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Utah National Parks Road Trip
Utah is officially one of my new favorite destinations! It’s beautiful, provides unique scenery, and is full of adventure. We went on an amazing Utah National Parks Road Trip and I honestly can’t wait to go back. I could do it all over again, the exact same Utah National Parks Road Trip!!
Everyone’s idea of the perfect vacation is different, so feel free to change the itinerary below by adding a few days, removing a destination, or even changing the route. I’ve made some alternate suggestions for you under each destination. I want to make sure you have “all of the info” so that you can create an itinerary that fits your needs. Here are some recommendations for building your own itinerary:
- Make sure you plan around everyone’s “must do’s” and leave plenty of time for these “highlights”. You don’t want to rush your spouse’s “must do” or end up skipping it because you didn’t plan accordingly. Focus on your “must do’s” and plan around those (it’ll save your marriage/friendship).
- Ask yourself “What’s the purpose of travelling to each destination?” For example, the purpose of one destination might be to hike, while the purpose of another destination might be to bike. It’s nice to change things up every once and a while, but stay focused on the purpose of each location.
- Accept that you can’t do it all! Unless you’re retired, then you need accept the fact that you just won’t have the time to see it all. You could spend an entire month in Utah and still feel like you missed something. It’s a huge state with some amazing scenery, you just can’t do it all.
- Are any of your destinations similar, if so which one looks better? For example, do you want to see Buckskin Gulch and Antelope Canyon?? They’re both slot canyons, do you have time to see two slot canyon’s? If not, then just pick one.
- Remember that you can always go back if you feel like you missed something!! It’s not like you only get one chance to see Utah. I spent 10 days in Utah last fall and I’m going back again this fall. Missing a destination just gives you another reason to return!!
It’s typically the cheapest to fly into Las Vegas and start your journey from there. If you fly into Las Vegas, then I recommend starting your journey in Zion National Park (same route as described in my itinerary below). Zion National Park is about a 3 hour drive from the Las Vegas airport, plan accordingly.
You could also fly into Salt Lake City (Utah) or Grand Junction (Colorado); it just depends on what kind of deals you can find online. If you fly into Salt Lake City or Grand Junction, then I recommend starting your journey in Moab. Start with day 3 of the itinerary below, followed by day 4,5,6,1, and 2. Salt Lake City is about a 4 hour drive from Moab and Grand Junction is about a 2 hour drive from Moab.
When to Visit Utah
I recommend doing your Utah National Parks Road Trip either in September or October. Utah is in the dessert so you don’t want to go in the summer when it’s scorching hot! You also don’t want to go when it’s too cold to get in the water (you’ll be kayaking into Antelope Canyon, hiking the narrows, etc). September or October would be the best months to visit. Otherwise, I recommend winter or early spring to avoid the heat (but skip the Narrows and Antelope Canyon in the colder months). I would NOT visit Utah in the summer months. You can read All Trails reviews where people talk about it being too hot on their feet to even walk on some of the trails. Don’t go in the summer, it’ll be a waste of money and time.
Utah Attractions Map
I’ve included a map of all of the attractions for your Utah National Parks Road Trip. Remember this road trip is about prioritizing what would be best for you and your group, so you feel free to adjust the map to fit your needs. Here are some tips for using the map:
- Click on one of the purple icons to see the each attraction/destination.
- In the upper left corner you’ll see a little box with an arrow, click on this box and a list of all of the attractions/destinations will pop up (great tool if you’re looking for a specific destination).
- To open this map in your google maps app, click on the star by “Utah National Parks Road Trip”. Once you’ve clicked on the star, you’ll open your google maps app, click on “Saved”, then click on the “Maps” tab, and you should see the “Utah National Parks Road Trip” map. Now you’ll be able to see your exact location compared to the map below (it’ll be easier to find the attractions/destinations this way).
Day 1: Zion National Park
Zion National Park is one of the most popular parks in the US. It’s absolutely beautiful and you’re going to love every minute of it!! Start your day off by renting hiking gear and a bike from an outfitter in town (I recommend reserving them in advance). Once you have all of your gear, head over to the visitor center and hop on the shuttle (your rental bike can go with you on the shuttle). You’re going to take the shuttle to the very last stop (Temple of Sinawava) and hike the Narrows! The Narrows is probably my favorite hike (ever) but make sure you read these tips before you go.
After a few hours in the Narrows, grab your bike and continue on your adventure through the park. Biking from the Temple of Sinawava back towards the Visitor Center provides you with gorgeous views of Zion and it’s mostly downhill so it’s pretty easy. It typically takes people 2-4 hours to bike from the Temple of Sinawava to the Visitor Center. You’ll bike Scenic Drive (the main road through Zion) and then take the Pa’rus trail to the Visitor Center. If you have extra time to stop, then I recommend hiking Angel’s Landing. Angel’s Landing is one of the most popular hikes in the U.S. but it’s also pretty intense. If you’re not up for hiking Angel’s Landing, that’s totally fine (don’t push yourself too much). At the end of your amazing day in Zion, I recommend hiking Canyon Overlook Trail. Canyon Overlook Trail has great views and it’s an easy trail to hike.
If you have extra time to spend in Zion National Park, then check out my 2-3 day Zion National Park Itinerary here.
Day 2: Page Arizona (Antelope Canyon and Horse Shoe Bend)
Get an early start because today is a busy day!! From Zion you’ll drive to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park which is about an hour east of Zion. The dunes are a great place to stretch your legs, take some amazing photos, and enjoy some dune sledding. I recommend spending an hour at Coral Pink Sand Dunes and then continue on your journey to Page, Arizona. Page is about an hour and a half east of Coral Pink Sand Dunes.
If you’re not interested in Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, then check out Toadstool Hoodoos (2 miles round trip hike). You don’t have to stop at these, they’re just options for you to consider. I don’t want you to realize a month after your trip that you drove right past some of these beautiful locations! Whatever you decide to do, just remember that today’s main highlights are Antelope Canyon (6 hour adventure) and Horseshoe Bend hike (1 hour adventure). Plan accordingly and save your energy!
One of the highlights of Page is Antelope Canyon, which is the most famous slot canyon in the world. It’s breathtaking! You can kayak or jet ski into Antelope Canyon for a self-guided tour, which is the best way to experience this natural phenomena. If you do a self-guided tour you won’t be rushed and you’ll be able to explore as much of the canyon as you’d like. Antelope Canyon is pretty easy to find, the workers at the kayak rental shop will give you directions. Basically follow all of the other kayaks and go until you hit land. Pull out your kayaks and hike, it’s that easy. Be sure to reserve your kayaks or jet skis in advance, they do book up and you’d hate to miss this beauty!! For more info on kayaking Antelope Canyon, check out my blog post here.
If it’s too cold to kayak into Antelope Canyon, then check out Buckskin Gulch via Wire Pass Trail (All Trails Map here). Buckskin Gulch is thought to be the longest slot canyon in the world! Buckskin Gulch via Wire Pass Trail is about 6 miles round trip, but you can hike in as far as you’d like (it’s an out and back trail). If you do decide to hike Buckskin Gulch be sure to check the forecast (trailhead easily floods) and check the road conditions (4WD may be required for the gravel road leading to the trailhead).
After your day in Antelope Canyon (or Buckskin Gulch) be sure to head over to Horseshoe Bend to enjoy the sunset! Try to get to Horseshoe Bend an hour before sunset so you can beat the crowds and get a good spot! Sunset and sunrise are the most popular times to visit Horseshoe Bend so be prepared. It’s about a half mile hike from the parking lot to the overlook and $10 for parking. It can get really crowded at the overlook but if you walk to the south side, you’ll be able to enjoy the views with less people around.
If you’d like to spend an additional day in Page, then I recommend kayaking the Colorado River. It’s about a 6 hour round trip adventure but it’s breathtaking! Absolutely breathtaking!
Day 3: Moab
Wake up early and head to Moab, which is about 4.5 hours northeast of Page. It’s a long drive y’all and there’s really not much to see along the way. You could stop at Monument Valley (if it’s open) but then you’ll need to plan for 2-3 hours of sightseeing at Monument Valley. We skipped Monument Valley and just headed straight to Moab, we had a full itinerary already planned.
You’re first day in Moab is dedicated to Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park. What two parks in one day?? Yes, if you just do the highlight’s it’s totally doable. Start your journey at Dead Horse Point State Park and park at the Dead Horse Point Overlook. You’ll hike the West Rim Trail from the Dead Horse Point Overlook to the Meander Overlook. You could do the whole thing, but honestly this small section of the trail offers the best views. It’s about 2 miles round trip if you turn around at Meander Overlook. A lot of people don’t stop at Dead Horse Point State Park and they’re missing out!
After your hike at Dead Horse Point State Park, drive on over to Canyonlands National Park. When you first enter the park, I recommend checking the Mesa Arch parking lot for an empty parking space. If everything is full, then just come back later in the day and try again. It’s a small parking lot, so it fills up pretty fast. Luckily it’s an easy hike so people are coming and going all day. Mesa Arch is about a 0.7 mile loop with an impressive arch and gorgeous views of Buck Canyon.
After you’ve enjoyed Mesa Arch head over to Grand View Point Overlook. Can you tell from the name that it’s a “Grand View”?? I love it!! Hike the Grand View Point Trail, which is about 2 miles round trip. It took us about an hour and a half to complete (including the time it took us to eat our picnic). I loved this hike! It’s a must do!! It’s easy and provides you with some amazing views!! These are my two favorite trails in Canyonlands, the highlights. Yes there is more to do and more to see, but this trip is about hitting the highlights y’all.
Day 4: Moab
Hopefully you planned your trip in advance and you booked your timed entrance pass for Arches National Park!! Arches is one of the busiest national parks in the country and it used to reach capacity by 9am. To help alleviate this issue, the NPS has recently created timed entrance reservations (info here). If you weren’t able to reserve a timed entrance pass in advance, then you can try to enter the park before 6am (before the timed entrance pass is required). If you aren’t able to get into Arches National Park, then be sure to go check out Corona and Bowtie Arches.
If you’re just planning to hit the highlights of Arches National Park, then focus on the following: Park Avenue Viewpoint, Balanced Rock, Garden of Eden, Double Arch, and Delicate Arch. Park Avenue, Balanced Rock, and Garden of Eden all provide great viewpoints and will only take about 10 minutes of your time (each). Double Arch is only half a mile round trip, which takes about 20 minutes. Double Arch is one of the easiest arch’s to get too so it’s pretty crowded. Delicate Arch is also crowded since it’s the most famous arch in Utah but I loved it!!! The hike to Delicate Arch is about 3 miles and it took us an hour and a half round trip. Be prepared to stand in line at the end of the trail to get your insta-worthy picture with Delicate Arch in the background. It’s crowded but it’s also totally worth the wait!!
If you have more time in Arches National Park, then be sure to check out some of these other highlights: Window Loop (1 mile), Broken Arch (2 miles), Landscape Arch (2 miles), Corona Arch (3 miles). You could see them all in the same day, it’s totally doable!!
If you have an extra day, I would recommend renting an ATV and enjoying some of the off-roading opportunities around Moab. We definitely felt like we missed out on this opportunity. No regrets about our hikes but we wish we would’ve extended our stay by one day to enjoy some off-roading.
Day 5: Capital Reef National Park
Wake up early and start your drive to Bryce Canyon National Park. It takes about 4 hours to get to Bryce Canyon National Park from Moab. I recommend stopping halfway at Capital Reef National Park for a short hike (or two). Capital Reef National Park is about 2 hours away from Bryce Canyon National Park and about 2 hours away from Moab (pretty much in the middle). It’s the perfect way to break up a long day of driving!!
Capital Reef National Park is pretty (of course) but it’s not nearly as pretty as the other parks in Utah. It’s my least favorite of the Mighty 5, which is why I don’t recommend spending too much time here. It’s just a good place to stop for a break, enjoy the view, and get in a few hikes. I recommend hiking to Cassidy Arch via Grand Wash Trail. The trip should take you about 2-3 hours (3 miles round trip). If you’re not interested in seeing “another arch” after your day at Arches, just stick to the Grand Wash Trail to stretch your legs and enjoy “the narrows of Grand Wash Trail”. If you’d like to see more at Capital Reef National Park, check out Hickman Bridge Trail (1.5 hour hike) and Panorama Point just off Highway 24.
If you’d like to add a little more time in the Capital Reef National Park area, then I recommend checking out Lower Calf Creek Falls and Goblin Valley State Park. Lower Calf Creek Falls and Goblin Valley State Park didn’t make it on our road trip itinerary but if you have more time then I’d definitely consider adding these to your agenda!
After your day at Capital Reef National Park, hop in the car and finish your drive to Bryce Canyon National Park. If you have time, check out the sunset at Bryce Point OR Inspiration Point. I feel like the views are similar at both viewpoints, but if you’ve got FOMO feel free to check them both out.
Day 6: Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is so different from the other parks in Utah. I loved the all of the hoodoos!! Enjoy hiking Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden Trail (start at Sunset Point), which is about a 3 mile loop. It took us about an hour and a half to hike, so it doesn’t take too long. It starts off down hill, but don’t forget the saying “what goes down, must come up”. The first half is completely downhill and the second half is completely uphill. It’s a beautiful hike though! The Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden Trail are the only trails that are a “must do” for me at Bryce Canyon National Park.
If you have some time left in your day, then I recommend driving 2 hours west to Kanarra Creek Trailhead. The Kanarra Creek Trail is a 6 mile (out and back) trail that takes about 3 hours to hike. It’s gorgeous and a great way to end your amazing Utah adventure!