction that has been managed and preserved by the Chamberlain family for generations. It has a kitschy curiosity that will intrigue most but is not much for photographers. History buffs and culture enthusiasts, however, can take a tour of the cave to learn about the Paiute tribe that once called Moqui Cave home while discovering many ancient artifacts.
Hwy 89 Sand Caves
Drive Distance: 12 minutes, 11.5 miles from Mount Carmel Junction
Hike Distance: Very challenging 0.5 mile roundtrip (but can be seen from the road)
Drive 1/4 mile beyond Moqui Cave and look to your left. There, you will see a few small holes in the rock high up on the cliff. To the right, find the unmarked parking area. Park here then cross the road to where the trailhead to these hidden sand caves begins.
The entire hike to the sand caves is only half a mile roundtrip, maybe less, but is very difficult. It begins on a sand track that is easy enough. Soon enough, it dead-ends at a steep cliff wall where you will have to scramble over slick rock and climb toward the caves.
This should only be attempted with proper footwear and by people with good physical ability. The risk of slip and falls is high and could easily result in broken bones or worse. It’s not all doom and gloom, however! Most young and able hikers with proper shoes will be capable of making the climb, just take your time.
Mt Carmel Highway 9 – Entering Zion
From Carmel Junction, turn right onto Highway 9 to begin the final leg of the drive into Zion National Park from Bryce Canyon. 13 miles from the junction, you will arrive at the Zion National Park east visitor entrance. This is the beginning of scenic Mt Carmel Highway with many hidden gems along the way.
Most visitors will blow by the majority of the stops listed in this guide as they are not found on the official national park map. Fortunately, you have read this guide and will not miss any of them!
Checkerboard Mesa is on the visitor map for Zion and is impossible to miss as you drive toward the Zion valley. Parking is ample and no hike is required, but it is unlikely to hold your attention for more than a couple minutes. Though this is one of the only official stops along the way, it is far from the most impressive.
It is not possible to access the depths of Keyhole Canyon without a permit and equipment. However, you can walk to the entrance very easily and even explore it a bit from the top looking down. Keyhole Canyon is on Google Maps and easy to find, but is not marked.
Zion Little Lonely Tree
This hidden gem is becoming a favorite with photographers, although is possibly not quite as interesting for the casual viewer. Like many stops on the way from Bryce to Zion, you won’t find it on the map.
To discover it, you will need to keep your eyes peeled on the left-hand side of the road between Keyhole Canyon and Many Pools. The parking area is not signed, but is just a small pull-off.
Pine Creek Slot Canyons
First, understand that there is one official “Pine Creek Gorge Slot Canyon”. This is a technical slot canyon that you enter by repelling near the Zion Canyon Overlook Trail. Unless you have the skills, expertise, and permit, most of the official Pine Creek Gorge slot canyon will not be accessible.
Fortunately, there are a collection of other, smaller slot canyons located along the Pine Creek wash that can easily be explored by foot. The majority of these are unnamed and have no trail indicators, which makes it more fun. As you drive Mt Carmel Highway 9 toward west Zion, keep your eyes peeled for cracks in the canyon walls in the distance and for unmarked pull-offs. Whenever you think you see one, hike the creek wash and you will likely discover one!
In total, we discovered 5-6 that had no names or mention anywhere else that we have found!
Many Pools Slot Canyons
You will not find Many Pools on the Zion National Park map, but you will find it on Google Maps. The only indicator you are in the right place is the vault toilet and a large parking area.
Located within a quarter mile of the parking area are two slot canyons; one “true” slot and one small but colorful slot canyon. The easiest way to find them is to look for the massive crack in the canyon wall that is visible from the parking lot, then simply take any of the unmarked trails in that direction. You will hit the Pine Creek Wash and find the small entrance easily enough. The smaller canyon is located just to the right of this large slot.
Zion Canyon Overlook Trail
The last stop we will mention before going through the Carmel Tunnel and arriving in the Zion Valley is the scenic Overlook Trail. Be aware that parking is extremely limited all times of day. Additionally, parking is only available in the lot for compact cars. If your vehicle is larger you will need to find space in one of the pull-offs.
The hike is only one mile roundtrip, so with a bit of patience you may be able to snag a spot as someone returns from their hike. Despite the short distance, the Zion Canyon Overlook Trail is rated moderate and takes most people at least an hour to complete. There is a significant elevation gain and the trail is a bit precarious at times.
Other Regional Guides
If you have found this guide useful for your journey to Zion from Bryce Canyon, you will also want to queue up some of our other Southwest guides. These have been created to inspire your photography and ensure you do not miss any scenic destinations in the region.
- Utah Slot Canyons Comprehensive Guide
- Top 50 Canyons in the US
- Things to do in St George, Utah
- Snow Canyon State Park Guide
- Grand Canyon Photography Guide
- Grand Canyon North Rim Comprehensive Guide
- One Day in Grand Canyon Itinerary
- Things to do in Page, Arizona
- Ultimate Guide to Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas
Final Thoughts on Driving from Bryce Canyon to Zion NP
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