Zion National Park is located 300 miles (4.5-hour-drive) from Salt Lake City. Most of the drive is along Interstate 15, which has some beautiful sights and attractions along the way.
Rather than racing from Salt Lake City to Zion as quickly as possible, slow down and enjoy the drive. There are plenty of fascinating stops on the route.
Driving from Salt Lake City to Zion National Park
Salt Lake City
Sandwiched between Great Salt Lake and the Wasatch Mountains, Salt Lake City is one of the prettiest cities in the West. But despite its scenic beauty, Salt Lake City is best-known as the global headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka the Mormon Church), which has 16 million members worldwide.
Over half-a-million Mormons live in Salt Lake City. But the times, they are a-changin’. In 2018, Salt Lake City became minority Mormon. Despite losing their “Morm-jority,” the cultural influence of Mormons still looms large.
Great Salt Lake
Nearly 75 miles long by 35 miles wide (120 x 56 kilometers), this is the largest lake in the Western U.S. and the largest salt lake in the Western Hemisphere. The salinity of Great Salt Lake is roughly 12% — over three times saltier than the ocean.
One of the best ways to experience Great Salt Lake is visiting Antelope Island State Park. From Interstate 15, take exit 332 and drive across the 7-mile causeway. Once there, you can lounge on a sandy beach, float in the ultra-floaty water, or enjoy nearly 20 miles of hiking and biking trails.
Covering 10 acres in downtown Salt Lake City, Temple Square is the headquarters of the Mormon Church. Its cathedrals, museums, and libraries are the most popular tourist attractions in Utah, drawing nearly five million visitors a year. Temple Square is the heart of Salt Lake City. In fact, all street addresses in the city are laid out in reference to Temple Square.
Parowan Gap Petroglyphs
These ancient petroglyphs are among the most impressive rock art in Utah. They are believed to be the work of multiple native groups, but archaeologists are still unsure what the symbols mean. If you’re interested in native history the petroglyphs are definitely worth a visit. To get to the Parowan Gap Petroglyphs, take exit 75 off Interstate 15 and drive 7 miles northwest on Gap Road.
Cedar City is home to roughly 30,000 residents, many of which are students at Southern Utah University. The town’s biggest tourist draw, however, is the Utah Shakespeare Festival, one of the oldest and largest Shakespeare festivals in North America. From June to October, the Utah Shakespeare Festival performs eight classic plays. Cedar City’s Engelstad Theatre, which opened in 2016, is a modern structure based on Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
Cedar Breaks National Monument
This natural amphitheater is 3 miles (5 kilometers) wide, 2,000 feet deep, and filled with stunning rock formations. It’s similar to Bryce Canyon—but with a fraction of the crowds. While Bryce Canyon National Park draws 2.5 million visitors per year, Cedar Breaks National Monument draws just 700,000.
Perched 10,000 feet above sea level, Cedar Breaks is terrific for stargazing. In fact, limited light pollution and dry air make this one of the best stargazing locations in the U.S. Throughout summer Cedar Breaks National Monument offers “star parties.” These ranger-led astronomy programs are a fabulous introduction to stargazing.
Most people driving to Zion from Salt Lake City head straight to Zion Canyon — the most famous and popular part of the park. But 40 miles north of Zion Canyon, just off Interstate 15, is one of Zion National Park’s most beautiful (and least visited) places: Kolob Canyons.
In 1937 Kolob Canyons was declared a national monument for its towering sandstone cliffs, which are similar to those found in Zion Canyon. In 1956 Kolob Canyons was added to Zion National Park. Despite its beauty, however, it continues to fly under the radar. A 5-mile (8-kilometer) road twists through the canyons en route to terrific hikes and fabulous viewpoints.
To get to Kolob Canyons, take exit 40 off Interstate 15 and check in at the Kolob Canyons visitor center.
Hurricane (pronounced HUR-uh-kin by locals) is the largest town near Zion’s South Entrance. Roughy 17,000 people live in Hurricane, which is located 20 miles (40-minute drive) from Zion’s South Entrance.
Steep cliffs rise above the east side of town, marking the exact boundary of the Colorado Plateau. Covering 240,000 square miles in the Four Corners region, the Colorado Plateau has the highest concentration of national parks in America. There are few places where the boundary of the Colorado Plateau is quite so dramatic.
River Rock Roasters
This is my favorite place to eat in Hurricane. In addition to great food (pizza, sandwiches, smoothies, fresh-roasted coffee, craft beer), River Rock Roasters has a fabulous deck perched high above a deep gorge carved by the Virgin River. There’s no better place to take a break and enjoy the fabulous scenery.
This ghost town was first settled in 1859, then abandoned in 1944. In 1969, Grafton achieved international fame as the setting of the Paul Newman/Katherine Ross bicycle scene in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” To visit the abandoned buildings, head south on Bridge Road in the small town of Rockville, cross the bridge over the Virgin River, and follow the signs to Grafton.
This small town, located next to Zion’s most popular entrance, is the unofficial “Gateway to Zion.” Although its year-round population is just over 500, there are dozens of hotels, restaurants, gift shops and outfitters for Zion visitors, making the town feel much larger.
Technically, Springdale is located inside Zion Canyon, with West Temple rising to the west, The Watchman rising to the east, and the Virgin River flowing through the center of the canyon. Many of the sandstone cliffs rising above town rival those in the park, adding an air of magnificence to Springdale.
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