Zion to Bryce Canyon Guide: Must-see sights along the way ⋆ We Dream of Travel Blog

Zion to Bryce Canyon Guide: Must-see sights along the way

Blog cover image for must see sights from Zion to Bryce Canyon National Park.  Text overlaying an image of Cedar Breaks National Monument at sunset.

The national parks of Southern Utah are the highlights of every regional road trip itinerary. However, there is more to see on the way from Zion to Bryce Canyon than most people realize! What may seem a short journey is actually full of hidden gems and popular destinations that are as spectacular as the parks themselves.

This guide highlights the best things to do along the way, as well as provides relevant information on the journey from Zion NP to Bryce Canyon NP. Additionally, you will find other relevant guides linked throughout to help you plan the best adventure possible.

If you’re planning your trip to these parks in the opposite direction, then you’ll want our Bryce Canyon to Zion guide. Here you will find this itinerary already reversed for ease of reference.

Disclosure: In order to keep providing you with free content, this post likely contains affiliate links. If you make a booking or purchase through one of these links we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. So a HUGE thank you to you if you click one of these links 🙂

Before We Get Started… Our 2022 National Park Calendar is Now Available!

In a year of unprecedented travel restrictions, so many of us focused on discovering the beauty of our own backyard.  It is in this spirit that the 2022 calendar theme also honors the US National Parks.

Celebrate 2022 (and say goodbye to 2021) with this collection of inspired photographs featuring “America’s National Treasures” while supporting local artistry with a stunning gallery that fits right on your wall!

Click the photo to view our calendar!

Zion to Bryce Canyon FAQs

The road from Zion to Bryce Canyon is full of otherworldly landscapes and colors!
The road from Zion to Bryce Canyon is full of otherworldly landscapes and colors!

This section provides some quick answers to many of the most common questions regarding the journey from Zion to Bryce Canyon.

How long is the drive from Zion to Bryce Canyon?

It is a 2 hour, 85-mile drive from the west entrance gate of Zion to the entrance gate at Bryce Canyon.

Can you see Zion and Bryce in one day?

Technically, yes, the parks are close enough to visit both in a day at a very fast pace. However, we wouldn’t recommend it. Not only would it be a very rushed visit that would be difficult to truly enjoy, but you will also miss all the incredible sights between Zion and Bryce Canyon. If you have only one day, we would ideally suggest just exploring one park.

What are the best things to do between Zion and Bryce Canyon?

There are a myriad of amazing sights in between the two national parks, all of which will be covered in more detail in this guide. Some of the highlights include Belly of the Dragon, Many Pools Slot Canyon, Red Hollow Slot Canyon, Red Canyon, and a detour to Cedar Breaks National Monument.

Are there services available between Zion and Bryce?

You will find all necessary services including gas, groceries, accommodation, and restaurants at Carmel Junction, Orderville, Hatch, and at the Bryce Canyon Village. Additionally, detours to Brian Head and Panguitch also have a full array of amenities.

Sunrise at Bryce Canyon National Park.
Sunrise at Bryce Canyon National Park.

Zion to Bryce Canyon Map

As there are a plethora of amazing things to see and do along the drive from Zion to Bryce Canyon, we have included a map to help you plan your route. Click here or on the image below to open an interactive Google Map.

Information and photos for each of the stops included can be found in greater detail in the following section.

Zion to Bryce Canyon Map
Zion to Bryce Canyon map

Zion to Bryce Canyon Itinerary

A view from the Carmel Highway connecting Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon.
A view from the Carmel Highway connecting Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon.

Those travelers who have allowed themselves some spare time in the Southern Utah itinerary will want to devote at least an extra couple of days to see all there is to see on the way from Zion to Bryce Canyon.

Below is a list of the best things to see and do as you drive between the national parks. All of these destinations can be seen either roadside or with minimal hiking, though those with physical limitations may not be able to access all of them.

The destinations included are ordered from west to east as you travel from Zion to Bryce Canyon.

Mt Carmel Highway 9 – Leaving Zion

Aerial view of the snaking switchback highway of Mt Carmel that connects East and West Zion from Bryce Canyon NP.
The snaking switchback highway of Mt Carmel connects East and West Zion.

The Mt Carmel Highway comprises the eastern section of Zion National Park, beginning at the end of the long tunnel that divides the park. This stretch of road is incredibly scenic and has a variety of noteworthy stops that often slip under the radar of visitors. Be sure to have a look as you exit Zion on your way to Bryce Canyon.

Zion Canyon Overlook Trail

Sunlight finds a crack in the thick cloud layer at Zion Canyon Overlook as you leave Zion toward Bryce Canyon.
Sunlight finds a crack in the thick cloud layer at Zion Canyon Overlook as you leave Zion toward Bryce Canyon.

The moment you exit the Mt Carmel Tunnel headed east out of the Zion Valley, you will see a small parking lot that will be full nearly every moment of the day. This parking area is for the Overlook Trail, which provides a spectacular vista of the Zion Canyon rivaled only by the famous Angel’s Landing Trail. It is worth noting that this parking lot is only for compact vehicles. Any oversized vehicles will need to find parking along the roadside.

Assuming you can find parking in the main lot or one of the nearby pull-offs, this is definitely a must-see on your way out of Zion National Park. It is only half a mile each way (1 mile roundtrip), but be warned this is a deceptively long and challenging trail given the short length. It is best viewed at sunrise or sunset, though parking is significantly easier before sunrise. Finding parking for sunset requires something of a miracle!

Many Pools Slot Canyons

Enjoying the smaller slot canyons of Many Pools in East Zion NP.
Enjoying the smaller slot canyons of Many Pools in East Zion NP.

There is no official sign or notice for Many Pools, which is both a shame and a blessing. The lack of exposure keeps the crowds thin, meaning those in the know can expect to have the pools and semi-secret slot canyons to themselves!

You will not find Many Pools on the Zion NP map nor signage when you have arrived, but it is on Google Maps. The only indicator you are in the right place is the vault toilet and large parking area.

From the parking lot, there is no clear trail. Not to worry, just begin walking the most apparent trail you find to the RIGHT (assuming your back is to the road). Eventually, you will hit the wash as it runs along the steep canyon wall. There is one true slot canyon here which can be seen from the parking area as a large crack in the wall. There is also another more scenic but less “slotty” canyon as you walk the wash to the right.

Zion’s Little Lonely Tree

Keep your eyes open for the Little Lonely Tree of Zion National Park as you drive toward Bryce Canyon NP.
Keep your eyes open for the Little Lonely Tree of Zion National Park as you drive toward Bryce Canyon NP.

This little tree has captured the heart of many photographers, though its simple beauty may not be appreciated as much by the casual viewer. Like most of the stops along the way out of Zion, there is no spot on the map nor official parking area for the Little Lonely Tree.

To find it, you will simply have to keep your eyes peeled on the right-hand side as you are leaving the park for the tree that matches the photo. It is located between Many Pools and Keyhole Canyon, with the closest parking area being a small pull-off just before a large corner.

Pine Creek Slot Canyons

Time permitting, be sure to wander the Pine Creek wash on your way to Bryce Canyon from Zion to discover a plethora of hidden slot canyons.
Time permitting, be sure to wander the Pine Creek wash on your way to Bryce Canyon from Zion to discover a plethora of hidden slot canyons.

We found information regarding the Pine Creek Slot Canyon(s) extremely confusing, but hopefully this guide makes things more clear.

There is one official “Pine Creek Gorge Slot Canyon” which is a technical slot canyon beginning near the Overlook Trail. It is one of the most spectacular you will find between Zion and Bryce Canyon, but it requires canyoneering permits, equipment, and experience. By foot, you can walk to several points that look down into the slot canyon but you will not get the incredible scenes you will discover inside.

However, Pine Creek runs throughout most of the Eastern section of the park. Along the wash, there are several lesser-known slot canyons of varying length to be discovered! Most have no official names or trailheads, so this is only for those with time and a sense of adventure!

The simplest way to find them is to look for cracks and crevices in the distant wall as you are driving out of Zion. Additionally, look for parking areas with gates and signs but no names. Most of these will lead to the Pine Creek Wash which you can follow and inevitably stumble upon some of the hidden canyons therein.

Keyhole Canyon

For those without time or equipment for a technical climb, the view of Keyhole Slot Canyon is still impressive from above.
For those without time or equipment for a technical climb, the view of Keyhole Slot Canyon is still impressive from above.

Keyhole Canyon is a technical slot canyon requiring canyoneering equipment and training. However, you can access the top of the canyon quickly and easily and have a little peek into it. The canyon is not on the official park map, but Google Maps will land you directly at it with small pull-offs across the road to park at.

While you cannot enter the canyon directly without proper gear, you can walk above it for some distance if you like and peer down into it. Even without venturing into the depths, it is still an impressive sight to see!

Checkerboard Mesa

The iconic Checkerboard Mesa will bey our final stop within Zion NP on your way to Bryce Canyon.
The iconic Checkerboard Mesa will be our final stop within Zion NP on your way to Bryce Canyon.

Finally, something on the Zion National park map! Checkerboard Mesa is a large rock formation that you cannot miss on your way out of the park. There is ample signage and parking available for viewers to stop and enjoy the aptly-named mesa.

For what it’s worth, you will likely see many similar formations if you are spending any significant time in the Southwest, so don’t plan too much time for this roadside attraction.

Mount Carmel Junction

Upon leaving Zion National Park, you will arrive at Carmel Junction where Hwy 9 ends. This small town has a couple fuel stations, restaurants, a golf course, and a few hidden gems nearby. Consider stops at the following scenic destinations before turning north onto Hwy 89 toward Bryce Canyon.

Each of these are a slight detour from your organic route but drive times are minimal.

Red Hollow Slot Canyon

Drive Distance: 7 minutes, 5 miles north of Mount Carmel Junction
Hike Distance: 2 miles roundtrip

The Red Hollow Slot Canyon is a true hidden gem between Zion and Bryce Canyon.
The Red Hollow Slot Canyon is a true hidden gem between Zion and Bryce Canyon.

This is appearing at the top of the list because it is the only destination in the Carmel Junction region that is on your way north toward Bryce Canyon. It is also one of the hidden gems that most people drive right by without realizing what a treasure they have missed!

“Slot Canyons” are a rare natural marvel that exist in very few places in the world outside of the American Southwest. We have made an effort to visit as many as we can as each is its own fascinating adventure, and Red Hollow managed to make our Top 10!

Be warned that finding the trailhead has become slightly tricky due to construction. The easiest way to find it is to put Red Hollow Slot Canyon into Google Maps. The canyon is located near the small town of Orderville. Google will tell you that you have arrived despite there being nowhere to park and nothing to see! Look for signs that say “Detour” near a construction sight directly in front of you and follow these signs a short distance along a dirt road to a large water tower which can be seen on Google Maps.

At the water tower, you will find limited parking and something slightly resembling a trailhead. Don’t worry, all you need to do is start walking in any direction until you hit the obvious river wash, then turn LEFT. Within a half mile at the most, you will arrive at the entrance to this incredible slot canyon.

Orderville Slot Canyon Tours

From Orderville you can also take a tour to further explore the spectacular slot canyons in the area. This Slot Canyon Exploration and UTV Tour will take have you exploring the backcountry of East Zion on a thrilling UTV ride followed by a stunning hike in a slot canyon. 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.

Both of these tours offer a great addition to your Zion to Bryce Canyon itinerary.

Belly of the Dragon

Drive Distance: 2 minutes, 1 mile from Mount Carmel Junction
Hike Distance: <1 minute

Climb into the Belly of the Dragon near the Mt Carmel junction on your road trip from Zion to Bryce Canyon.
Climb into the Belly of the Dragon near the Mt Carmel junction.

Originally constructed as a water drainage for highway 89, the Belly of the Dragon has become a favorite adventure stop for travelers between Zion and Bryce. The parking area is located just a mile from Carmel Junction and there is no hike required. That said, you do need to drop down a short distance to enter, so those with physical disabilities may struggle some getting in.

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 Canyon, aka Huntress Slot Canyon, is a difficult but beautiful stop between Zion and Bryce Canyon.
The Elkheart Slot Canyon, aka Huntress Slot Canyon, is a difficult but beautiful stop between Zion and Bryce Canyon.

This stop had us extremely confused during our time researching slot canyons between Zion and Bryce Canyon! Each guide had wildly varying hike times, distances, and even different names! Some said it required technical expertise, while others claimed you could walk through them…

Here is what we learned: the Elkheart Slot Canyons are also known as the Huntress Slot Canyons. They are sometimes also referred to as Diana’s Throne, but technically that is a feature within the canyon.

Google Maps will send you to an unmarked dirt lot located on a corner just south of Carmel Junction. There is an obvious trail that can be accessed by foot or ATV. Begin walking the trail until you arrive at the telephone wires that intersect the path, then follow any of the unmarked trails directly ahead toward the canyon wall. Inevitably, you will get to the wash.

From here, you can hike in either direction; if you go right, the trail will dead-end at a pool less than half a mile up which requires rope to continue past. If you go left, you will encounter a few smaller slot canyons, many of which require you to walk above at first as the drop is too sheer. Eventually, you will be able to get back down to the wash and backtrack through the slot canyon.

The easiest way to see the Elkheart Canyons is to get a guide who can help you navigate these, and other regional beginner canyons. The cheapest way, however, is to go for a walk!

Moqui Cave

Drive Distance: 11 minutes, 11 miles from Mount Carmel Junction
Hike Distance: N/A

History enthusiasts can learn about the ancient tribes that once called the Southwest home at the Moqui Cave Museum.
History enthusiasts can learn about the ancient tribes that once called the Southwest home at the Moqui Cave Museum.

You cannot miss this family-owned and operated historic roadside attraction as you venture toward Kanab. Those curious about the history of the Native American tribes who once called this region home should definitely make time for this stop. History and culture buffs will enjoy the tour and attention to detail that has been preserved by the Chamberlain family for generations. Photographers, however, may wish to bypass Moqui Cave and drive just a minute further down the road to the nearby sand caves.

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 road)

Just beyond the Moqui Caves lie the hidden sand caves along Hwy 89.
Just beyond the Moqui Caves lie the hidden sand caves along Hwy 89.

Just a quarter-mile past the Moqui Cave are some small holes in the rock on the lefthand side of the road. To the right, you can find an unmarked parking area with a trail to these small but impressive sand caves.

Be warned that the entire hike is incredibly short, but it does require a somewhat nerve-wracking climb up steep slickrock. This will be impossible when wet and requires shoes with good grip even at the best of times.

Once you have made the ascent, you’ll discover a series of caves that look out into the desert and make for intriguing photographs.

Dixie National Forest Detour

Total Detour: 1h 15m, 50 miles

At this point, you will be heading north on Highway 89 toward Bryce Canyon National Park. The most direct route from Zion to Bryce Canyon NP is to stay on the highway until it connects to Scenic Byway 12.

The direct drive is pretty enough, but there are very few points of interest along this stretch of road. Those with the time should consider a short detour loop into the Dixie National Forest instead.

The scenery in this region is incredible and includes pristine alpine lakes, waterfalls, caves, but most importantly, Cedar Breaks National Monument. Think of Cedar Breaks as the little brother to Bryce Canyon. It is not as large and has less hiking, but the trade-off is almost no crowds. You also get slightly different colorations and the area is one of the best for seeing the warped beauty of bristlecone pine.

If you decide to do this as a loop (which I highly recommend), you will detour onto Hwy 14 and be spat out back on track just past Panguitch onto Hwy 89.

Below are all the things to see and do along this scenic detour between Zion and Bryce Canyon.

Duck Lake & Duck Creek Village

The idyllic Duck Creek Lake is just one of many pristine alpine lakes on the Dixie National Forest detour on a road trip from Zion to Bryce Canyon.
The idyllic Duck Creek Lake is just one of many pristine alpine lakes on the Dixie National Forest detour on a road trip from Zion to Bryce Canyon.

This charming lakeside town offers a variety of accommodation from cozy cabins to RV parks, as well as providing some quaint cafes and restaurants, check here for current rates and availability. While it is mostly a winter-town, outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy it any time of year.

There are two lakes nearby: Duck Lake and Aspen-Mirror Lake, the latter known for its perfect morning reflections.

Also Nearby: Duck Creek Ice Cave, Cascade Falls, and Navajo Lake.

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Cedar Breaks National Monument is a true must-see for visitors traveling from Zion to Bryce Canyon NP.
Cedar Breaks National Monument is a true must-see for visitors traveling from Zion to Bryce Canyon NP.

It’s hard to describe any National Monument as a hidden gem, but Cedar Breaks certainly feels like one! As mentioned above, it could be thought of as the little brother to Bryce Canyon National Park. Both offer stunning hoodoo-filled amphitheaters with otherworldly color palettes.

What makes Cedar Breaks so appealing is that, unlike Bryce Canyon, it never seems to be busy. You can enjoy perfect views of sunset and milky way from one of several viewpoints dotting the road. Or go for an afternoon stroll along the Spectra Point / Ramparts Overlook trail. Along this short 1-2 mile jaunt, you will discover awe-inspiring views of the canyon, as well as the gnarled beauty of ancient bristlecone pine.

Panguitch Lake Resort

On your way out of the Dixie National Forest, stop by and enjoy the blue waters of Panguitch Lake.
On your way out of the Dixie National Forest, stop by and enjoy the blue waters of Panguitch Lake.

On your way out of the Dixie National Forest loop back to the main road to Bryce Canyon, you will pass by a town and lake both known as Panguitch. This little mountain town is buzzing with life year-round. It is a favorite destination for families and outdoor enthusiasts alike looking to get away.

Most of Panguitch’s beauty can be appreciated from the road. If time permits, however, you may want to plan your itinerary to include a picnic or dine-in meal before you venture onward toward Highway 12.

Utah Scenic Byway 12

The Scenic Byway 12 connecting Zion to Bryce Canyon is filled with beautiful scenery like only the American Southwest can provide.
The Scenic Byway 12 connecting Zion to Bryce Canyon is filled with beautiful scenery like only the American Southwest can provide.

Scenic Byway 12 is perhaps the most renowned road in all of Utah for its spectacular roadside views and vistas. You do not need to even leave the driver’s seat to appreciate the incredible, Mars-like red rock you will pass through as you near Bryce Canyon. However, there are several hiking trails of all distances to consider on the way!

Red Canyon

Scenic Byway 12 runs past the Red Canyon on the way to Bryce Canyon from Zion NP.
Scenic Byway 12 runs past the Red Canyon on the way to Bryce Canyon from Zion NP.

Just before arriving at Bryce Canyon from Zion, you will first drive through the Red Canyon section of Highway 12. A sign indicates you have arrived just before driving through a red-rock tunnel. However, you will recognize you have arrived long before this as the vibrant red hues are impossible to ignore.

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 pick up a list of all available trails, some of which begin right in the parking lot! You’ll also find restrooms and drinking water available here.

Arches Trail in Losee Canyon

Stargazing and doing night photography in the Losee Canyon on the Arches Trail on our Zion to Bryce Canyon road trip.
Stargazing in the Losee Canyon on the Arches Trail on our Zion to Bryce Canyon road trip.

We walked most of the shorter trails nearby Red Canyon. However, we ended up backtracking when we discovered the little-known Arches Trail. This short walk begins at the Losee Canyon trailhead, located a few miles up a dirt road. 2WD vehicles should have no trouble accessing the trailhead except following heavy rains. However, be prepared for a bumpy ride.

Once you have arrived at the trailhead, you will see signs for a variety of different trails, but NOT Arches Trail! We ended up walking over a mile in the wrong direction as a result. If you are looking at the main information board, instead turn to your left. Look for a small paper sign that just has the words “Arches Trail” typed on it. You will have to jump into the wash from here but there will be plenty more signage as you go.

The entire trail is less than a mile in total, with the Arches Trail loop covering about half a mile. There are over 25 arches along the way, but most are very small.

Bryce Canyon City & Bryce Canyon NP

Sunrise at Bryce Canyon National Park.
Be sure to include at least one sunrise at Bryce Canyon on your visit to the national park.

The final stop before entering Bryce Canyon from Zion NP will be Bryce Canyon City. This gateway town is small but vibrant, full of life and character. Ruby’s Inn provides historic lodging as well as a general store and restaurant. Even if you do not require any services, it is worth roaming the hallway and enjoying the nostalgic photos from a not-so-distant time of cowboys and pioneers.

Beyond accommodation and tour companies, there is not a ton in Bryce Canyon City. Restaurants are limited and those that do exist do not have particularly great reviews, but that’s what you get in a small town sometimes. During peak season weekends, you may be able to watch an event at the local rodeo as well.

Due to the limited accommodation in the area, it is worth booking in advance, particularly during busy times. Check here for current availability and prices for lodging in Bryce Canyon City.

Other Regional Guides

If you have found this guide useful for your journey to Bryce Canyon from Zion National Park, you will also potentially find value in some of our other regional guides. Discover other hidden gems or photography inspiration from the American Southwest.

Final Thoughts on Driving Zion to Bryce Canyon NP

The orange-rock landscapes of the American Southwest are a treasure to behold.
Prepare for a eye-pleasing journey through unique desert landscapes on your visit to Bryce Canyon from Zion.

As you have read, there is so much to see on the way from Zion to Bryce Canyon that most people will drive right by! Personally, we spent about 5 days just in this stretch of our road trip. Although admittedly we travel slow and are patient when it comes to the light.

We genuinely hope you have found this guide useful and welcome all feedback. Whether you discover something out of date or you go on to have a life-changing experience as a result of finding our blog, please let us know! Both things help us as we create these travel guides.

Also, if you haven’t yet, be sure to check our other southwest guides to ensure you do not miss anything throughout your journey!

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**All photos contained in this photography-based travel blog are copyright of Adam Marland & Sophie Clapton. 
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