Tips for Driving Utah’s National Parks

During the summer, patience is the key to driving in Utah’s national parks. Roads are often crowded with slow-moving RVs, and traffic jams are not uncommon. At Zion, shuttle buses have replaced private vehicles along the scenic Zion Canyon Road, and a voluntary shuttle runs through the main Bryce Canyon amphitheater.

If you’re traveling on back roads, especially in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, make sure you have plenty of gas, even if it means paying top dollar at a small-town gas pump.

A road curves through Zion National Park's stunning rocky landscape.
Driving in Zion National Park. Photo © Andrey Bayda/123rf.

Summer heat in the desert puts an extra strain on both cars and drivers. It’s worth double-checking your vehicle’s cooling system, engine oil, transmission fluid, fan belts, and tires to make sure they are in top condition. Carry several gallons of water in case of a breakdown or radiator trouble. Never leave children or pets in a parked car during warm weather; temperatures inside can cause fatal heatstroke in minutes.

At times the desert has too much water, when late-summer storms frequently flood low spots in the road. Wait for the water level to subside before crossing. Dust storms can completely block visibility but tend to be short-lived. During such storms, pull completely off the road, stop, and turn off your lights so as not to confuse other drivers. Radio stations carry frequent weather updates when weather hazards exist.

If stranded, stay with your vehicle unless you’re positive of where to go for help, then leave a note explaining your route and departure time. Airplanes can easily spot a stranded car (tie a piece of cloth to your antenna), but a person walking is more difficult to see. It’s best to carry emergency supplies: blankets or sleeping bags, a first-aid kit, tools, jumper cables, a shovel, traction mats or chains, a flashlight, rain gear, water, food, and a can opener.


The Utah Department of Transportation prints and distributes a free, regularly updated map of Utah. Ask for it when you call for information or when you stop at a visitor information office.

Benchmark Maps’ Utah Road and Recreation Atlas is loaded with beautiful maps, recreation information, and global positioning system (GPS) grids. If you’re planning on extensive backcountry exploration, be sure to ask locally about conditions.

Travel map of Utah Driving Distances
Utah Driving Distances

Off-Road Driving in Utah

Here are some tips for safely traversing the backcountry in a vehicle (preferably one with four-wheel drive):

  • Drive slowly enough to choose a safe path and avoid obstacles such as rocks or giant potholes, but keep up enough speed to propel yourself through sand or mud.
  • Keep an eye on the route ahead of you. If there are obstacles, stop, get out of your vehicle, and survey the situation.
  • Reduce the tire pressure if you’re driving across sand.
  • Drive directly up or down the fall line of a slope. Cutting across diagonally may seem less frightening, but it puts you in a position to slide or roll over.

If you really want to learn to drive your 4WD rig, consider signing up for a class.

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