Packed with five national parks to explore in a weeklong road trip, Utah offers a stunning landscape to explore. Each park is about 100 miles from the previous and most highways linking the National Park Sites are scenic byways. Read on for the making the most of your Utah National Parks Road Trip.
Utah National Parks Road Trip Itinerary
Day 1 Las Vegas
As untraditional as it sounds, Las Vegas might an ideal place to start your Utah National Parks road trip, especially if you are flying in. With a large number of flights from across the world, paired with a dizzying number of hotel rooms along with dining and entertainment galore, start in Las Vegas.
After arriving and getting into your rental car, gather supplies for your road trip. Since the shopping across southern Utah, plan on buying all road trip snacks along with basic picnic supplies.
Depending on interest, arrange for a show and sample a new restaurant in Las Vegas. Definitely walk down a portion of the famed Strip.
Day 2 Zion National Park
After grabbing a cup of coffee, head out early on Interstate 15 North. Zion National Park is just 160 miles away from Las Vegas, Nevada.
The Navajo Sandstone dominates Zion National Park with its bold rock formations craved by a mostly tame Virgin River. It’s a part of the Grand Staircase, a geologic survey or 500 million years of history can be studied in the rock layers. Zion is sandwiched in the middle. Grand Canyon represents the bottom layer and Bryce Canyon National Park represents the most recent layer.
What began as a windswept desert 180-million-years ago, time slowly compressed the sand into the Navajo Sandstone that rises up 2000 feet today. With reoccurring floods, water sculpted the canyon with the eye of an artist.
What to do in Zion National Park
The Lower Emerald Pool Trail offers 1.2-mile paved round-trip hike to a 100-foot water fall, right across from the Zion Lodge. Or try the Riverside Walk at the Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop. I found a wheel-chair accessible 2.2-mile roundtrip trail from the Virgin River to the Narrows.
Zion National Park offers guided one-hour and three-hour horseback rides. Or take a guided scenic tour aboard a bus to see all the photo-worthy sights.
Where to Stay in Zion National Park
Inside of the park, Zion Lodge offers a main building that sits on the spot of the original lodge that burned in the 1960s. Modern hotel rooms and historic western cabins from the 1930s flank the lodge building that houses a restaurant, a café, a coffee bar, a gift shop and an outdoor patio.
Getting to Zion National Park
Take Utah’s Route 9, Zion National Park Scenic Byway, to Zion National Park. Then exit the park along Zion-Mount Carmel Highway for another scenic drive.
Zion National Park is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. A seven-day pass for Zion National Park is $35.
Zion National Park shuttles to get around the park. Find two different routes, the Zion Canyon Shuttle and the Springdale Shuttle, from the nearby town of Springdale. Parking is limited in the park especially during the summer and popular weekends.
Day 3 Bryce Canyon National Park
See the pink spires of Bryce Canyon National Park from the canyon rim. Or take a hike down to walk among them. And the stars above never seemed so bright as in Utah.
What to do in Bryce Canyon National Park
Hike from the Sunrise Point to Sunset Point, an easy 1.0-mile hike, along the edge of Bryce Canyon. The Navajo Trail offers an up-close look at Bryce’s rock formations as the trail takes hikers down into the Bryce Amphitheater slot canyon, a 1.3-mile moderate trail.
Explore Bryce Canyon on horseback with a one-and-half hour guided tour that takes small groups to Fairy Castle and back. A three-hour tour explores the Peek-a-Boo Loop by horseback.
Where to Stay in Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon Lodge is a 1925 historic lodge listed on the Register of Historic Places. Find a restaurant, a pizzeria along with lodge rooms and a few suites. Western cabins offer rustic elegance, located steps from the canyon edge and the lodge.
Getting to Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is located 85 miles from Zion National Park along U.S. Route 89, as known as the National Park Highway.
Bryce Canyon National Park is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. A seven-day pass for Bryce Canyon National Park is $35.
Bryce Canyon National Park offers a free seasonal shuttle bus that departs from the visitor center every 15 minutes and stops at the lodge, the campgrounds and Sunset, Bryce, Inspiration and Sunset Points.
Day 4 Capitol Reef National Park
Located between Bryce Canyon and Canyonlands national parks, find the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic monocline at Capital Reef National Park. It’s a wrinkle in the earth’s surface. In the 1800s, Mormon pioneers came and planted over 2,700 fruit trees.
What to do in Capitol Reef National Park
Take the Scenic Drive, a 7.9-mile one-way drive to the Fruita Historic Area. Explore the original orchards where you can pick seasonal fruit.
Find the blacksmith shop. And check out the Fruita Schoolhouse. The Gifford House Store and Museum sells freshly baked pies, bread, and cinnamon rolls.
Hike the Sunset Point Trail, a .4-mile easy trail. Find it off Utah Route 24.
Where to stay near Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park doesn’t offer lodging inside of the park. Find a 3-star lodging in the nearby town of Grover.
Getting to Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park is located about 120 miles from Bryce Canyon National Park. Take Utah Route 12, a Utah Scenic Byway.
Capitol Reef National Park is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. A seven-day Bryce Canyon National Park is $20.
Day 5 Natural Bridges National Monument
See three natural bridges in Utah’s first national monument. With a nine-mile scenic loop drive, see Sipapu Bridge, Kachina Bridge, and Owachomo Bridge.
Where’s Natural Bridges National Monument
Natural Bridges National Monument is located in-between Capitol Reef National Park and Canyonlands National Park, about 35 west of Blanding, Utah. It’s about 130 miles from Capitol Reef National Park along Utah Route 95.
Natural Bridges National Monument is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. A seven-day Natural Bridges National Monument is $15.
Canyonlands National Park
See the buttes carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries. It’s divided into four distinct districts. And the Island in the Sky district is the most accessible for first-time visitors.
What to do in Canyonlands National Park
The Island in the Sky offers a visitor center and easy to explore in a few hours. See the Utah landscape unfold from top of the 100-foot sandstone cliffs. Take the 34-mile round trip scenic drive to the viewpoints. Hike to the Mesa Arch, an easy .5-mile hike for a popular photo opportunity.
Getting to Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park is located about 115 miles from Natural Bridges National Monument. Take Utah Route 95 and U.S. Highway 191, part of the Trail of the Ancient National Scenic Byway. The Islands in the Sky entrance is 10 miles north of Moab.
Canyonlands National Park is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. A seven-day pass for Canyonlands National Park is $30.
Day 6 Arches National Park
With over 2,000 natural stone arches that time has carved in Utah’s red rocks, Arches National Park is routinely considered one of the top national parks in the U.S. Though the arches are center stage, see pinnacles, fins, and balances rocks as well.
What to do in Arches National Park
To see the best of Arches National Park, use a combination of driving and hiking, according to your ability.
- Park Avenue and Courthouse Towers Area—Features high rock walls and pinnacles with an accessible viewpoint.
- Balanced Rock—At 128 feet tall, it glows in the afternoon sun. Find an accessible viewpoint at this popular spot.
- The Windows Section—See North Window, Turret Arch and the Double Arch and it’s the best area to see if limited on time.
- Delicate Arch—The most famous arch in Arches and offers an accessible viewpoint. The hike to Delicate Arch is a difficult 3-mile trail.
- Devils Garden—Find Landscape Arch in this area. It’s a 1.6-mile easy hike.
Getting to Arches National Park
Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park are located close together. It’s five miles north of Moab. Arches National Park is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. A seven-day pass for Arches National Park is $30.
To avoid traffic and lack of parking, enter Arches National Park before 8 a.m. or in the afternoon. With limited services, carry enough water and food for the day.
Where to Stay near Canyonlands and Arches national parks
Since the national park sites in eastern Utah don’t offer lodging, head to the tourist town of Moab. Find a full range of lodging, along with restaurants and outdoor outfitters and tours.
Kids in National Parks
Earn a free souvenir at each of Utah’s national park sites with the Junior Ranger Program. Grab a booklet at the visitor center and explore the park.
After completing the required activities, turn the Junior Ranger booklet into a park ranger. After a short review of what’s important in the park, kids raise their hands and recite the Junior Ranger Oath.
National Park Road Trip Tips
- Arrive early for parking at Utah’s Mighty 5.
- Purchases an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) is visiting more than two national park sites during your trip. It’s available for all visitor and covers everyone in the vehicle.
- Pack snacks and picnic supplies for your Utah National Park Road trip.
- Carry water and water containers. Find water fountains at the visitor center and restrooms throughout the national parks.
- Carry a paper map, data service is spotty in the park and mountainous areas.
- Give wild animals at least 25 yards of space and don’t feed them.