Highway 89 Road Trip Day 2: Flagstaff To Zion National Park

Setting out from the lively streets of Flagstaff, your journey from Flagstaff to Zion National Park promises to be a scenic wonder. As you traverse the varied landscapes of the Southwest, be prepared to be enchanted by the crimson cliffs and serene river valleys that make Zion one of the crown jewels of Highway 89.

This photo by Colin D. Young

Morning: Leaving Flagstaff, Navajo Bridge

The morning sun casts a golden hue over Flagstaff as you prepare to embark on another exciting day of your Highway 89 adventure. As you depart the town, the landscape transforms, showcasing the classic terrains of the American Southwest. Expansive deserts, mesas, and distant mountains serve as your ever-changing backdrop, encapsulating the spirit of this iconic region.

About halfway through your morning journey, a well-signposted detour will guide you to the Navajo Bridge. Spanning the mighty Colorado River, this bridge stands as both an engineering marvel and a testament to the region’s rich history. Take a moment to stroll across the pedestrian side of the bridge.

The panoramic vistas of the deep canyons and shimmering river below are truly breathtaking. Informational plaques dot the area, offering insights into the bridge’s construction and its importance to the Navajo people. The nearby interpretive center further delves into the stories, traditions, and heritage of the Navajo Nation, providing a fascinating detour before continuing from Flagstaff to Zion National Park.

Navajo Bridge, photo by Ravi Natarajan

Optional: Side Trip to the Grand Canyon North Rim

For those seeking to amplify the wonder of their journey along Highway 89 from Flagstaff to Zion National Park, a detour to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim is a must. Not only is it breathtaking, it adds another national park to the list of those covered along this journey.

Less frequented than its southern counterpart, the North Rim provides a more intimate and tranquil experience of this world-renowned chasm. The drive itself is an adventure, presenting expansive forested landscapes, meadows dotted with wildflowers, and the undeniable anticipation of the approaching grandeur.

Upon arriving, the Point Imperial and Cape Royal viewpoints are among the highlights. They offer panoramic vistas of the canyon’s intricate layers, carved out over millennia by the relentless Colorado River. While the South Rim boasts more amenities and viewpoints, the North Rim’s charm lies in its peaceful ambiance and untouched beauty.

Remember, the North Rim is seasonally accessible, typically from mid-May to mid-October, due to its higher elevation and resulting snowfall. This side trip will add more miles and hours to your journey, but the memories forged amidst the grandeur of the Grand Canyon’s North Rim will last a lifetime.

Zion from Canyon Overlook, photo by Stephen Moehle

Afternoon: Entering Zion, Riverside Walk

As you draw closer to Utah traveling from Flagstaff to Zion National Park, the familiar desert landscapes begin to give way to a more diverse tapestry of colors and terrains. The first glimpse of Zion National Park’s towering crimson cliffs will certainly leave an indelible mark on your memory. Entering Zion National Park from the Zion/Mt. Carmel Tunnel is one of the most amazing road trip experiences on earth.

The park, with its striking rock formations and canyons, stands as one of the jewels of the American Southwest. After traveling from Flagstaff to Zion National park, and upon entering Zion, the park’s scenic drive presents a series of viewpoints and trailheads, each offering a different perspective on this natural wonder.

One of the must-do activities for first-time visitors is the very short Riverside Walk. Starting from the Temple of Sinawava, this gentle, paved trail winds alongside the Virgin River, letting you experience the park’s verdant oasis. Overhanging cliffs and lush vegetation paint a scene that contrasts sharply with the arid landscapes you’ve traveled through earlier.

As you meander along, keep an ear out for the river’s harmonious murmurs, and an eye out for local wildlife like mule deer and wild turkeys. The trail’s easy accessibility makes it ideal for families, and its shade offers a pleasant respite from the midday sun in the warmer months.

A Note on driving times when including the north rim

It should be noted that, if you include the Grand Canyon North Rim into your journey from Flagstaff to Zion National Park, it extends the total drive time for this second day by a bit under two hours.

For comparison, here is the map from Flagstaff to the Navajo Bridge, then the Riverside Walk, and Springdale for the night. Total drive time is a little over five hours.

Here is the map with a trip to the North Rim included. Total drive time is a bit under seven hours. If you get an early start on Day 2, and you’ve never seen the Grand Canyon, I would highly recommend this detour on your trip from Flagstaff to Zion National Park.

Entrance sign, photo by Darwin Brandis

Evening: Spend Some Time Exploring springdale

As the sun begins its descent behind Zion’s imposing peaks, the entire park bathes in a golden hue, providing a magical setting that beckons contemplation and wonder. It’s a sight that many consider one of the most serene in the Southwest.

After a day of travel and exploration, the town of Springdale welcomes you with open arms. Located just outside Zion National Park’s gates, Springdale boasts a delightful mix of boutique hotels, art galleries, and local craft shops.

Take a leisurely stroll down Zion Park Boulevard, the town’s main drag, where the mountain views remain uninterrupted and the atmosphere is enchantingly laid-back. As you walk, the silhouette of the Watchman—a prominent peak in Zion—looms large against the evening sky, serving as a beautiful backdrop.

To conclude your evening, consider attending a local event. Throughout the year, Springdale hosts various cultural events like film festivals, art shows, and live music, giving visitors a taste of local creativity and talent. This blend of nature and culture makes your stay in Springdale a holistic experience, setting the tone for the adventures awaiting you tomorrow.

Meme’s Cafe, image from their site

Dining Recommendations

Cliffrose Springdale, image from their site

Lodging Recommendations

While there are ample camping and vacation rental options all over Highway 89, I personally highly prefer staying at Hilton-branded properties when traveling to national parks and during road trips. As such, here is three recommendations for places to stay in Springdale, Utah on day 2 of the ultimate Highway 89 road trip.

  1. Hotel De Novo: 2400 Zion Park Blvd, Springdale, UT 84767
  2. Cliffrose Springdale: 281 Zion Park Blvd, Springdale, UT 84767
  3. Hampton Inn Springdale: 1127 Zion Park Boulevard, Springdale, UT 84767
Angels Landing, photo by evenfh

Quick Things To Note

Ensure Proper Travel Preparations

While the drive from Flagstaff to Zion is undeniably scenic, it’s also quite long, especially if you add in the North Rim. Ensure your vehicle is in good condition, with a full tank of gas and plenty of water and snacks for the journey. Don’t assume because the number of miles is relatively low that it will be a fast journey. Once you get close to Zion and head towards Springdale, the road will get winding.

Tips For Navajo Bridge Viewing

The bridge is a popular spot, so parking can be limited during peak times. It’s a quick stop, but the views are well worth any wait. Remember to be respectful; the area holds significance for the Navajo people.

Be Aware of Zion National Park Fees

There’s an entrance fee to access Zion National Park. It’s advisable to check current rates and consider purchasing an annual National Parks Pass if you’re visiting multiple parks during your trip. We get one every year, and it is well worth it every single time.

Usage of the Zion Shuttle System

Zion operates the Zion Canyon Shuttle System to help reduce traffic congestion within the park, especially during the busy season. Check the park’s website for shuttle schedules and operational months.

Staying In Springdale

Springdale, being the gateway to Zion, can get busy. It’s recommended to book your accommodations in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons. The times we have stayed in Springdale, I had to book our hotel room a few months in advance to avoid them being sold out.

Be On Alert For Wildlife

Zion National Park is home to diverse wildlife, from mule deer to mountain lions. Always maintain a safe distance, and avoid feeding or approaching animals. When driving from Flagstaff to Zion National Park, the odds of seeing desert wildlife near the roadways is higher than you might think.

Maintain Weather Awareness

Weather in the Southwest can be unpredictable, with sudden rain showers or temperature changes. The same holds true for Zion National Park weather. Carry layered clothing, and always keep an eye on the forecast.

Woman in Zion, photo by EB Adventure Photography

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long is the Drive from Flagstaff to Zion National Park?

The drive from Flagstaff to Zion National Park is approximately 4 to 5 hours, covering a distance of roughly 260 miles. The exact duration can vary based on the specific route taken, driving conditions, and stops along the way.

Is There Parking Available at Navajo Bridge?

Yes, there is a parking area available at Navajo Bridge. However, it can get crowded during peak times, so arriving earlier in the day or being prepared for a brief wait might be beneficial.

Do I Need to Book the Zion Shuttle in Advance?

During peak seasons, the shuttle service can be very busy. While you don’t necessarily have to book in advance, it’s a good idea to check the Zion National Park website for shuttle schedules and any updates on operations or ticketing. You do not need a permit or reservation to ride a park shuttle.

Can I Drive My Car Inside Zion National Park?

Private vehicles are allowed in certain parts of Zion National Park. However, during peak seasons, certain areas of the park are only accessible via the park’s shuttle system to reduce congestion and environmental impact. Always refer to current park guidelines before planning your visit.

What Are the Dining Options in Springdale?

Springdale offers a range of dining options, from cafes and bistros to upscale restaurants. You’ll find a mix of Southwestern cuisine, American classics, and even international dishes. It’s always a good idea to check restaurant hours and consider reservations during busy times.

Angels Landing panorama, image by Unai Huizi Photography

Our Final Thoughts on Highway 89 Day 2

As the sun sets on the second day of our Highway 89 journey from Flagstaff to Zion National Park, it’s hard not to feel humbled and inspired. The transition from the wooded landscapes of Flagstaff to the iconic red rock vistas of Zion embodies the diverse beauty of the American Southwest.

Our brief stop at Navajo Bridge not only showcased an architectural marvel but served as a touching reminder of the rich narratives and histories that permeate this region. Zion National Park, with its dramatic canyons and serene trails like the Riverside Walk, captivates the senses, blending adventure with moments of tranquillity.

Springdale, with its welcoming atmosphere and picturesque setting against the backdrop of Zion’s cliffs, proves to be the perfect retreat. Here, we have the chance to reflect on the day’s adventures and prepare for deeper explorations of Zion come morning.

As we look forward to Day 3, we’re reminded that every turn on Highway 89 offers new perspectives, blending nature’s wonders with cultural richness. Tomorrow promises even more awe-inspiring views and adventures as we delve deeper into the heart of Zion National Park. Doing a half day in Zion is a disservice.