June 21, 2023

History of the Zion-Mt Carmel Tunnel

When most people think about visiting Zion National Park, they think of trails like Angels Landing or The Narrows, or about the sweeping canyon views. But one of the most iconic spots in the park is the Zion-Mt Carmel Tunnel.

Providing a gateway between the Upper and Lower Canyons of Zion, the Zion-Mt Carmel Tunnel stands as a testament to human engineering and the determination to share the incredible natural wonder that is Zion National Park with the world. The history of this incredible tunnel dates back to the early 20th century, with a story that is deeply intertwined with the development of the national park itself.

You won’t need to necessarily set out to see the Zion-Mt Carmel Tunnel during your stay at Cliffrose Lodge. That’s because you’ll wind up driving through it each time you travel from our Springdale resort to the Upper Canyon or through the park to other destinations to the north, like Bryce Canyon National Park. But you will want to take some time to appreciate the view and the history as you drive through. 

Growing Visitor Numbers and Dangerous Travel Lead to the Demand for Change

The concept of digging a tunnel through the imposing sandstone cliffs of Zion Canyon was first introduced in the early 1920s. Mukuntuweap National Monument was formed in 1917 and became Zion National Park in November 1919. The popularity of the park was on the rise and park leadership realized that they would need to make the park more accessible to continue to welcome the growing number of visitors.

Before the creation of the Zion-Mt Carmel Tunnel, travelers looking to make their way to the top of the canyon to explore the rest of the park or travel beyond had to navigate a series of treacherous switchbacks and steep grades. The journey was long and dangerous—a far cry from the experience that guests have today.

When Zion was named a national park in 1919, it also began a partnership with the state of Utah and the Union Pacific Railroad. The goal of this partnership was to promote a 10-day “Grand Loop” for visitors to the region to follow, featuring several of the region’s national parks. A similar loop existed prior to the creation of Zion but took much longer because of the amount of doubling back that was required. But the Zion-Mt Carmel Tunnel would change that.

Building the Zion-Mt Carmel Tunnel

With a need to shorten travel times in Southern Utah and continue promoting the growing popularity of Zion National Park, construction on a tunnel to connect Zion’s Upper and Lower Canyon, as well as a new Zion-Mt Carmel Highway, began in the spring of 1927. 

Right away, the construction teams were met with challenges. The terrain was difficult to traverse, and they had to cut through solid rock. Hundreds of workers toiled for three years before the tunnel was completed.

When it was completed in 1930, the Zion-Mt Carmel Tunnel was an engineering marvel. It stretches more than a mile through solid rock, reaching an elevation of more than 5,600 feet above sea level. When the tunnel was finished, workers had removed over 450,000 cubic yards of rock. And they did so without the use of modern tools we enjoy today, instead using only dynamite, hand tools, and pneumatic drills to get the job done. 

One of the most unique features of this incredible tunnel is the inclusion of a series of windows carved into the sandstone, which provide spectacular views for travelers passing through the tunnel.

Changing the Future of Zion National Park

The completion of the Zion-Mt Carmel Tunnel was a major milestone in the development of Zion National Park. It not only made travel within the canyon more accessible but made it easier for travelers to make their way to the park and beyond. Zion became not just a destination on its own, but a great addition to a tour of the incredible landscapes of Southern Utah. It also helped lead to the growth of the town of Springdale as a destination for travelers.

Even today, nearly 100 years later, travelers continue to use the Zion-Mt Carmel Tunnel to explore the region. Whether you’re exploring all that Zion has to offer or enjoying a day trip to Bryce Canyon during your stay in our Springdale resort, you’ll likely rely on the Zion-Mt Carmel Tunnel to get there quickly, while also enjoying some incredible views.

Planning Your Next Stay at Our Springdale Resort

The Zion-Mt Carmel Tunnel is just one of the incredible attractions you’ll see during your stay at our Springdale resort. From the towering red rock peaks of Zion to the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, to the soft pink dunes of Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, and more, there’s no shortage of things to see and do during your stay at Cliffrose Lodge.

Ready to start planning your next Southern Utah adventure? Book your stay at Cliffrose Lodge today.

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