One of the most quintessential things to do in Utah is planning an Utah National Parks Road Trip.
This route will have you visiting all the five national parks in The Beehive State, all of which offer some of the best the state has to offer in terms of nature and striking desert scenery.
Starting in Salt Lake City, this Utah road trip will have you exploring the sweeping canyons of Canyonlands, seeing the change of landscapes at Zion, gawking at the red rock hoodoos of Bryce, and strolling over the otherworldly-looking landscapes of Arches and Capitol Reef.
Utah National Parks Road Trip Itinerary
Day 1: Drive to Zion National Park
Day 1 will mostly be about driving to Zion National Park, which is about four and a half hours from Salt Lake City.
Depending on when you started driving, you may arrive at Zion National Park in time to get the adventure started right away.
Something that makes Zion very special is the fact that it was once inhabited by the Pauite people, an indigenous community whose roots can still be felt in the region.
To start exploring, your first stop should be the Zion Human History Museum, where you’ll get to learn all about the history of Zion as well as the culture of the people who once called it their home.
If you arrive early enough, you may also have enough time to try a few short hikes to get an introduction to the park. A few short and easy hikes include Canyon Overlook Trail, Riverside Walk, The Emerald Pool Trail, and the Watchman Trail.
Day 2: Zion National Park
Today will be all about exploring Zion further afield. This glorious national park hosts a variety of landscapes, ranging from red rock cliffs, strange rock formations, verdant meadows, and hanging gardens, making the contrast of scenery a treat to explore.
Angel’s Landing is the ultimate hike in order to see as much of the park as possible in one go.
This hike takes about 4 hours to complete and is considered somewhat strenuous, but the landscapes you’ll get to see along the way make every step worth it. At the end of the hike, you’ll get to stand 1500 feet above the canyon’s floor!
As a note, you will need a permit in order to hike Angel’s Landing, so make sure you plan in advance. Moreover, this hike is not recommended if you have fear of heights or suffer from vertigo.
As an alternative, there are other shorter hikes at Zion or you can choose to scenic drive around the park instead.
After hiking, hop back in the car and drive to the next destination: Bryce Canyon National Park.
Day 3: Bryce Canyon
Home to the biggest collection of hoodoos in the world, Bryce Canyon National Park provides a landscape that looks straight out of this world.
Hiking the Queen’s Garden to Navajo Loop is the ultimate way to experience the beauty of Bryce Canyon. Throughout the hike, you’ll get to wiggle your way through rock tunnels, walk amid limestone walls, stroll through pine forests, and get to see the largest amphitheater of hoodoos in the park.
After hiking Queen’s Garden, take some time to rest before heading back to the car to drive Highway 12. This extremely scenic road cuts through the park and is dotted by viewpoints that will get you to see some of the most iconic views of Zion
A little bit before sunset, hike towards Sunset Point, a spot where you can see the sun go down over red rock hoodoos.
Day 4: Capitol Reef
Get an early wake-up start and drive two hours to Capitol Reef. This glorious national park is the most underrated of all the national parks in Utah, but what it lacks in popularity, it makes up for with glorious landscapes.
What makes Capitol Reef extremely special is the fact that it is located over the Waterpocket Fold, a massive “wrinkle” on the surface of the earth that was created millions of years ago and resulted in the dramatic landscape we see at Capitol Reef today.
While exploring the park, you’ll be treated to views of rugged canyons, towering red rock cliffs, whacky-looking rock formations, and so much more.
Hiking the Hickman Bridge trail is a wonderful way to get an introduction to the landscape Capitol Reef has to offer as it provides access to some of the most iconic landmarks in the park.
After the hike, drive the 8-mile scenic road, where you can stop at the many viewpoints scattered along the way. This drive is pretty short, but you should plan a few hours to complete it as you’ll be making plenty of stops.
Next up is another drive over Highway 24. Here, you’ll get to see petroglyphs that depict the life of indigenous people that once lived in Capitol Reef, a perfect way to wrap up your visit.
From here, it’s time to drive over to Moab, a gateway to Arches National Park.
Day 5: Arches National Park
Arches National Park is home to over 2000 natural arches and rock formations that make the landscape look straight out of Mars.
Thanks to the fact that the park is relatively small, you’ll be able to cover a ton of ground in just a day. To start the day, wake up early and hike to Delicate Arch, one of the most iconic landmarks in Utah and a popular spot to see the sunrise.
After the hike, hop on your car and drive the Arches Scenic Drive, a short road that provides access to some of the best lookout points in the park.
Next, you’ll have some time to hike a trail or two. We recommend doing the Landscape Arch Hike, which takes an hour and will have you looking at the longest arch in the United States.
Day 6: Canyonlands National Park
Even though Canyonlands is located just a stone’s throw away from Arches, its landscapes are somewhat different because Canyonlands is more about expansive canyons and gigantic sandstone spires.
Canyonlands would be impossible to explore in one go because the park is humongous, so we will dedicate today to exploring the main district of the park: Island in the Sky.
Start your adventure in Island in the Sky by hiking to Mesa Arch for sunrise. The early wake-up call will be worth it when you see the sun’s ray passing right through the arch!
From there, you can hike the 16-mile scenic highway to Upheaval Dome. Drive straight to the end of the road and then head back slowly while making stops at the many viewpoints scattered along the way.
After the drive, you’ll have time to hit a few of the hiking trails in Canyonlands. The trails are pretty short and sweet at Island in the Sky, so you can do a few of them in just a few hours.
A few recommended ones include the Aztec Butte Trail, Murphy Point Trail, and the White Rim Overlook Trail.
We hope this itinerary made the planning stages of your Utah road trip a little bit easier! If you have a few more days, we recommend using them to explore The Needles, which is a much quieter section of Canyonlands that provides extensive views of canyons that you’re very likely to get all to yourself.
Pin Utah National Parks Road Trip