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Cycling Zion National Park: Eastern Side, Main Canyon, Kolob Canyons
Related: concussion, cycling, gear, Moots, Moots Vamoots RSL, panorama, raw file processing, Rides, road biking, Zion National Park
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.
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.
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.
The road terminates not long after this point, near the center of this pictue near the canyon walls.
At road’s end near The Narrows, hang out at the parking lot and use the restoom if need be.
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.
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.
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.
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.