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Cycling Zion National Park: Eastern Side, Main Canyon, Kolob Canyons

Last updated 2018-04-19 - Send Feedback
Related: road biking, cycling, Rides

Zion National Park is a cycling paradise in most respects, particularly in April to early May when the weather is relatively cool but not too warm and not too cold. There are some plusses and minuses:

  • The red pavement is very smooth with near-zero vibration, as the traffic has mushed the surface into a grippy nearly polished surface.
  • The speed limit is 35 mph, bust most traffic oves much more slowly. Downside: be alert for inattentive drives; I use a very bright rear-end flasher and daytime running light.
  • The road in the main canyon is closed to most traffic, so aside from busses and a few sporadic cars, the spectacular canyon can be ridden with very little traffic. It is a steady but not steep climb of about 12 miles (24 mile loop) from the tunnel to the end of the paved road.
  • The road road east of the big tunnel (closed to bikes) is gorgeous riding. Traffic moves slowly and there are plenty of places to pull over (car or bike) to take pictures or relax. The route is so nice that repeated loops are a good option (12 mile loop between entrance station and tunnel).

This page is divided into three parts:

  • East of the (bicycles prohibited) tunnel — Zion-Mt Carmel Highway
  • Main canyon road — Zion Canyon Scenic Drive
  • Kolob Canyons road (northwest side of park off interstate 15).
  • Not covered: Kolob Terrace Road.

For hiking, I strongly recommend super grippy shoes like the Five Ten Camp Four, which allow ascending and descending very steep slopes without risk of slipping (but beware crumby edges and such). If inexperienced, stay in the open and within 1/4 mile of the road—there are lots of ways to get hurt in the canyons and/or steeper slopes.

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Cycling Zion National Park, east of the tunnel

The mile-long tunnel from the east does not allow bicycles, and the main canyon does not allow cars (unless staying at the lodge).

That eastern area of Zion is jaw-droppingly spectacular, and offers an endless variety of off-pavement hikes and photographic opportunities, which only a tiny fraction of visitors undertake, fortunately. I highly recommend photograpy in this area, as there are many pullouts for cars, free to all, with an infinite variety of short and long hikes. It is analagous to the high country of Yosemite (much less crowded and more beautiful) versus Yosemite Valley (crowded and spectacular but more beautiful and all trails trodden to thick dust).

I strongly recommend super grippy shoes like the Five Ten Camp Four, which allow ascending and descending very steep slopes without risk of slipping (but beware crumby edges and such). If inexperienced, stay in the open and within 1/4 mile of the road—there are lots of ways to get hurt in the canyons and/or steeper slopes.

Smooth Red Pavement in Zion National Park, east of tunnel, perfect for cycling
f1.8 @ 1/3800 sec, ISO 20; 2018-04-17 13:43:35 [panorama]
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm equiv (4mm)

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Eastern Zion National Park panorama showing road cut through canyon, typical sandstone and pine forest
f2.8 @ 1/1000 sec, ISO 20; 2018-04-17 13:16:10 [panorama]
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 6.6mm f/2.8 @ 57mm equiv (6.6mm)

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Eastern Zion National Park panorama showing high sandstone peaks
f2.8 @ 1/1000 sec, ISO 25; 2018-04-17 13:02:14 [panorama]
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 6.6mm f/2.8 @ 57mm equiv (6.6mm)

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Awesome Cycling in eastern Zion National Park
f2.8 @ 1/1000 sec, ISO 20; 2018-04-17 13:11:41 [panorama]
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 6.6mm f/2.8 @ 57mm equiv (6.6mm)

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Cycling with Mercedes Sprinter = very convenient, eastern Zion Nationa Park
f2.8 @ 1/1000 sec, ISO 32; 2018-04-17 13:50:32 [panorama]
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 6.6mm f/2.8 @ 57mm equiv (6.6mm)

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Moots Vamoots RSL bike just off the road, time for a nap, eastern Zion Nationa Park
f1.8 @ 1/4000 sec, ISO 20; 2018-04-17 13:37:43 [panorama]
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm equiv (4mm)

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In Zion, after a sun-nap, eastern Zion National Park
f1.8 @ 1/1900 sec, ISO 20; 2018-04-17 13:39:36
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back dual camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm equiv (4mm)

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Typical terrain of east Zion National Park
f2.8 @ 1/1000 sec, ISO 25; 2018-04-17 12:56:11 [panorama]
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 6.6mm f/2.8 @ 57mm equiv (6.6mm)

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Cycling the main canyon road

Due to the prohibition on vehicle traffic, the main road is very lightly used, making it perfect for cycling. Only the occassional shuttle bus and authorized car/truck are seen.

I strongly recommend a very bright rear-end flasher and daytime running light, in Zion or anywhere else.

Coming from the east, drive through the tunnel, or bike to it and thumb a ride from an RV or pickup truck or similar (this is allowed and encouraged in order to let bicycles pass). Just remember that after 7 there is no traffic control, and that biking through the tunnel is not only prohibited, but very dangerous—so don’t get stuck on the wrong side of the tunnel with your vehicle on the other side!

The main canyon road is excellen for repeats, having a nice steady grade. It is about 12 miles from the western side of the tunnel to the top of the canyon, for a 24 mile loop. The tunnel area can be skipped (steep switchbacks), but I consider it an appealing portion to ride.

Straight red road in cycling paradise: Zion National Park main canyon road is closed to most traffic
f2.8 @ 1/1000 sec, ISO 32; 2018-04-17 14:55:03 [panorama]
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 6.6mm f/2.8 @ 57mm equiv (6.6mm)

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In Zion, selfie by Virgin River near upper end,, Zion National Park main canyon
f1.8 @ 1/1100 sec, ISO 20; 2018-04-17 15:32:04
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back dual camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm equiv (4mm)

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The road terminates not long after this point, near the center of this pictue near the canyon walls.

Virgin River 180° pano near upper end of main canyon, Zion National Park main canyon
f1.8 @ 1/1700 sec, ISO 20; 2018-04-17 15:30:56 [panorama]
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm equiv (4mm)

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At road’s end near The Narrows, hang out at the parking lot and use the restoom if need be.

In Zion, selfie by Virgin River near upper end of main canyon, Zion National Park main canyon
f1.8 @ 1/1000 sec, ISO 25; 2018-04-17 15:36:17 [panorama]
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm equiv (4mm)

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While the risk of theft is low, the restrooms accommodate the bike too, so no need to worry, plus those who carry extra stuff that might be needed have it right there.

Restrooms accomodate bike at upper end of Zion
f1.8 @ 1/4 sec, ISO 200; 2018-04-17 15:41:22
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back dual camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm equiv (4mm)

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Why cycling the main road is so nice

As is typical of government incompetence and mismanagemnt (redundant of course), all of the parking lots (many) were vacant or nearly so, amounting to perhaps 500 empty parking spots, and yet one cannot enter the park except by shuttle bus (or bicycle or feet). It seem that only those with the largest environmental footprint are allowed in by car (lodge visitors)—the antithesis of the mission IMO.

This exclusionary policy makes photographing the main canyon a hassle—either bicycle in with a heavy pack of gear, or take the shuttle bus (forget early and late day), or bicycle in with an iPhone and take panoramas, which I did. But it also makes cycling the main canyon road a fantastic ride with only the shuttle busses and the occassional car/truck.

Empty parking lot, one of many, in Zion National Park, due to mismanagement
f1.8 @ 1/1500 sec, ISO 20; 2018-04-17 15:34:58
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm equiv (4mm)

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Cycling Zion National Park, Kolob Canyons

Just off interstate highway 15 on the northwester side of Zion National Park, Kolob Canyons road is a 5.2 mile climb of about 1200 vertical feet. The pavement is excellent and the traffic slight, at least in April. It would make an excellent workout ride for 3/4/5 repeats.

Lloyd selfie at Kolob Canyons overlook, Zion National Park
f1.8 @ 1/500 sec, ISO 20; 2018-04-19 18:59:54
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back dual camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm equiv (4mm)

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Moots Vamoots RSL and rider’s shadow as the sun breaks through after a dull gray day, Zion National Park
f1.8 @ 1/1000 sec, ISO 25; 2018-04-19 19:21:17 [panorama]
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm equiv (4mm)

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Moots Vamoots RSL at Kolobs Canyon Overlook, Zion National Park
f2.8 @ 1/310 sec, ISO 80; 2018-04-19 18:54:28 [panorama]
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 6.6mm f/2.8 @ 57mm equiv (6.6mm)

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Moots Vamoots RSL at deer warning sign, sunset, Zion National Park
f1.8 @ 1/1000 sec, ISO 64; 2018-04-19 19:09:35 [panorama]
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm equiv (4mm)

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This is near the summit. I parked at the bottom, rode up then down. It’s awfully nice to climb into a warm van after a descent at 48°F with a strong wind blowing.

Mercedes Sprinter at Kolob Canyons pullout, Zion National Park
f1.8 @ 1/4000 sec, ISO 20; 2018-04-19 12:26:37 [panorama]
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm equiv (4mm)

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