Welcome to the Ultimate Utah National Parks Itinerary, the most rugged state in USA! From red-rock mesas to skinny slot canyons, powder-bound slopes and slick rock trails, Utah’s diverse terrain will stun you. Utah is best known for the “Big Five”: five spectacular national parks including Arches, Canyonland and the famous Zion National Park. Throw in the legendary Monument Valley, the iconic Antelope Canyon and the adventure capital of America, Moab — a road trip to Utah promises plenty of adventure and outdoor adrenaline.
As a national parks expert, I’ve compiled a perfect Utah road trip itinerary that packs in all of my favorite national parks. Join me as I show you the best hangouts in Salt Lake City, awesome hiking trails in Moab, awesome viewpoints in monument Valley, and scenic drives in Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef.
Utah Road Trip Guide
2-Week Utah Road Trip Itinerary
This Utah road trip will bring you through some of the best national parks in USA. It includes a wide variety of places including well-known canyons, less-visited deserts, and Navajo tribal parks. Click on the links below to skip to various parts of the itinerary.
Utah Road Trip Map
How to Get to Utah
This Utah road trip itinerary starts and ends in Salt Lake City, the biggest city in Utah. Most major airlines fly to Salt Lake City Airport (SLC), including American Airlines and United. You can find cheap flights from New York to Salt Lake City for just $110 each way, and from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City for only $59 each way.
For those flying to Utah from Europe, you can get pretty good deals from London to Salt Lake City for around $650 return with a stopover in San Francisco.
How to Get Around Utah
Utah is a road tripper’s dream. In order to drive on some of the dirt roads on this itinerary, it’s best to get a high clearance vehicle, preferably a 4WD.
A 2-week car rental in Utah costs around US$420 which equates to $30/day (with pick-up and drop-off at the Salt Lake City Airport).
Best Time to Go on an Utah Road Trip
The best time to travel Utah is during the spring (March-May) or fall (September-November). Late spring offers moderate temperatures in Utah with gorgeous weather for traveling in the rest of the state. It’s also a great time as you avoid the summer crowds.
Utah has pretty warm temperatures in summer. The average summer temperature in Salt Lake City is around 68 to 89°F (20 to 32°C). Winters can be snowy and cold. The average winter temperature is around 26 to 39°F (-3 to 4°C).
Utah Road Trip Itinerary
Utah Itinerary Days 1-2: Explore Salt Lake City
This Utah road trip will start in Salt Lake City. Take the first two days to relax and explore the city at a leisurely pace before heading out into the backcountry. Many people often underestimate the amount of things to do in Salt Lake City. It’s got plenty of history, great restaurants, entertainment & the arts, and scenic drives.
Wander around Temple Square
One of the most iconic landmark in Salt Lake City is to visit beautiful Temple Square, home to one of the oldest temples in church history. There are free tours of temple square daily, or, if you aren’t interested in an organized tour it’s an absolutely beautiful place to walk around and enjoy the grounds year round.
Visit the Capitol Hill
Take a tour of the Utah State Capitol Building, the beautiful house of government for the state of Utah. Built between 1912 and 1916, this Corinthian style building sits atop one of my favorite neighborhoods in Salt Lake City, Capitol Hill. You can walk the capitol grounds or better yet schedule a free tour, Monday thru Friday.
Nearby is the Pioneer Memorial Museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of artifacts on one subject. Admission is free of charge and the museum is opened Monday through Saturday.
Where to Stay in Salt Lake City
Comfort Inn Downtown Salt Lake City
This Comfort Inn has a great downtown location, comfortable rooms and indoor hot tub. Affordable prices and updated amenities. Check rates here.
The Little America Hotel Salt Lake City
A short five-minute drive to Temple Square, this mid range hotel has an indoor and outdoor swimming pool, and onsite shops, spa and restaurant. Check rates here.
Kimpton Hotel Monaco Salt Lake City
A great accommodation choice in Salt Lake City is this chic, five-star hotel (pictured) just a ten-minute walk from Temple Square. Check rates here.
Utah Itinerary Day 3: Drive to Moab
This is the longest driving day you will have. The drive to Moab covers around 285-mile (450km) and takes around 5 hours.
If you leave Salt Lake City early in the morning, you should get to Moab around lunch time. Check into your hotel — I recommend staying here for the next couple of days and do day trips to the nearby national parks. The town of Moab is a small desert city, but it’s a gateway to spectacular red rock formations.
Visit Dead Horse State Park
If your main focus is to see the incredible nature in Utah, head to Dead Horse State Park. The view from Dead Horse Point is one of the most photographed scenic vistas in the world. Towering 2,000 feet above the Colorado River, the overlook provides a breathtaking panorama of Canyonlands’ sculpted pinnacles and buttes.
The park is a 45-minute drive from Moab. It costs $20 per vehicle to enter. From the park’s Visitor Center, you can drive or hike to Dead Horse Point Overlook.
Try an Adventure Activity
Moab is the self-titled adventure capital of the world. Some of the most famous and thrilling mountain bike trails in the country are around Moab, including the truly epic Slick Rock Trail. If you prefer four wheels to two, there are also plenty of mind-blowing trails for off-roading. Book this 4×4 adventure at Hell’s Revenge!
If you seek a more vertical thrill, try your hand at rock climbing or rappelling/ canyoneering. Expert climbers and canyoners travel from all over America to conquer the hills and canyons around Moab – but there are also rock climbing experiences for beginners too!
Where to Stay in Moab
The Hotel Moab Downtown
With a great location in the heart of Moab, this budget hotel offers good value for money with spacious rooms, an outdoor seasonal pool and cable TV. Check rates here.
Moab Springs Ranch
For a few more $ per night, stay at this ranch with charming rustic cabins, a lovely garden with barbecue facilities and its own restaurant. Check rates here.
Hoodoo Moab, Curio Collection By Hilton
With an outdoor swimming pool, bar, restaurant and king-sized beds, this luxury hotel (pictured) not only has the best amenities in town, but it’s also got a location that’s hard to beat. Check rates here.
Utah Itinerary Day 4: Day Trip to Arches National Park
Next day, do a day trip to the first of Utah’s Big Five national parks. Arches National Park is home to over 2,000 natural arches and hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive rock fins, and giant balanced rocks. This red-rock wonderland will amaze you with its formations, refresh you with its trails, and inspire you with its sunsets.
The entrance to Arches National Park is just 5 miles (8km) from downtown Moab. There is only one road in and out of the park, so get an early start and beat the crowds.
Stop at Park Avenue
The first stop along Arches Scenic Drive is a small canyon called Park Avenue. From the first parking lot, there is a scenic overlook. If you are up for a short hike, you can hike down into the canyon and walk along a trail with the towering walls on both sides. You will soon realize why the area was named after the skyscrapers of New York’s Park Avenue.
Hike the Windows Section
In the Windows Section of the national park, there are two easy hikes with huge payoffs. In one direction, a short 1.2-mile loop trail takes you to North and South Windows, and the nearby Turret Arch. Climb up to the bottom of North Window for views through the arch.
In the other direction, a 0.5-mile roundtrip trail takes you to the spectacular Double Arch. Not one, but two, huge arches interlock in an amazing natural display. Be sure to look up and through the arches.
Do the Fiery Furnace Hike
The Fiery Furnace area of Arches National Park can only be visited with a special backcountry permit or on an organized ranger-led tour, which is not scheduled for 2021. You will need to squeeze through narrow cracks, leap over deep crevices and shimmy your way over large rocks. Along the way, you will see Skull Arch and narrow passageways and fins that few visitors to the park get to see.
Explore the Devil’s Garden
This section of the park is at the far end of the road. If you visit all of the other areas in the park, you will probably only have time for the first section of this trail, the easy paved path to Landscape Arch. This is the largest single span arch in North America!
The full Devil’s Garden Trail takes about six hours. If you are up for a longer and truly amazing hike, head straight here and skip some of the other parts of the park. You will see eight arches, including the breathtaking Double O Arch.
Catch Sunset at the Delicate Arch
The most famous arch in the national park adorns the state’s license plate. The beautiful 52-foot-tall free-standing arch is reached at the end of a three-mile round trip hike. Time your trip for sunset, when the arch glows golden in the last rays of sunshine. Bring a headlamp or flashlight for each hiker to return in the dark. (Cellphone light is not enough.)
Utah Itinerary Day 5: Day Trip to Canyonlands National Park
Day 5 brings you on another day trip to second national park on your Utah road trip. Canyonlands National Park has three distinct sections, which are not interconnected. Two of them are close to Moab, so you can choose which section you’d like to visit.
Visit the Island in the Sky
The Island in the Sky region of Canyonlands National Park is the easiest to visit. It’s just a 40-minute drive north of Moab. The main feature is the Island in the Sky mesa. You can see the main highlights along the paved drive around the top of the mesa. There are plenty of places to pull over and enjoy scenic views of the surrounding canyons.
Hike the Needles
This part of Canyonlands National Park is named after the thin natural rock spires that look like needles. There are several canyons in this section that you can either hike or drive through.
A ten-mile hike takes you to Confluence Overlook, where there are views of the Colorado River and Green River as they join together. As an alternative, an eleven-mile hike takes you to the Chesler Park Viewpoint, with amazing views of the needles.
If you have a 4WD drive vehicle, this is a great place for off-road adventures. Elephant Hill and Horse Canyon are more advanced trails that require some off-roading experience. For an easier road, try the Colorado Overlook Road. You can hike the last 1.5 miles to the overlook.
Utah Itinerary Day 6: Drive to Monument Valley
Check out of your hotel in Moab and prepare for the highlight of this Utah road trip. The 162-mile drive to Monument Valley takes about 3 hours, but you will break your trip with a scenic drive through the Valley of the Gods.
Drive the Valley of the Gods Road
This 17-mile scenic drive near Mexican Hat is much less visited than Monument Valley, but totally worth it. The dirt road loops through a wide valley with sandstone spires, buttes and mesas. Allow at least a couple of hours to drive the Valley of the Gods road, as you will stop frequently for photos.
Monument Valley Instagram Moment
If there is one photo you need to take of Monument Valley, it is the classic shot of a long straight road stretching to famous shapes of Monument Valley in the background. Approaching from the north as you do on this road trip, you will see this view very clearly.
There will probably be several other vehicles pulled up on the side of the road as people take photos. The best photos are near the top of the hill, as you get more of the road in your shot that way. If you want to pose in the middle of the road, watch out for oncoming traffic!
See a Panoramic View of the Monument Valley
Monument Valley straddles the border between Utah and Arizona. The valley is part of the Navajo nation and is officially called Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. The entrance fee is $20 per vehicle or $10 per person (children under 10 are free).
Stop and enjoy the panoramic view of Monument Valley at The View, a complex with a hotel, restaurants, visitor center, cabins and campground. This is a good spot to freshen up and have lunch.
Hike the Monument Valley Wildcat Trail
Where to Stay in Monument Valley
The best budget option is the Wetherill Inn in Kayenta, just a 40-minute drive from Monument Valley. It has an indoor heated swimming pool and includes continental breakfast. Check rates here.
Goulding’s is a comfortable 3-star lodge just outside the Tribal Park, with views of Monument Valley in the distance. It’s a short drive to Monument Valley. Check rates here.
The best place to stay in Monument Valley is The View (pictured), since it is perched on the edge of the valley with breathtaking views from some of the rooms. I’ve stayed here several times and loved it! Check rates here.
Utah Itinerary Day 7: Head to Page
This day of the road trip dips into northern Arizona – but is a worthwhile addition to your Utah trip. Stay two nights in Page and do a daytrip from there the next day. If you have some extra time, I recommend extending your trip with this Arizona itinerary.
Do the Monument Valley Scenic Drive
The main part of Monument Valley can be visited on self-guided scenic drive. The 17-mile dirt road loops around the most famous buttes, including Merrick Butte, the Three Sisters, Elephant Butte, Totem Pole, and Artist’s Point.
A popular highlight is John Wayne’s Point. Here, you can pose on a horse while gazing out from a cliff top, with Monument Valley spread out behind you. The cliff is not tall and the horse doesn’t move, but no one will know that when they see your photos!
Visit the Navajo National Monument
After lunch, hop back in your car and hit the road again. An hour’s drive from Monument Valley is Navajo National Monument. The easy paved 1.3-mile Sandal Trail takes you to an overlook where you can see the Betatakin Cliff Dwelling.
The Ancestral Puebloan people build their villages in alcoves in the side of cliffs hundreds of years ago. It is amazing to see them, and Betatakin is very well-preserved. You can see the cliff dwelling clearly across the canyon. From there, it is a 1.5-hour drive to Page.
Where to Stay in Page
Knights Inn Page
With a great location, seasonal outdoor pool and free WiFi, the Knights Inn Page is a solid budget choice. Check rates here.
Desert Canyon Inn
This is my go-to place to stay in Page. This inn has clean rooms, with WiFi, private bathrooms and flatscreen TVs. Its location in downtown Page means you can walk to restaurants. Check rates here.
The Lake Powell Resort
This upscale resort has its own marina and you can dine in their restaurant with a lake view or on a dinner cruise. There is a seasonal outdoor pool, fitness center and they even have powerboats you can rent. Check rates here.
Utah Itinerary Day 8: Day Trip to Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend
In the morning, drive out to Antelope Canyon from Page. This is quite possibly the most stunning slot canyon in the world. A narrow winding canyon has been carved out of the layered sandstone by flash flooding over hundreds of years.
The canyon is a photographer’s dream. The colors are mind-blowing oranges, reds, blues and purples. The walls of the canyon swirl and swoop and form fantastical shapes.
See the Horseshoe Bend at Sunset
From there, it’s a short hop to the picturesque Horseshoe Bend in the Colorado River, an icon of the region. Get here early if you want a good spot for sunset photography. It’s only about a 10-minute walk from the parking lot to the overlook itself. There are no railings, so be careful on the edges.
Utah Itinerary Day 9: Drive to Zion National Park
From Page, it is a 2-hour and 15-minute drive to Springdale, the gateway town to Zion National Park. This route enters Zion National Park at the East Entrance. The first section is along Checkboard Mesa, where natural rock formations create amazing straight checkerboard lines.
Do the Mount Carmel Scenic Drive
The 26-mile road is a stunning way to enter the park. You’ll pass through the historic 1920’s Mt. Carmel Tunnel, which is an engineering marvel at over 5,000 feet (1524m) above sea level.
Soon after the tunnel, jaw-dropping views of the canyon spread out below you. Take your time – there is a pullover where you can safely stop for photos. There is also a short one-mile Canyon Overlook Trail hike that provides wonderful views.
Hike the Narrows
The Narrows is a unique hike that involves wading through a narrow slot canyon in a river. It’s not uncommon to hike beside a river, but much rarer to hike the length of a river in the actual water. The sheer canyon walls rise right up next to the river on both sides.
First take the shuttle to the end of Zion Canyon and walk along Riverside Walk to the start of the Narrows slot canyon. You then enter the water and spend the day crossing back and forth as you head upstream, constantly seeking the best route. The canyon gets narrower and narrower as you go.
In the narrowest section, called Wall Street, the canyon walls are hundreds of feet tall and just a few yards wide across. This is where most people turn back and return to the start of the trail. Wear waterproof clothing and take a hiking stick to steady yourself in the flowing water.
Utah Itinerary Day 10: Hike in Zion
For your second day in Zion, there are a couple of different hikes you can choose from. If you’re up for a challenging hike with steep drop offs, then opt for Angel’s Landing. If that seems too intimidating, then hike to Observation Point.
Hike Angel’s Landing
Angels’ Landing is the most famous hike in the park. If you have a fear of heights, this may not be for you. The last section of the 4.8-mile roundtrip hike goes along a narrow ridge with steep drop offs. You need to hold on to a chain as you inch along this narrow section. The reward? Absolutely stunning views of Zion Canyon.
A much easier trail but with even better views is the easy hike to Observation Point. You need to drive out of the East Gate to the East Mesa trailhead. From there, it is a flat easy 6.4-mile roundtrip hike to the rim of Zion Canyon.
This has arguably the best view in the entire park. A 230-degree view along the entire length of Zion Canyon more than 2,100 feet below. You will actually look down on to Angel’s Landing 700 feet below you.
Utah Itinerary Day 11: Explore Bryce Canyon National Park
Today you’ll leave Zion and drive 86 miles (about 2 hours) to Bryce Canyon. This leaves you most of the day to enjoy Bryce Canyon National Park. Definitely one of the best national parks in USA, Bryce Canyon is famous for the orange hoodoos (sandstone spires) that form a unique, alien-like landscape you can’t find anywhere else in the world.
Do the Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive
Start your visit to Bryce Canyon National Park with the 38-mile (61km) roundtrip scenic drive along the length of the canyon. There are 13 viewpoints along the way, so allow about 3 hours for the whole drive.
Hike the Rim Trail
Now it’s time to get out and hit the trails. The most spectacular section of the park is the Bryce Amphitheater. You can walk along the rim, taking in several stunning views along the way.
The entire trail is 5.5 miles (8.8 km), but you can just hike part of it, so that you have time to also head down among the hoodoos. Highlights are Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point and Bryce Point.
Walk the Queen’s Garden Loop Trail
Don’t miss the chance to hike down into the canyon, with the amazing hoodoos all around you and towering above you. The best hike is the loop down to Queen’s Garden returning via the Navajo Trail.
The hike to Queen’s Garden takes you past several famous hoodoos including Thor’s Hammer. At the bottom, you can see a hoodoo that looks like a statue of Queen Victoria (hence the name). The return trail goes up a series of steep switchbacks in a narrow section called Wall Street.
Utah Itinerary Day 12: Visit Capitol Reef National Park
The day starts back on the road as you drive from Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef. The drive to the Fruita area of the park takes about 2.5 hours. On arrival, check in at the park’s Visitor Center to check the state of the roads, river level, and flash flood warnings.
The Fruita valley is the heart of Capitol Reef National Park. There are plenty of easy hikes to do, a short scenic drive and several historic buildings. Be sure to visit the historic Gifford Homestead and Fruita Schoolhouse.
Fruita Scenic Drive
This 8-mile drive on a paved road takes you past the main Capitol Reef escarpment. The name of the national park comes from the rock formations along this escarpment that look like a series of domed capitol buildings forming a long ‘reef’.
There are two unpaved side roads you should take as part of this scenic drive. Grand Wash is a narrow canyon with steep walls. Park at the end and hike into the narrowest part of the canyon. Capitol Gorge is another short side road that takes you to some of the domed rock formations that inspired the park’s name.
Utah Itinerary Day 13: Drive the Cathedral Valley Loop
Within Capitol Reef National Park, Cathedral Valley is a large valley just north of Fruita with incredible red rock formations with white tops. The best way to see this stunning part of Capitol Reef National Park is to drive the 58-mile scenic loop. You will need a high clearance vehicle, and a 4WD is strongly recommended, as the dirt road can be rough in parts.
It takes about 5 hours to drive the loop, but with stops and short side trips, it will take a full day. The drive starts from Highway 24 at Hartnet Road (mile marker 91), about 12 miles east of the Visitor Center. If you drive in a clockwise direction, you ford the Fremont River at the start of the drive.
Visit the Temples of the Sun and Moon
There are many scenic viewpoints and places of interest along the way. Lower and Upper South Desert Overlooks are both reached by very short 0.25-mile walks and give great views for opposite sides of the valley. Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook has perhaps the best panoramic views over the valley and its amazing red sandstone cliffs and church-like monoliths.
The Temples of the Sun and Moon, are enormous sandstone monoliths rising straight up out of the valley floor. They are reached down a short side road. Other highlights include Gypsum Sinkhole and the historic Morrell Cabin.
Utah Itinerary Day 14: Salt Lake City
The last leg of your road trip is a 3.5-hour drive north back to Salt Lake City. I suggest driving back early to avoid the traffic and to catch your flight home. There are quite a few airport hotels at Salt Lake City in case you need one for an early morning flight.
Hilton Garden Inn – Salt Lake City Airport is the best hotel by the airport — rooms are on the top end and amenities are impressive. Holiday Inn Express Airport East is the nearest hotel to the airport. For budget traveler, Motel 6 Salt City UT West Airport is the cheapest option near the airport.
About the Author: James Ian
James Ian has been to 82 countries and more than 30 states in the US. He is a national parks expert and helps people have incredible vacations to US parks through his website Parks Collecting.