The Mighty 5: plan your road trip to Utah National Parks
Visiting all of the Utah National Parks is a bucket list item for many people and the easiest way to see them all is taking a Utah Road Trip. Whether you are in a car or RV, the National Parks in Utah are beautiful and a road trip is the best way to explore them all.
The guide below will help you plan your Utah road trip, but we do suggest seeing our other guides referenced below which include where to stay and more in-depth information for each park. Utah’s National Parks are so exquisite and we hope you enjoy your Utah road trip.
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Third in the U.S. for highest concentration, the national parks in Utah are some of the most unique parks accessible in a week-long road trip.
While we highly suggest spending more time if you can, conquering the Utah National Parks in a week is doable, especially if you plan ahead.
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Camping in Utah National Parks is the best way to experience the parks. During the summer months especially, the national parks in Utah can get very busy and we highly suggest booking a spot as soon as possible.
Utah also has incredible free camping through their Bureau of Land Management (BLM land) on which you can camp for free. However, there will not be any facilities available, so if you tent camp, there will be no showers or restrooms for you to use.
Getting There via Airport
Assuming you don’t live within driving distance, you have a few options for flying in. If you do drive, skip down to the next section.
Salt Lake City airport to Moab – about 4 hours
Grand Junction airport to Moab – about 2 hours
Las Vegas airport to Zion National Park – about 2.5 hours
St. George airport to Zion National Park – about 1 hour
If you can fly into the regional airport, you can save yourself about 3 hours in drive time, but it’s probably not going to be the cheapest option.
Flying into the major airports of Salt Lake City and Las Vegas usually means there are more options with flight times and airlines and are typically more affordable.
>> Check out our guides to Salt Lake City or Las Vegas! <<
The easiest way to see all of the Utah National Parks is to take a road trip across Utah. While all of the parks can be done in 1 day each, we highly suggest spending a couple days in each of Utah’s National Parks, but understand that vacation time might not allow it.
The Utah road trip below can be done in either direction depending on where you’d like to start. We started in Salt Lake City and have laid it out in that order below, but either way you want to visit the National Parks in Utah will work just fine!
Arches National Park is home to over 2,000 arches, with the most famous of them being Delicate Arch. To access Arches National Park, you’ll want to stay in Moab, which can be used as a hub for Canyonlands National Park too.
Arches National Park is a quick 5-10 minute drive from Moab.
What to do in Arches National Park?
Hiking is the main attraction in Arches National Park. Many of the larger arches can be accessed from a viewpoint or a relatively short hike.
What to do in 1 day in Arches National Park?
If you only have 1 day in Arches National Park, start early and catch Delicate Arch at sunrise. This 3-mile hike is considered moderately strenuous by the park and you’ll need good shoes to hike on the slickrock to get to it.
On your hike out, take the short detour near the trailhead to view the petroglyphs, which are images carved into the rock by ancient Native Americans.
After visiting Delicate Arch, drive to Devil’s Garden Trail towards the end of the scenic road and take a short hike to view Landscape Arch, one of the longest arches in the world.
If you’re a quick hiker/have more time, continue on the trail to visit Partition Arch, Navajo Arch, and Double O Arch. On your way out, be sure to check out Pine Tree Arch and Tunnel Arch as well.
From here, hop back in your car and drive to the Windows. From this parking lot, you can walk around to see 4 arches: North Window, South Window, Turret Arch, and Double Arch.
On your way out of the park, be sure to check out the Balanced Rock and stop at the view point for Park Avenue.
If you have more time in Arches
If you have more than 1 day, we suggest doing a longer hike or star-gazing overnight. See our full guide for Arches National Park here.
Moab to Canyonlands is around a 45-minute drive.
Canyonlands National Park is almost 4 times the size of Arches and has multiple entrances. The northern entrance, called The Island in the Sky, is the most popular entrance and is where the Mesa Arch is located. From Moab, you’ll want to drive north past Arches National Park and follow the signs.
What to do in Canyonlands National Park
Also known for hiking, this Utah National Park is stunningly beautiful.
Canyonlands is 85% backcountry hiking meaning you’ll need a 4×4 high-clearance vehicle to really get lost in nature (don’t actually get ‘lost’ though). For those not looking to rent an off-road capable car, you can easily explore this park from the main road and take in the scenery from the viewpoints.
What to do in 1 day in Canyonlands National Park
If you only have 1 day in Canyonlands National Park, start at sunrise at the Mesa Arch. It’s a quick and easy trail to get to the Mesa Arch which is iconic for sunrise as the sun will shine right through the arch.
Grand View Point
After sunrise, hop back in your car and drive to the end of the scenic drive to the Grand View Point. We highly suggest walking the mile-long path to the end, which follows the cliff’s edge with views and dramatic drop-offs for miles.
After your hike, jump back in the car and head toward the Upheaval Dome which is either a salt dome pushed up by overlying rocks or an eroded impact crater. Whichever it is, this moderate hike has two different overlooks (0.3-mile hike to first, additional 0.5-mile hike to second) with some elevation gain mixed in.
If you’re short on time, hike to the first overlook which is a bit easier and you’ll still get fantastic views of this geographical oddity.
Grand View Point end
We suggest finding a nice viewpoint for lunch. We decided to hike the short 1.8-mile White Rim Overlook trail and enjoyed our lunch at the halfway point overlooking the canyon.
If you have more time in Canyonlands National Park
We spent 4 days here in the Island in the Sky district and maybe covered 15% of the accessible trails in the park.
With 2 other entrances to explore, we wish we had more time and a different vehicle! See our complete guide for the Island in the Sky hiking here. (coming soon)
Canyonlands to Capitol Reef – around 2 hours and 15 minutes
One of the least-visited of the Utah National Parks, Capitol Reef is an interesting stop. Of all the national parks in Utah, this park can truly be done in a day if you are looking to maximize more time at another park.
With that being said, we don’t suggest skipping this stop on your Utah road trip, but maybe plan on spending more time in Bryce Canyon or Zion.
What to do in Capitol Reef National Park
While hiking is the primary thing to do here, there are a few other activities that surprised us.
Capitol Reef National Park is located in a town called Fruita and has one of the oldest orchards in the state of Utah. And naturally, they use the fruit to make the most incredible pies.
What to do in 1 day in Capitol Reef National Park
Hike to Cassidy Arch
The scenic drive will take you about 45 minutes to drive out-and-back, but there are a few viewpoints and trailheads along the way. The Cassidy Arch, named after outlaw Butch Cassidy, is a 3.5-mile hike at the Grand Wash trailhead. This is one of the most popular hikes in the park and is best done early in the day when it’s cooler and the shadows don’t interfere with pictures.
Capitol Gorge Pioneer Register
If you continue to the end of Scenic Drive, you can do the Capitol Gorge trail which is an easy 2ish-mile hike through what used to be the main road of the park until the 1960s. On this trail, you’ll see petroglyphs, a Pioneer Register (settlers from the 1800s and 1900s carved their names into the rock walls), and even some water “tanks”, which are really just water-filled potholes.
Capitol Gorge Trail
The Hickman Bridge trail is another popular hike at only 1.8 miles round trip and isn’t in the fee area of the park. From here, continue west towards the town of Torrey and you’ll pass some more petroglyphs right off of the main road. To cap off your day, take the short half-mile walk to Sunset Point and watch the rock walls change colors.
If you have more time in Capitol Reef
We spent 2 full days here and were able to cover most of the park. For more info on where to stay and all the hikes, click here to see our Capitol Reef guide.
Capitol Reef National Park to Bryce Canyon National Park is around 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Bryce Canyon National Park is a unique mix of desert, hoodoos and alpine scenery.
What to do in Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon can be experienced completely by car on their scenic drive road, but the best way to experience this Utah National Park is by hiking.
What to do in 1 day in Bryce Canyon National Park
Hiking the Figure 8
If you only have 1 day in Bryce Canyon, start your day at Sunrise Point to take in the colors of the sun as it dances along the valley floor changing the colors of the hoodoos from light orange to pink, purple and bright yellow.
Hiking Recommendation for this day: The Figure 8 hike. This is a moderately strenuous hike, but will give the most well-rounded view of the valley floor. This hike will take you anywhere between 3-6 hours depending on your skill level and can be shortened halfway through.
For more info on this hike and other hikes, see our Bryce Canyon hiking guide here. (coming soon)
If you aren’t looking to hike a lot this day, we suggest driving from Sunrise Point to Yovimpa Point and working your way back stopping at all the viewpoints. Be sure to walk to the end of Inspiration Point for a panoramic view of the canyon floor.
Top of Wall Street
Once back at Sunset Point, be sure to walk to the top of Wall Street, which is the start of the Navajo Loop. This hike is an abridged version of The Figure 8 hike but is also moderately strenuous as you must descend into the valley and ascend to come back up. More info on this hike here.
If you have more time in Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon National Park can be a 1 day stop on your road trip to Utah’s National Parks. The majority of this park is hiking and it involves serious elevation gains and losses.
After the 4 days here, our calf muscles were sore, but the views were spectacular. Ready to visit? Read our guide about all the hikes in Bryce Canyon National Park.
Bryce Canyon National Park to Zion National Park is about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Zion National Park is a favorite of many people and we suggest 2 full days here on your road trip through the Utah National Parks. Consistently in the top 10 for most popular parks, Zion National Park is one of most visited national parks every year.
It’s important to know that you can’t “wing it” with Zion National Park like you can with the other national parks in Utah.
The park implemented a shuttle system to cut down on the traffic in the park and no private vehicles are allowed on the Scenic Drive.
Shuttle tickets are released in two windows: the first block of tickets according to this example – tickets for November 1-15 are released on October 16, tickets for November 16-29 are released October 31 – and the second block of tickets the day before at 9 AM MST.
Walk-up shuttle tickets are available beginning after 2PM.
To learn more and buy your ticket, click here. Advanced shuttle tickets are $1 per person or free for walk-up tickets.
What to do in Zion National Park
If you haven’t guessed by now, the top thing to do in Zion National Park is hiking. This park is significantly smaller than the other parks so if you aren’t planning on hiking, you won’t be needing a full day.
What to do in 1 day in Zion National Park
If you only have 1 day in Zion National Park, we suggest starting as early as possible (hopefully with a 7AM shuttle ticket).
Summit View from Angel’s Landing
The top 2 hikes in Zion National Park are Angel’s Landing and The Narrows. Both of these hikes are strenuous and dangerous and shouldn’t be taken lightly. On the shuttle, it will take you 15 minutes to get to the stop for Angel’s Landing and about 30 minutes to get to the stop for The Narrows.
Read more on Angel’s Landing and The Narrows in our complete guide to Zion National Park. (coming soon)
We did both of these hikes in winter in Zion National Park and we highly suggest NOT doing them in one day. If you are going to do both, take at least 2 liters of water per person as well as plenty of snacks and lunch.
Reminder: once you return to the visitor center on the shuttle, you’ll need another shuttle ticket to get on another shuttle and back into the canyon. If you’re back at the Visitor Center and need a short hike to round out your day, check out the Watchman Trail, which is a really great and underrated hike with spectacular views.
If you have more time in Zion
Having done all of the Utah National Parks, Zion National Park is the one we are most eager to return to. There are so many beautiful hikes here to keep you busy for a few days. The dramatic canyon views never get old and will leave you saying “Wow” over and over again!
Now that you’ve explored the Mighty 5 National Parks in Utah, we bet you are anxious to see more. No matter the time of year you are visiting, there are so many things to see from ice castles to hot springs.
If you are ready to see Utah beyond the National Parks, here are 21 places to visit in Utah that aren’t National Parks that should be added to your next Utah road trip.
Well, there you have it! A Utah road trip experience for the ages. Your pictures will be stunning yet still won’t do these indescribable places the justice they deserve. You’ll see some incredible scenery, go on some thrilling hikes, and create memories that will truly last a lifetime.
This road trip itinerary through the national parks in Utah isn’t for the faint of heart as the driving distance between the parks alone is almost 400 miles and 7 hours (doesn’t include your beginning airport/location). But we highly recommend mustering up the strength to complete this once-in-a-lifetime bucket list experience.
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