10 Day Utah National Parks Road Trip Itinerary

Hoping to explore Utah’s national parks? In this guide we’re sharing a detailed itinerary for a 10 day Utah national parks road trip!

With red rocks, canyons, rivers, hoodoos, arches, and so many other mind blowing natural features, Southern Utah is a GEM in the United States. You could spend a lifetime in just the southern part of Utah alone and still not explore everything there is to see and do!

When deciding where to spend a couple months in our van this past spring (mid-March until early May), we quickly set our sights on Southern Utah, as not only did it offer tons of free camping and mild spring weather, but it is also home to FIVE national parks! FIVE! 

On our quest to visit all of the US National Parks, we were still missing three of the five Utah national parks, and with the five parks being within a half day’s drive from each other, combining them into one big Utah national parks road trip was a no brainer for us. 

So we left Texas, where we had been spending time with family, and headed west to Utah. We spent two months driving all around the southern part of the state, visiting the national parks on our days off of work, as well as other spots outside of the park and had the BEST time! 

Watch our experience at all five of Utah’s national parks

And in this guide we’re sharing all that we learned and experienced during our Utah national parks road trip to help you plan your own! We’ve adapted our own route and itinerary to fit into 10 adventurous and beautiful days and have also included info about the parks, tons of tips and important things to know, some suggestions of where to stay, and more!

We hope this guide helps you experience the beauty of these parks, prioritize your time at them, and have a blast!

WARNING: This is a long guide, but we hope it provides everything you need to know to plan your own epic Utah national parks road trip! We have a table of contents feature below if you’d like to skip ahead to any section. Looking for even more detail? We’ve written detailed guides for each Utah national park, which you can find here!

Want to explore outside of the national parks too? Check Out Our Other Southern Utah Guides:

Leave No Trace Principles

Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!

  1. Plan ahead & prepare. Make sure you research and prepare for every adventure so that you know the rules, stay safe, and to minimize resource damage.
  2. Travel & camp on durable surfaces. Stay on the trail and only camp in designated areas, as well as the required length away from water sources.
  3. Dispose of waste properly. Whatever you pack in, pack it out! Make sure to carry out your trash, as well as any trash you find. If you have a dog, please do not leave poop bags on the trail. For human waste, use a trowel to dig a hole far from water sources or use a wag bag (sometimes required).
  4. Leave what you find. Do not take any items from the trail with you, including rocks, plants, or artifacts.
  5. Minimize campfire impacts. Know the rules of where you can and cannot have campfires and if allowed, use designated fire rings. Use local firewood to prevent bringing any pests or diseases to the area you’re visiting and make sure to fully extinguish your fire.
  6. Respect wildlife. Keep your distance from wildlife, control your pets on the trail, and never ever feed them! Make sure to keep your food stored properly as well (we like this bear canister).
  7. Be considerate of other visitors. Be respectful to others on the trail. Hikers going uphill have the right of way on hikes and it’s always courteous to let those quicker than you pass. Avoid playing music out loud, talking loudly, and having your pets bother others.

Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!

About Utah’s National Parks

Utah’s five national parks, known as the Mighty Five, include Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches National Parks. These parks are all located in the southern portion of Utah, with each park being between 35 minutes to 3 hours from the next closest one.

Here’s a quick rundown of each park and what it has to offer!

Zion National Park

Zion National Park

Zion National Park is the 4th most visited National Park in the United States and is home to steep orange and red cliffs, slot canyons, and the Virgin River, which winds through the park.

The park is split into five main hiking areas: Zion Canyon (the most popular area and what we will focus on the most), Kolob Canyons, Kolob Terrace, East Rim, and Southwest Desert. Each area has a different vibe, but all offer incredible views of the canyon, peaks, and surrounding area.

Some of the most notable sights in this park are Angels Landing, which requires chains in one section and is said to not be for those who are afraid of heights, and The Narrows, which takes you through a river and slot canyon (you will get wet!). But from our experience, you cannot go wrong with any hike in the park, every inch of it is stunning!

Check out our full Zion National Park Guide where we share a more detailed overview of the park, things to do, where to stay, and more!

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park is famous for having the world’s largest collection of hoodoos, which are rock columns that form over millions of years due to erosion from ice and rain.

Bryce Canyon became a national park in 1928 and was named after Ebenezer Bryce, a Mormon settler that lived near the park. He built a logging road into the canyon and locals began calling it “Bryce’s canyon.” But back in 1200 AD, well before European Americans and Mormons explored the area, it was occupied by Paiute Indians.

And despite its name, Bryce Canyon is not actually a canyon, but rather a collection of natural amphitheaters, which sit along the eastern slope of the Paunsaugunt Plateau.

Check out our full Bryce Canyon National Parks Guide where we share a more detailed overview of the park, things to do, where to stay, and more!

Capitol Reef National Park

Navajo Knobs Trail at Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park is named after the white Navajo Sandstone dome formations, which look similar to domes found on capitol buildings, and because the reef of mountains that proved to be a barrier of travel for pioneers.

Capitol Reef National Park is approximately 368 square miles in size and is made up of 3 areas to explore: Fruita, Waterpocket (South), and Cathedral Valley (North). Each area is home to great hikes, scenic drives, and views, with the Fruita area being the easiest to access and most popular.

This park was the biggest surprise during our time in Southern Utah. We knew the least about it beforehand and were blown away by its beauty and things to do, see, and EAT (they have PIE!!!). Don’t sleep on Capitol Reef!

Learn more about the park, plus see more itinerary options than we will include in this guide in our Capitol Reef National Park guide!

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park preserves 337,598 acres of amazing Utah desert scenery. You’ll see colorful canyons, mesas, buttes, fins, arches, and spires all over these gorgeous lands. 

The park is made up of four districts, the three land districts of Island in the Sky, The Maze, The Needles, and then the two rivers, the Green and the Colorado, that divide the park. 

These districts may look close on the map, but there are no roads directly connecting them and traveling between them requires 2-6 hours. Each district offers its own unique character to experience and adventures to be had. 

Check out our Canyonlands guides (Island in the Sky and The Needles) for even more information on this park! 

Arches National Park

Delicate Arch Arches National Park

With over 2,000 arches in the park, including the iconic Delicate Arch, Landscape Arch (one of the longest arch spans in the world), and the gorgeous Double Arch, Arches is the world’s largest concentration of natural arches. 

Every arch in the park is unique from the others, making seeing each one a different experience. And what made our time in the park extra special was knowing that someday not all of these arches would still be standing, which gave us an extra appreciation for being able to witness this snapshot in time.

For more details and everything you need to know before visiting the park check out our Arches National Park guide!

Utah National Parks Road Trip Route Options

To experience all five of Utah’s national parks, our suggested route is:

Fly into Las Vegas -> Zion National Park -> Bryce Canyon National Park -> Capitol Reef National Park -> Canyonlands National Park -> Arches National Park -> Fly out of Salt Lake City

Note: you could do this route in reverse, but for this guide we will be listing it in the order above, as it’s the closest to our route.

The driving time between each of these stops is:

  • Las Vegas to Zion: 3 hours
  • Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon: 2 hours
  • Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef (Fruita): 2.5 hours
  • Capitol Reef (Fruita) to Canyonlands (Island in the Sky): 2.5 hours
  • Canyonlands (Island in the Sky) to Arches: 35 minutes 
  • Arches to Salt Lake City: 3.5 hours

A few things to know about this route and your options

One way vs. loop: This route is about 14 hours of driving and while you could do this route as a loop, starting and ending in the same city, it will add on a couple extra hours of driving. If you were to do a loop, the shortest option is to fly in and out of Salt Lake City (SLC), which is close to 16 hours of driving, whereas flying in and out of Las Vegas (LAS) is 17 hours of driving. 

Moab area parks: You can switch Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. These parks are right by each other in Moab, so you can do them in whichever order you’d like without it adding on extra time!

Other airport options: While Las Vegas (LAS) is the closest major airport to Zion National Park at about 3 hours away, St. George (SGU) does have an airport you can fly into, which is about an hour from Zion National Park. It has flights from Denver, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, and Dallas, so if you live in one of those cities, or don’t mind a layover, it may be a good choice!

Moab also has an airport called Canyonlands Field Airport (CNY), which is only 20 minutes from Moab. This airport has flights from Salt Lake City and Denver, but it will be harder to get flights than if you flew into Salt Lake City.

How much time is needed to visit Utah’s National Parks?

Park Avenue Arches National Park

This itinerary is for 10 days, but you could cut it down to 7 or 8 and spend one day at each park, plus two days for travel. We’d recommend 10 days if you are able to, as getting between the parks can take some time and each one offers so much to see and do! 

While we did this road trip over two months, the majority of those two months were spent working and we had a handful of days spent in non-national park areas as well. So even though we did not spend 10 days back to back exploring the national parks, this itinerary is still almost identical to ours, but with modifications to ensure you have enough time for what we suggest and enough time to drive between the parks.

If you have extra time, we suggest adding on some other spots outside of the national parks along the way. We will include some suggestions under the appropriate day of the itinerary!

When to visit the Utah National Parks

While the Utah national parks are open year round, there are a few things to consider when choosing when to go on your Utah national parks road trip, including weather, holidays, and crowd levels. Here’s a quick rundown of what each season brings to the parks! 

SPRING

We visited in the spring and the weather was pretty perfect! With cool mornings, warm afternoons, and lots of sunshine, weather-wise it’s one of the best times in the park! However, the crowds can be pretty high in the spring, especially with spring break in March and April all across the US, as well as Memorial Day at the end of May. We did notice pretty large crowds in the parks, but if you start early, you’ll have some solitude.

SUMMER

The summers in Southern Utah are VERY hot, with 100 degrees being pretty common. We’d suggest avoiding the parks in the summer, as the heat is brutal, the crowds can be high due to summer vacation, and afternoon thunderstorms can be common, which can cause flooding and make specific hikes dangerous.

However, if you do plan to visit in the summer, we suggest starting very early to beat the heat, taking lots of water on hikes, and if you can, stay somewhere with a pool so you can cool off in the middle of the day.

FALL

Similar to the spring, the fall brings more mild temperatures, which makes the parks more enjoyable and with kids back in school and less holidays during this time, the fall would be a slightly less busy time to visit.

WINTER

Although it is possible to visit the parks in the winter, snow and ice can cause closures to trails and roads and may possibly limit you on your trip. But, if you’re comfortable with the conditions and taking a little bit of a risk with weather impacting what you can do, you’ll be rewarded with less crowds and maybe some magical snowy views.

One thing to keep in mind though is that some of the towns near the park have less restaurants open in the winter (we found many restaurants are only open from March-October or November) and the parks tend to have more limited services during this time. 

TIME OF DAY

We’ve said it many times and we’ll say it again, our biggest tip for visiting just about any hike, national park, or popular place, GO EARLY! This tip has never failed us and oftentimes the sunrise light can be the best for photography.

Where to stay for your Utah National Parks Road Trip

Under Canvas Moab

You’ll need to stay in different areas most nights of your trip to cut down driving and to have more time to explore. We will include our advice on what area to stay in, plus a few suggestions of where to stay under each day of the itinerary, but for a longer list of lodging options, check out our individual Utah national park guides!

Suggestion: Southern Utah is the perfect place to travel in a van or RV, with tons of free camping options, which is why we “lived” there for two months! We have included dispersed camping options under each day, but to find more free camping options, we love Campendium and freecampsites.net!

How to get around the Utah National Parks

Whether you fly to visit the Utah national parks and rent a car or if you drive from a nearby area, you will need to have a vehicle to properly explore the parks.

We designed this guide to be doable for any type of car, but if you want to have a bit more freedom and explore areas not on our main itinerary (like Cathedral Valley), we’d suggest getting a 4×4 vehicle if possible so you have the ultimate freedom to explore.

Important reminder: If you do this route as planned, remember to make your rental car pick up and drop off locations different, as you’ll be flying in and out of different airports. If the fee to do this is too high, we’d suggest flying in and out of one airport instead, as the extra mileage isn’t too bad and you could see more scenery!

Rent a van!

As we mentioned above, Southern Utah is perfect for van life! If you want to rent a van, we suggest looking into Outdoorsy, which is like Airbnb for campervans!

Park Shuttles + Vehicle Restrictions

Both Zion and Bryce Canyon have free park shuttles that you can utilize, but the other three parks do not and you will need to drive yourself around. However, there are some things to be aware of when it comes to driving and taking the shuttle in Zion and Bryce Canyon.

Zion shuttle system

Zion has two free park shuttle options that run from March through November. The first shuttle takes you from the town of Springdale into the park and the other takes you onto the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.

The Springdale Shuttle, also known as the town shuttle, makes stops at 9 different stops in town and drops you off at the bike/pedestrian entrance to the park. This is a good option if you cannot find parking in the park or just want to shuttle into the park from your hotel or Airbnb.

The other shuttle option takes you down Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, which during the shuttle months is NOT accessible by private vehicle unless you’re staying at the lodge inside the park. This means you are required to take the shuttle to go down this road. The Zion Canyon Shuttle runs from the visitor center up Zion Canyon Scenic Drive to many popular spots, including the trailheads for Angels Landing and the Narrows.

The lines can get pretty long for the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive shuttle, so arrive early and be prepared to wait. Also, make sure not to miss the last shuttle of the day, it is a long walk back to the visitor center (8+ miles). 

You can find more information and see the exact shuttle schedule on the park website

Zion Mt. Carmel Tunnel Restrictions

Driving a large vehicle? Anything over 11’4″ (3.4m) tall or 7’10” (2.4 m) wide must get a $15 tunnel permit to go through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, which connects the eastern and western entrances of the park.

This is because you will have to drive in the middle of the tunnel, taking up both lanes, and they’ll have to shut down one way so you can get through. There are also specific times you can access the tunnel if you’re an oversized vehicle, which varies by month.

Bryce Canyon shuttle + length restrictions

Bryce Canyon also has a free shuttle that will take you to the popular areas of the park, but we didn’t have any issues getting parking, so we recommend parking at the park, assuming you arrive early.

However, between April and October, any vehicle over 20 ft long (like our van!) cannot drive in the main amphitheater area during shuttle hours and will need to park in an oversized lot and take the shuttle in. We avoided this by visiting in March, when we were allowed to freely drive around. You can learn more about the shuttle hours, stops, and oversize parking here!

Things to know before your Utah National Parks Road Trip

Navajo Knobs Trail at Capitol Reef National Park

Before you go, here are a few important things to know before hitting the road on your Utah national parks road trip!

Get the America the Beautiful Pass

Each national park costs between $20-$35 per car for a 7 day pass and this pass will only get you into that specific park, not all five of the national parks. We suggest buying the America the Beautiful pass, which costs $80/year and will get you into all of the national parks for free!

Book in advance

The Utah national parks are very popular between the spring and fall, so if you plan to book hotels, Airbnbs, and campgrounds, make sure to book early! 

Pets are (mostly) not allowed

Pets are typically not allowed on any Utah national park trails and are only allowed in developed areas, such as parking lots, and campgrounds, so please leave your furry friend at home or in a safe, cool spot! 

Learn what we do with Kona when she cannot join us

Cell Service is limited

There were many times, both in the national parks, as well as driving between them, where we had zero cell service. We highly recommend downloading offline AllTrails Maps and offline Google Maps so you can navigate without cell phone service and don’t get lost! 

Amenities can be limited

Some parks are close to decent sized towns (like Zion, Canyonlands, and Arches), while others are more remote (Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef). Make sure to fill up on gas and have lots of snacks and water with you!

Check the weather conditions before you go

Always check the weather conditions the day or two before you visit a specific park and especially before driving down the Utah backcountry roads or entering slot canyons. Slot canyons can be extremely dangerous and flash flood quickly when there is rain, even if it is raining miles away. Never ever enter a slot canyon if there is rain forecasted in the area!

What to bring on your Utah National Parks Road Trip

Delicate Arch Arches National Park

A common question we get when sharing our adventures is what we bring with us. We have almost all of our gear listed here, but here are some items we especially recommend bringing to Southern Utah!

TEN ESSENTIALS

As always, we recommend having the 10 essentials on you when doing any hike. While most national park trails are very maintained and easy to follow, accidents can happen anywhere and it’s good to be prepared!

HIKING SHOES

Hiking along canyon rims, on sandstone, and in canyons require a sturdy shoe, so you’ll want to wear proper hiking shoes. We almost always wear our Lowa Renegades (Kathryn) and Altra Superiors (Adam), but also love our Chacos, which are great hiking sandals for the warmer months and for sandy and smooth rock terrain.

LAYERS

Despite being more of desert climates, the parks range in elevation and if you go in the spring or fall, temperatures in the high desert can swing up to 40 degrees in one day! We visited in March and April and typically started our days in the spring with jackets or pullovers on and ended in t-shirts or tank tops.

SUN PROTECTION

Almost all of the hikes at these parks are very exposed, so we’d suggest bringing sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat to stay protected. We have been using Bare Republic, which is a “better for you” sunscreen, although it may give you a nice white, vampire-esque sheen. 

WATER

Water is a must in the desert! We love our Camelbak bladder for hikes because it stores a ton of water and it’s easy to drink from while moving. 

SNACKS

Make sure to bring along some snacks for your hikes and on the road! We love the meals and bars from Wild Zora (if you use our link you’ll get 15% off your purchase) and some of our other favorite snacks are trail mix, lunch meat, carrots and hummus, apples, chicharones, and pistachios. 

ALLTRAILS MAPS

We’d highly recommend downloading the AllTrails maps for all hikes you plan to do before you go. While the trails are mostly easy to follow, we like to use the map to track our progress along the trail. You will need an AllTrails Pro membership to download maps, which is $30 a year and so worth it!

Some things to know about this Utah National Parks Road Trip Itinerary

Before we jump into all of the best things to do at the Utah National Parks, here are some notes we wanted to make about this itinerary.

  • As we mentioned above, you can shorten it to fit your trip length. If you have any questions or want any tips on what to prioritize, send us an email at hello@adventuresofaplusk.com. We’d be happy to help!
     
  • We love jam packed adventures and typically need a vacation from our vacation. This guide is loaded with hikes and activities, with many early wake up calls, so it may not be super relaxing, but you will beat some crowds this way.
     
  • On a similar note, we have included both easier and harder hikes on this guide, to make it doable for different activity levels and to give you options to choose from.
     

10 Day Utah National Parks Road Trip Itinerary

Now that you know a bit more about the parks, what to bring, and when to visit, it’s time to start planning! This Utah national parks road trip itinerary will mostly be based around our actual time in the parks and what we did, with a large focus on hiking and free activities (vs. paid tours).

We have a suggested itinerary for each day that can of course be adjusted to what you want to do, how much you want to do in a day, and how much time you have. 

To keep this itinerary easier to follow and not too overwhelming, we’re keeping it a bit more brief than our individual guides. To find more information about the parks, ideas of things to do, where to eat and drink coffee, and more options of where to stay each night, check out the individual guides we have for the Utah national parks. 

Day 1: Land in Las Vegas

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign
  1. Welcome to Las Vegas! After landing at the airport, depending on how early you arrive and how much time you have, you can either spend a couple hours exploring Sin City (we have some of our favorite things to do in Vegas here!) or hit the road to Zion National Park.
     
  2. If you are hungry, we highly recommend grabbing tacos in Vegas at one of our favorite taco spots ever, Tacos El Gordo. We also loved La Cocina Mexican Street Food in St. George, Utah!
     
  3. Once arriving near Zion National Park, get some rest so you’re ready for 8 nonstop days of exploring! 

Where to stay:

For Day 1, staying at Zion National Park will be the best option so you can start bright and early the next morning! Zion is located right by Springdale, which has many accommodation options, such as campgrounds in the park, hotels, and Airbnbs.

Campgrounds: South Campground & Watchman Campground
Dispersed Camping: Old Highway 89 (Kanab) & Hurricane Cliffs 
Hotels: Zion Lodge (located in the National Park), Desert Pearl Inn, Springhill Suites, Holiday Inn Express, La Quinta Inn & Suites
Airbnbs: Charming Cottage, Nama-Stays Cabin, Red Rock Inn Rental

Day 2: Zion National Park

Read our Zion National Park guide for a much more in-depth look at the park, as well as where to eat, more places to stay, and more things to do!

  1. Start the day with sunrise on the Canyon Overlook Trail, which is one of the BEST views in the park in our opinion, especially for how easy it is! The trail is only 1 mile round trip and has 163 ft elevation gain and despite having a couple narrow spots, it’s easy to navigate in the dark. We suggest getting there 15-30 minutes before sunrise so you can watch the canyon start to light up!
     
  2. After sunrise, grab coffee and breakfast at Deep Creek Coffee Co., which is one of our favorite spots in Springdale. Their food and coffee is amazing and the views are top notch!
     
  3. For the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon, hike one of Zion’s top trails! A few options to consider are:
    • Observation Point via East Mesa (6.7 miles, 695 ft elevation gain): While Angels Landing gets all the hype, we think this hike is even better, as it is less crowded, less scary, and has higher views than Angels Landing. The original trail has been closed due to rock slides, but if you hike via East Mesa, which isn’t as scenic along the way, you still get to the epic view at the end! Check out our guide to hiking to Observation Point to learn more about this trail and where to park. Note: This will require a bit of a drive from Springdale.
       
    • Angel’s Landing (5 miles, 1,630 ft elevation gain): This is one of, if not the most popular hikes in the park and is known for its chains section, which is a narrow section with drop offs on one side and chains to hold onto. This hike can get very crowded (there is sometimes an hour wait to get to the top) and if you’re afraid of heights this hike may not be for you.
       
    • Watchman Trail (3.1 miles, 646 ft elevation gain): This hike starts right in the visitor center parking lot and takes you to a great view of a peak called the Watchman, as well as the park and Springdale. For only 3.1 miles, the scenery is pretty amazing!
  4. Grab dinner at Oscar’s Cafe, a delicious spot with AMAZING burritos and enchiladas!
     
  5. Enjoy sunset on the Pa’rus Trail, which is an easy, flat pathway that has great views at the Canyon Junction bridge for sunset.

Where to stay:

You will still want to stay near Zion National Park so you can have one final adventure tomorrow.

Day 3: Zion National Park

  1. For your final day at Zion National Park, grab a quick coffee and bite to eat at Perks!, which opens at 6 AM and is perfect if you want to get an early start.
     
  2. Spend the morning and part of the afternoon hiking the Narrows, which is an EPIC hiking experience where you walk through the Virgin River (yes, you’ll get wet!) while inside of a slot canyon. You will need to take the Zion Canyon shuttle to the trailhead and we recommend starting early to beat the crowds. Make sure to pack snacks or a lunch to enjoy along the way!

    While you can go as little or as far into the slot canyon as you’d like, we suggest going 3-4 miles in (6-8 miles round trip) to the famous Wall Street section to get the full experience. To learn more about this “hike,” read our Narrows guide, where we share everything you need to know before you go, including gear to rent.
       
    • If you want an alternative to the Narrows, we suggest hiking to Kanarra Falls, which is a mini version of the Narrows. This hike requires a permit, so it is less crowded, but is still an incredible experience, plus has some unique features, like a ladder and waterfalls!
       
  3. Drive to Bryce Canyon National Park, which is about a 2 hour drive from Zion National Park.

    Note: There aren’t a ton of good dining options near Bryce Canyon, so we suggest picking up food at the store in Springdale before you hit the road so you can cook some of your own meals. Two restaurant options are Bryce Canyon Pines Restaurant and Stone Hearth Grille.
     
  4. If you’re up for an activity when you arrive, head to Bryce Point for sunset! While most overlooks in the park face east, this one faces north and you’ll be able to see some nice sun flares as the sun tucks behind the Bryce Canyon amphitheater. 

OptionAL Add On: Other areas of Zion

If you have extra time between Zion and Bryce Canyon, we highly recommend visiting Kolob Canyons and Kolob Terrace, which are much less visited areas of Zion National Park and SO beautiful!

Kolob Canyons: Hike the Middle Fork Taylor Creek Trail (4.9 miles), Timber Creek Overlook (1.1 miles), and Kolob Arch (13.7 miles)

Kolob Terrace: Hike the Northgate Peaks trail (6.0 miles), which is an easy hike with an awesome payoff at the end.

Where to stay:

We suggest staying at Bryce Canyon for the night so you can start before sunrise the next morning. 

Campgrounds: Sunset Campground (closed in winters), North Campground (open year round)
Dispersed Camping: Tom’s Best Spring 
Hotels: The Lodge at Bryce Canyon (located in the National Park), Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn, Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel
Airbnbs: Bryce Canyon Yurt, Ruby’s Inn Vacation Rental

Day 4: Bryce Canyon National Park

Read our Bryce Canyon National Park guide for a much more in-depth look at the park, as well as where to eat, more places to stay, and more things to do!

  1. The #1 suggestion we have for Bryce Canyon National Park is to watch the sunrise! We know this is so hard to do on vacation, especially a busy road trip like this, but it’s so worth it. The major overlooks in the park face east and seeing the hoodoos light up is magical!

    Sunset Point, which despite its name, is said to be a great spot for sunrise, but we have always enjoyed just finding a random spot on the rim between Sunset Point and Sunrise Point to watch the sunrise.
     
  2. We have found the crowds at Bryce Canyon are decent sized for sunrise, but people tend to leave right after to go get breakfast. This is the perfect time to hit the trails (make sure to pack some food)!

    Below are our 3 top hike suggestions in the park to choose from. We’ve done Navajo Loop & Queens Garden Trail and the Fairyland Loop in one day, but it makes for a long day! 
    • Navajo Loop & Queens Garden Trail (3.5 miles, 662 ft elevation gain): This hike gets you up close and personal with the hoodoos in the park and is a MUST do! If you only have time for one hike, this is a great one to choose.
       
    • Fairyland Loop (7.9 miles, 1,545 ft elevation gain): This hike is pretty challenging, but way less crowded and you get great views of the park! You can either start at the Fairyland Loop trailhead or at Sunrise Point.

      If you start at Sunrise Point, we suggest going clockwise and if you start at the Fairyland Loop trailhead, we suggest going counter clockwise. This way, you get the “boring” part out of the way first. To learn more about the Fairyland Trail, read our guide to the hike!
       
    • Figure Eight Trail (6.3 miles, 1,499 ft elevation gain): This hike combines the Navajo and Queens Garden Loop from above, plus Wall Street and Peekaboo Loop into one gorgeous hike through the hoodoos!
       
  3. Finish the day with a drive down the Bryce Canyon scenic drive (38 miles roundtrip) and enjoy the views from the Rainbow Point, Natural Bridge, Inspiration Point, and Bryce Point overlooks. If you have enough time, you can also stop by Mossy Cave, which is located outside of the main park area, to see a waterfall and a cool mossy cave.

Optional Add On: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

If you have an extra day between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef, we suggest spending a day or two in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Two of our favorite activities were Lower Calf Creek Falls and Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyons!

Where to stay:

We’d suggest staying at Bryce Canyon again since you’ll have had a long day and the drive to Capitol Reef is 2.5 hours. But if you decide to go to Capitol Reef after exploring Bryce Canyon, we’ll share some places to stay under Day 5.

Day 5: Capitol Reef National Park

Read our Capitol Reef National Park guide for a much more in-depth look at the park, as well as where to eat, more places to stay, and more things to do!

  1. If you stayed at Bryce Canyon National Park last night, make the 2.5 hour drive to the Capitol Reef’s Fruita Historic District, which is the most accessible area in the park. This drive is beautiful and we suggest leaving as early as you can to get to Fruita early enough for a very special treat.
     
  2. First up, get PIE at the Gifford Homestead! The Gifford Homestead is a historic homestead that has been home to many families over the years. And between March 14 (Pi Day) to October 31, the Gifford Homestead sells locally made fruit pies, which are amazing, as well as homemade ice cream. We tried the strawberry rhubarb and apple and loved them both!

    The pies do sell out, so arriving early to the park is key to ensure you have your pick of flavors! The Gifford Homestead also sells delicious cinnamon rolls (so we hear), but these sell out almost instantly.
     
  3. While in the Fruita Historic District, walk around the orchards! These orchards were planted in the 1880s by Mormon settlers and are maintained by the park staff using the original irrigation canals dug by the pioneers and heritage techniques.

    You can pick the fruit during the prime picking season which is mid-June through the end of October, which sounds like such a fun and unique national park activity! The type of fruit you can pick varies on the month you visit and you can see the harvesting schedule here!
     
  4. While in the Fruita area we also suggest visiting the Fruita schoolhouse, which is a one room schoolhouse that was built by residents in 1896 and also served as a church, community meeting house for dances, elections, town meetings, and more! It has been restored to what it looked like in the 1930s and during certain hours you can walk inside and take a look!
     
  5. Another great hike to check out in the Fruita area is Cohab Canyon (3 miles, 793 feet of elevation gain). This hike starts right by the Gifford Homestead and will give you amazing views of the Fruita Historic District, as well as the surrounding area.
     
  6. For your final hike of the day, hike to Hickman Bridge (1.7 miles, 416 feet of elevation gain), which is a short, fun hike that takes you to a huge sandstone natural bridge that spans 130 feet and is 125 feet high, which you can walk under!

    You could also continue on to the Rim Overlook (this will add on 3.7 miles and has a total of 1,053 feet of elevation gain), which shares the beginning of the trail with Hickman Bridge. This is a tough hike, but the views of the park, especially the Fruita Historic District, are amazing! We found the crowds to be less busy here too!

    Tip: we’d suggest choosing the Rim Overlook or Cohab Canyon, since doing both would be a lot in one day and they have somewhat similar views of the Fruita area.
     
  7. Enjoy dinner in the town of Torrey! We suggest checking out Capitol Burger or Chak Balam

Where to stay:

For Day 5, we suggest staying near Capitol Reef so you can explore a few more spots in the morning before driving to your next national park!

Campgrounds: Fruita Campground (inside the park) 
Dispersed Camping: Beas Lewis Flat Campground & Capitol Reef Overflow Dispersed Camping
Hotels: Capitol Reef Resort & Red Sands Hotel
Airbnbs: Tiny in Torrey (1 bedroom, 1 bath), Tinker Creek Cabin (2 bedrooms, 1.5 bath)

Day 6: Capitol Reef National Park

  1. Start the morning early and hike to Cassidy Arch (3.1 miles, 666 feet of elevation gain) for sunrise. While you could wait until the sun is up to do this hike, we LOVED hiking to the arch in the dark and getting to witness a magical sunrise along the trail and having the arch ALL to ourselves!

    The arch gets its name after the outlaw Butch Cassidy, who apparently had a hideout in Grand Wash. And what is amazing about this arch is that you can walk onto it! It may look sketchy to walk on from afar, but it’s very wide and we felt totally safe.

    Even if you don’t want to do this hike for sunrise, make sure to start early! The parking lot isn’t huge and it gets very busy.
     
  2. After finishing your hike to Cassidy Arch, continue on through part of the Grand Wash, which shares a trailhead with Cassidy Arch. This trail has multiple trailheads and you could hike to the other one, but we suggest making it to the Narrows (1.5 miles in) and then turning around. This hike is flat and easy, but takes you through some very tall canyon walls, which make you feel tiny!
     
  3. Continue down the scenic drive to Capitol Gorge, which requires driving on a dirt road for the last 2 miles, and if you’re up for it hike part of the Capitol Gorge trail (4.5 miles, 374 feet of elevation gain)! We tried to do a portion of this hike, but the parking lot was jam packed by the time we made it there (early afternoon), with no room to park our large van, so we were unable to stay unfortunately.

    And while this hike has some mixed reviews (some say it’s not as impressive as the Grand Wash), it does have a Pioneer Register, which is a wall that pioneers wrote their name and date on when passing through the area many years ago, which we think sounds worth checking out. You could just go to this portion of the hike and then turn around.
     
  4. Start your 2.5 drive to Moab to visit your final two national parks! If you get hungry on the drive, we highly recommend Tacos la Pasadita in Green River. We LOVED their vampiros, which are kind of like quesadillas with meat.
     
  5. Settle into your lodging in Moab and get ready for another day of adventuring!

Optional Add Ons: Navajo Knobs, Cathedral Valley, & Goblin Valley

If you have an extra day between Capitol Reef and Moab, or you just want to cut your time in the Fruita area of Capitol Reef short, we suggest adding on either Navajo Knobs, Cathedral Valley (if you have the right vehicle), or Goblin Valley State Park.

Navajo Knobs is a 9.1 mile hike that shares part of a trail with the Hickman Bridge and Rim Overlook. So if you choose to do this hike, we’d suggest combining it with those. This was our favorite hike in Capitol Reef, but it was tough, so if you’re looking for a butt-kicking hike, with epic views, Navajo Knobs is the hike for you! 

The views on this hike were amazing the entire way as you climb high up, skirting the canyon rim, scrambling over some boulders, and getting views of the Fruita area, crazy rock domes, and really unique rock formations like the Castle. 

Cathedral Valley is north of the Fruita region of Capitol Reef and has a 60 mile driving loop, which consists of unpaved roads and takes about 6-8 hours to complete. There are many side trips and hiking opportunities along the way and some of the park’s most iconic sites, like Temples of the Sun and Moon, are located here. But you really need a 4×4 vehicle to do this driving loop, as it can be sandy and if you get stuck, it may be very hard to get help.

Goblin Valley State Park (costs $20 per car to enter) is about 1 hour and 15 minutes from Capitol Reef National Park, on the way to Moab, and is home to tons of hoodoos, which resemble goblins. But one of the coolest things about Goblin Valley is that it’s basically a giant playground!

While there are some “trails” here, it’s mostly a choose your own adventure type experience, where you can walk all through the hoodoos. We recommend just walking around and exploring and if you decide to skip Capitol Gorge at Capitol Reef, you could likely squeeze in Goblin Valley, which only requires a few hours, on your way to Moab!

Where to stay:

We suggest staying in Moab after Day 6 so you can be ready for a big day at Canyonlands tomorrow! This is where you’ll be staying for the remainder of the guide as well.

Campgrounds: Devils Garden (Arches), Willow Flat Campground (Canyonlands), Kayenta Campground (Dead Horse Point State Park), Wingate Campground (Dead Horse Point State Park), Horse Thief Campground (Moab)
Dispersed Camping: BLM 144 Dispersed, Willow Springs Trail Dispersed, & Klondike Bluff
Hotels: Best Western Plus Canyonlands Inn, Hyatt Place Moab, Element Moab, & Fairfield Inn & Suites Moab 
Airbnbs: Bright & Charming Home Right in Town, Casa Moab Casita, Kayenta, Westside Flats, West 9 Cozy Cabin

Day 7: Canyonlands National Park (Island in the Sky)

Mesa Arch Canyonlands National Park

Read our Canyonlands National Park (Island in the Sky) guide for a much more in-depth look at the park, as well as where to eat, more places to stay, and more things to do!

Note: for the rest of this guide you could rearrange the days, as everything is pretty close to Moab.

  1. Start the day with sunrise at Mesa Arch (0.7 miles, 88 feet of elevation gain). This is the most iconic spot in this area of the park and we arrived about an hour before the sunrise to snag a spot since we heard it could get busy with photographers. If you’re not trying to get the famous shot, you could arrive closer to sunrise to still see its beauty, but without a front row spot.
     
  2. Next up, hike Upheaval Dome (1.3 miles, 226 feet of elevation gain), which is about as far east as you can go by car in Island in the Sky. This unique crater reminded us of something we’d see in Hawaii…it was unlike anything else in the park! We loved doing this second because it was still early and we were able to beat the crowds to this hike.
     
  3. If you’re up for a bit of an adventure, check out the False Kiva trail (1.9 miles, 426 feet of elevation gain), which is an unmarked trail (not on park maps) that leads you to a kiva, which is a room used by Puebloans for rites and political meetings. However, they call this kiva a “false” kiva because its origins are unknown and they aren’t 100% sure if it was used as a kiva.

    To get to this hike, you’ll want to park at the Alcove Spring Trailhead, which is just down the road from the start of the trail. You’ll turn left out of the parking lot and walk the road until you see some wooden fencing and a path behind it.

    The trail starts out pretty easy and has cairns to guide the way. But once you get to a more open area with canyon views, it gets tricky. You have to do a bit of scrambling to get to the kiva and after attempting some of it, we didn’t feel comfortable continuing, so we turned around. Plus, the kiva was blocked off due to vandalism (grrr), so you couldn’t get as close to it as before.

    While we did not fully complete this hike, we loved what we got to see and highly recommend just hiking to the area right before where you’d climb up to see the kiva. The views are amazing and we didn’t see anyone else the entire time!
     
  4. Visit the Green River Overlook, which was one of our favorites of the day! Seeing the canyon and river together was breathtaking and isn’t a view you get to see from every overlook in the park.
     
  5. Head back towards the park entrance and stop at the Shafer Trail Viewpoint to watch Jeeps and other vehicles go on the crazy steep, cliffside switchbacks of the famous Shafer Trail. It is wild to see!
     
  6. If you’re doing well on time and want to stay in the park for sunset, we suggest taking a little break and leaving the park for lunch. We highly recommend Antica Forma for some delicious Neapolitan style pizza or Quesadilla Mobilla for quesadillas! You could also stay in the park and enjoy a picnic if you don’t want to make the trek back to Moab.
     
  7. Once re-entering the park, spend the rest of the day on Grand View Point Road, checking out overlooks and doing quick hikes. We recommend these stops:
     
    • Buck Canyon Overlook
    • Grand View Point Overlook + Trail: You can admire the views from the overlook right by the parking lot or continue onto the 1.8 mile (round trip) trail, which is pretty flat and gives you even more views of the canyon, plus the Needles District of Canyonlands.
    • White Rim Overlook Trail: This 1.8 mile (round trip) trail takes you out to the White Rim Overlook, which is only accessible by this hike. We found this spot to be pretty empty and loved the expansive views! 
       
  8. If you still have some energy left from a long day, watch the sunset at Candlestick Tower Overlook, which is a non-marked overlook, so most people do not know to stop here, but it’s right off the main road and has room for 4 or so cars to park and is PERFECT for sunset!

Where to stay:

We recommend staying in Moab for the remainder of the Utah national parks road trip. We’ve included some suggested spots under Day 6!

Day 8: Arches National Park 

Read our Arches National Park guide for a much more in-depth look at the park, as well as where to eat, more places to stay, and more things to do!

Arches is a park where you could see it all in one day, but it would be a very busy day. We’d suggest 1.5-2 days to have a bit more of a relaxed time. Below is our suggested itinerary if you only have one day, but under Day 9, we will share how you could split it up into two days if you choose.

  1. Start with a sunrise hike to the park’s most iconic arch, Delicate Arch (3.2 miles, 629 feet of elevation gain), which is the largest freestanding arch in the park. Because of its popularity, this arch gets mega crowded and you’ll likely never have it to yourself, but when we went for sunrise, the crowds were not that bad, plus we were able to see the arch light up as the sun rose. It was gorgeous!
     
  2. After seeing the park’s most iconic arch, hike the Devils Garden Loop Trail (7.9 miles, 1,085 feet of elevation gain), which includes 7 different arches, including the famous Landscape Arch!

    This hike takes around 4-5 hours, so starting right after sunrise will be key to beat some of the heat and the crowds. The first part of the hike is very easy, but after the Landscape Arch, it becomes more primitive and you have to do a little bit of scrambling, walk on some more narrow ledges, and the trail is a bit harder to navigate. If you do not feel comfortable with this or just want to hike less, you can turn around at Landscape Arch (1.9 miles round trip).

    You can do this loop either clockwise or counterclockwise. We heard pros and cons to both ways, but we did it clockwise, as it allowed us to see the popular arches first and then end with the primitive portion.

    We include much more detail on this hike and the major sights along the way in this guide. If you do end up doing this hike on this day, be prepared to possible skip some spots below to ensure you have enough time.
     
  3. Hike the Sand Dune, Broken Arch, and Tapestry Arch Loop (2.8 miles, 321 feet of elevation gain) to see three more impressive arches. This hike was such a pleasant surprise for us!
     
  4. Make a quick stop at Balanced Rock, which is a 3,600 ton boulder perched precariously on a rock pedestal. You can see it from an overlook off the main park road and also go on the short walkway around the base of the rock.
     
  5. Walk among the tall rock walls on the Park Avenue trail (1.8 miles, 298 feet of elevation gain), which is a trail without arches, but instead takes you through a canyon, surrounded by tall rock walls and formations. The trail gets its name because it almost feels like you’re walking among skyscrapers on Park Avenue and we totally agree!
     
  6. Head to the Windows and Turret Arch (1.2 miles, 154 feet of elevation gain) and hike the loop trail where you can get a better look at the North and South Windows, which are large openings, as well as the Turret Arch, which is our favorite of the three. You can also get a cool photo of the Turret Arch framed within the North Window from the backside of the window.
     
  7. End the day at Double Arch close to sunset. This is a super short (0.6 mile) trail that leads to our favorite arch in the park! The arch gets its name because it consists of two arches, whose legs share the same stone foundation. Besides being two arches in one, this arch is also unique because it was formed by downward water erosion instead of side-to-side water erosion. We loved seeing the golden light on this arch!
     
  8. If you’re hungry after exploring, we recommend grabbing dinner at either Antica Forma for some delicious Neapolitan style pizza or Thai Bella for Thai food! We love their Panang Curry and Khao Soi! (Only open for dinner & closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays)

Where to stay:

We recommend staying in Moab for the remainder of the Utah national parks road trip. We’ve included some suggested spots under Day 6!

Day 9: Arches National Park OR Canyonlands National Park (Needles District)

For your final adventure day on your Utah national parks road trip, you have a couple options. You could either spend another day at Arches (and reduce how much you do the day before) OR you can head to the Needles District of Canyonlands, which we LOVED! 

Devils Garden Trail Arches National Park

If you choose Arches National Park

If you decide to split Arches National Park into two days, we’d suggest following the itinerary on Day 8, but skip the Devils Garden Loop Trail and do it this day instead! This would give you more time to enjoy this hike at a more leisurely pace and start earlier since you wouldn’t have a hike beforehand.

If you choose Canyonlands National Park’s Needle District

In our opinion, the Needles District is best explored by one of its long trails, so if you do not want to do a ton of hiking, you may want to skip this park, as it is a 1.5 hour drive from Moab. But if you want to hike, we highly recommend hiking the Druid Arch to Chesler Park Loop (11.2 miles, 2,162 feet of elevation gain).
While this hike is long and has a good amount of elevation gain, the diversity on the trail keeps things interesting! Along the hike you’ll walk on top of exposed slickrock, go through narrow rock walls, walk in washes, climb a ladder, see a super cool arch, lots of the needle formations, and even get to see a really neat cave. 

For slightly less miles (10.4 miles each) you could just hike to Druid Arch or the Chesler Park Loop Trail, but being able to see both of these is worth the extra mile or so!

Read our Canyonlands National Park (Needles) guide for a much more in-depth look at the park, as well as where to eat, more places to stay, and more things to do!

Where to stay:

For either option, we recommend staying in Moab. We’ve included some suggested spots under Day 6!

Day 10: Drive to Salt Lake City

Your final day in Utah will be spent driving to Salt Lake City (or whichever airport you chose) to head back home!

However, if you have additional time to spend, we highly recommend spending a couple days in Moab to explore outside of the national parks. We have a Moab guide with suggestions of things to do in Moab, including some dog friendly hikes!

We hope that this Utah national parks road trip itinerary helps make planning your own adventure to visit the Mighty Five easier, so you can spend more time enjoying the trip and less time planning it! If you have any questions about the itinerary or Southern Utah, please let us know!

Want to save this Utah national parks road trip itinerary for later?

Pin this guide so you can reference it before your trip!

about us

Hi y’all! We’re Adam, Kathryn, and Kona, an adventurous married couple (+ pup!) living on the road in our self-converted sprinter van! You can often find us driving all around the US and Canada, scoping out the best coffee shops, eating tacos and ice cream (we’re a 5+ taco and 2+ scoop household), and enjoying nature.

search

affilliate disclosure

This website contains affiliate links from websites such as Amazon.com, Booking.com, and Rentalcars.com. If you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We only recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!

instagram

Never miss an adventure

Sign up to get travel updates, guides, vlogs, and other resources delivered straight to your inbox once a month!

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2021 Adventures of A+K. All Rights Reserved. Website built with love by Dreamworthy Design.