Navigating Winter Roads in Zion National Park

Feb 1, 2020

With more winter weather on the way for Zion National Park, guests visiting the park in the coming days are likely to find themselves facing snow and ice on roadways. Some may choose to stay warm and cozy in their hotel room or vacation rental while the winter storms pass. But with a few safe driving tips, it is possible to navigate the park during this winter weather. Keep reading to learn what you need to know about driving in Zion this time of year.

Safe Winter Driving Starts Before You Climb Behind the Wheel

Long before you ever climb into your car and take off cautiously on slick roads, there are a few things you need to do to prepare for a safe trip.

Start by clearing all ice and snow off of your vehicle. Most people realize that they need to scrape the front window clean. If you aren’t used to driving in snow, that might be all you do to prepare. In reality, you should be clearing all of your windows. If your side or back windows are covered in snow, you won’t be able to properly see other drivers on the roadway. This could lead to accidents as you try merging or switching lanes.

Another part of your vehicle that you need to clear of ice and snow if the roof. While this build up may not affect your view, it can pose a major hazard to other drivers. When the ice and snow does break loose from your car while you’re traveling down the roadway, it may hit another vehicle’s windshield. In extreme cases, it could shatter or crack the windshield. Even if this doesn’t occur, it will momentarily obstruct that driver’s view, which could cause them to have an accident.

Clearing off your windows and roof isn’t just a safety measure. Failure to do so could lead to a ticket if police catch you driving down the road with obstructed views or a safety hazard like piled-on snow.

Make Sure Your Vehicle is Capable of Driving in Winter Conditions

Even if you clean all of the snow and ice off of your car, it still may not be ready to take on Zion’s winter roads. 

You should have good tires that still have plenty of tread left on them. Low temperatures can cause your tires to lose pressure, so make sure that you are properly inflating them regularly. Your car’s heat should be working properly, and your gas tank at least half full; both will come in handy if snow and ice causes road closures or delays that leave you stranded in the park longer than expected.

Slow Down and Leave Yourself Space

Now that your car is ready to go, it’s time to take to the roads. Whether you have tons of experience driving on icy roads or are still gaining confidence, there are two essential rules that you should always follow; slow down and leave yourself space between your car and the one in front of you.

Even if you don’t think that your car is sliding or that the roads are that bad, slowing down gives you time to react if you do begin to slide. The majority of the road may be cleared and dry, but black ice could be lurking in shaded corners of turns or on hills. If you’re speeding through the park (something you shouldn’t be doing anyway!), you could hit those icy patches and lose control.

Any time road conditions are wet, stopping times are increased. This means that it will take your car longer than usual to come to a complete stop when you apply the brakes. If roads are very icy, you may not even get enough traction to stop your car on a slope. For this reason, you should increase the amount of space you leave between your car and the one in front of you. That way if you do need to make a sudden stop, you’ll have time and room to do so safely.

Know What to do if You Start to Slide

The best way to avoid getting into an accident while driving on wintery roads is to make sure that you know exactly what to do if your car does hit ice or begins to slide on snow.

Too many drivers either never learn this important skill or they panic in the moment. In most cases, this means hitting the brakes, which is the exact opposite of what you should do. Hitting the brakes will only cause your car to slide more out of control, especially if your vehicle is equipped with modern anti-lock brakes.

Instead, ease your foot off of the gas, but keep it off the brakes. Gently steer your car in the direction that it is sliding; this will help keep you from spinning out. As you regain control or your car slows to a stop, you can then apply the brakes. If your car isn’t coming to a stop, you can gently apply the brakes to help slow it down and hopefully allow you to control the direction it’s moving. But you should tap your breaks as gently as possible when doing so.

Learning to Navigate Zion’s Winter Roads

If you’re used to driving in snow and ice, navigating Zion’s roadways this time of year should be a breeze. While the higher elevations do see moderate snowfall, the lower canyon only gets the occasional winter storm. With fewer visitors in the park, navigating the roadways is often easy. Just take it slow and play it safe.

Those who aren’t confident in their ability to drive on snow and ice or who aren’t sure about their vehicle handling the conditions should think twice before entering the park during or right after a winter storm. In the lower canyon, snow and ice melt quickly. So you may be able to wait until later in your trip and still enjoy the park safely. If the lower canyon roads are clear, you can always make a trip to the visitor center. From there, chat with rangers about driving or hiking safely in other areas of the park.

Planning to do some hiking during your winter visit to the park? Check out this guide next to learn how to pack a hiking emergency kit to stay safe in case you get caught out in the snow.