When traveling from the Midwest to Zion National Park in Southern Utah, the best place for us to fly into is Las Vegas. The trip to Zion from Vegas is a fairly easy drive of about 2.5 hours, if you drive straight through. We did the drive during a week in the winter when traffic wasn’t bad at all. I imagine that, if you’re driving on a summer weekend, you’ll encounter quite a bit more traffic and drive times will be longer. Parts of the drive are spectacularly beautiful and other parts not so much. To break up the short drive, we set out to find interesting things to see and do between Las Vegas and Zion. Here is our list of what to see and do in the area.
1. Welcome To Las Vegas Sign
Since you’re starting off in Las Vegas, it only makes sense to see one of the most iconic Vegas landmarks, the “Welcome To Las Vegas” sign. It’s much smaller than I thought it would be but it was still really fun to grab a few pictures there. Located less than 10 minutes from Harry Reid International Airport (formerly McCarran International Airport), the sign is a must-see for anyone that wants a few kitschy vacation pics from Las Vegas. This iconic sign, built in 1959, sits in the meridian at 5100 Las Vegas Boulevard South — otherwise known as the very southern end of the Las Vegas Strip. Designed in the Googie architecture style that was popular in the 1940s and 1950s, it’s a cool throwback to early Vegas. The people in Vegas have made it really easy to get there, too. No longer do you have to dodge traffic and stand in the median to grab a photo. There is now an actual parking lot right in front of the sign. Since it’s so close, we stopped right as we made our way out of the airport. Our flight arrived in Vegas in the early morning so there were only a couple of people out and about when we stopped. We grabbed a parking spot and were snapping away within a few minutes.
2. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area In Las Vegas
About 20 minutes west of the strip lies the almost 200-acre Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. While it’s a little outside of your route to Zion, it’s so close to Las Vegas and definitely worth a stop. If nothing else, tour the park via the 13-mile scenic drive that cuts through the park. Note that, depending on the season, you may need to make a reservation for the scenic drive. If you have more time to kill before your flight, you may want to check out some of the hiking trails or even go horseback riding. It’s an unexpected treat to find this outdoor paradise so close to the bright lights of Las Vegas! Open year-round, there is a variety of things to see and do in the park, with the most popular being the hiking trails. With trails rated easy to difficult, you’ll surely be able to find a trail that suits you. Since I’m not a really experienced hiker, I liked the easy and moderate trails. Out on the trails, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to see native Mojave Desert plants as well as plenty of cool rock formations. If you go in the morning or towards sunset, you’ll have the best chance to see some park wildlife like burros, sheep, deer, birds, and the desert tortoise. Start your trip at the visitor center to learn about the park, watch the short film, and grab a map. If you venture out on the trails, make sure to take plenty of water. Even if it’s not hot weather, you can become dehydrated quickly. Also, the folks at Red Rock do not recommend taking rideshares like Uber and Lyft to the park. There is little to no cell phone service in the park and you may not be able to call for a return rideshare when you want to leave — so definitely plan ahead.
3. Valley Of Fire State Park In Overton, Nevada
Located roughly 50 miles up the road from Las Vegas, you’ll find Valley of Fire State Park. Don’t let the fact that it’s a state park fool you. The oldest and largest state park in Nevada, this place is awesome! When we were there in December, there were very few people in the park, even though the weather was perfect for hiking. While talking to locals, we were told that the park is pretty low-key all the time — for some reason, it’s not on people’s radar. But it should be! We had so much fun exploring this beautiful park. With 40,000 acres of Aztec sandstone, petrified trees, and ancient petroglyphs, there’s a lot to explore here. After a stop in the visitor center to watch the film and get a little backstory, we decided we had to check out the Fire Wave first. Starting at the trailhead, it’s about a 1.5-mile hike that took about an hour. The park has this hike rated as moderate and I would agree. There is some tricky climbing involved, but it’s not too tough. And the reward is spectacular. You’ll see the incredible wavy formations that are out of this world! This and the Rainbow Vista Trail were our favorite spots. But there are quite a few others that are not to be missed if you have the time. While we spent about 4 hours here, you could easily spend more or less time depending on your schedule. If nothing else, take the Valley of Fire Scenic Byway through the park. It’s really spectacular with awesome views at almost every turn. A bonus for us was the bighorn sheep we spotted right up by the road! The park is open year-round from sunrise to sunset. From Harry Reid International Airport, get on I-15 North to Exit 75 and Valley of Fire Highway.
4. Virgin River Gorge Near Littlefield, Nevada
A gorgeous, albeit somewhat white-knuckle drive for this apprehensive driver, the scenic Virgin River Gorge is something to behold. The gorge spans about 10 miles of Arizona near Littlefield, Nevada, and believe me, you’ll know it when you see it. The mostly two-lane section of I-15 runs parallel to the Virgin River. How this road was ever carved out of the massive rocks is beyond me. This scenic drive is at the top of the list of all scenic drives I’ve been on and is really awe-inspiring. It’s mind-boggling to think about how this section of I-15 was created out of sheer rock and stone. The tricky part of this drive for me was the speed at which other drivers were flying down the canyon road. There’s nothing like an 18-wheeler so close to your bumper that you can’t see their headlights! Quick moving drivers aside, try to take in the awesome scenery as you traverse this section of I-15; it’s worth it. However, take care that you know the weather forecast first. I would not want to be driving this road back down to Vegas in any kind of weather. That’s why we adjusted our itinerary and headed back to Vegas a day early rather than drive this section and other parts of I-15 that we felt could be a little tricky in the snow.
5. St. George, Utah
Located about an hour south of Zion National Park, St. George, Utah, is a city of about 85,000 people that has a lot of cool things to see and do. With spectacular mountain views and plenty of red rock vistas, we found St. George to be a truly beautiful city. Because the Mormon pioneers originally settled this land, expect to find Mormom inspired historical sites here like the Brigham Young Winter Residence Historical Site, St.George Temple (currently closed for renovation, but you can see the outside), and the St. George Tabernacle. In addition to these interesting historical sites, the city offers lots of outdoor recreation opportunities in the many state parks and recreation areas.
6. Snow Canyon State Park In St. George, Utah
Hike, bike, e-bike, or even horseback ride your way through Snow Canyon State Park in St. George, Utah. This 7,400-acre park offers a vast array of activities and sightseeing opportunities. Feeling like I discovered one of the best kept secrets of southern Utah, I meandered the trails and took in the beauty of the towering red rocks. Staying at one of the nearby resorts, our trek to Snow Canyon couldn’t have been simpler: A walk out the back door to the paved trail led us directly into the park. If you aren’t staying nearby, don’t worry, there’s plenty of parking. We started with the easy 2-mile Johnson’s Hike, traversing through the rugged lava trails and surrounding cliffs as we craned our necks to take in the splendor of the natural beauty that was absolutely all around. Snow Canyon is a top-rated state park and simply one of the most beautiful I’ve been to. Hollywood agrees as Snow Canyon has been the shooting site of multiple well-known films including the classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Electric Horseman, and Jeremiah Johnson. A geological wonder made with wind and water over 180 million years ago, the results are stunning. With more than 38 miles of hiking trails and 3 miles of paved walking and biking trails, there’s something here for all to see. Snow Canyon State Park partners with several hiking and biking vendors so you’ll be covered with rental equipment, including the popular e-bikes, to make your trip fantastic.
7. Springdale, Utah
Located at the West entrance of Zion National Park, Springdale is a must-visit stop on your trip to Zion. In fact, unless you’re staying within the borders of Zion, it’s highly probable that you’ll be staying in Springdale. And it’s a perfect spot to spend your time while outside of the park. You’ll find plenty of shops, restaurants, bars, and many options for lodging in Springdale. If you do stay in Springdale, remember that the Springdale shuttle will take you into Zion so you can leave your car at your hotel.