Fall in Southern Utah is the perfect time to get outside for some hiking, off-roading, and other activities. With the crowds of summer now starting to dissipate, you can hit many of the region’s most popular landmarks without the lines and waits. And with the temperatures cooling off, you’ll be able to hit some of the area’s longer trails that you might have been avoiding on those triple-digit temperature days.

But when your feet need a break or you want to see more of what Southern Utah has to offer, a scenic drive is the perfect solution. Keep reading to learn a few of the best scenic drives to enjoy this fall.

Zion Scenic Byway

Perhaps the best scenic drive in Southern Utah for both experiencing the fall colors and seeing some of the region’s most popular landmarks is the Zion Park Scenic Byway. In total, this byway stretches 60-miles, following Utah Highway 9 starting in Mount Carmel Junction, Utah, and ending in Hurricane.

The road’s biggest draw is the section that passes through the park. You’ll get to zig and zag through Zion’s stunning switchbacks and canyons, which come alive this season with bright yellows and oranges, backdropped by the red rock cliffs of the park. Keep your eyes peeled for Checkerboard Mesa, which is instantly recognizable for the checkered lines carved into this otherwise smooth, domed rock formation. You won’t have to look hard for Zion’s famous tunnel; you’ll drive through this one-mile-long engineering marvel as you pass from one side of the park to the other. 

Passing back out of the park, you’ll enter Springdale, which is also full of color during the fall season. Wind along the Virgin River on your way to Hurricane, and maybe stop off for some shopping or dinner before continuing on.

Scenic Byway 143

If you were to wait just a few months to take on this next scenic drive, you’d find yourself surrounded by several feet of snow. That’s because the 51-mile-long Scenic Byway 143 climbs 4,500 feet of elevation in the rugged mountains. It even passes by Brian Head, a 11,307-foot mountain that’s home to a ski resort of the same name. But visit in the fall, and you’ll get to experience changes in color, climate, and ecosystem as you make your way through 6 distinct life zones on your way to the summit.

While this road could be traveled in about an hour, there’s no shortage of views and landmarks to see along the way. Stop at Panguitch Lake to cast a line. Spot the remnants of ancient lava flows and Native American rock art. See the stunning meadows that erupt with wildflowers during the springtime. From the deserts at the start of your drive to the lush alpine forests at the top, this drive is kind of like a crash course in Southern Utah’s diverse climates and ecosystems.

If you have your heart set on seeing some fall colors during your visit, use the Cedar City-Brian Head fall color report to find out when the leaves will begin to change for the season.

Highway 12 Scenic Byway

If you’re looking for a longer drive, head to Highway 12. This roadway stretches 124-miles total, starting in either US 89 or Torrey, Utah, depending on where you catch it. While the road may be paved, the areas that it passes through are largely rugged wilderness. Much like the previous scenic route, you’ll pass through a variety of landscapes, including red rock domes and slick rock canyons, as well as wooded mountains that turn every shade of red, orange, and yellow in the fall.

If you’re interested in seeing other parks besides Zion during your visit, this drive is an excellent chance to do that. You’ll pass Bryce Canyon National Park, an often-overlooked but stunning destination. Instead of the canyons and peaks of Zion, Bryce Canyon is home to towering rock formations and a natural amphitheater that is truly a sight to take in. 

You’ll also pass Kodachrome Basin State Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, both of which are home to some unique formations, hikes, and landscapes that you’ll want to capture some photos of, especially if you’re lucky enough to see them in all of their fall glory. 

Highway 12 Scenic Byway ends just outside of Capitol Reef National Park. If you have the time, make a side trip into the park and cross another of Utah’s Mighty 5 off of your bucket list. This park is best known for its canyons and the incredible Waterpocket Fold, a rocky fold in the landscape that stretches almost 100 miles, caused by an ancient fault that occurred in the Eath’s crust some 50 to 70 million years ago.

Planning Your Fall Visit to Southern Utah

While many visitors to Southern Utah come for hiking or to visit a national park or two, these scenic drives are a great addition to any trip. Cruise through canyons and over mountains, and experience another side of the region that you would likely otherwise miss.

Looking for more ways to experience the Greater Zion area? From ATVs to a breathtaking Jeep tour, check out these other outdoor recreation options!