Asphalt roads are usually just a means to an end for an ordinary traveler – but if you’re going from the glitz and glam of Las Vegas to the dramatic sandstone walls of Zion National Park, the journey demands some extra time. The 160-mile drive can be done in just a little over two and a half hours. But any good road trip is all about the journey, and there’s plenty to explore between Las Vegas and Zion, especially deeper into the desert. From local food stops to miles of scenic hiking and even a deserted ghost town, make your road trip from Las Vegas to Zion National Park memorable with the ultimate two-day itinerary below.
Tips for Driving from Las Vegas to Zion National Park
Here are four useful tips to keep in mind on the drive:
- Remember: there’s a time change. Be sure to set your clocks ahead an hour after crossing the border from Nevada to Utah.
- Know Utah’s DUI law. Even just one drink might put you over the limit. Utah has the strictest DUI laws of any state with a blood alcohol content limit of 0.05 percent compared to the rest of the country at .08 percent. Of course, you should never drink and drive, but you need to be especially aware of it in Utah.
- Make reservations ahead of time if you plan to stay in Springdale and especially if you want to camp in the park. Road trips can be full of spontaneous decisions but finding lodging near Zion National Park should not be one of them, especially if you visit during the peak summer season.
- Buy an America the Beautiful Pass. Most people combine a visit to Zion National Park with other national park sites in Utah. Good for an entire year, this $80 pass covers entry fees to all national parks and many other public lands, including the first stop on this itinerary (but note it does not cover state parks).
Day One: Las Vegas to St. George
- Driving distance: 183 miles
- Total drive time: 3 hours, 30 mins
Leave the traffic and noise behind as you head out of Las Vegas and continue north into the heart of red rock country.
Stop one: Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Start the trip off with a short detour east of Las Vegas to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and see what the red rock hype is all about. Move along the park’s 13-mile Scenic Drive at a leisurely pace and don’t forget to make use of the pull-offs. There are 26 officially listed hikes and trails if you want to stretch your legs along the way. The Calico Tanks trail, in particular, offers a good introduction to the area; it’s a moderate 2.5-mile trail that winds its way through a wash to a natural tank. After a slight climb at the end, hikers are rewarded with a distant view of downtown Las Vegas.
Looking for something easier? Take the Moenkopi two-mile trail from the visitor center for excellent panoramic views. Summit-baggers can opt for the more strenuous five-mile hike to Turtlehead Peak, a prominent sandstone formation. Don’t be fooled by the short distance — its difficult.
Note: Timed reservations are required for vehicle entry to the Scenic Drive between 8 AM and 5 PM from October 1 to May 31. Entrance is free if you have the America the Beautiful Pass.
Stop two: Valley of Fire State Park
It’s no secret how this park got its name: the rocks exude a warm glow when the sun reflects off their bright red Aztec sandstone, creating what appears to be a Valley of Fire. This state park contains stunning rock formations, numerous petroglyphs, and petrified trees. Be on the lookout for some of the park’s elusive wildlife, including desert bighorn sheep. While there are many hikes to choose from, the Fire Wave, White Domes Loop, and Atlatl Rock are the best hikes for getting a sense for the park’s beauty.
- Fire Wave: This 1.5-mile trail leads to a unique swirling red, white, and pink sandstone formation that resembles an ocean wave.
- White Domes Loop: A 1.1-mile loop winds through some of the park’s most scenic and varied landscapes, including towering sandstone formations, dry washes, and a small slot canyon.
- Atlatl Rock: More of a walk than a hike, this picnic area is not far off the main Valley of Fire Road. A set of stairs leads visitors to the huge rock covered in petroglyphs thousands of years old.
Stop three: Nielsen’s Frozen Custard
End the day at Nielsen’s Frozen Custard in St. George, Utah. What started as an addition to Steve and Debbie Nielsen’s family farm in Bountiful, Utah quickly became a custard sensation. Today, there are five locations in Utah and one in Las Vegas. It’s still a true family business as three generations of Nielsens work at the various locations.
The diners have a vintage feel with neon signs and cozy red booths. Their food is good, sure, but you’re coming here mostly for dessert. Nielsen’s specializes in “concretes” – thick shakes made with custard and whatever add-ins you fancy. The options are as limitless as your imagination. Caramel-pineapple-cashew, if you want – why not?
Where to stay in St. George, Utah
St. George is filled with lodging options, ranging from campgrounds to motels and every chain hotel that comes to mind. There are plenty of places to stay. Consider the Best Western Plus Abbey Inn, with a year-round heated pool for those chilly, desert evenings. For something more hip, The Avenire offers midcentury-meets-western rooms with a fabulous restaurant and bar, and Inn on the Cliff is a contemporary boutique hotel with private balconies and a restaurant overlooking the St. George valley and red rocks in the distance.
If you’d prefer to camp, the best spot is Snow Canyon State Park. If you love red rocks, go here. It’s arguably as beautiful as the state’s national parks and will give you a taste of what to expect at the end of your Las Vegas to Zion road trip. If you camp here, wake up early to catch the sunrise in one of Utah’s most popular state parks.
Day Two: St. George to Zion National Park
- Driving distance: 52 miles
- Total drive time: 1 hour, 35 mins
On day two driving from Las Vegas to Zion National Park, towns become increasingly smaller. It doesn’t take long for shops and fast-food restaurants to give way to expansive red rock vistas.
Stop one: St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site
Start the day by indulging your inner paleontologist. Utah is rich in prehistoric history and archeological areas. The fossils at the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site were discovered fairly recently (in 2000), but that’s just a blink of an eye in geologic time. Today, the site houses fossils from across the area and houses the largest collection of swim tracks – long scratch marks on muddy lake bottoms made by dinosaurs swimming across – in the world. In addition to fossils and fascinating displays, they also have a fossil preparation lab where visitors can watch volunteers and paleontologists at work.
Stop two: Sand Hollow State Park
Water in the desert? Absolutely. This man-made reservoir has water activities ranging from relaxing on the beach or leisurely kayaking and fishing to more adrenaline-pumping activities like wakeboarding and jet-skiing. It’s about 100 feet deep, so you can even scuba dive on the intentionally sunk planes, boats, and vehicles.
If you prefer land to water, the park has ATV and OHV rentals you can use to explore it’s 62,000 acres of trails and sand dunes.
Road tripping from Las Vegas to Zion National Park in February? Time it to coincide with SkyFest, when hot air balloons launch just outside nearby Sand Hollow Resort at sunrise.
Stop three: River Rock Roasting Co. and Bakery
Don’t be fooled by the name: this place offers up more than just delicious coffee and homemade baked goods. The main location on State Street serves a full menu with sandwiches, burgers, salads, and pizza (try the “Beetza Pizza” for something different).
If you’re looking to whet your whistle after a day exploring, River Rock has a variety of wine and local Utah beers on tap. In addition to indoor seating, they have an outdoor dog-friendly deck with views overlooking a basalt canyon and the Virgin River.
In a rush? River Rock also operates a drive-through location serving drinks and baked goods. It’s just after Highway 9 on the way to Zion National Park.
Stop four: Grafton Ghost Town
The ghost town of Grafton is just a couple miles off the main road so it won’t be a very long detour. Originally settled in the mid-1800s, it had a school, a church, a post office, and a community center. The abandoned settlement is now a tourist attraction and filming location, most notably for 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Today, visitors can see the preserved remnants of the schoolhouse, several houses, and the graveyard.
The paved road turns to clay shortly after turning on Bridge Road. While any vehicle can navigate the terrain, the clay can get quite slick, so you’ll probably want to avoid it during or right after heavy rain.
Where to Stay near Zion National Park
Stay in Springdale, just outside the south entrance of Zion National Park. This gateway community is filled with art galleries, souvenirs shops, restaurants, outfitters, a dog park, rock and crystal shops, and more. It has all the conveniences of a larger town while still retaining its local vibes. Because the park is so popular, you’ll have lots of options (thought they can fill up quickly).
For the full scoop, check out Matador’s article on the best places to stay near Zion National Park, including luxe glamping options and lodges plus some more budget-friendly hotels and motels. If cabins are more your vibe, check out this list of cabins near Zion, including tiny homes, an A-frame, and roomy cabins perfect for a big group near the park. And if you’re a dedicated Airbnb-er, check out our picks for the best rental homes near Zion National Park, ranging from a geodesic dome to high-end apartments to funky tipis with private hot tubs.
Springdale will generally be more expensive than towns further away, but the location makes it easy to beat the crowds into the park (and find parking near the visitors center). It also means you can likely walk to a free town shuttle stop to avoid the hassle of parking all together.
Day Three: Zion National Park
Zion National Park truly showcases the beauty of the desert. With its vibrant orange and burnt umber cliffs, dramatic night sky, and the lure of adventure, it’s hard not to be over-awed by a visit to this national park.
Tips for a Las Vegas to Zion National Park day trip
Is there a shuttle from St. George to Zion National Park?
Fortunately, there is a shuttle from St. George to Zion National Park. Creatively, it’s called the St. George Shuttle, and the specific route is the Zion Connection. It runs four or five times a day, depending on the season, and takes about an hour to go from St. George to Zion. While you don’t need reservations, they’re recommended, especially during the busy tourist season (which is almost all of spring, summer, and fall).
What is the drive like from Las Vegas to Zion National Park?
In two words: gorgeous desert. And in another word: short. It only takes about three hours point-to-point to get to Zion National Park from Vegas, but it’s such a stunning part of the country that you really don’t want to rush it. While this itinerary covers two days, you could easily stretch it into three or four, especially if you want to do longer hikes in some of the area state parks. You can technically do it as a day trip from Las Vegas, but you’ll probably regret not giving yourself more time.
Is Zion or Bryce Canyon closer to Las Vegas?
Las Vegas is closer to Zion National Park than Bryce Canyon, but not by too much — the drive to Bryce Canyon National Park from Las Vegas takes about 30 minutes longer. Because Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park are so close to one another, many people combine them into one longer trip, flying in and out of Las Vegas. Bryce Canyon is known for its rock towers and spires, called hoodoos, while Zion National Park is more known for the canyon, red rock landscapes, and famous hikes like The Narrows and Angel’s Landing.
Can you drive your own car through Zion National Park?
Yes, depending on the year. You can drive your car through Zion National Park along most roads any time of year. The most popular area of the park, the canyon, is accessible via only one road: the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. And that road is closed to most traffic between March and November. You can drive it in the winter, but you’ll need to take the park shuttle or bike to travel to the trailheads along that road during the majority of the year.
However, you can drive along most of the other roads in the park year-round, pending any snow closures. There are many lookout points and trailheads along the Zion Mount Carmel Highway, and Kolob Terrace Road leads to some of the least-busy areas of the park. Just be sure to check the road conditions as the furthest north areas of that road are unplowed in winter and can close during heavy rain.
Is the shuttle from Springdale to Zion free?
The shuttle from Springdale to Zion is free, as is the shuttle within the park. Both shuttle systems were created to help reduce traffic on the roads, so there’s no charge to use them — they want to encourage guests to ride the shuttles in lieu of driving and parking. Just be sure to give your driver a “thank you” before stepping off the bus.