Winter is the perfect time to enjoy the lighter crowds on Zion’s most popular hiking trails. But if chilly temperatures have you looking for a way to enjoy the winter landscape with a little heat, a scenic drive might be just the ticket.
With much of Southern Utah experiencing a mild winter, the region’s scenic drives remain open for much of the season. This means that visitors of all ages and abilities can take a cruise and see the sights while staying warm and toasty in their vehicles. Keep reading to learn a few of the best drives to take this season.
Zion Park Scenic Byway
Perhaps the first scenic drive that most visitors to the area think of is the Zion Park Scenic Byway. At just 60-miles in length, it won’t take nearly as long to drive as the next route on this list. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t want to give yourself plenty of time for stops, hikes, and photos along the way.
This byway winds through Zion National Park, following Utah Highway 9. The road begins in Kanab, and from there you can make the 20-minute drive to Mount Carmel Junction. Then you can head west on Utah Highway 9 towards the park.
Taking the Zion Park Scenic Byway also means you’ll get the chance to cruise through the iconic mile-long Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, perhaps the coolest mile you could possibly drive in your Slingshot.
During the winter season, you can also add a fun, unique side trip to this drive by taking a cruise through the heart of Zion Canyon. For most of the year, the road into the canyon is closed to private vehicles because the shuttles are in operation. But from the end of November through March, with the exception of a few short holiday periods, the shuttles are not running, and you are free to drive through the park and park in lots and spaces to access trailheads.
Highway 12 Scenic Byway
Running 124-miles from Torrey, Utah to US 89, you’ll need a full day to drive out and back on this road if you plan to make any stops. But if you have the time, you’ll be treated to some of the most beautiful views in Southern Utah.
On this long, scenic drive, you’ll pass some of the region’s famous red rock domes, as well as wooded mountainous areas. Bryce Canyon National Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are situated on this route, as are the lesser-known Kodachrome Basin State Park and Escalante Petrified Forest. At the end of this road, in Torrey, you’ll also find the western edge of Capitol Reef National Park.
Small, classic western towns like Escalante, Boulder, and Tropic make excellent stopping points along the way for catching lunch or stretching your legs.
Bonus Route: Hole-in-the-Rock Road
If you have time, you can also veer off this road for a 57-mile side trip on Hole-in-the-Rock Road. You’ll go from desert views to stunning overlooks on Lake Powell.
US Highway 89
Another road beginning near Kanab and great for enjoying from your Slingshot is US Highway 89. This 75-mile road is perhaps the most scenic on this list, with long, empty stretches and very little traffic. On your way to Page, Arizona, you’ll pass colorful striped sandstone cliffs as well as soaring ridges spotted with pine trees.
At the end of Highway 89, you’ll cross over the beautiful Colorado River as you enter Page. Grab a tasty meal and do some sightseeing, then start your trip back to Kanab in time to enjoy the beautiful sunset views over the cliffs and ridges along this road.
Bonus Route: Paria River Valley Scenic Backway
If you’re interested in a side trip and a touch of adventure, take the Paria River Valley Scenic Backway at milepost 31. This route will take you to the ghost town of Paria, which was once used as a film set but has long since been abandoned.
Johnson Canyon Road
If you aren’t too afraid of heights, this cliff-hugging route will have your heart pounding. Johnson Canyon Road begins less than 10 miles to the east of Kanab. From there, it climbs upwards along cliff-lined canyons, continuing for 18 miles before ending in a 3-way junction.
Johnson Canyon Road follows part of the western edge of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. If you’re visiting during the busy summer months, this often-overlooked park is perfect for escaping the crowds that fill Zion and Bryce this time of year. At over 1.9-million acres and featuring stunning rock formations and breathtaking cliffs, it’s worth a visit any time of year.
Bonus Route: Skutumpah Road
When you get to the 3-way junction at the end of this road, you can either turn back or continue on to another great scenic route, Skutumpah Road. This rough road isn’t for everyone, but if you’re willing to drive the 33-miles along the edge of Kodachrome Basin State Park, you’ll enjoy even more beautiful views, as well as access to trails and overlooks.
Taking a Scenic Drive During Your Winter Visit
While a scenic drive can be a great way to spend a winter day in Southern Utah, its important to remember the hazards of the season. Always check the weather and road conditions before heading out for the day. If snow and ice are present, roads may become hazardous. Practice caution, stay off the roads in bad conditions and take it slow. There is no scenic view worth putting yourself or your family at risk!