Are you trying to plan the best Utah road trip possible? I am here to help!
I have done road trips in Utah both as a kid and an adult and absolutely love this state! With five epic national parks and otherworldly landscapes, Utah is a nature lover’s dream come true.
My Utah itinerary is unique since it is full of tips from someone who has spent months road-tripping the state and slow traveling through Utah’s Mighty 5.
A Utah national parks road trip includes Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion. I highly suggest purchasing a National Park Pass beforehand to save money on entrance fees.
Along with the national parks, this itinerary for Utah will feature other beautiful nature spots!
For this Utah road trip itinerary, I am not going to specify an amount of time so you can make the drive as time allows for your schedule.
Don’t forget to check out my detailed road trip packing list so you don’t forget any essentials!
Now, let’s look at my top Utah road trip ideas!
Utah Road Trip Map
Some of us are more visual and that is okay! I’ve created this Utah national parks road trip map so you can see where everything is located across the state.
As you can see, once you drive away from Salt Lake City, everything is only within 30-120 minutes of each other. This means more time to enjoy everything on your Utah road trip and fewer hours in the car!
Bucket-List Utah National Parks Road Trip Itinerary
Stop 1: Begin Your Utah Road Trip In Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City is the largest city in Utah and the most accessible to fly into to begin your Utah road trip. Both affordable international and domestic flights fly into this city.
I recommend checking out Skyscanner to find the best and most affordable flights. I use this tool to discover the best flights because you can easily compare rates.
When you fly into SLC, consider buying a one-way ticket. Depending on how you structure your Utah road trip, you may want to fly into Salt Lake City and fly out of Las Vegas.
This itinerary will end at Zion National Park so I recommend flying out of Las Vegas which is closer.
If you choose to follow this itinerary exactly, all you have to do is decide if you want to drive 2.5 hours to Las Vegas or 4.5 hours to Salt Lake City.
Compare prices on flights out of both cities so you can find a deal that is best for you!
Best Hotels In Salt Lake City:
- Affordable: Holiday Inn Express Downtown. Check Rates: Booking.com
- Mid-Range: Hilton Garden Inn. Check Rates: Booking.com
Stop 2: Moab, Arches, and Canyonlands National Parks
I have so many memories surrounding Moab from growing up traveling around that area! It is a truly fantastic little city and a family favorite. It has only gotten better over the past few decades.
Moab is around a 4-hour drive from Salt Lake City. It is a bit of a drive but that is okay! This is hands down the best place to start your Utah road trip!
I recommend spending 2 to 3 days in Moab if you have the chance. Utilize Moab as a home base to explore the nearby Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park.
These are two of the best national parks in all of the United States and you will NOT be disappointed. They are family-friendly with many things to do and will transport you to an otherworldly landscape.
The Moab area is one of the best stops on your Southwest USA road trip itinerary!
Best Hotels In Moab:
- Affordable: Moab Valley Inn. Check Rates: Booking.com
- Mid-Range: Holiday Inn Moab. Check Rates: Booking.com
- Family Fun: SpringHill Suites by Marriott Moab. Check Rates: Booking.com
Visiting Arches National Park
Arches National Park is the ultimate way to begin your Utah road trip. Arches is just outside of Moab and is ideal for your first national park of the trip.
The arches are beyond incredible and visiting will not disappoint!
I would like to caution you to please be careful and NEVER carve your name into the arches or take rocks. Please think of the future and REFRAIN from harming this beautiful nature in any way!
There is one road in and out of Arches National Park and it is 18 miles long. This means you can easily see Arches in one day on your Utah Road trip.
That being said, if you can spend more than one day here, I highly recommend it. It is very close to Moab so you can always come back if you missed something! This region is one of the best places in Utah!
Best Hikes In Arches National Park
If you can only do one thing at Arches National Park, I suggest hiking to Delicate Arch. This outstanding rock formation is the icon of the park. You will see photos and imagery of it all over the place.
This Utah hike is family-friendly and is around 3 miles round trip. If you are hiking during the heat of the day, make sure to wear sun protection and take plenty of water!
Delicate Arch is something I remember from growing up and now is your chance to make family memories too!
I also highly recommend the Windows Hike. It is shorter than the Delicate Arch hike and will get you up close and personal with many arches.
This hike is short, easy, and very rewarding. It is a 1.2-mile loop trail and the most popular in the park.
Another favorite is Double Arch which is a really short and fun trail! The trail to Double Arch is an easy 0.5-mile, well-maintained loop. It is accessible from the parking lot of the Windows Hike.
Finally, you must pay a visit to Landscape Arch as it is the longest natural arch in the entire world! It spans a whopping 306 feet long!
You can reach Landscape Arch from the Devil’s Garden Loop Trail. It is on an easy, maintained part of the trail so don’t go past Landscape Arch unless you want to embark on a harder 7-mile hike.
Visiting Canyonlands National Park
While I love the Grand Canyon, Canyonlands National Park is just so incredibly special! The canyon formations are beyond insane and will blow your mind.
Canyonlands National Park is located 36 minutes away from Moab so it is a tad bit further than Arches but the drive is worth it!
Canyonlands is divided into four distinct sections. These include the Green and Colorado Rivers, the Maze, the Needles, and the Island in the Sky districts.
Having a basic understanding of how Canyonlands National Park is laid out will help you see the “big picture” when planning your Utah road trip.
Best Canyonlands Scenic Drives
If you aren’t the hiking type, don’t worry! Canyonlands is home to some wonderful scenic drives!
Island in the Sky offers some amazing Utah road trip sightseeing by car. The overlooks and pull-outs along this 34-mile scenic drive are not to be missed!
It is perched 1000 feet above the canyon floor and offers breathtaking, memorable views! If you want to drive this route, plan for at least an hour.
If you want to hike some short trails and picnic, plan longer! This is the perfect thing to do if you don’t want to do a lot of hiking!
Another great scenic drive in Canyonlands is the Needles. It begins at the Canyonlands Visitor Center and is 6.5 miles long. It concludes at the Big Spring Canyon Overlook.
As with Island in the Sky, there are multiple pullouts and picnic spots along the way. It is also the way to access several of the more popular Canyonlands hikes.
It is important to note that Island in the Sky and the Needles are about two hours apart from each other. Keep this in mind when planning how much time to spend in Moab on your Utah national parks trip.
Best Hikes In Canyonlands National Park:
If you can only do one thing during your Utah road trip in Canyonlands, make sure you hike to Mesa Arch. It is located in the Island in the Sky district.
It is an easy 0.6-mile round-trip trail and is perfect for families. If you are a photographer looking for some fantastic sunrise or sunset photos, make sure to prioritize Mesa Arch!
The arch is located on the rim of the Plateau so you will have some incredibly stunning viewpoints.
Another one of our favorite easier hikes is the Cave Spring Hike. This hike is located in the Needles district. It is an easy 0.6-mile loop and provides some incredible views.
You will see prehistoric rock art, a cowboy camp, and more. The trail is easy, but you have to climb two short, wooden ladders.
If you are looking for some of the best canyon views, the Aztec Butte Trail is the perfect trail for you. It is an easy 2-mile loop trail and provides outstanding views of the surrounding canyons once you arrive!
The hike will end at Butte Summit which is where you can see these fantastic views. This hike is located in the Island in the Sky area of Canyonlands.
Stop 3: Goblin Valley State Park
Goblin Valley State Park is one of the lesser-known stops on this Utah road trip itinerary. It is located roughly 1 hour and 45 minutes away from Moab.
The landscape will make you feel like you have entered another planet. The formations create small structures that look like goblins, hence the name!
Goblin Valley State Park is home to the incredibly unique valley itself as well as some easier hikes, a disc golf course, and plenty of pullouts for viewing.
This state park can be a day stop along your Utah itinerary or you can choose to spend the night. If you want to stay here, you will have to camp as the only hotel options are around 45 minutes away.
This stop can also be done as a day trip from Moab if you want to wake up early and drive. Using Moab as your home base is an easy possibility.
If you could choose one thing to do here, I recommend the easy Three Sisters Hike. It brings you to the most iconic “goblin” formation in the entire park.
Most people view Three Sisters from the road, but if you pull off, there are small trails that go up to it.
You can also see down into the Carmel Canyon Drainage System 100 feet below from this hike too so it is two for the price of one hike!
The beauty of Goblin Valley State Park is that you can drive around and explore at will. It is a beautiful and unique stop to add to your Utah road trip itinerary and you won’t want to miss it.
Best Hotels Near Goblin Valley:
- Cute Cabin: Duke’s Slickrock Cabins. Check Rates: Hotels.com
- Mid-Range: Pet-Friendly Cabins in Hanksville Utah. Check Rates: Booking.com
Stop 4: Capitol Reef National Park
When my family visited Capitol Reef National Park a few times in the early 2000s it was the “weird” thing to do and a strange national park to visit.
Now, Capitol Reef is all over Instagram and social media, and for a good reason! It is pretty neat to see a remote national park surge into the limelight in the past 20 years!
Although it has become more popular lately, it is still off the main tourist trail when compared to places like Arches and Zion. I suggest checking it out if you want to complete your Utah Mighty 5 road trip.
This national park is defined by the “Waterpocket Fold” which is essentially a 100-mile warp in the Earth’s crust. This is an incredible and unique feature!
There are various things to do in Capitol Reef National Park on your road trip in Utah. You can choose to hike, explore by car, pick fruit like apples, or go on a tour. There is truly an option for everyone!
Best Hotels At Capitol Reef National Park:
- Affordable: Days Inn Capitol Reef. Check Rates: Booking.com
- Affordable: Capitol Reef Resort. Check Rates: Booking.com
Best Capitol Reef Hikes
One thing I remember from childhood is the Capitol Gorge Trail. This trail is incredible and the views are breathtaking. You will have to exit the main road and then turn onto a dirt road to get here.
On this trail, you’ll walk along a dried-up river bed through a massive gorge. The rock walls tower on either side and it really makes you feel small among nature.
If you want to see yet another arch, Hickman Bridge is one of the more popular hikes in Capitol Reef.
It is a moderate hike with an elevation gain of 400 feet, but it is still easy for families or amateurs to complete. It is a 1.8-mile hike round trip. Once you reach Hickman Bridge, you will love the views!
If you want to walk on an arch without going hiking in Sedona, I recommend Cassidy Arch Hike. This is one of the hikes in Utah where you can walk on top of the arch itself, instead of just walking under it!
Of course, this is a very unique feature and it makes the hike worth it. It is 1.7 miles each way and there is a 700-foot elevation gain.
The gain comes from the fact that you have to climb up on top of the rocks to walk across the arch. It is totally worth it and still an easy-to-moderate hike with some incredible payoff at the end!
Stop 5: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Another awesome memory from my childhood and teen years? Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument!
It is only 1 hour away from Capitol Reef yet many people don’t even know about it or decide to skip it on their Utah road trip. I am here to tell you that is a huge mistake!
First off, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument covers an absolutely HUGE expanse of land. You could take a week just to explore this area alone.
I will narrow it down to the best things to see. For example, did you know you can see slot canyons in Utah? You don’t have to go to Arizona to see these incredible features!
Want more arches? Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is at your service there too!
I really can’t recommend this national monument enough if you are looking to get off the main tourist trail during your Utah road trip. You are going to love it!
Best Hotels In Grand Staircase Escalante:
- Affordable: The Inn At Escalante. Check Rates: Booking.com
- Unique: Escalante Yurts. Check Rates: Booking.com
Best Hikes In Grand Staircase-Escalante
If you want to visit slot canyons in Utah, the Zebra Canyon Hike is the place to be! It is an easy 5.3 miles round trip and takes around 3 to 4 hours to complete.
There is another slot called Tunnel Slot that you can continue on to if you want but then the hike will take around 5 to 6 hours.
Zebra Canyon is epic enough as it is! This hike is in the northern part of the national monument so it is easy to reach on your Utah road trip.
There are two more slot canyons you can visit! Peek-a-boo and Spooky Gulches are just 3.5 miles round trip, perfect if you are looking for a shorter hike.
These slot canyons are near Zebra Canyon so you can easily do them both in a day. This is one of the more surreal hikes in Grand Staircase!
If you are a serious hiker and plan to trek or camp during your Utah road trip, this next hike is for you.
Coyote Gulch Hike is around 12 miles round trip and generally takes between 8 to 12 hours depending on how fast you walk and how many times you stop. You will see some stunning and remote scenery.
It is entirely possible to hike this trail in a single day, as long as you start early and pay attention to the weather.
Stop 6: Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is still one of the most incredible landscapes I have EVER visited in my entire life. You are going to agree! Do NOT skip Bryce Canyon. It will not let you down!
Hoodoos are rock formations formed by erosion. In Bryce Canyon, they are formed by winter frost eating away at the rock.
The rocks are weathered and eroded to create the incredible formations known as hoodoos. They are tall and thin and unique to arid areas such as the desert. They are fantastic to behold!
One of the best parts about seeing Bryce on your Utah road trip is that many areas are accessible by car. You can drive throughout the whole park and see stunning views!
If you have accessibility challenges, this is a wonderful Utah national park to visit as you can still experience a lot of what it offers because you don’t have to hike to see many things!
Bryce Canyon is one of the most popular stops on this itinerary for Utah’s national parks. You can park your car and take the shuttle if you want.
If you go during the off-season, you can find parking more easily. If you are completing this Utah road trip during the summer or high season, I recommend taking advantage of the shuttle.
Best Hotels Near Bryce Canyon:
- Affordable: Bryce Canyon Pines. Check Rates: Booking.com
- Luxury: Best Western PLUS Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel. Check Rates: Booking.com
Best Hikes In Bryce Canyon
Possibly the most famous hike in Bryce Canyon is the Navajo Loop/Queens Garden Trail. This takes you down into the canyon so you can walk among the hoodoos.
There is one switchback area of this trail called ‘Wall Street.” I highly recommend walking DOWN this section. You get a better view and the experience is just better overall.
Most people don’t know this and do the opposite. This is the premier hike in Bryce, so do it while you are here! It is a 2.5-mile heavily trafficked loop trail and it is popular for a good reason!
If the park is busy and you want to do something fun, I love the Mossy Cave Waterfall hike. You must leave the park a tiny bit, but you get to see a waterfall and a sleeping bear cave.
This is a slightly different landscape than you are used to seeing in Utah so it is something fun and different to do. It is an easy, 1-mile trail.
I also recommend Bryce’s Rim Trail. It is 0.5 miles to 5.5 miles one way and is located above Bryce Canyon. It connects all the scenic overlooks from Fairyland to Bryce Point.
If you do NOT want to hike, many of these viewpoints are accessible by car too!
If you want an accessible trail, there is a 0.5-mile section of trail between Sunrise Point and Sunset Point that is wheelchair accessible.
I love the Rim Trail because you can choose to do as much or as little hiking as you want without missing out on epic views!
Stop 7: Zion National Park
Zion National Park is easily the most famous and popular stop on this Utah Mighty 5 itinerary and for a good reason!
Often, you cannot drive in Zion unless you are staying in the campground. There is a shuttle that will take you in and out of the park. This is very important to know.
Many people do not know about the shuttle until they arrive and are in for a surprise. If you know about the shuttle, you can be prepared for your experience.
March through November, access to the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is by free shuttle bus only. Private vehicles are allowed to access the Scenic Drive only when the shuttle system is not in operation.
If you are visiting in say, January, you will be allowed and able to drive your vehicle. This is one reason why I love doing a trip to Utah national parks in winter! Zion National Park in winter is a great time to visit.
The thing I love about Zion National Park is that it blends the red rocks with greenery! This is a sight for sore eyes after days of being in the desert.
There are very many cool things to see and do here during your trip to Utah.
While you end your road trip with Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park, they are some of the highlights of the vacation.
Best Hotels Near Zion National Park:
- Affordable: Zion Park Motel. Check Rates: Booking.com
- Mid-Range: Zion Mountain Ranch. Check Rates: Booking.com
Best Hikes In Zion National Park
One of the most memorable hikes from my childhood is the Narrows Hike. It is very long and involved, but you can choose to just do the beginning portion of it which is what I did as a kid.
It is about 16 miles round trip and you must walk through the river and even swim at some points!
If you aren’t doing the whole 16-mile hike, you can go to the beginning and have fun walking through the water in the canyon for as long as you want. This is what I did and it was such a wonderful experience!
If you want to do the most popular hike in Zion, that is the Angels Landing Hike. People do this with kids quite often, but it is strenuous and around 5 miles long.
This takes you to the peak of Zion National Park and the views are beyond incredible! If you do one hike during your Utah road trip, choose this one! I recommend budgeting around 3 to 5 hours.
The Canyon Overlook Trail is another great option. This is only a 1-mile trail and provides stunning views. It is easy and you can access it to see some of the best views in the park.
Since it is so short and easy, it makes a great beginner hike for all ages when visiting Southern Utah’s national parks. This is the perfect introductory hike to do when you arrive in Zion!
Stop 8: Valley Of Fire And Fly Out Of Las Vegas
Once you finish in Zion, I suggest flying out of Las Vegas, Nevada, since it is just over a two-hour drive from the park.
As I mentioned in the beginning, though, you can also fly out of Salt Lake City which is 4.5 hours away from Zion. Choose whichever fits your needs or budget best.
If you choose to go to Las Vegas, I highly recommend stopping by Valley of Fire State Park on the way. I absolutely love this park’s landscapes and photography opportunities.
The deep red rocks and gorgeous scenery make the park one of the best things to do in Nevada!
How Long To Spend On This Utah National Parks Road Trip
You should take as much time as you can for this Utah trip itinerary since there is so much to see and do. I understand, though, that not everyone has the chance to take over a week off for a vacation.
When planning a trip to Utah, I suggest a minimum of 7 to 10 days to see everything on this itinerary without rushing. With more time, you can also easily fly roundtrip from Salt Lake City.
If you have less time, you can cut out anywhere you have been before or that does not strike your fancy. I recommend focusing on the five national parks and saving the other spots for next time.
Best Time To Visit Utah National Parks
You can do a national parks road trip in Utah at any time of the year, but each season does have its pros and cons.
Personally, I love to road trip Utah in winter! This is when I did my last Utah parks road trip and it was great! It can be cold, but the white snow adds a beautiful contrast to the red rocks.
I think national parks are best during the off-season. Winter means fewer crowds and cheaper accommodations and car rentals. Camping is easier with less competition at campgrounds.
Plus, in winter you do not have to deal with the shuttle in Zion and can drive through the park on your own.
Summer in Utah is hot and the national parks are crowded with families and other tourists. Spring and fall are shoulder seasons with the best weather for hiking in Utah national parks.
No matter when you road trip through Utah, you will love the amazing landscapes and the chance to make memories with family and friends.
I hope you have a fantastic time visiting national parks in Utah!
I am happy to answer any questions you may have about planning your Utah Big 5 itinerary in the comments below!
Please let me know how you got on and if you went to any of the places I suggested in this itinerary for Utah national parks!
Next, check out more of the best Southwest road trip itineraries.