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The last drive on our two week western National Parks road trip was from Zion National Park to Las Vegas. That’s the direction we drove as we were going back home and flying out of Vegas, but this article can also help you if you’re going the opposite way, Las Vegas to Zion, just go through it in reverse!
We had a great time visiting Zion National Park, even though it was just for a day. It was time to head back home, and we had to catch our flight out of Las Vegas pretty early the day after.
From the entrance of Zion National Park to Las Vegas it’s about a 2 hours and 30 minutes drive. It is an easy drive however, mostly all highway, in the dry, desert landscapes of southwest Utah, a small northwest corner of Arizona, and Nevada.
If you’re like me though and can’t sit in the driver’s seat for 2.5hrs, don’t worry, there are places to stop along the way–you can even make an entire day of the trip if you want like we did!
Springdale, Rockville, Virgin
You’ll be starting out along route 9, in Springdale, which is the town just outside of Zion. Most people stay here while visiting the park because it’s so close. The place gets packed with tourists though! If you’re wanting to book a place here in Springdale you should do it well in advance if you’re looking for a good deal. That said, it really is a pretty town with many shops and restaurants, and the sandstone cliffs of Zion starting to surround you!
There are other small towns along route 9 too, Rockville and Virgin. You’ll find places to stop for food all along here.
Also along the way, if you’re into hiking and want to skip the crowds at Zion, is the trail for Coal Pits Wash. It’s in between Rockville and Virgin, and on the right hand side if you’re heading west towards Virgin on route 9. It’s about a 9 mile hike in total. For more information on it, you can read Joe’s Guide here.
Grafton Ghost Town, A little bit of history.
This area with the towns of Rockville, Virgin, Grafton, etc. was settled and farmed by Mormons in the mid to late 1800’s. One of the few places in this part of Utah good for farming as it is along the Virgin River.
The settlers grew cotton, corn, and other food crops, and it was constant daily work to up keep the irrigation canals in the dry, sandy environment. Despite it being so dry, the river did occasionally flood, and one year the town of Grafton, which is across the river, was wiped out.
Grafton became a ghost town. There is still an old cemetery and some houses remain which you can go visit today. To get there, you’ll have to cross bridge street in the town of Rockville, and then follow Grafton road down to the sites.
To read more history on it, you can check out the Grafton Heritage Partnership Project.
La Verkin & Hurricane
As you get close to these towns, you’ll drive around a large bend in the road where you’ll descend in elevation, and you’ll see the town of La Verkin below.
You’re now about a half an hour from Zion, and places are a lot more affordable to stay at as it’s a less touristy area here and in the nearby town of Hurricane. We stayed at an Airbnb in Hurricane on our trip visiting Zion. I would have preferred a closer place to stay, but 30mins drive really wasn’t that bad as we only explored Zion for a day, and you couldn’t beat the price!
These 2 towns have large residential areas, they’re also great places to grocery shop and pick up supplies!
Side Trips: Quail Creek & Sand Hollow State Parks
Quail Creek State Park (to the north) and Sand Hollow State Park (to the south) just before you reach Interstate 15. Both these state parks are located around large water reservoirs, good for fishing, boating, and swimming! There are also campgrounds here. They do charge day use fees however, so be sure to check the official websites I linked to above to see the current rate!
St. George, Utah
As you continue along, you’ll have followed route 9 to its end and take Interstate 15 south. This will take you to the next major town along the way, St. George.
You’re now about 60mins away from Zion. There are even more affordable places to stay here, since it’s such a big town, so if the drive doesn’t bother you it’s worth looking into for an overnight stay.
St. George has some fun things to do and see, such as the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, and Snow Canyon State Park. There are lots of trails and scenic vistas of the town in the desert cliffs located here.
If you’re into something more easy going, the Red Hills Desert Garden is a great place to see the plant life and flowers of the area, as well as some dinosaur tracks even! Speaking of which, St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site is also downtown!
As you head south on Interstate 15 towards Las Vegas, you’ll drive through a rocky, mountainous landscape with scrub brush and even some Joshua trees. There are some narrow gorge areas too with steep cliffs towering on either side of you. It’s really quite beautiful!
Side Trip: Virgin River Canyon, Arizona
If you’d like to take in some more of this landscape outside of your car, you can stop at the Virgin River Canyon Recreation Area.
There’s also a nice, very affordable, campground here located right next to the Virgin River. There are picnic tables and spots for tents or RV’s, restrooms, and access to a few hiking trails!
There is a fee to get in, but it’s much cheaper than other places and state parks. Check the official website out for current rates!
If you’re looking for a larger town with shopping centers, gas stations, and grocery stores, as you enter Nevada the town of Mesquite will come up which is quite populated with all these things!
Side Trip: Valley of Fire State Park
I’m going to get right to it. If you only take one side trip, and you want to spend the day in a beautiful desert environment, this is the place to go! We had an amazing day here at Valley of Fire State Park on our way back towards Las Vegas, and honestly I’d love to come back and visit again to see all the sites I missed!
There is a fee to enter this state park, but it’s well worth it!
If you’re driving from Zion and want to visit Valley of Fire, I suggest you get off Interstate 15 at Exit 93 and head south on 169, to see a little of the Moapa Valley. This will also have you entering the park from the east entrance, and can then exit through the west, so you won’t be backtracking to see the sites.
Side Trip: Ruins of St. Thomas
As I mentioned if you’re looking for things to do around Lake Mead, there is an old historic site called St. Thomas.
The location of this is JUST PASSED the eastern entrance to Valley of Fire, along Old Saint Thomas Road(you’d make a left if you were driving south).
Settled in 1865 by Mormons, the town of St. Thomas was completely flooded when the Hoover dam was completed and the waters rose in. In 1938 the last resident left, and at the lake’s high point it was 60 ft (18m) over the town. It wasn’t until 2002 that the water level fell and the town again came into view. At its peak there were about 500 residents, with stores, a school house, church, even a post office. You can visit the ruins of the town today, which is located in the northern part of Lake Mead.
After Valley of Fire, you just keep south on Interstate 15 and you’ll have reached Las Vegas! I hope this article helps you with finding some interesting things to do along the way. If you have any other recommendations or questions, feel free to leave any comments below!
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