Plan the ultimate Utah road trip with our 10-day itinerary that will take you through all 5 Utah National Parks and leave you ready to return for another adventure!
There’s an inescapable allure to the open road, and nowhere does it beckon more enchantingly than the dusty trails and expansive landscapes of Utah’s five extraordinary National Parks, better known as the “Mighty Five.”
Welcome to an odyssey filled with towering red-rock monoliths, deep winding canyons, and the symphony of the winds dancing around ancient stone arches.
As you buckle up and hit the road, expect to be humbled by the grandeur of Arches, awed by the wild backcountry of Canyonlands, enamored by the lush woodland haven of Capitol Reef, entranced by the unique geological wonders of Bryce Canyon, and blown away by the raw magnificence of Zion.
Each park is a world unto itself, unique in its geological formations, yet united in their haunting beauty.
Get ready to wear yourself out hiking, enjoying the warm sun on your skin and the occasional rush of cool canyon breezes.
This is a journey of discovery, exploration, and most importantly, immense fun. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride – our Utah National Parks road trip starts now!
READ MORE: Check out our full guide to the best things to do in Salt Lake City!
Table of Contents
- The Ultimate Utah National Parks Road Trip
- The Best Route Through the Utah National Parks
- How Much Time Is Needed to See the Utah National Parks?
- When Is The Best Time Of Year To Visit Utah’s National Parks?
- RVing Through The 5 Utah National Parks
- Tips For Planning A Utah Road Trip
- Utah National Parks Itinerary – Visiting The “Mighty 5”
- Day 1: Las Vegas to Zion National Park
- Day 2: Zion National Park
- Day 3: Zion to Bryce Canyon National Park
- Day 4: Bryce Canyon National Park
- Day 5: Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef National Park
- Day 6: Capitol Reef National Park
- Day 7: Drive to Moab for Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park
- Day 8: Arches National Park
- Day 9: Canyonlands National Park
- Day 10: Return trip
- Other Utah Road Trip Destinations
- Wrapping Up Your Utah National Parks Itinerary
The Ultimate Utah National Parks Road Trip
Utah is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. And whether you plan to stay for each of our recommended ten days or want to extend the road trip, know that you are in for one of the most hyper-scenic experiences in America.
We’ll cover all of the best places to visit and things to do in each of the 5 national parks.
But even the drive between national parks merits time of its own to enjoy the scenery along the way.
The Best Route Through the Utah National Parks
Although you can begin and end this Utah National Parks road trip on either end of our suggested itinerary, we recommend that you begin in Zion National Park and end at either Canyonlands National Park or Arches National Park, both located just outside of Moab.
To reach Zion National Park you can begin at either Las Vegas with all its crazy things to do, or Salt Lake City.
Beginning in Las Vegas
The best place to begin this epic Utah road trip is by starting in Las Vegas. This will give you the shortest distance to reach Zion National Park, at just over 2 hours of driving along Interstate 15.
Traveling from Las Vegas will also give you plenty of opportunities to take some side trips to amazing places like Lake Mead National Recreational Area, Valley of Fire State Park and the open country of Northern Arizona and Southern Utah where you could even add on a stop at the Grand Canyon National Park.
However, if you have your return trip planned out of Las Vegas, know that it will take nearly 8 hours to drive from Moab, where you’ll finish this itinerary at either Arches National Park or Canyonlands National Park, back to Las Vegas.
So if you have a roundtrip in and out of Las Vegas, you should consider adding a few extra days to this Utah road trip itinerary and consider stops at Monument Valley in Southern Utah and Grand Canyon National Park, Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon in Northern Arizona as you loop back toward Las Vegas.
Of course, if you are on a long road trip that extends beyond these few days in Utah’s national parks, then you can continue on from Moab into Colorado or carry on further north to explore the more remote and less-visited beauty of Northern Utah, such as Goblin Valley State Park and Dinosaur National Monument.
Have extra time in Las Vegas? Check out our top day trips from the city!
Beginning in Salt Lake City
If you want to make a roundtrip road trip through Utah, consider beginning and ending your adventure in Salt Lake City.
Although you’ll have to backtrack south along Interstate 15 for around 4 hours, beginning in Salt Lake City will give you the chance to take your time visiting all the national parks while working your way back toward Salt Lake City.
Salt Lake City has a lot of great things to do in itself. So you could add a few days to this Utah road trip itinerary to spend in Salt Lake City itself.
But if you plan to make the most of this 10-day Utah national parks road trip then you’ll want to hit the road immediately upon arriving in Salt Lake City and head south to begin in Zion National Park.
Of course, you can also follow this road trip itinerary in reverse from Salt Lake City as it is approximately the same driving time from Salt Lake City to Moab, where you can begin your adventure at either Arches National Park or Canyonlands National Park.
Related: Consider heading north into Wyoming to spend time exploring Jackson Hole.
How Much Time Is Needed to See the Utah National Parks?
To truly immerse yourself in the grandeur of Utah’s five National Parks, it’s recommended to set aside at least 10-14 days for your road trip.
This timeframe gives you about two to three days in each park, allowing you to savor the park’s iconic spots and venture a bit off the beaten path.
Don’t forget to factor in drive time between parks, ranging from 1.5 to 3 hours, and occasional rest days. This leisurely pace gives you plenty of opportunities to not only appreciate the majestic scenery and diverse ecosystems, but also to try out various activities such as hiking, biking, or stargazing.
However, if you’re pressed for time and simply want to soak in the iconic sights, a minimum of 7-10 days can provide a taste of each park’s unique beauty. Allocate a day or two for each park, with a focus on hitting the main highlights.
While this doesn’t allow as much time for long hikes or exploring the more remote corners, you’ll still witness some of the most breathtaking landscapes the American Southwest has to offer.
We have built this road trip itinerary to span 10 days and consider this the barebones minimum to truly enjoy every scenic drive and all of the great hiking trails you will find along the way.
Ultimately, the best itinerary is the one that aligns with your interests, travel style, and the time you have available. Regardless of how much time you spend, a road trip through Utah’s National Parks is an unforgettable journey of discovery and awe.
When Is The Best Time Of Year To Visit Utah’s National Parks?
It is no longer a secret that Utah houses extraordinary scenery all throughout it. As such, trying to time your road trip around the crowds will be a challenge even if you’re not interested in visiting national parks for more than a day or two.
The best time to visit Utah’s National Parks largely depends on what you’re looking for in your journey. If mild weather, fewer crowds, and a vibrant explosion of colors sound appealing, then spring (April to June) and fall (September to October) are your best bet.
In spring, the parks are painted with wildflowers, and the weather is usually comfortable for exploring. Similarly, in the fall, the parks showcase a dramatic play of autumn hues, and the daytime temperatures are perfect for hiking.
Summer (July to August) in Utah can be intensely hot, with temperatures often reaching over 100°F (38°C) in the daytime. Despite the heat, this is the busiest time at the parks due to the school holidays.
If you plan a summer visit, aim for early morning and late afternoon activities when temperatures are cooler, and be sure to stay hydrated. Summer also brings the advantage of longer daylight hours, giving you more time to explore.
Winter (November to March) presents a different kind of beauty in Utah’s National Parks. While some areas may be closed due to snow, the ones that remain open are truly enchanting, with dustings of snow adding a magical touch to the red rock landscapes. The parks are quiet and peaceful, and lodging can be much cheaper.
If you don’t mind the cold and are adequately prepared, winter can be a unique and serene time to experience Utah’s natural wonders. Whether you’re seeking the vibrant colors of spring, the quiet serenity of winter, or anything in between, Utah’s National Parks are a spectacular destination year-round.
RVing Through The 5 Utah National Parks
Embarking on an RV journey through Utah’s five magnificent National Parks – Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands – is an experience like no other. It allows you to carry the comforts of home while you traverse through mesmerizing landscapes filled with soaring cliffs, fascinating rock formations, sweeping vistas, and brilliant night skies.
The versatility of RV travel offers an all-in-one transportation, dining, and accommodation solution, freeing you from the constraints of hotel check-in times, restaurant reservations, and packing or unpacking at each location.
But do remember that you will still need to book your campground reservations far in advance as this Utah national parks road trip is just as popular with RVers.
But there’s a unique freedom and flexibility that comes with RVing. Instead of rushing to make it to a hotel before nightfall, you can stay out late for stargazing, knowing your comfortable bed is just a few steps away. Early morning hikes become much more accessible when your starting point is in or near the park.
Moreover, an RV’s kitchen facilities mean you have the option to cook your meals, catering to dietary preferences or restrictions and saving you money on dining out.
If you don’t own an RV, fear not, there are numerous rental options available that cater to different needs and budgets. You can conveniently pick up an RV in major cities like Las Vegas or Salt Lake City, both excellent starting points for your Utah National Parks road trip.
Our favorite RV rental company, RVShare, offers a variety of RVs, from compact camper vans perfect for couples to larger motorhomes suitable for families or groups.
Opting for an RV, whether owned or rented, provides an immersive way to experience the captivating beauty of Utah’s National Parks while enjoying the convenience and comfort of having your accommodations on wheels.
Related: Don’t forget to spend some extra time in the adventurous town of Moab!
Tips For Planning A Utah Road Trip
You won’t be the only one planning your epic Utah national parks road trip. But if you plan it right, you can make the most of your time there. These are our best tips for helping you to enjoy your road trip.
Book (Everything) in Advance
Planning a road trip through Utah’s five National Parks is an exciting endeavor, but it’s crucial to book your travel arrangements well in advance. These parks are immensely popular and accommodations, whether you’re opting for campgrounds, RV parks, or nearby hotels, tend to fill up quickly, especially during peak seasons.
The same applies to guided tours, which can offer invaluable insights into the parks’ geology, history, and ecosystems. By booking ahead, you not only secure a place to rest after a day of exploration, but you also avoid the stress of last-minute planning.
Additionally, some parks require advanced permits for specific hikes or activities, so early planning ensures you won’t miss out on these unique experiences. Remember, a well-planned journey paves the way for a relaxed and fulfilling adventure amidst Utah’s stunning landscapes.
America The Beautiful National Park Pass
If your travel itinerary includes the spectacular quintet of Utah’s National Parks, purchasing the America the Beautiful National Park Pass is not only cost-effective but also convenient. Each individual park has an entrance fee, ranging from $20 to $35.
The American the Beautiful Pass, priced at $80, covers entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges, as well as day-use fees at national forests and grasslands. This means that if you’re visiting three or more parks, the pass quickly pays for itself.
Plus, it eliminates the need to deal with payment at each park entrance, allowing for smoother transitions between your destinations. Keep in mind, the pass is valid for a full year, so any other national parks you decide to visit within that time are essentially free entries.
The America The Beautiful national park pass is an excellent investment for explorers setting their sights on America’s wealth of natural beauty.
Pack in Layers
One of the key aspects of a successful trip to Utah’s National Parks is packing and dressing in layers. The state’s desert climate means there can be significant temperature fluctuations between day and night, sometimes exceeding 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
In the peak of summer, days can be scorching hot, while evenings bring a refreshing coolness. On the other hand, winter can see sunny, mild afternoons followed by crisp, chilly nights.
Layering your clothing allows you to easily adjust to these changes and maintain comfort throughout the day. Start with a moisture-wicking base layer to keep you dry, add an insulating middle layer for warmth, and top with water and a wind-resistant outer layer.
Remember, a comfortable explorer is a happy explorer, and the right clothing is essential in making the most out of your Utah National Parks adventure.
Check out our list of hiking tips for more ideas about what to pack and how to plan your adventures!
Starting your activities early when visiting Utah’s National Parks offers several advantages, and it’s a strategy veteran park visitors swear by.
First, you’ll avoid the peak daytime temperatures that can make strenuous activities like hiking not only challenging but potentially dangerous, especially in the summer months.
Second, many popular spots in the parks can get crowded as the day progresses. An early start allows you to beat the crowds, secure parking spaces, and enjoy the tranquil beauty of these natural landscapes at a leisurely pace.
Additionally, the soft morning light provides exceptional opportunities for photography. Lastly, many of Utah’s wildlife are most active during the cooler morning hours, offering a chance to spot and appreciate these creatures in their natural habitat.
So rise before the sun, soak up the serene morning vibes, and get a head start on your day of adventure in Utah’s stunning National Parks.
Utah National Parks Itinerary – Visiting The “Mighty 5”
Utah is hyperscenic. And following our itinerary below will give you the best chance to see and experience a taste of Utah’s national parks that will leave you ready to return to explore more of your favorite places.
We’re beginning this Utah national parks road trip in Las Vegas. But remember, you can swap out Day 1 with a start from Salt Lake City if you find that is better for your overall plans.
Day 1: Las Vegas to Zion National Park
As you leave the neon glow of Las Vegas behind and hit the road toward Zion National Park, prepare for a journey that’s as much about the drive as it is about the destination.
The roughly three-hour drive will take you through an array of landscapes, from the stark beauty of the Mojave Desert to the pastel-colored cliffs of Virgin River Gorge in Arizona.
If you have the time, make sure to stop at the Valley of Fire State Park, an hour’s drive from Las Vegas, which gets its name from the red sandstone formations that look as if they’re on fire when reflecting the sun’s rays.
Here, you can hike, explore ancient petroglyphs, and take stunning photographs of the landscape.
Upon reaching Zion National Park, you’ll find an array of activities to keep you entertained.
You can start with the Scenic Drive, which provides an excellent overview of the park’s main attractions, and the park shuttle makes it easy to hop on and off at different points.
We don’t recommend that you do too much on this first day as you will have plenty of time to explore Zion National Park the following day.
But simply driving through Zion National Park will give you an overview of the splendor and beauty of the area and set you up for what to expect from the other Utah national parks.
If you’re staying in the park, be sure to arrive at your accommodations early on this first night. This will give you time to set up and enjoy an incredible star-filled night.
But perhaps even more importantly, it will allow you to get a good night’s sleep so that you can plan for a very early start the next day.
Remember, although this is the first national park on your national parks road trip, you are not the only one with the idea to visit Utah national parks.
Get your sleep and be ready for an action-filled day as you explore Zion National Park from one end to the other!
Where to Stay Near Zion National Park
Unless you’ve made arrangements to stay in Zion National Park, the town of Springdale is about as close as you can get to the park. Here are a few great options:
Nearby Hotels – Springdale
- Pioneer Lodge – This rustic-style lodge offers a range of amenities including a restaurant, an outdoor pool, and easy access to the park, making it a convenient base for visitors eager to explore the stunning landscapes of Zion.
- Holiday Inn Express – Nestled in the majestic red rock cliffs of Zion Canyon, the Holiday Inn Express in Springdale, Utah offers modern amenities and comfortable accommodations. With its outdoor pool, fitness center, complimentary breakfast, and breathtaking views, it serves as a comfortable and convenient hub for travelers exploring the marvels of Zion National Park.
RV Campgrounds in Zion National Park
There are a few RV campgrounds in Zion National Park. But these will fill up quickly. So be sure to book as far in advance as possible to ensure that you have a campsite:
- Watchman Campground
- Lava Point
- South Campground
Check out this National Park site for information on booking your campsite.
Day 2: Zion National Park
Welcome to Zion National Park, a nature lover’s paradise nestled in the southwestern corner of Utah.
Revered for its impressive sandstone cliffs radiating hues of cream, pink, and red, Zion is a place where landscape meets the sky creating an awe-inspiring backdrop like no other.
The Virgin River, the architect of the park, has carved its way through the rock, sculpting the canyon over millions of years, and creating an oasis of sorts in the desert where diverse plant and animal life thrive.
Zion National Park isn’t just about breathtaking vistas; it’s an invitation for adventures.
With over 200 square miles of exploration, the park offers rugged hiking trails, such as the iconic Angel’s Landing and the narrows of the Virgin River.
It’s a land of discovery, where every corner turned unfolds a scene of stark beauty, a land where one can truly grasp the magnificence of the natural world.
Whether you’re an avid hiker, a wildlife enthusiast, or a casual traveler seeking the serenity that comes with immense natural beauty, Zion is a world-class destination that promises to captivate your spirit.
What to See and Do in Zion National Park
As a brief overview, here are the top things to see and do in Zion National Park. We’re not telling you where to begin or end.
And some activities may not be suitable for everyone. And you really can’t truly see the park without including at least one Zion National Park Hike.
However, when deciding what to do in Zion National Park, this is our list of the absolute best things to do!
- Angels Landing Hike: This famous hike is not for the faint of heart due to its steep and narrow path, but it provides some of the most breathtaking panoramic views of Zion National Park.
- The Narrows: This unique hike takes you through the narrowest section of Zion Canyon in the Virgin River itself, so be prepared to get a little wet!
- Emerald Pools: This trail leads to a series of picturesque pools and waterfalls. There are both lower and upper trails depending on your preference for difficulty and distance.
- Zion Canyon Scenic Drive: This drive provides stunning views of the park. You can access the park’s shuttle system which stops at multiple points along the route for easy exploration.
- Canyoneering: Zion is known for its excellent canyoneering routes. This adventure sport combines route finding, rappelling, problem-solving, swimming, and hiking.
- Watchman Trail: A relatively easy trail offering impressive views of Zion Canyon, Springdale, and the Watchman Spire.
- Weeping Rock: A short hike that leads you to a rock alcove where water seeps out of the rock, providing a cool respite during hotter months.
- Kolob Canyons: Located in the northwestern section of the park, this area provides a quieter experience with equally stunning canyon views. Don’t miss the Taylor Creek trail.
- Wildlife Watching: Keep an eye out for the park’s abundant wildlife, including mule deer, wild turkeys, and the rare sighting of a bighorn sheep.
- Stargazing: With limited light pollution, the park offers fantastic opportunities for stargazing. Zion regularly offers ranger-led stargazing programs as well.
If you have more time in Zion National Park
While most of the activities in Zion National Park involve getting out on the hiking trails, there are also some great viewpoints of the national park and a great visitor center where you could spend hours learning about the rock formations that gave rise to such a spectacular place.
Although visitor centers are typically great places to start, unless you stopped by on your first day traveling to Zion National Park, you won’t want to spend too much of your time there as this will eat into your less-busy time exploring the park itself.
If you have additional time in Zion National Park, consider exploring some of the less-trafficked areas of the park.
The Kolob Canyons, a lesser-visited section of the park, provides quieter trails and equally magnificent scenery.
Here, the Taylor Creek Trail is a delightful hike leading to the Double Arch Alcove.
If you’re up for a challenge, try the trail to The Subway, a unique tunnel-shaped canyon and geological marvel, though do note that this requires a permit. Also consider a horseback riding tour of White Mountain for a unique experience!
Alternatively, explore the Zion Human History Museum to learn more about the park’s cultural history or simply find a peaceful spot by the Virgin River and enjoy the serene beauty around you.
If you’re there in the right season, you might even partake in a peaceful bird-watching session, as Zion is home to over 290 species of birds.
Day 3: Zion to Bryce Canyon National Park
Don’t rush away from Zion National Park! Take your time and get one last hike or scenic drive in before heading north toward Bryce Canyon National Park.
The drive to Bryce Canyon National Park from Zion National Park will take a little less than 2 hours… unless you find yourself stopping to take in some of the incredible views along the way.
Taking Highway 9 out of Zion National Park, you’ll travel a few miles east before turning north onto Highway 89, arguably one of the most beautiful stretches of highway in America.
These 43 miles will lead you between the mountains that separate Zion National Park from Bryce Canyon National Park and there are places you may want to pull over to take in views of both.
Depending on how early you arrive in the area, you may want to check into your accommodations and grab a hearty meal to prepare you for a full day of exploring Bryce Canyon National Park.
To reach the park itself, you will turn off Highway 89 and go through a small stretch of hotels, restaurants and tourist shops and attractions in the small towns of Bryce and Bryce Canyon.
If you have time, you can park and take a shuttle through the national park or give yourself a quick self-guided driving tour. Be on the lookout for wildlife in the evening hours.
Remember, while Bryce Canyon National Park is not as popular as Zion National Park or Arches National Park, it is sure to be crowded the next day.
So head to bed early and get your rest so you can wake up early ready to spend a full day exploring the best that the national park has to offer!
Where To Stay Near Bryce Canyon National Park
Most of the accommodations near Bryce Canyon National Park are located in either Bryce, Bryce Canyon City or the town of Tropic.
While Tropic has more hotel offerings, it will require you to backtrack a little to return to the national park the following day.
ere are a few great options for where to stay near Bryce Canyon National Park:
- Best Western PLUS Ruby’s Inn (Bryce Canyon City) – Best Western PLUS Ruby’s Inn, situated just a mile from the entrance of Bryce Canyon National Park, offers cozy accommodations complemented by rustic decor reminiscent of the region’s pioneer heritage. It features a range of amenities including an indoor pool, on-site dining, a general store, and even horse riding activities.
- Bryce Pioneer Village (Tropic, Utah) – Bryce Pioneer Village, located in Tropic, Utah, offers a charming and rustic lodging experience just a short drive from the park. With options for motel rooms or individual cabins set in beautiful gardens, along with amenities like an outdoor pool and an on-site restaurant, it provides a comfortable base for visitors to unwind after a day of exploration.
RV Campgrounds in Bryce Canyon National Park
There are a few RV campgrounds in Bryce Canyon National Park. But these will fill up quickly. So be sure to book as far in advance as possible to ensure that you have a campsite:
- North Campground
- Sunset Campground
Check out this National Park site for information on booking your campsite.
Read next: The Ultimate 3 Days In Las Vegas Itinerary
Day 4: Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is a geological wonderland located in southwestern Utah. Not quite a canyon in the traditional sense, Bryce is rather a spectacular series of natural amphitheaters filled with a maze of spire-shaped rock formations called hoodoos.
These towering limestone sculptures, painted in shades of pink, orange, and white, stand tall against a crisp blue sky, creating a whimsical landscape that appears to be more fantasy than reality.
The magic of Bryce Canyon extends beyond its otherworldly daytime views. Designated as a Dark Sky Park, Bryce offers one of the best celestial displays in the country once the sun sets.
Trails for every level, from the relatively easy Navajo Loop to the more strenuous Peekaboo Loop, lead visitors into the heart of the hoodoos, promising an intimate encounter with the park’s unique geology.
Whether you’re there to watch the sun cast its first light on the hoodoos or to gaze upon the star-studded sky, Bryce Canyon National Park is a place that both humbles and inspires with its majestic natural beauty.
What To See And Do In Bryce Canyon National Park
As a brief overview, here are the top things to see and do in Bryce Canyon National Park. As with other Utah national parks, we’re not telling you where to begin or end.
And some activities may not be suitable for everyone. However, when deciding what to do in Bryce Canyon National Park, this is our list of the absolute best things to do!
- Sunrise/Sunset Point: Witness the breathtaking sight of the hoodoos glowing in the soft light of sunrise or sunset at this viewpoint.
- Hiking the Navajo Loop Trail: This popular trail descends from Sunset Point through the slot canyon of Wall Street and the Silent City formations.
- Bryce Point: Famous for its extraordinary sunrises, panoramic views of the Bryce Amphitheater can be seen from this point.
- Ride the Scenic Drive: A 38-mile round trip drive with over a dozen viewpoints to pull over and admire the park’s stunning landscapes. Or explore by ATV for an adventurous twist!
- Hike the Rim Trail: This relatively easy trail offers some of the best views of the park and can be hiked in sections.
- Peek-A-Boo Loop: A longer and more strenuous hike that offers stunning views of the park’s iconic hoodoos.
- Visit Mossy Cave: A less-visited part of the park where you can see a waterfall, a mossy overhang that’s cool even in summer, and hoodoos up close.
- Stargazing: Bryce Canyon has some of the darkest night skies in North America, making it an excellent place for stargazing.
- Horseback Riding: Experience the park’s trails from a new perspective with a guided horseback riding tour.
- Winter Sports: In the winter, the park offers cross-country skiing and snowshoeing for a different view of Bryce’s spectacular hoodoos.
If you have more time in Bryce Canyon National Park
If you find yourself with some extra time in Bryce Canyon National Park, consider venturing into the lesser-visited areas of the park. The Fairyland Loop Trail is a longer and less crowded trail that offers fantastic views of the hoodoos, towers, and walls for which Bryce Canyon is famous.
You could also explore the Bristlecone Loop that takes you to Yovimpa Point and Rainbow Point, the highest points in the park, with views extending over 100 miles on clear days.
Another option is to spend a leisurely afternoon horseback riding through the park’s canyon trails, soaking up the unique geological wonders around you.
And, if your visit falls during a new moon, don’t miss one of the ranger-led Full Moon Hikes or a guided astronomy program, as Bryce Canyon is renowned for its clear, dark skies, perfect for stargazing.
Day 5: Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef National Park
Don’t rush away from Bryce Canyon National Park! Take your time and get one last hike or scenic drive in before heading north toward Capitol Reef National Park.
The scenic drive to Capitol Reef National Park will take approximately 3 hours. But with the cute little town of Escalante positioned right in the middle of the road trip, plus all of the beauty around, you may want to give it more time.
There are some great slot canyons to hike just north of Escalante if you enjoy finding yourself wedged between sandstone layers of rock that stretch upwards toward the sky.
Take a side trip down the dirt road (sometimes graded) on Hole In The Rock Road to visit Zebra Slot Canyon and Peekaboo Slot Canyon.
Both offer the opportunity to enjoy some open-country hiking that leads into the narrow slot canyons.
Depending on the time of day and season, you may find yourself slogging through water in either canyon and the opportunity always exists to do a little amateur rock climbing as you work your way further back into each canyon.
Zebra Slot Canyon doesn’t require any technical climbing skills. But to see the famed “zebra stripes” in the canyon you’ll want to do some scuttling up and through some very narrow slots.
Be sure to arrive at your accommodations with plenty of time to enjoy the evening. Pick up food in Escalante, or give yourself enough time to cook a meal in your RV if you’re traveling in one.
Then catch some great shut-eye before heading out into Capitol Reef National Park for a full day of adventure the next morning.
If you’re a night owl, you may consider stepping outside after sunset to take in the many stars that blanket the sky.
It’s likely that you’ll be able to very clearly see the Milky Way Galaxy with your bare eyes, depending on the season and timing.
Where To Stay Near Capitol Reef National Park
Your options for staying near Capitol Reef National Park are limited with most of the accommodation options being in the small town of Torrey, Utah, just a 15-minute drive to the national park entrance.
There are other options that lie further west away from the park. So we’d recommend considering the following options when it comes to where to stay near Capitol Reef National Park.
Both are highly rated and we think you’ll appreciate all they have to offer in addition to their proximity to the national park.
Nearby Hotels – Torrey
- Broken Spur Inn and Steakhouse – Located in the heart of Torrey, Utah, the Broken Spur Inn and Steakhouse offers comfortable lodging and an on-site steakhouse, ensuring guests enjoy not only scenic views of Capitol Reef National Park but also satisfying meals before or after a day of exploration.
- Skyview Hotel – Skyview Hotel in Torrey, Utah, pairs modern comforts with breathtaking views of the red cliffs and canyons of Capitol Reef National Park. Enjoy the pleasant charm and nice amenities such as a heated outdoor pool and a spacious picnic area.
RV Campgrounds in Capitol Reef National Park
In Capitol Reef National Park there is only one campground and it is likely to fill up quickly due to the remote nature of the campsite. Be sure to book far in advance to ensure that you have a campsite:
- Fruita Campground
Check out this National Park site for information on booking your campsite.
Day 6: Capitol Reef National Park
Welcome to Capitol Reef National Park, an enchanting realm nestled in the heart of Utah’s red rock country.
Named for its white domes of Navajo Sandstone that resemble the U.S. Capitol building, and the water pocket fold, a ‘reef’-like geologic wrinkle extending nearly 100 miles, Capitol Reef is a dazzling display of colorful cliffs, massive domes, soaring spires, and twisting canyons.
The park’s unique geologic features tell a story of ancient environments, from lush tropical forests to arid deserts, that existed here millions of years ago.
Venturing into Capitol Reef is like stepping back in time. The park is home to the historic Fruita Rural Historic District, where lush orchards and rustic buildings offer a glimpse of the area’s pioneer heritage.
The rich human history, dating back to the ancient Fremont people, is inscribed on the sandstone cliffs in the form of petroglyphs, a silent testament to the park’s past inhabitants.
Whether you’re exploring its scenic byways, hiking through its dramatic landscapes, or picking fresh fruit in one of the maintained orchards, Capitol Reef National Park offers an unforgettable journey into a lesser-known, but equally captivating, corner of Utah’s impressive national park system.
What To See And Do In Capitol Reef National Park
As a brief overview, here are the top things to see and do in Capitol Reef National Park. As with other Utah national parks, we’re not telling you where to begin or end.
And some activities may not be suitable for everyone. However, when deciding what to do in Capitol Reef National Park, this is our list of the absolute best things to do!
- Scenic Drive: A 25-mile round trip that takes you through the heart of the park’s Waterpocket Fold, offering magnificent views of cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges.
- Hickman Bridge Trail: This moderate trail leads to the impressive Hickman Natural Bridge, one of the largest in the park.
- Fruita Historic District: Explore this old Mormon settlement with its charming orchards where you can pick fruit in season, a historic schoolhouse, and the Gifford Homestead which sells locally made pies and breads.
- Cassidy Arch: A strenuous hike leading to a large, spectacular natural arch named after the famous outlaw Butch Cassidy.
- Petroglyphs: Just east of the Fruita oasis, view petroglyphs inscribed in sandstone by Native Americans of the Fremont Culture.
- Cathedral Valley: A remote, less visited area of the park, featuring stunning monolithic sandstone formations.
- Sulphur Creek Route: A water hike through a narrow canyon, featuring three waterfalls to bypass. Best done in warmer weather.
- Chimney Rock Loop: A moderately difficult trail offering panoramic views of the Waterpocket Fold and the surrounding area.
- Goosenecks Overlook: A short walk to a viewpoint where you can see the deep, dramatic meanders of Sulphur Creek.
- Stargazing: Like many of Utah’s national parks, Capitol Reef offers incredible stargazing due to its status as an International Dark Sky Park.
If you have more time in Capitol Reef National Park
With some extra time at Capitol Reef National Park, diving deeper into its hidden treasures can make your visit even more unforgettable. A great way to start is by exploring the Cathedral Valley, a less frequented but equally breathtaking region of the park, known for its monolithic formations.
If you’re an avid hiker, consider the strenuous but rewarding Upper Muley Twist Canyon trail, which offers some of the most spectacular panoramic views in the park.
Take a step back in time by visiting the old Fruita Schoolhouse, a one-room building that served the small community from the 1890s to the 1940s.
If you’re visiting during the right season, don’t miss the chance to pick some fruit in the historic Fruita orchards, a unique experience that harks back to the area’s pioneer past.
Looking for more epic road trips? Check out our guide to driving from Las Vegas to Los Angeles!
Day 7: Drive to Moab for Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park
Next you’ll be heading north toward Moab, where you’ll encounter the spectacular Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park.
Moab itself merits a little extra time if you have it. From a quaint downtown area that offers all sorts of places to eat and shop to some side trips to places like Corona Arch just outside of town, the area around Moab is worth the time if you have it.
From Capitol Reef National Park, you’ll drive just under 3 hours to reach Moab. Unfortunately, the backroads of this epic Utah national parks road trip ends for a brief stint on Interstate 70 straddling Green River, Utah before ducking back down on Highway 191.
Arches National Park is just as popular, if not more, than Zion National Park so it’s unlikely that you can enjoy too much with the late afternoon arrival into the area. Instead, use this time to head out toward Corona Arch and enjoy that afternoon or early evening hike instead.
Be sure to check in with your accommodations as soon as you can and get settled in for a quiet night. You’ll want to be ready to wake up early to hit Arches National Park before droves of other people do.
But if you are truly committed, consider waking up well before sunrise to head into the park and hike out to Delicate Arch for sunrise, arguably the most iconic arch in the entire national park.
Where to Stay Near Arches National Park
Almost all accommodations for visiting both Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park will be in and around the small town of Moab. Because Arches National Park is arguably just as busy, if not busier than Zion National Park, the town of Moab has grown up to support a massive influx of visitors and there are ample options for accommodations in the area.
Here are a few of the best options:
Nearby Hotels – Moab
- Archway Inn – Complete with an outdoor pool, hot tub, spacious rooms, and a fitness center, this lovely hotel furnished with classy sandstone architecture is a top-rated place to stay near the park.
- Hotel Moab Downtown – Located in the heart of Moab with incredible mountain scenery, this full-service hotel is surrounded by the best restaurants and shops in town. The gorgeous hotel interior doesn’t hurt either!
RV Campgrounds in Arches National Park
In Arches National Park there is only one campground and it is likely to fill up quickly due to the popularity of the national park. Be sure to book far in advance to ensure that you have a campsite:
- Devil’s Garden Campground
Check out this National Park site for information on booking your campsite.
Day 8: Arches National Park
Arches National Park is a captivating world of stone located in eastern Utah. As the name implies, Arches is a testament to nature’s power and creativity, hosting over 2,000 natural stone arches, the greatest concentration in the world.
These striking formations, along with an array of colossal pinnacles, balanced rocks, and expansive fins, are artfully carved from a vibrant red sandstone landscape, creating a visually stunning panorama that ignites the imagination.
Arches National Park invites visitors to delve into a world where the surreal becomes tangible.
Trails of varying lengths lead you up close to the park’s star attractions, like the Delicate Arch, one of Utah’s most famous icons, or the Landscape Arch, one of the world’s longest.
Whether bathed in the fiery glow of sunrise or sunset, shimmering under the midday sun, or glowing in the soft light of the moon, the arches offer an ever-changing, always mesmerizing spectacle.
Arches National Park is not just a place to see, but a place to savor and experience through adventures like mountain biking, backpacking, ATV driving, and more.
What To See And Do In Arches National Park
As a brief overview, here are the top things to see and do in Arches National Park. As with other Utah national parks, we’re not telling you where to begin or end.
And this park is PACKED year round, so you may not be able to fully enjoy every experience we have listed.
However, when deciding what to do in Arches National Park, this is our list of the absolute best things to do!
- Delicate Arch Hike: A moderately difficult hike to the park’s most iconic and most photographed natural arch.
- Devils Garden: A network of trails leading to several arches including the Landscape Arch, the longest natural arch in North America.
- Fiery Furnace: A labyrinth of narrow sandstone canyons requiring a permit or a ranger-led tour to explore, to ensure minimal impact on the environment.
- Windows Section: Easy trails that lead to some of the largest arches in the park, including the North and South Window Arches and Turret Arch.
- Park Avenue Trail: This trail provides views of towering sandstone monoliths reminiscent of skyscrapers on a big city street.
- Balanced Rock: One of the park’s most popular features, a massive boulder balanced on a slender pedestal.
- Courthouse Towers: A collection of tall stone columns that showcase the park’s unique geology.
- Double Arch: Two impressive natural arches that share a common end. The trail to reach them is relatively short and easy.
- Sunset at Delicate Arch: A popular activity is to hike to Delicate Arch at sunset to witness the stunning transformation of colors on the rock formations.
- Stargazing: Arches National Park is recognized as an International Dark Sky Park, making it an excellent place for stargazing due to minimal light pollution.
If you have more time in Arches National Park
If you’ve budgeted some extra time for exploring Arches National Park, consider delving deeper into its off-the-beaten-path wonders.
The Fiery Furnace, a labyrinth of narrow sandstone canyons, offers a more challenging but rewarding experience – just remember to either join a ranger-led tour or get a permit if you plan to navigate it yourself.
If you’re up for a longer hike, the seven-mile Primitive Loop at Devil’s Garden will reward you with views of some of the park’s less-visited arches.
Consider also a visit to the petroglyphs at Wolfe Ranch to appreciate the history and culture of the park’s earlier inhabitants. Or go stand-up paddleboarding or white-water rafting on the Colorado River if you’re looking for a break from land-based activities!
Day 9: Canyonlands National Park
Welcome to Canyonlands National Park, a captivating wonderland located in the heart of southeastern Utah.
Spanning over 337,000 acres, Canyonlands is a vast desert ecosystem sculpted by the Colorado River and its tributaries into a rugged panorama of mesas, canyons, and remarkable rock formations.
The park’s unique geology unfolds millions of years of Earth’s history, with layers of sedimentary rock that document time like pages in a book.
Yet, Canyonlands is more than just a geological showcase; it’s a place where the sheer scale of the landscape and the silence of the desert can create a profoundly stunning experience.
The park’s expanse is divided into four districts – Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the rivers themselves – each boasting its own distinctive character and array of outdoor adventures.
Whether you’re standing on the edge of a towering mesa overlooking the winding river canyons, exploring the cryptic messages left by ancient Native American civilizations, or star-gazing in the crystal-clear night skies, Canyonlands offers an exploration into a beautifully rugged and untamed corner of the world.
What To See And Do In Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park is a vast wilderness of stark yet breathtaking beauty characterized by its dramatic desert landscapes.
Featuring a diverse array of towering mesas, deep canyons, and the converging Colorado and Green Rivers, the park provides an awe-inspiring panorama that reveals millions of years of geologic history.
Here are a few of the best things to see and do in Canyonlands National Park:
- Island in the Sky: This is the easiest district of the park to access and offers breathtaking views from numerous overlooks along the paved scenic drive.
- Mesa Arch: A short hike leads to this poetically named natural arch, a popular spot for photographers, especially at sunrise.
- White Rim Road: A 100-mile dirt road loops around and below the Island in the Sky mesa, providing spectacular views for those up for a 4WD adventure.
- The Needles: This district offers extensive hiking trails through a landscape punctuated by colorful sandstone spires.
- Horseshoe Canyon: This detached unit of the park is home to the famous Great Gallery, one of the best examples of prehistoric pictographs (rock art) in America.
- Upheaval Dome: Visit this unique geologic feature and decide for yourself whether it was created by a salt dome or a meteor impact.
- Green River Overlook: A popular spot that provides panoramic views of the Green River in the Island in the Sky district.
- Rafting on the Colorado River: Experience the thrill of rafting through the park’s spectacular canyons.
- Elephant Hill Trail: This challenging 4WD trail in the Needles district leads to some of the most remote and beautiful places in the park.
- Stargazing: Canyonlands National Park has been designated a Gold-Tier International Dark Sky Park, making it an exceptional place to stargaze and contemplate the mysteries of the universe.
If you have more time in Canyonlands National Park
With additional time at Canyonlands National Park, your adventures can extend beyond the iconic Island in the Sky district.
Consider exploring the more remote Needles district, where colorful sandstone spires tower above extensive hiking trails and large, park-like clearings.
If you’re equipped with a 4WD vehicle, a journey along the White Rim Road will present stunning, up-close views of the park’s complex geology.
Another remarkable but less-visited area is the park’s Maze district, one of the most remote areas in the United States, offering solitude and a maze-like network of canyons to explore.
If you’re keen on prehistoric culture, the Horseshoe Canyon contains some of the most significant rock art in North America, including the breathtaking Great Gallery panel. Just remember, some of these activities require permits, so plan accordingly!
RV Campgrounds in Canyonlands National Park
There are a few RV campgrounds in Canyonlands National Park. But these will fill up quickly. So be sure to book as far in advance as possible to ensure that you have a campsite:
- Islands In The Sky (Willow Flat) Campground
- The Needles Campground
Check out this National Park site for information on booking your campsite.
Day 10: Return trip
On the final day of your Utah road trip, you will spend a good portion of it driving back to either Las Vegas or Salt Lake City, depending on your final destination.
Both of these drives can be road trips on their own, with plenty of other stops along the way.
Returning to Salt Lake City
The drive from Moab to Salt Lake City will take approximately 4 hours. This will be mostly along backroad highways that continue to offer the kind of beauty that makes anyone want to visit utah.
Here are a few points of interest along the drive back to Salt Lake City:
- Price Canyon Recreation Area: This is a great spot to stretch your legs and take in the stunning views of the surrounding canyons and plateaus.
- Nine Mile Canyon: Known as the world’s longest art gallery, this canyon contains extensive petroglyphs and pictographs from ancient Native American cultures. It’s a slight detour off the main route, but well worth the extra time for history and archaeology enthusiasts.
- Helper, Utah: This quaint mining town has a charming Main Street with historic buildings, antique shops, and the Western Mining & Railroad Museum.
- Provo River Falls: Nestled in the Uinta National Forest, the Provo River tumbles over a series of scenic waterfalls. There are plenty of spots to picnic and trails to explore.
- Soldier Hollow: This venue was home to cross-country skiing and biathlon events during the 2002 Winter Olympics and now offers year-round outdoor activities. Take a break here to appreciate the beautiful mountain views, and if you’re passing through in winter, enjoy some snow sports.
Returning to Las Vegas
Driving to Las Vegas from Moab will take around 7 hours and will be primarily along the interstate. You’ll spend much of the time on Interstate 70 until it meets Interstate 15.
If you head along this route and want to split the drive into two days, here are a few points of interest along the way:
- San Rafael Swell: Located near Green River, Utah, this is a large geologic feature known for its scenic sandstone formations, deep canyons, and expansive panoramas.
- Fishlake National Forest: Close to Richfield, Utah, this national forest is home to the Pando, an enormous grove of quaking aspen which is considered the heaviest known living organism.
- Cove Fort: Near Beaver, Utah, this historic site is a well-preserved pioneer-era fort. Guided tours offer insight into life in the 19th century American West.
- Cedar Breaks National Monument: Just off Interstate 15 near Cedar City, Utah, this park offers breathtaking views of a naturally formed amphitheater canyon filled with colorful hoodoos and rock formations.
- Valley of Fire State Park: Nevada’s oldest and largest state park, known for its vibrant red sandstone formations, petrified wood, and ancient petroglyphs. It’s about an hour off the route, but its otherworldly landscapes make it worth the detour.
If you want to take a more scenic route, you can head south out of Moab and follow highway 191 in Utah through Monument Valley and into northern Arizona. This will lead you to Page, Arizona where you can take a detour to visit Grand Canyon National Park, which is worth the detour in our opinion!
From Page you can also see famous landmarks and national monuments such as Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon.
Carry on toward Kanab and take a little detour to hiks some great slot canyons or connect back to Zion National Park for a second visit before returning to Interstate 15 for the short drive back to Las Vegas.
Plan to explore more of Arizona? Check out our list of the best things to do in Tucscon!
Continuing on your road trip
If you are continuing on your road trip from Moab, you can easily cross into Colorado and enjoy all that the Centennial State has to offer.
A short 2 hour drive east along Interstate 70 will take you to Grand Junction, where you can decide which direction you want to go to enjoy the beauty of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.
Of course, road trips in Colorado are a whole other opportunity and the state is well worth exploring over the course of several weeks.
And although not as close as Colorado, you could continue your Utah road trip north and enter remote areas of Wyoming where you’ll come across vast stretches of land that seem to stretch on forever.
This route will put you in Rock Springs, Wyoming and in a direct route toward Grand Teton National Park and the adjoining Yellowstone National Park.
Other Utah Road Trip Destinations
Visiting Utah national parks is a bucket list item of its own. However, if you feel like tacking on a few extra days (or weeks!) on your Utah road trip, then there are some other great destinations nearby that offer great alternatives to Utah’s parks.
Two regions that deserve your attention and do not require too much deviation from this core Utah national parks road trip are in southern utah and northeastern Utah.
If you aren’t in a rush and/or are making your way back to Las Vegas along the scenic Southern Utah route, consider spending a few extra days taking in all of the beauty of this region. Here are a few top places to stop along the way:
- Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park: This iconic landscape, featuring stunning red sandstone buttes, is located within the Navajo Nation on the border of Utah and Arizona.
- Antelope Canyon: Near Page, Arizona, this mesmerizing slot canyon is renowned for its swirling sandstone walls and ethereal light beams.
- Lake Powell: A reservoir on the Colorado River, straddling the border between Utah and Arizona, this is a prime spot for boating, fishing, and exploring numerous sandstone canyons.
- Glen Canyon National Recreation Area: Encompassing over 1.25 million acres from Arizona to southern Utah, this area offers opportunities for water-based and backcountry activities.
- Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park: Located in Utah, this park features a stunning expanse of reddish-pink sand dunes that you can explore on foot or with off-road vehicles.
- Horseshoe Bend: Just outside Page, Arizona, this iconic bend in the Colorado River is famous for its dramatic views from the cliff edge.
- Grand Canyon National Park – North Rim: While most visitors head to the South Rim, the North Rim offers a quieter and equally stunning view of this iconic landscape in Arizona.
- Vermilion Cliffs National Monument: Located in Arizona, this area is known for its colorful, undulating rock formations, including the renowned Wave formation in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness. Remember, visiting The Wave requires a permit obtained through a lottery system.
Read next: 21 Best Things To Do In Phoenix, Arizona
Central and Northern Utah
If your Utah road trip continues north from Moab there are some great places that will seem even more remote than any you have seen amonth the Utah national parks itinerary.
Here are a few of those places that can extend your utah road trip a few extra days:
- Dinosaur National Monument: While technically designated a national monument, this area in northeastern Utah is famous for its wealth of dinosaur fossils. The quarry exhibits a wall with over 1,500 dinosaur bones still encased in rock.
- Goblin Valley State Park: Renowned for its thousands of whimsical and eerie sandstone formations, often referred to as goblins, which create a surreal, Goblin Valley State Park offers Mars-like landscape that’s perfect for hiking and exploration.
- Little Wild Horse Canyon: Located near Goblin Valley State Park in Utah, the area is a popular non-technical slot canyon that offers a stunning, family-friendly hike through sculpted sandstone walls where you can day hike or continue on multi-day treks.
- Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area: This beautiful area, featuring a massive dam and reservoir, offers boating, fishing, camping, and plenty of trails with panoramic vistas.
- Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest: The Mirror Lake Scenic Byway runs through this forest, offering stunning views, hiking trails, fishing spots, and campgrounds.
- Steinaker State Park: Located near Vernal, this state park has a reservoir for boating and fishing, along with camping facilities and picnicking spots.
- Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum: Also located in Vernal, this museum offers exhibits about the area’s geology and prehistory, including dinosaur fossils.
- Red Fleet State Park: This park offers a reservoir for water activities, hiking trails with dinosaur tracks, and camping facilities.
- Fantasy Canyon: This unique area features one-of-a-kind, small-scale sandstone formations that have been eroded into fantastical shapes, creating an almost otherworldly landscape. It’s off the beaten path but well worth the visit for photography or geology enthusiasts.
Wrapping Up Your Utah National Parks Itinerary
Wrapping up our expansive Utah road trip, it’s clear to see why this state’s stunning landscapes have captivated the hearts of travelers worldwide.
From the grandeur of the Mighty 5 national parks, each with their unique charm and attractions, to the countless additional points of interest along our journey – including state parks, monuments, and charming towns – Utah offers an abundance of natural beauty and history that makes it a premier destination for road trippers.
Whether you’re an adventurer seeking the thrill of hiking rugged terrains, a history enthusiast keen on immersing yourself in cultural and geological tales from millennia past, or simply a nature lover wanting to bask in some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes on earth, Utah’s diverse terrain has something for everyone.
Remember, this itinerary is just a guide – take your time, explore off the beaten path, and make your own discoveries. After all, that’s the beauty of a road trip: the journey is just as important as the destination. Safe travels, and enjoy your Utah exploration!
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