Zion National Park and Dixie National Forest

Continuing on from my last two posts about National Parks, here is Zion National Park, with an added bonus of Dixie National Forest. Zion is famous for a reason, it is beautiful! There are numerous tall rock formations, and you can spend a ton of time just staring up at the canyon walls. Zion is actually a part of the Grand Staircase, and a good chunk of history is visible on the geologic formations’ walls. There are a ton of hiking trails through here, and a few are world-famous trails. You have to park a vehicle outside the park if you want to hike, and some trailheads are only accessible via shuttle. Speaking of shuttles, that’s the only way to go down into the main canyon, as it’s closed off from all other traffic. Also, Utah recently passed a law allowing lane filtering (moving past cars only while they are stopped), so that’s a nice bonus. Utah is a nice place, and this ride will take you through some of that beauty. This is definitely a ride you’ll remember for a while.

Ride Description: You’ll be riding through some beautiful country on this trip. Riding up 15 isn’t anything special, except for the Virgin River Gorge, which is pretty cool. Before getting into Zion is alright, there are some nice small towns, and you’ll know when you start to get close because it will start to get real touristy. When you enter Zion, you won’t immediately see the scenery it’s famous for, but it quickly comes into view, and it’s awesome. Since we can’t drive through the main canyon we don’t get the full experience, but where we can drive is enough to be amazed. Plus you get to go through the tunnel that was carved through the mountain, and on the other side is almost a completely different landscape. Beyond Zion you’ll go through some Utah back country roads until you get to Duck Creek, which is a town that’s super busy with off-road vehicles, no matter the season. It’s a pretty little spot too; a creek runs through a large flat green field, one of the few in the area. It’s a nice place to take a break and grab some food. From there you head to Dixie National Forest, which has some great roads and nice landscape. There is some volcanic rock in the area too, which seems real out of place, but still cool to see. After leaving the forest, you’ll be heading down the mountains to Cedar City, and then just high-tailing it back.

Riding Tips: Besides staying hydrated, there’s not a ton to worry about on this ride. If you get stuck behind cars, which is likely depending on when you go, don’t get too bent out of shape and just enjoy the scenery. If you have inexperienced riders with you, take it easy beginning at Duck Creek; the route through Dixie National Forest and the road down to Cedar City has a lot of curves. They’re generally easy to handle, but just know the skill level of the people with you.

Recommendations: I wouldn’t suggest going to Zion at peak times, that place gets PACKED. This ride is definitely seasonal due to snow/winds, so I’d only plan it during June – October, since even if there isn’t snow actively on the ground some of the roads may be closed. If this is going to be part of a multi-day trip, or if you’re not from the area, consider adding Bryce Canyon National Park into the ride. It’s not far from the Duck Creek/Dixie Forest area, and it’s worth going to if you’ve never been before. Make sure you have enough time to enjoy these places though, they’re beautiful.

The Route: You’re going to start on Highway 15, and take that for a couple hours. The first/last hour on the stint to/from Mesquite is the worst. It seems longer than it is, probably because it’s long, it’s straight, and it’s boring. Just don’t fall asleep here. Past Mesquite, you’ll travel through the Virgin River Gorge, which is a nice section of highway. As of this posting (September 2019) it’s under construction, so you’ll be in some slow sections, down to a single lane each way, which means you’ll be stuck behind cars and maybe in some traffic. Just enjoy the scenery either way. Beyond the gorge and St. George, it’s not much farther to your turnoff towards Zion on Highway 9.

Once you turn onto Highway 9, you’ll pass through a couple small towns before starting to head up towards Zion. Along 9 there are a bunch of tourist attractions and towns, things like helicopter rides and hotels that seem out of place. The last town you’ll hit is Springdale, and if you’re hiking this is where you want to park. There are some places to eat, to stay a night or two, and some gift shops as well. Just past Springdale is the entrance for Zion. This can get pretty backed up, so be prepared to wait. Once you enter the park it’s not long before you see why this park is famous; you’re quickly in the middle of the canyon. Unfortunately you can’t drive down Floor of the Valley Road, and just past that are the switchbacks up the side of the mountain. Stop for pictures wherever you want to, because let’s be honest, that’s part of the reason you came, right? At the top of the switchbacks is the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. This tunnel is through the side of the mountain, and it has a couple spots where it’s open to daylight and you can look out over the canyon. You can’t stop here unfortunately, but you can catch a quick glimpse. This tunnel is a two-way tunnel, but they do close it down for one-way traffic. I think it’s when buses or large vehicles are going through, but I’m not totally sure.

Once you’re out of the other side of the tunnel, you’ll be in a nice twisty section of road that’s surrounded by a landscape that’s much different than what you saw before you went into the tunnel. After a little bit you’ll go by the Checkerboard Mesa, which is pretty much the end of Zion on the east side. You will then just continue on to the Mt Carmel Junction, and hang a left on 89. 89 has some fun sections, and it’s not long until you get to 14, where you want to turn left. This is where the fun begins. You’ll get a little taste of what’s to come right after turning off, and in a couple miles you will come to Duck Creek. This is an awesome little place that’s a hub for off-roading. They have a ton of UTV rental places here, and hundreds of miles of off-road trails. You’ll want to grab a bite to eat here. After you’re done in Duck Creek, you will head back the way you came for about a half mile, before turning left onto FH050. This will take you into Dixie National Forest, which is some great riding. There are plenty of twists and turns in here, and I really enjoyed these roads. You will hit a section that has black volcanic rocks that look super out of place, though apparently aren’t in this forest. Before long you hit Highway 143, where you take a left. On 143, just enjoy the ride, and then at the next intersection you hang another left onto 148.

On 148, don’t get going too fast, because at the tail end of the first left-hand curve is a great view of the landscape beneath you. 148 pretty much hugs the edge of the ridge, which overlooks a couple national monuments (the geologic type). It’s pretty, so stop and take in the view. Carrying on, you’ll come to the end of 148, where you’re going to turn right on Highway 14, which will take you down into Cedar City. Descending the mountains on 14 is a really fun road, though unfortunately it’s a single lane with very limited and short passing zones, so it’s easy to get stuck behind a line of cars being led by a slow-moving heavy vehicle. You have two choices: either take it a little slow and hope you don’t catch a slow vehicle, or be fine with making some sketchy passes. Either way it’s a good ride down.

You will then hit Cedar City, which is a nice small town. From there you’re just going to find your way back to Highway 15, and then you’ve got a couple hours of highway riding. It’s not all bad though, like I said before the  rough part is the section between Las Vegas and Mesquite.

Here’s the link to the route: https://goo.gl/maps/QpwPfoMCL74q6XjA6

And of course, some photos:

If you have any questions or comments, please let me know. Ride safe!

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