Here’s another post in our series on Zion National Park. Other articles include: Exploring Zion National Park, Exploring Zion Canyon, Traveling Along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, and Exploring Kolob Canyons.
For another angle on Zion’s natural splendor, take time to drive the 20 or so miles up Kolob Terrace Road, an unassuming paved trail that snakes north from the tiny town of Virgin off State Route 9, about 13 miles due west of Springdale. You can pause to hike if you wish, but don’t be ashamed to take a break and just enjoy the ride.
There are no services on this route so be sure to stop for a packed lunch before setting off. In Springdale, Café Soleil (205 Zion Park Boulevard, not far from the main entrance to Zion) is a good choice and their chipotle chicken wrap is a winner. If you’re approaching from the west, Kokopelli Deli (390 W. State Street) in Hurricane is your best bet; they do a terrific take on the classic Reuben.
Your drive up Kolob Terrace Road begins unassumingly enough, through a modest residential area and into barren scrubland framed by Zion’s less spectacular backside to your right. But soon the road takes a short rise at the top of which the vista opens out to spectacular effect.
Here you are on a narrow ridge between two canyons. On your right, you will see the enticing entrance gate to Sunset Valley Ranch. Alas, it’s private, but do pull off to peer over the edge at the lush green horse farm below.
As the road rises steadily (you will ascend some 3,000 feet during your journey), you will enter Zion National Park, greeted only by a sign. Along the way, various trailheads give access to some of the park’s more strenuous one- and two-day hikes.
Take note of the turn off to Smith Mesa Road on the left, but save it for your return trip when the afternoon sun is bathing the walls of Zion in theatrical lighting.
As the road winds in and out of park boundaries, pause frequently to admire and photograph the towering rock formations and distant vistas to the east.
At about the 20-mile mark on your odometer, you will reach, on your right, the turn off to Lava Point Campground and the Lava Point Overlook, a little less than two miles away along a seriously rutted dirt road. If there have been heavy rains recently, this stretch may prove impassable to the standard rental car.
If the weather cooperates, you will reach one of Zion’s loftiest viewpoints (nearly 7,900 feet in elevation) and be rewarded with a picnic table that overlooks a jaw-dropping, 180-degree panorama — one that extends to Arizona on a clear day. An interpretive sign aids you in spotting points you have already explored in Zion Canyon.
Retracing your route, you will discover that the return journey offers new and unexpected angles on the scenery you passed just a short time ago. This time, take the sharp right-hand turn onto Smith Mesa Road. Again, exercise caution if there have been recent rains. Even in dry weather, this road has some moments that will give you pause if you are only used to driving on well-paved roads.
While the drive up to Smith Mesa can seem like a mini-adventure, the real reward comes when you turn around after a few miles and descend. If you have timed it right, the sinking sun will be showcasing the canyon walls to the east in their perfect light.
It’s an exhilarating end to a smashing scenic drive.
Continue to explore Zion National Park
Along Kolob Terrace Road (You Are Here)