With five national parks to explore, hiking trails galore and some epic scenery, a Utah national parks road trip is something you’ll never forget. Hitting the so-called Mighty 5 – Utah’s five national parks of Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef – is possible in just a week, and you won’t believe how different and beautiful each national park is.
Here I’m sharing the Utah national parks road trip itinerary my husband and I took. This itinerary allowed us to see the Mighty 5 in just seven days – and we even snuck in a quick side trip to Arizona.
This is one of my favourite adventures of all time in the United States, so here’s how you can also plan a trip to Utah national parks and do the same trip we did (the best Utah itinerary, if I may say so myself!).
I’ve even created a printable planner so that you can plot out your own Utah national parks road trip itinerary, so download a copy here.
This post was updated in June 2021. I’ve done my best to check that information remains current in light of the pandemic, but please check with individual businesses before booking. If you see any errors, please let me know so that I can keep this article updated.
This blog post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you book or buy something through one of these links, I may earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you).
How to do this Utah road trip
This is a road trip, so of course you’ll need your own wheels. These national parks are fairly remote and inaccessible by public transport – plus you won’t have the flexibility that comes with your own vehicle. You have a few options here:
- Rent a standard vehicle through Rentalcars or Discover Cars and either camp or stay at hotels/Airbnbs along the way.
- Rent a campervan or RV – this is what we did and it made the trip even more fun! You’ll combine your transport and accommodation costs, saving some dollars as well. RVShare is a good option for this; it’s like the Airbnb of RVs. Escape Campervans is another great option for campervan rentals. I’ve listed campground throughout this post and you can use apps like iOverlander or US Public Lands to find free campsites.
Do you need a 4×4? If you follow this itinerary, you won’t need a 4×4 – a regular car is perfectly fine. The roads are all sealed and well maintained. Of course, you won’t be able to get out to some of the backroad locations – but you probably wouldn’t have time to do that in this short itinerary anyway.
Utah mighty 5 road trip routes
To do this Utah national parks road trip, I’d recommend at least a week. This itinerary will give you a day in each park (two days in some parks) so there isn’t a lot of room for downtime. If you have two weeks to road trip Utah’s national parks, that would be even better – that way you can really explore all the natural beauty this state has to offer.
There are several ways you can visit all five Utah national parks in a week, depending on where you’re starting from. The best places to start and end this trip is in Las Vegas or Salt Lake City.
|Option 1||Option 2||Option 3|
|Day||Salt Lake City to Salt Lake City||Las Vegas to Salt Lake City (or vice versa)||Las Vegas loop|
|1||Salt Lake City to Zion||Las Vegas to Zion NP||Las Vegas to Zion NP|
|2||Zion National Park||Zion National Park||Zion NP|
|3||Bryce Canyon National Park||Monument Valley||Bryce Canyon NP|
|4||Monument Valley||Canyonlands National Park / Moab||Capitol Reef NP / Moab|
|5||Canyonlands National Park / Moab||Arches and Canyonlands National Park||Arches NP / Canyonlands|
|6||Arches and Canyonlands National Parks||Capitol Reef NP / Bryce Canyon NP||Monument Valley|
|7||Capitol Reef NP to Salt Lake City||Bryce Canyon to Salt Lake City||Back to Las Vegas|
We did option number 1, but if I was doing this trip again, I’d probably take the Las Vegas to Salt Lake City (or vice versa) route, just to save on a bit of backtracking.
For option #2, check that your rental company allows you to return a vehicle to another location (there may be an additional charge).
For option #3, you could even add in a side trip to the Grand Canyon if you have one or two extra days.
These three Utah road trip route options include a side trip into Arizona to Monument Valley, so if you’re short on time, you can cut this out of your Utah itinerary.
National parks road trip itinerary
As mentioned earlier, we did a loop starting and ending in Salt Lake City, so that’s what I’ll get into in this blog post. You can easily take the information here and adapt it to the alternative routes listed above.
This 7-day Utah road trip itinerary that loops from Salt Lake City is:
- Day 1: Salt Lake City to Zion National Park
- Day 2: Zion National Park
- Day 3: Bryce Canyon National Park
- Day 4: Monument Valley
- Day 5: Canyonlands National Park and Moab
- Day 6: Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park
- Day 7: Back to Salt Lake City via Capitol Reef National Park
Utah national parks road trip map
Before I get into the nitty gritty of the Utah national parks road trip itinerary, here’s a map of where you’ll be going if you follow the route we took. You can download a map of national parks in Utah on the Visit Utah website or they’ll even post one to you if you plan ahead.
Alright, it’s time to hit the road!
Day 1: Salt Lake City to Zion National Park
Driving time: 4.5 hours / 308 miles
First up on this 7 day Utah national parks itinerary: pick up your car or campervan. Pick up any supplies you may need (snacks, anyone?).
You could check out of a few of the best things to do in Salt Lake City, but I’d recommend jumping straight on the road and heading for Zion National Park. It’s about a 4.5-hour drive from Salt Lake City.
Zion National Park is the busiest Utah national park, with more than 4.5 million visitors each year. Despite the crowds, it’s a must-visit on a Utah parks road trip.
Springdale is the town just outside of the entrance to Zion, and it has several great options for your first dinner on the road.
Where to stay in Zion National Park
Zion National Park campgrounds
Zion National Park has three campgrounds: South, Watchman and Lava Point. You can reserve South and Watchman in advance (campsites are $20 per night). If you can’t reserve in advance, you can still plan to arrive at the campgrounds at around 10 or 11 a.m. in case a site becomes available.
Lava Point only has six primitive campsites and is more remote. It’s open May to September only.
Hotels near Zion National Park
- Zion Lodge is the only lodging inside Zion National Park
- For something partway between a hotel and camping, try the luxury, safari-style tents at Under Canvas Zion
- Cliffrose Lodge is so close to Zion National Park you could walk in!
- Best Western Plus Zion Canyon Inn & Suites has comfy rooms with mini fridges and coffee makers – and great views
Vacation rentals near Zion National Park
- This cute studio with lovely high ceilings and is close to the park entrance
- This townhouse for larger groups
Day 2: Zion National Park
Wake up early (yes, maybe even 5am) to get a head start on the Angel’s Landing hike. This hike is very popular on most people’s Zion national park itinerary, and starting early helps to avoid both the crowds and the heat of the day. It’s a beautiful but fairly strenuous hike with some pockets of shade.
The final ascent to Angel’s Landing is a narrow ridge with steel chains as the only barrier to keep you falling hundreds of metres off the side. I’m not shy in admitting that I just couldn’t bring myself to do this final section – it was too scary for me. I stayed below while my husband did the final section. He said that it was hairy in some parts, but the views are worth it if you don’t have a fear of heights.
Later in the afternoon, take off on your next hike along the Riverside Walk.
If you can brave the icy water, end the day by wading through the start of The Narrows hike. We only did a small portion of this, and I would love to come back and do it completely. If you want to do The Narrows, plan for a whole day (you’ll also need a permit).
Best hikes in Zion National Park
- Angel’s Landing (5.4 miles, strenuous)
- Observation Point (8 miles, strenuous)
- Canyon Overlook Trail (1 mile, moderate; easier alternative to Angel’s Landing)
- Riverside Walk (2.2 miles, easy)
- Weeping Rock Trail (0.4 miles, easy)
- The Narrows (9.4 miles, strenuous; high water levels can mean this is closed at some times during the year)
Want to do something really special when you visit Zion National Park? Take a short helicopter ride over Zion and Bryce Canyon to see these spectacular parks from above.
Day 3: Bryce Canyon National Park
Driving time: 1.5 hours / 75 miles
Leaving Zion National Park on your way to Bryce Canyon, traverse the scenic 12-mile Zion-Mt Carmel Highway, passing through the historic tunnel. It’s a beautiful, winding road that exposes the red rocks of Zion.
It’s time to see just how different Bryce Canyon National Park, with its orange and white hoodoos, is to the deep red rocks of Zion National Park. In my opinion, Bryce Canyon is the best national park in Utah. The landscape is out of this world and when we visited it was far quieter than Zion.
Hike the Navajo Loop / Queen’s Garden trails which take you down into and back up the canyon and past Thor’s Hammer. Later, hike a section of the Rim Trail, and stand above the hoodoos to get an idea of what Mars surely must look like.
Sunset at Inspiration Point is a must, watching the colours of the hoodoos change as the sun goes down.
Best hikes in Bryce Canyon National Park
- Navajo Loop / Queen’s Garden (2.9 miles combined, moderate)
- Rim Trail (up to 11 miles, easy; paved from Sunset to Sunrise Points)
- Fairyland Loop (8 miles, strenuous)
Where to stay in Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park campgrounds
There are two campgrounds in Bryce Canyon: North Campground and Sunset Campground (campsite $20 per night; RV $30 per night). Both are close to the visitor centre.
Sunset Campground can be reserved in advance between May and October. North Campground is on a first come, first served basis year round.
Outside of Bryce Canyon, Ruby’s Inn has an RV park and campground.
Hotels near Bryce Canyon National Park
If you’re not camping, try one of the hotels near Bryce Canyon National Park.
- The Lodge at Bryce Canyon is located inside the park, with 114 rooms and an on-site restaurant
- Stone Canyon Inn has several cabins onsite plus two very cool treehouses
- Ruby’s Inn Best Western Plus is a popular option outside Bryce Canyon National Park
Vacation rentals near Bryce Canyon National Park
- This charming country home on a large property – with fruit picking available in the fall
- This incredible chalet halfway between Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks
Day 4: Monument Valley
Driving time: 4.5 hours / 275 miles
On day four of the Utah national parks road trip, we’re actually heading into another state: Arizona!
As I mentioned earlier, you can skip Monument Valley if you want to stay in Utah and spend more time at one of the Mighty 5 national parks. But it’s a great detour.
It’s a long day of driving from Bryce Canyon south into Arizona. Stop for pie at the retro Thunderbird Restaurant at Mt Carmel Junction. This place is exactly how I always pictured American diners to be!
Stop at Page, home to the highly Instagrammed Horseshoe Bend, and nervously watch everyone as they perch on the edge to get the perfect selfie.
It’s a hot and dusty walk to the viewpoint, so bring adequate shoes and lots of water and sunscreen. To manage the huge influx of visitors that Horseshoe Bend has recently experienced, you’ll now need to pay an entrance fee of $10 per passenger vehicle.
Another popular site in Page is Antelope Canyon. Here you can visit Upper Antelope Canyon, an incredible slot canyon. Reservations are a must. We unfortunately didn’t have time, but photos I have seen are spectacular. If you can make the time, there are tours of Lower Antelope Canyon and Upper Canyon (unfortunately tours are currently on hold).
If you have even more time, many people add on a trip to the Grand Canyon to their Utah national parks road trip itinerary. You’ll need at least two days, though, to see the park properly.
Continue on to Monument Valley, famous from oh-so-many movies. Drive through the valley ($25 per vehicle; Monument Valley isn’t covered under the America the Beautiful national parks annual pass) in the late afternoon as the sun is going down for some spectacular silhouettes of the buttes. Early morning is another option for nice light.
You need two to three hours to do the 17-mile self-guided driving tour through Monument Valley (maps available at the Information Center). Stop at John Ford’s Point for a great view over the valley or for $5 you can channel your inner cowboy or cowgirl and have your photo taken on a horse.
There are a few hiking trails (permit required) or you can take an organised tour which will allow you access to a traditional Navajo hogan, a small house. Here’s a good option for a sunset tour, or a 2-5-hour trip with backcountry access where you’ll learn more about Navajo culture.
Be respectful of the land at all times and stick to the trails – this is Navajo land.
Hotels near Monument Valley
There are a couple of hotels near Monument Valley:
- We parked our campervan at Goulding’s Lodge, which has both a hotel and campground. It’s also got a restaurant, gas station, laundry, trading post and a museum highlighting the history of the area, including about the films that have been shot there. The theatre shows John Wayne movies nightly
- The View Hotel is located within Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. As the name suggests, it has great views over the valley
Day 5: The Needles, Canyonlands National Park
Driving time: 5.5 hours / 238 miles
Day five will see you heading back into Utah on your way to Moab. Before you get too far, stop at mile marker 13 on highway 163 for the classic road jumping shot with Monument Valley in the background. This is where Forrest Gump decided he’d had enough of running.
Before getting to Moab, take the long detour to The Needles area of Canyonlands National Park. It’s a side trip off the main road and does add extra time to this Utah road trip itinerary, but it’s worth it. If you’re short on time, then you can skip this and head straight to Moab.
Canyonlands National Park is actually split into three distinct areas: The Needles, Island in the Sky and the Maze. The Maze is only accessible by 4WD and is very remote. I haven’t included it in this Utah national parks itinerary because we didn’t visit it.
The Needles is far less touristy than the other national parks in Utah. To get a taste of the park, hike the Slickrock trail, which will take you over smooth, mustard-coloured rocks as you follow the cairns-marked trail.
After that, hit up another hike like the Cave Spring trail. This one winds through old cowboy hangouts and up ladders. Again, you’ll be marvelling at just how different the landscape is compared to the other national parks visited on this trip.
We only wish we’d had more time to do some of the longer, more challenging hikes. Unfortunately, there was a spectacular lightning storm starting up as we began hiking, and we didn’t want to be out and exposed.
Continue on to Moab and have a late lunch of burgers and peanut butter milkshakes at Milt’s Stop and Eat.
Best hikes in The Needles, Canyonlands National Park
- Chesler Park Viewpoint (6 miles, strenuous)
- Slickrock Trail (2.4 miles, short)
- Big Spring Canyon to Squaw Canyon (7.5 miles, strenuous)
- Cave Spring (0.6 miles, short)
Where to stay in Moab
- We stayed at the KOA campground in Moab. Staff were friendly and they have a pool and shop onsite.
Hotels in Moab
Moab is a small town, but its reputation as an action hub means that it’s full of hotels and campgrounds.
- The Gonzo Inn is a popular place to stay in Moab. There’s an outdoor pool which will be a huge relief in the heat of the afternoon – Moab gets really hot
- Red Cliffs Lodge has 115 simple rooms, some with balconies with great views over the river
Vacation rentals in Moab
There are plenty of vacation rentals in Moab, so you’ll have lots of choices. I like the look of:
- This light-filled cabin with a great patio with grill (and it’s dog friendly!)
- This property would be good for groups of up to 6 people
Day 6: Arches National Park and Island in the Sky
Arches National Park is just outside of Moab, and is famous for its variety of sandstone arches. We weren’t able to do a lot of the hikes I had on my list, because the Devil’s Garden section of the park was closed for construction. Instead, we tackled some of the shorter hikes to Broken Arch and Sand Dune Arch.
In the afternoon, hike to Delicate Arch. This is a must-do on your visit to Arches National Park. Be aware that this hike has no shade, and the last part is around a cliff face with a sharp drop off. It’s one of the most photographed spots on any trip to Utah.
Best hikes in Arches National Park
- Delicate Arch (3 miles, strenuous)
- Double O Arch Trail (4.2 miles, strenuous)
- Park Avenue Trail (1 mile one-way, moderate)
- Devil’s Garden (7.2 miles, strenuous)
- Windows Trail (1 mile, easy)
- Fiery Furnace (reservation necessary, guided by Park Ranger)
Before sunset, drive out to the other section of Canyonlands National Park, the Island in the Sky. From the viewpoint, gaze out over the land, which looks like a giant dinosaur has left its footprint behind.
If you’re in luck, you might even have Mesa Arch all to yourselves for a few minutes. Most people recommend to visit Mesa Arch at dawn, but we found it to be just as beautiful at sunset.
Moab is one of the best places to visit in Utah for adventure lovers, so if you’ve had enough of hiking, you can try mountain bike riding, offroading, 4×4 adventuring, canyoneering or rafting on the Colorado River. There are companies throughout Moab that offer all sorts of outdoor adventures. This jetboat tour looks fun, as does this dinner cruise.
Best hikes in Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park
- Mesa Arch (0.5 miles, easy)
- Grand View Point Trail (2 miles, easy)
- Neck Spring (5.8 miles, moderate)
- Gooseberry Trail (5.4 miles, strenuous)
Day 7: Capitol Reef National Park and back to Salt Lake City
Driving time: 5.5 hours / 369 miles
On the last day of this Utah national parks road trip, return to Salt Lake City via Capitol Reef National Park. As the smallest of the five Utah national parks, you can easily drive through it via the 9-mile scenic drive and stop off to do shorter hikes. We only spent a few hours here, the shortest visit of our trip.
The park also has an old Mormon mission and you can stop by the historic Gifford Homestead to enjoy a fruit pie in the shaded grounds. The perfect sweet way to finish your Utah national park itinerary!
Best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park
- Sunset Point Trail (0.4 miles one-way, easy)
- Hickman Bridge Trail (0.9 miles one-way, moderate)
- Chimney Rock Trail (3.6 miles, strenuous)
- Rim Overlook Trail (2.3 miles, strenuous)
Where to stay near Capitol Reef National Park
If you do decide to stay longer than a few hours or one day, here are a few options for sleeping.
Capitol Reef National Park campgrounds
There’s only one campground within Capitol Reef, and that’s the 71-site Fruita Campground. The fee is $20 per night, and sites are reservable only between 1 March and 31 October. The rest of the year it’s first come, first served.
Hotels near Capitol Reef National Park
- For something truly unique, book a night in a Conestoga wagon! Peek out your wagon at Capitol Reef Resort in the morning for stunning red rock views. Or, choose from luxury teepees and cabins
- Broken Spur Inn and Steakhouse (located in Torrey) is a simple hotel only a 10-minute drive to the entrance of Capitol Reef National Park
Vacation rentals near Capitol Reef National Park
- This cute cabin is great for couples or small families
- This 2-bedroom home with a great deck in the nearby town of Teasdale
Finally, return your car or campervan in Salt Lake City – 7 days in Utah goes by quickly! This will be a trip you won’t quickly forget – and if you’re like me, you’ll be wanting to go back very soon.
Tips for planning a Utah national parks road trip itinerary
Buy a national parks pass
If you’re planning to road trip to Utah national parks, buy the America the Beautiful annual pass, which costs $80. Each national park costs between $20 and $35 to visit, so if you visit three or more parks on this Utah mighty 5 road trip, this pass will save you a tonne of money.
The pass is also valid at any national park in the entire United States so you can use it at other parks for the rest of the year.
Book accommodation in advance
Hotels, lodges and camping sites around the national parks can be booked out months – even a year – in advance, so book accommodation in advance. (I use Booking.com or HotelsCombined to book accommodation, comparing prices across both sites before I book.)
Each campsite has different processes for booking. Some can be booked online in advance, others can only be booked in person on the day, so you’ll need to factor this in to your planning.
Research each park before you visit
Do your research on each park’s website in advance – there’s a huge amount of information available online. This will help you plan your days to get the most out of each park.
And when you arrive at each park, stop by the visitor centre to pick up a map and talk to the rangers. They know the best time to visit each location for the perfect photos and which hikes to do to maximise the time you have.
Best time to visit Utah national parks
We visited in early June and found it to be a great time to visit the Utah Mighty 5 – just before school vacation so the crowds were not quite in full force, and the weather was warm and sunny, but not yet suffocatingly hot. When planning your Utah national parks itinerary, keep the following in mind:
Spring and autumn / fall
These are the best seasons to visit the national parks in Utah – but also the most popular. Temperatures are milder, so hikes will be more manageable, but you’ll have to battle the crowds.
It goes without saying that summer is the hottest time to visit the national parks of Utah, with temperatures creeping toward 100 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). If you must visit during these months, plan your visit carefully and aim to hike either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. And always have plenty of water with you.
The winter months can bring temperatures below freezing at night – and snow. I’ve seen photos of some of the national parks during winter and it looks stunning with snow-dusted peaks and few crowds, but make sure to come with adequate winter clothing.
What to pack for a Utah national parks road trip
When you’re visiting the national parks in Utah, come prepared. Here are a few items I’d recommend packing, and I have a longer road trip packing list guide with more ideas:
- An America the Beautiful annual pass to save you tonnes of money!
- A cell phone mount will be helpful for navigating. Remember to download maps as you’ll encounter areas without service.
- Bring a good backpack for all your gear, and a daypack for hiking.
- Use a water bladder to stay hydrated while tackling the hiking trails.
- Pack sturdy hiking boots or trail running shoes (my preference).
- Don’t forget plenty of sunscreen! It gets hot out here, and the sun can be brutal, even in winter.
- If you’re travelling in a campervan like we did or camping in Utah national parks, you may go several days without a shower (pee-yew!). Pack some body wipes to stay fresh.
- If you’re camping or in an RV, pack a power inverter to keep your electronics charged while you’re driving.
- Don’t forget a good first aid kit.
- Pick up a copy of the Lonely Planet guide to Southwest USA or Lonely Planet’s national parks guidebook so that you can learn more about Utah.
For other items you’ll need to bring, check out this packing list for camping in the national parks.
Have you visited Utah? Which is your favourite national park? Let me know in the comments below.
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