road through the mountains of Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Awesome Las Vegas to Zion National Park Road Trip Stops

From its location in Southern Nevada, Las Vegas is one of the best fly and drive cities for road tripping public lands, state parks and national parks. And a road trip from Las Vegas to Zion National Park is one of the best there is. The route is approximately 160 miles, one way, and less than 3 hours driving time. Bonus: the majority of the route is interstate, if you want to go quick, but there are so many interesting things that can be added to this road trip itinerary why would you want to? Here’s how to do it.

Las Vegas to Zion National Park Stops

Las Vegas and Southern Nevada are two of my favorite United States destinations. I’ve road tripped to, at least, seven national parks from Las Vegas and visited the vast majority of the most popular public lands around Las Vegas. Plus, my daughter lives in Nevada so I’m a frequent visitor and cross-country road tripper. Let’s just say I know I-40 pretty well.

First off, for this Las Vegas to Zion National Park road trip, I’m assuming you flew into Las Vegas to road trip somewhere else. But if you didn’t and plan on spending a few days around the city first, make sure to take advantage of all the fun things to do there, many of them free and also do a bit of local exploring. Valley of Fire State Park, Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area, Lake Mead National Recreation Area and the Hoover Dam, as well Boulder City, are all worth visiting.

Also, a lot of people visit Zion as part of a longer Utah Mighty 5 park road trip. Nothing against the Mighty 5, but you don’t have to do that. There are plenty of other places in Southern Utah to visit. That being said, this article covers the fastest route to Zion National Park with minimal stops, but I’m also going to include an alternate, slower road trip route that takes you through Lake Mead National Recreation area as well.

This Las Vegas to Zion National Park road trip could be done in a day but two days is optimal and it could be extended to a week if you throw in some of the other public lands around Las Vegas or if you add in more destinations in Southern Nevada and Utah. You could also do a big southern loop from Las Vegas and visit the Grand Canyon and Sedona.

To use this map, click on the icon on the left hand side of the title to see the map layers. Check or uncheck whichever layer you want or don’t want to see. You can also add the map to you own Google account by highlighting the faint star to the right of the title. For more info on the points of interest in layer 4, click the icon on the map or click on the name in the list. You can also get directions.

Las Vegas to Mesquite, Nevada

When you plug in directions to Zion National Park from Las Vegas in Google Maps, no doubt the route it will choose for you is Interstate 15. And that’s fine if your objective is to get to Zion as quickly as possible, then that’s really the only route.

However, if you prefer to make a day of it and slow down the pace, consider including one of, what I believe to be one the most scenic drives in Nevada, in your road trip. It’s also a chance to see a bit of Lake Mead National Recreation Area and maybe even some wildlife.

Depending on where you are in Las Vegas, there are a couple of options for entering Lake Mead National Recreation area. From the airport, or south Las Vegas, head towards Henderson and Lake Las Vegas. Just a couple of miles beyond Lake Las Vegas is the entrance station to Lake Mead. (See Google Map layer 3)

The park is a fee based park so you will need an America the Beautiful Park Pass to enter or buy a one time Lake Mead park pass fee. If you don’t yet have an America the Beautiful card, here’s your chance to go ahead and get one. Especially since Zion National Park is a fee based park as well.

After you enter the park, make a left on Northshore Road, a 62 mile scenic route offering stunning views of rugged mountains, unusual, otherworldy landscapes and unparalleled views of Lake Mead. Connecting the what’s now the recreation area with historic Moapa Valley, this is hands down one of the best driving routes in Nevada.

Southerner Says: if you’re in north Las Vegas or the strip and don’t want go to Henderson and Lake Las Vegas, then drive Las Vegas Boulevard into the park. This route does not have an entrance station. Las Vegas Boulevard ends on Northshore Road. Take a left to continue into the park. (See Google Map layer 2)

As you drive through the park, you’ll come across features like Redstone, with rocks so red they look like an artist painted them on a canvas, Echo Bay, or E Bay, hmmm, that sounds familiar and Rogers Springs, a hot springs oasis with palm trees. All these are must stops along with any of the other interesting places that captivate you. As you continue through the park, be on the lookout for wild horses, burros and of course, big horn sheep.

Rogers Springs in Lake Mead National Recreation Area

When you exit Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Northshore Road practically ends where Valley of Fire State Park begins so you can easily drive Northshore in the early morning, spend some time in Valley of Fire and then be on your way to Zion.

If you have time, one more stop that I suggest is the Lost City Museum in Overton, Nevada. Not only is the building itself a historic treasure, built in 1935 by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), something that park lovers will appreciate, but the museum contains an actual archaeological site excavated in the 30’s and reconstructed pueblos.


Southerner Says: to drive the Northshore and visit Valley of Fire and the Lost City Museum, you will need to backtrack a few miles to Overton and the Lost City Museum after visiting Valley of Fire before getting on the interstate and continuing on to Zion.

Even if you choose not to drive Northshore Road through Lake Mead National Recreation Area, you can still add Valley of Fire State Park, and/or the Lost City Museum, to your Las Vegas to Zion National Park road trip itinerary.

To do that, my recommendation is: coming from Vegas, take exit 75 on I-15, enter Valley of Fire at the west entrance and drive the Valley of Fire Highway, exiting through the east entrance. Go left on Highway 169 toward Overton and Moapa Valley and visit the Lost City Museum before returning to I-15 via Highway 169. (see Google Map layer 1)

Once back on the interstate, the drive to Mesquite, Nevada is approximately 30 miles. If you’ve spent all day on these activities and and want to spend the night before heading on to Zion, then Mesquite is a good place to do it. There are some nice hotels, like the Eureka Casino Resort or others without casinos, plenty of restaurants, gas stations, a Walmart and the Virgin Valley Heritage Museum.

Mesquite, Nevada to the Virgin River Gorge, Arizona

The drive from Las Vegas to Zion National Park on I-15 is generally pretty tame but it does have one of my favorite sections of an interstate route – the Virgin River Gorge. It’s also noteworthy that you will cross into the upper northwest corner of Arizona before entering Utah.

This area is referred to as the Arizona Strip. Home to the Kaibab Indians, and other Natives Americans, this piece of Arizona was settled by Mormon pioneers in the 19th century. Sparsely populated and virtually cut off from the rest of state because of the Grand Canyon, the Arizona Strip is a wealth of natural wonders and cultural significance and history.

And the Virgin River. If you didn’t already know, the Virgin River is the main river that flows through Zion National Park. It empties into Lake Mead, or before the lake was created, the Colorado River. Along with the Muddy River, the Virgin River is one of the most significant rivers in Arizona, Utah and Nevada.

To cross the 500 million year-old gorge, formed by the Virgin River, Interstate 15 winds and weaves its way along the river through the canyon, creating one of the most exciting and awesome interstate drives in the U.S. And one of the most expensive. In fact, one of the last bridge repairs, in the mid 2000’s, alone cost more than the entire project in the 70’s.

Because of the nature of the road, there aren’t many waysides and places to stop but the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) maintains the Virgin River Canyon Campground (exit 18) worthy of a stop to stretch your legs and take a walk or short hike.

I-15 through the Virgin River Gorge in Arizona is one of the places you have to drive through from Las Vegas to Zion National Park
Entering the Virgin River Gorge on Interstate 15 in Arizona

Virgin River Gorge to St. George, Utah

Besides the “Welcome to Utah” sign, the remaining drive on Interstate 15 until you get to the state line is pretty insignificant but from the state line to St. George are an abundance of sites that could be added to a Las Vegas to Zion National Park itinerary. White Domes Nature Preserve, Tonaquint Nature Center and St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site are just a few places to include.

Additionally, Utah has 46 state parks to enjoy. Some of the notable ones near St. George are Sand Hollow State Park, Quail Creek State Park and Snow Canyon State Park. It would be really easy to overnight in St. George and include one or more of these places on your road trip from Las Vegas to Zion.

Red Cliffs National Conservation Area is another impressive area just north of I-15, with amazing hiking and a small campground. For those that like to count on a campsite, there’s also a KOA nearby.

The white Navajo cliffs at Snow Canyon State Park
Snow Canyon State Park can be added to a Las Vegas to Zion National Park road trip

St. George, Utah to Hurricane, Utah

The last bit of interstate driving from St. George is to exit 16, where you’ll trade the freeway for smaller Highway 9. Alternatively, you could exit at 13. I started utilizing this exit, because at one time, it had relatively no traffic compared to other exits. Plus, there’s a Maverick for fueling up before hitting the small towns on the way to Zion.

Maverick is a Wyoming-based convenience store brand that’s popped up across the western states. You can count on clean restrooms, deli and hot food and just an overall good experience. As St. George spreads out, this exit has grown like crazy in the last few years but I still like to stop at the Maverick for anything small, like the always important ice that I need, before heading to Zion.

Once you get on Highway 9, it’s just 19 miles to Hurricane. If you’re planning on camping near Zion and need supplies, the last real chance you have for a big haul is the Walmart Super Center in Hurricane. Personally, I try not to stop here because it’s typically crowded but if you need something very specific or a lot of items then this is the place.

Near Walmart are several chain hotels. Comfort Inn & Suites and Sleep Inn & Suites are both rated high. I personally have not ever stayed at either, but if I wanted to explore more of the area, then these are good options and better choices since they are newer than some of the properties closer to downtown Hurricane.

Hurricane, Utah to Zion National Park

You’re almost to Zion now. All that’s left is to drive through La Verkin, Virgin and Springdale, little communities before you arrive at Zion National Park. La Verkin is the last place to buy any groceries in a bigger, proper grocery store. Davis Food & Drugs is a grocery store and there’s also a Family Dollar with some food items. There are a few markets and deli’s in Springdale but nothing this size.

La Verkin is also home to one of my favorite all time stops, River Rock Roasting Company. The coffee is good, the breakfast is good and the burgers are good but the view out the back of their patio is awesome. Try to fit in some time to stop. They have a drive-thru in Hurricane but it’s not the same imo.

Once you make the last turn on Highway 9 just north of La Verkin, you’ll start to notice more and more campgrounds, glamping resorts. A couple of the more notable ones are Zion River Resort, huge campground with good amenities and clean facilites and Zion Wildflower Resort, a collection of small cottages and covered wagons for sleeping. The popular Under Canvas Zion is close by as well.

As you get closer to Springdale, the gateway to Zion, the landscape really starts to change and you’ll begin to see the gorgeous colors of the canyon walls and cliffs. Then once you are in Springdale, you’re practically in the park. In you are staying in Springdale, you can take advantage of the free Springdale shuttle into the park. (Not to be confused with the shuttle inside the park that takes you into Zion Canyon and the scenic drive.

Zion National Park

As I mentioned earlier, Zion is a fee-based national park so you will need to pay $35 a vehicle or $30 for a motocycle to drive into or through the park. Even if you don’t intend on taking the shuttle into the canyon, you still need to pay. Having an America the Beautiful Park Pass will come in handy.

Inside the park, don’t miss the park visitor center, plenty of hiking, suitable for all ages and skill levels, and pretty much just being in awe at the amazing colors and the landscapes of Zion National Park. Being in the canyon and surrounded by the towering walls is surreal and like no where else. The colors and textures are spectacular.

Additional Stops From Las Vegas to Zion National Park

If you plan on staying around Zion, there are plenty of other places to add to your itinerary. Kolob Canyons is an additional part of Zion National Park located off of I-15 that could also be added to your road trip. Instead of exiting the interstate at Hurricane, continue north for approximately 25 miles to exit 40. This section of Zion has some of the same red Navajo sandstone canyons as the main park with less crowds.

Bryce Canyon National Park is also a good addition to a Zion National Park road trip because the parks are so close. Bryce Canyon is just about 84 miles from Zion and is a fairly straightforward drive. Plus, it’s easy to visit and make a big loop and return to I-15 through the Dixie National Forest.

One more idea to include on a Las Vegas to Zion National Park road trip is after you visited Zion, head east to Mount Carmel Junction and then south on Highway 89 to Kanab. There are oodles of things to do in and around Kanab. When you are ready to return to Las Vegas, use Highway 389 through Colorado City and Apple Valley to Hurricane and the interstate. I have more info coming soon on this road trip route.

When is the Best Time to Drive From Las Vegas to Zion National Park?

Zion National Park is open year round, weather permitting. When it rains the canyons are prone to landslides and flooding and hiking trails at times close due to rock slides. Always check the weather before you go and be very careful if hiking The Narrows, as water tends to rise quickly in the canyon.

Spring

Spring in Zion National Park is a beautiful time of year to visit. If they has snow, it’s melted and the temperatures are mild. The park is bursting with new growth and you’ll have the opportunity to see more water in the river and waterfalls. Spring is a busy time at Zion but not as busy as summer. Average daytime in the 70’s.

Summer

Summer is the busiest time at Zion National Park. You’ll need to be strategic about when you go. There are a few things you can do to avoid the crowds in the park. Summer is also monsoon so the probability of rain and even flooding increases in June, July and into August. Definitely pack a rain coat or lightweight jacket. Average temperatures in the 80’s.

Fall

Fall is also a good time to visit Zion. Some of the summer crowds have thinned out and it’s not as hot. Dress in layers and remember that the Zion shuttle into the canyon runs until December. Visit the park website for the exact dates that may vary from year to year. I visited in late November one year and it was cool but perfect.

Winter

With an elevation of 4,000 feet, winter in Zion is cold and there’s always a chance of snow and ice. Some of the park roads and trails may even close. January will be the coldest month with highs in the 40’s based on recent years data. The bonus of visiting in winter is that it’s not shuttle season so you can drive your own car into the canyon.

Las Vegas to Zion National Park Tips

To be fully prepared for visiting Zion, I suggest buying a park guidebook. James Kaiser is one of my favorite national park writers and he has written a really informative guidebook about Zion. Moon Guides, another fav, offers a Zion and Bryce Canyon guidebook. Also, you can never go wrong with a more detailed map of the area. The National Geographic ones are really useful.

Cellular service shouldn’t be an issue until you reach Zion National Park. Coverage is sparse inside the canyons but ultimately it really depends on what carrier you use. I have Verizon and never have good service in Southern Utah but my daughter uses AT&T and she generally will have better service than me in that area.

Final Thoughts About Las Vegas to Zion National Park

Visiting Zion National Park from Las Vegas is a near perfect road trip itinerary. It’s ideal for anyone – families, with small children, because there’s not a lot of driving involved and solo road trippers will appreciate the simplicity, and safety, of driving to Zion.

It’s also simple to return to Las Vegas, or if you have time, continue on a Mighty 5 or Southern Utah road trip. You could also finish up in Salt Lake City and fly home from there. Honestly, between Nevada and Utah, the possibilities are really endless.

If you enjoy public lands, remember to use Leave No Trace principles when visiting and leave it better than you found it.

See you on the road!

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