Zion – Mt. Carmel Tunnel

Virgin, UT

What, no pictures of hikes in this blog?  Where are those nimble young hikers climbing over  huge boulders, going where no hiker has ever gone before?  Well, even two young, nimble hikers need to take a rest every few weeks.  Besides, we’ve beaten this rock climbing theme to death in the last few blogs.  But don’t despair, rocks still figure into this blog.  We’ve talked about driving through the Zion – Mt. Carmel Tunnel so many times we thought it time to show a bit more of this cool architectural wonder.

The 1.1 mile long tunnel is part of the Zion – Mount Carmel Highway, which runs through the center of  Zion NP.  The road  was proposed in the 1920s by the Utah Parks Company, which managed tourist concessions in Zion National Park, as a means to link Zion with Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon National Parks and other attractions in southern Utah and northern Arizona.  Work on the tunnel was started in 1927 and was completed in 1930 at a cost of $503,000.  At the time of its completion, it was the longest non-urban road tunnel in the United States.

The west entrance

Signs at each entrance warn drivers to remove sunglasses and turn on headlights.  In some shorter tunnels drivers often ignore those directions, but not in this one.  Once in the tunnel it suddenly becomes very dark!

The view without headlights

The view with headlights

The tunnel uses galleries to provide light and ventilation through the canyon wall to the outside air. The galleries also provided a place to dispose of rock generated during construction, which was dumped through the galleries into the canyon. Parking spaces were originally provided at the galleries, but were discontinued due to safety concerns.

A look at the outside length of the tunnel with one of the galleries visible

A close-up of that gallery

The view from inside the tunnel through a gallery

Another view through a gallery

Before 1989, large vehicles, including tour buses, motor homes, and trailers, were involved in more and more accidents and near misses in the tunnel due to an immense increase in the volume of traffic and in the size of vehicles passing through the tunnel.  Beginning that year, the National Park Service began restrictions on oversize traffic in the tunnel.  Rangers posted at both ends of the tunnel convert two-way tunnel traffic to one-way for larger vehicles, who pay a $15 charge to go through (good for two trips through during a seven day period).  Vehicles over 13 feet 1 inch tall and semi-trailers as well as bicycles and pedestrians are prohibited in the tunnel.

Tunnel vehicle restrictions

Sometimes you wonder whether a smaller RV really needs to have the tunnel closed, as they seem to have plenty of room.

A ranger waits at the west end for a small RV to exit

At other times a large tour bus enters the tunnel and you wonder if it is even going to make it through!

A large tour bus enters the west end

If you’re claustrophobic, this tunnel may present a challenge, but for most it is a pretty easy ride through.  We really appreciated the tunnel during many of our visits to the park.   Our motorhome is west of the national park but we spent much of our time here hiking in the east side.  Without the tunnel this would not have been possible.

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12 Responses to Zion – Mt. Carmel Tunnel

  1. Lisa says:

    I can’t imagine taking our trailer through there! We are just under 13 feet.

  2. Gay and Joe says:

    Me either Lisa!
    I do love going through tunnels…especially on the Harley!

    • placestheygo says:

      The first time we rode through the tunnel several years ago, we were on the Harley. I didn’t realize it was soooo long and I was very claustrophobic. Not a good thing. I had to close my eyes and breath slowly. It was a long ride. Luckily, I am much better because we go through the tunnel almost every other day to hike on the east side.

  3. Marsha says:

    Pretty cool. I can see why they don’t allow anyone to walk or ride a bike though it.

    Great photos of the galleries. I like the way they used the natural setting of the tunnel for light and ventilation. No wires running every where.

  4. libertatemamo says:

    Wow that’s one scary tunnel…at least for an RV!

  5. rwarner22 says:

    Love the pictures! We need to see Zion!

  6. LuAnn says:

    I knew you had run out of hikes in Zion (lol)! Very scary looking tunnel for a MH to traverse.

    • placestheygo says:

      Yes, after a month we have hike a lot of trails. There are still some left for the future. Our last hike, John didn’t blog about. It was a mild, beautiful walk through a more forested area off Kolob Terrace.

      I would be a little nervous driving through the tunnel even if they do stop traffic.

  7. Gallery on the mountains, what a concept! As always beautiful.

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