The Ultimate Utah National Parks Itinerary

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.

welcome to utah

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).

driving in utah road trip

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).

when to go on utah road trip - bryce canyon

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.

temple square salt lake city - utah itinerary 2 weeks

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.

salt lake city capitol hill - utah road trip

 

Where to Stay in Salt Lake City

Budget

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.

Mid Range

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.

Luxury

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.

salt lake city hotel - utah road trip

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.

road trip to utah - moab

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!

best utah road trips - 4wd moab

Where to Stay in Moab

Budget

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.

Mid Range

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.

Luxury

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.

hoodoo moab - utah national parks

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.

arches national park park avenue - best utah road trips

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.)

sunset at delicate arch - utah itinerary 2 weeks

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.

canyonlands national park - utah best national parks

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.

4wd canyonlands - utah itinerary road trip

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.

valley of the gods - road trip to utah

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!

 Utah Road Trip: The Ultimate Utah National Parks Itinerary

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

The only hiking trail in Monument Valley that you can do without a Navajo guide is the Wildcat Trail.  The trail starts near The View campground.  The 3.6-mile trail loops around the West Mitten butte.  Best done in the late afternoon, when the entire valley glows with the last rays of sun.

sunset in monument valley wildcat trail - where to go in utah

 

Where to Stay in Monument Valley

Budget

Wetherill Inn

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.

Mid Range

Goulding’s Lodge

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.

Luxury

The View

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.

where to stay on utah road trip - monument valley the view

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!

monument valley scenic drive - best places to visit utah

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.

navajo national monument - arizona side trip

Where to Stay in Page

Budget

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.

Mid Range

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.

Luxury

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.

lake powell resort - utah road trip

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.

antelope canyon - utah 5 national parks itinerary

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.

Arizona Road Trip: A 2-Week Itinerary


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.

zion canyon - road trip in utah

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.

hiking the narrows - utah itinerary 2 weeks

Where to Stay in Springdale

Budget: The Holiday Inn Express Springdale

Springdale is a lovely town with great restaurants and plenty of accommodation options. This Holiday Inn has a seasonal outdoor pool, hot tub and lovely terrace with a view. Check rates here.

Mid Range: Cable Mountain Lodge

This is a top mid-range option, with an outdoor swimming pool, a hot tub with canyon views and a location right next to the park’s Visitor Center. Check rates here.

Luxury: SpringHill Suites by Marriott Zion National Park

This 5-star hotel (pictured) has a stunning restaurant/ lounge with a floor-to-ceiling glass wall looking on to Zion’s red cliffs.  There is also an outdoor pool and hot tub. Check rates here.

scottsdale resort - utah itinerary


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.

angel's landing - hiking trails in utah national parks

Observation Point 

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.

hike to observation point - utah road trip itinerary


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.

bryce canyon scenic drive - utah 2 week itinerary

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.

utah national parks loop

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.

queens garden loop trail - utah itinerary

Where to Stay at Bryce Canyon National Park

Budget: Red Ledges Inn

The cheapest option near to Bryce Canyon National Park is this refurbished motel that has a cool wild wild west exterior and renovated rooms. Check the rates here.

Mid Range: Bryce Valley Lodging

About a 15-minute drive from the park, this budget motel has air-conditioned rooms that feature comfortable beds and a small kitchenette. Check the rates here.

Luxury: The Best Western PLUS Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel

Nestled among the red rock cliffs of Bryce Canyon National Park, this hotel (pictured) offers exceptional amenities, including a free hot breakfast, a restaurant, fitness center and swimming pool. Check rates here.

utah road trip itinerary - hotel in utah


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.

fruita scenic drive - utah national parks itinerary

Where to Stay in Capitol Reef National Park

Budget: The Rim Rock Inn

The Rim Rock is a comfortable motel just ten minutes from the Visitor Center.  It has nice views and an onsite restaurant, and reasonable prices. Check rates here.

Mid Range: The Red Sands Hotel

Just 3 miles from the national park, this mid range hotel has an indoor heated swimming pool and hot tub with awesome views. Check rates here.

Luxury: Capitol Reef Resort

Located at the entrance to Capitol Reef National Park, this luxury resort has unique accommodations such as teepees and Conestoga wagons. It’s also got an outdoor pool and hot tub. Best location! Check rates here.

utah might 5 road trip - bryce canyon resort


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.

cathedral valley - capitol reef national park - utah national parks itinerary

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.

temple of sun and moon - utah road trip


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.


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