Head north out of Las Vegas on Interstate 15, and you’ll soon be in Utah, one of Nevada’s neighbor states. An easy two-hour drive from Las Vegas will take you to Southern Utah's Zion National Park, a great place for hiking, picnicking, nature watching, and photography.Zion National Park — Photo courtesy of jan go
Watch Out for Signs and Small Towns
Just outside St. George, you’ll see the signs at State Highway 9 that announce the turn-off to Zion National Park. You'll be turning right off the interstate and heading into rural country.
Not long after you leave the interstate, you'll pass through the town of Hurricane. Watch for country fairs and community gatherings in Hurricane, where the town’s park borders on the main road through town. This is also a good place to stop for fuel or snacks. Keep a sharp eye on the road to follow the directional signs that will lead you through town.
Hurricane isn't the only small town you'll drive through on your way to Zion. Right before you get to the park's entrance, you’ll drive through Springdale, a small artsy town on the doorstep of the park. Fun shops (think hand-made goods and polished rocks), galleries, and restaurants line the main road through town. Stop here to wander, browse the shops, and have something to eat.
The per-car entry fee into Zion is $25, which is valid for seven days.
From about April through October, visitors must park their vehicles and ride a shuttle, which cuts down on the traffic inside the park. Parking and shuttle service is also available in Springdale.
Along Zion's Scenic Drive, several pull-outs give you places to stop for hikes or photo opportunities. Use the park guide you received when you paid your entrance fee to figure out where to stop for some extra exploration.
Zion's Scenic Drive/Floor of the Valley road ends at the trail head for the Narrows, a route that leads you up the Virgin River. There’s no dirt trail here–attempt the Narrows from this point, and you’ll be heading upstream in the narrow canyon that gives the route its name. Serious hikers use a guided service to get “dropped in” up river so they can walk downstream with the current. Outfitters in Springdale can make these arrangements for you, as well as make sure you’ve got the necessary gear to navigate the Virgin River’s slippery rocks.
A Tunnel Carved Through Rock
Zion's Scene Drive gives you a look at the park from the base of its cliffs. If you opt to stay in your car and follow State Highway 9, you'll bear to the right to take a winding, climbing road. You'll pass through the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel, a mile-long tunnel completed in 1930.
Hiking trails along this route will give you an elevated, panoramic view into Zion. If you aren't afraid of heights and some strenuous, uphill hiking, you’ll be glad you stopped.
Back to Vegas
To return to Las Vegas, you can simply re-trace your route. If you’ve chosen to take State Highway 9, you can make a big loop using Highway 89 to go further north or south–and both directions will lead you through gorgeous, lightly-inhabited country.
Whichever direction you take, be sure to savor the sunset in this area. The last rays of light catch the cliffs and mountain tops while shadows encroach on the valleys below. Be sure to include plenty of time to pull over and take in the scenery. Vegas may have neon, but in this part of the country, no additional lighting is necessary.