Utah’s National Parks are simply stunning. From lush green valleys and sandstone formations in every shade of orange to deep canyons and expansive panoramas stretching as far as the eye can see, Utah’s National Parks will take your breath away, transport you to another planet, and inspire your inner sense of adventure all in one fell swoop.
You could spend an endless number of days exploring Utah’s National Parks and still leave hoping for a return visit. But if you’ve got a week, you can experience Utah’s unbelievable beauty on an unforgettable road trip.
Utah National Parks Road Trip Itinerary
Day 1- Fly into Salt Lake City
If you don’t live near Utah, you’ll need to fly into the region. You could also fly into Las Vegas and do this road trip in reverse. It’s great to have both options because you can search for cheap flights with some flexibility. Even better if you’re using miles and points to book an award flight as there may be available seats in one starting point but not the other.
Whichever airport you fly into, you’ll obviously need to rent a car if you’re traveling without a guide. Both Salt Lake City and Las Vegas are major airports with plenty of car rental options. For all my road trips, I use Kayak to search rental car costs because it compares prices on many sites all at once.
Consider the time of year of your trip. Some of the parks have steep and narrow roads. If you want to do any off-roading, definitely rent a vehicle with 4-wheel drive. That being said, I went in spring and rented a basic 4-door car and had no problems.
Either way, see how you can save money on your car rental with this car rental hack.
If you’re planning to drive to Utah from where you are, be sure your car (and everyone in it) is ready and prepared with this road trip packing list.
If you’re doing a guided tour of the National Parks, flying into Salt Lake City makes the most sense. A guided Mighty 5 tour takes the hassle out of planning a DIY Utah road trip and could make sense if you’d rather not drive.
Once you’ve picked up the car, head southeast for the 3.5-hour drive from Salt Lake City to Moab, Utah. Moab will have everything you need from food to gas to lodging. Once you arrive, settle in and get ready for a fresh start in the morning!
Where to Stay:
I recommend the Holiday Inn Express in Moab. It’s on the main road through town, close to 2 National Parks, and comes with a free breakfast. Perfect when you’re planning a day of hiking and outdoor fun!
If you’ve landed in Salt Lake City in the morning and have a full day to get to Moab, consider a stop at Antelope Island State Park. You’ll get to see the Great Salt Lake and have a chance to spot wildlife like bison roaming freely.
Day 2- Arches National Park
If you arrived in Moab after dark, prepare yourself! The morning light reveals the orange and red rock formations surrounding the city. Waste no time and arrive at Arches National Park in time for opening. The park is just 5 minutes from downtown Moab.
Buy the America the Beautiful Pass to get entrance to any National Park for a whole year or find out ahead of time if you qualify for another way to save money on National Park entrance fees. After visiting just a few parks, the $80 pass will pay for itself.
At Arches National Park, you won’t want to miss the views from the park’s scenic drive, hiking up to Delicate Arch, or walking down into Park Avenue.
Remember to pack water and lunch/snacks for the day. Moab has plenty of places to stock up. Arches heats up even in the spring and fall. The rocky desert landscape has no cover from the sun and only a couple of spots to drink from a water fountain.
When the day is done, spend 1 more night in Moab. Try some delicious Mexican food at El Charro Loco Mexican Grill and prepare for another day outdoors tomorrow.
For a detailed Arches National Park guide, check out:
Day 3- Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park is divided into 4 districts. The Island in the Sky section of the park is by far the most visited area. After checking out of your hotel this morning, make the 20-minute ride from Moab. Again, remember to have the food and water you need for the day before leaving Moab.
Just before reaching Canyonlands entrance and visitor’s center, take a detour into Dead Horse Point State Park. The lookout at Dead Horse Point Overlook is a must-see!
After this brief stop, return to the main road and on to the entrance of Canyonlands National Park. Drive the entire scenic road through the park, hopping out to hike or take photos from the numerous scenic overlooks. Be inspired by the vast panorama of the canyon stretching outwards from Mesa Arch. Walk the easy hike along the ridge at the Grand View Point Overlook.
For more information about Canyonlands and my favorite overlook spot, check out:
By late afternoon, say goodbye to Canyonlands and begin the 2.5-hour drive to Monument Valley. If you have a clear night, look to the sky for some terrific Monument Valley stargazing.
Where to Stay:
When you arrive in Monument Valley, you’ll have only a couple of hotel options. I highly recommend The View Hotel in the Navajo Nation or the Goulding’s Lodge just 2 minutes away. With just 1 night’s stay, either one will serve you well.
Gas up as you drive back through Moab on your way out of town. Gas stations and rest stops are far and few between as you head south on US-191.
Day 4- Monument Valley
Tumbleweed blows across the open valley. Iconic sandstone monuments dot the landscape. You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into a scene from an old Western with a bunch of cowboys chasing down a group of thieves!
The most popular Mesas, Buttes, and Spires are along a 17-mile loop within the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. You can join a guided tour or drive yourself. I drove my small rental car with no problem. Yes, the road is rough and bumpy, but if you drive slowly and carefully, you’ll be fine. Choosing the self-driving option also allowed more time to enjoy the views and go at my own pace.
For a detailed Monument Valley Guide, check out:
When your Monument Valley visit is finished, begin the 4.5-hour drive to Bryce Canyon National Park. Along the way, look out for Page, Arizona, home to the famous Horseshoe Bend. A short hike leads to the popular scenic overlook. Depending on what time it gets dark, you may even make it to Bryce Canyon to see the hoodoos lit up at sunset. 🙂
Where to Stay:
Bryce is a tiny town right at the edge of the National Park entrance. I highly recommend the Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn. Book a room for 1-2 nights.
You may save money by staying in less expensive Bryce for 2 nights. Bryce National Park and Zion National Park are less the 2 hours from each other. You could easily stay the 2nd night at your less expensive Bryce hotel and wake up early on Day 6 to make the drive to Zion National Park.
Day 5- Bryce National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is like descending into a fairytale land where sandstone hoodoos stare up at you from a natural amphitheater and show off their brilliant shades of orange, pink, and red. This National Park is like no other. Drive the scenic road through the park stopping at must-see overlooks like Sunrise and Sunset Points. Hike along the Rim Trail. Go down into the Canyon following the Queens Garden trail or complete the Navajo Loop.
No visit to Bryce Canyon is complete without seeing the sunrise over the hoodoos. The orange and pink hoodoos turn absolutely fiery as the sun first hits them.
To convince yourself why you should absolutely wake up to see the sunrise, check out:
The small town of Bryce is just outside the National Park. Scramble out of bed to see the sunrise. Then, if you want, head back to town for breakfast before a day of hiking and exploring.
Day 6- Zion National Park
Zion National Park grabs you by the senses and overwhelms you with its magnificence. You’ll understand how special Zion truly is from the moment you drive along the Mount Carmel Scenic Highway with its towering mountains on all sides. Zion offers an endless number of activities for every type of adventurer. Hike, horseback ride, mountain climb, and spot wildlife to your heart’s content.
Springdale, Utah is the park’s gateway town. You’ll find everything you need from lodging and food to tour and gear shops. Whether you checked into your Springdale hotel last night or this morning, plan to ride the free Springdale Shuttle to the National Park’s entrance. Be sure to have your America the Beautiful Pass!
From there, you’ll catch the Zion National Park Shuttle to different points within the park. Unlike the other National Parks, there is no scenic road through the park itself. Shuttles run continuously to pick up and drop off park visitors.
For a complete Zion National Park guide, check out:
Where to Stay:
I highly recommend the Holiday Inn Express in Springdale. Not only was it the nicest Holiday Inn Express I’ve stayed in, it had a pool and the free town shuttle bus to Zion stopped just outside.
Day 7- Zion National Park (You won’t want to leave!)
Zion National Park has a couple of famous hikes like Angels Landing and the Narrows. Angels Landing is a strenuous and steep hike to reach the lookout over Zion Canyon. The Narrows treks through the Virgin River and is open only when the water levels and current are safe. Unfortunately, it was closed when I went.
If you’re physically fit and not afraid of heights, I highly recommend giving Angels a try! It’s a tough climb and descent and you absolutely have to be careful. But, the view and the accomplishment are worthwhile rewards.
For a complete Angels Landing Guide, check out:
Day 8- Fly home from Las Vegas
Check out of your hotel in Springdale. Tearfully, say goodbye to Zion and make the 2.5-hour drive to Las Vegas. Plan to return your rental car at the airport. Then, head for home with unforgettable memories from your fantastic Utah National Parks road trip!
If you’re short on time or would rather base yourself in Las Vegas, guided Bryce and Zion tours make it easy to experience some of what these national beauties offer.
Have more time?
- Plenty of visitors add a few days to their trip to see Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon. You could fit this in after Monument Valley or Zion National Park.
- Antelope Canyon is a natural wonder between Monument Valley and Bryce and Zion National Parks. Why not plan extra time in the area to take a guided tour?
- You’re so close! Why not do an Arizona road trip and head south towards Tempe and Tuscon?!
- Spend 1-2 days in Las Vegas. After a week of outdoor fun in Utah’s National Parks, a posh Las Vegas hotel, fine food, and some nightlife might be the perfect way to end your vacation.
- If you’re returning to Salt Lake City and have a little time, have fun doing an urban adventure scavenger hunt or taking a city tour.
So, what are you planning to see and do on your Utah National Parks road trip itinerary?
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