One of the most classic things to do at Zion is to drive the tunnel. Its the only man made thing that will really impress you, and boy will it impress you. Learning some history about the tunnel makes it even more impressive.
So you are just driving up a few steep switchbacks. You look off to your left and you get up close to some really amazing views of East Temple, when all of a sudden you enter a tunnel.
You are just driving along in the dark and then, about a half mile in, you realize you are not just inside a mountain, you are on the edge of a cliff about halfway up the mountain. You see, when they built this tunnel they created galleries for cars to stop at and take in breath taking views.
Here are pictures of the galleries from the outside.
The tunnel itself is only about a mile long, but holy smokes I geek out every time I drive it. Unfortunately, pedestrians are no longer allowed inside the tunnel, and cars are not allowed to stop. I always want to jump out of my car and hang out at one of the galleries though.
I want to make clear that I am not advocating that you get out of your car to take pictures. Do not get out of your car in the tunnel or you might die. However, I will say that blatantly breaking the law and stopping at the galleries is something I have always wanted to do.
I am not going to do the history justice. But basically, they wanted to connect Zion with the Grand Canyon and the Eastern Utah Parks so they built the tunnel in the late 1920s. Almost 100 years ago. You can read up more on wikipedia or the park website.
How to get there
There are 2 main sections of the main canyon in Zion. The 1st section you cannot drive during the Summer months, unless you are staying at the lodge in Zion. The second section is called the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway and you can drive it all you want.
If you are entering Zion from the South, then you pass the entrance to the park and about 1.5 miles later you are given a choice to head towards the lodge, or head up the highway towards the tunnel.
Coming from the North on Highway 9, you can’t help but go through the tunnel, so its pretty easy to find.
Heading South gives you the better views as you are closer to the galleries, so make sure you give yourself time to drive both directions.
You should also know there are some extra fees and restrictions if you are driving an RV or something really big. The tunnel was built before our vehicles got really humongous. Read more about requisite fees here.
If this is your first time to Zion, you must make time to drive the tunnel.