Skip to Content

How to Plan an Unbelievable Utah National Parks Road Trip: The Ultimate Itinerary

A lone car drives on a paved road during a Utah national parks road trip to Zion National Park
Unsplash/Matthias Mullie

Utah is home to some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes in the United States. From snow-capped mountains to red sandstone canyons, Utah has it all.

Undoubtedly, the best way to see this stunning state is a Utah national parks road trip.

This Utah national parks road trip itinerary will cover everything you need to know while exploring Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, and Zion National Park.

To help make your visit as easy as possible (and give you more time to explore), we’ve put together an itinerary with where to stay, things to do, favorite hikes, and more.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. For more information, view my privacy policy.

Land Acknowledgment: This post promotes travel to native lands. We honor all Indigenous caretakers of these lands and waters, the elders who lived here before, the Indigenous today, and the generations to come.

Utah National Parks Map

A map of Utah's highways and interstates with the 5 national parks in green
Source: SitesAtlas

This post will cover a road trip to the Utah national parks, or the Mighty Five. I have another post on every national park site in Utah if you’re interested.

There’s a short itinerary in there if you’d like to visit all of the national park sites in Utah. We’ll talk more about these when we cover extending your road trip (near the end of the post).

How to Get There: Nearby Airports

A sign welcoming people to Utah on the roadside
Unsplash/Clay Banks

There are two airports you could fly into near the Utah national parks: Salt Lake City or Las Vegas. This itinerary will cover options for both routes.

Flying into Salt Lake City is easiest for accessing the national parks in eastern Utah while Las Vegas is best for western Utah or the Grand Canyon. Flights into Las Vegas are generally less expensive.

Utah National Parks Road Trip Route

Option 1: Start and End in Las Vegas

A map for a Utah national parks road trip from Las Vegas

This is the longest route to the Utah national parks. However, if you wanted to expand your road trip to see more attractions in the Southwest, such as Grand Canyon National Park, it’s the best option.

Option 2: Start and end in Salt Lake City

A map for a Utah national parks road trip from Salt Lake City

This is a great option for folks with limited time, as it is the shortest route (but not by much). It’s the least scenic route on the list with more interstate travel.

Option 3: Start in Salt Lake City and End in Las Vegas

A map of a Utah national parks road trip from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City

If you’re not worried about one-way car rental or flight prices, this is likely the best option, especially if you have limited time. It’s the shortest driving route and the best bang for your buck in terms of scenery.

Because this is the best route, our itinerary below will assume this is the route you’re taking.

How to Get Around the Utah National Parks

Red rock formations with snow-capped mountains in the background
Unsplash/Sanath Kumar

Car rentals: This is the best way to travel between the Utah national parks. I use when searching for affordable car rentals. You can set your pickup and dropoff locations to the Las Vegas and/or Salt Lake City airports.

Campervan/RV rentals: Instead of paying for lodging and food during your Utah national parks road trip, why not bring your temporary home with you? Van life is popular these days, and for good reason. It’s so convenient! Cruise America is a popular option across the United States. There are additional companies in Salt Lake City, such as Sprinter Utah and Wandervans, as well as options from Las Vegas, such as Escape Campervans and Native Campervans.

Buses within the parks: Once you arrive at some of the Utah national parks, buses will be able to transport you to popular locations. Bryce Canyon and Zion have in-park shuttle systems. They’ll even take you to locations outside the park, such as popular hotels or restaurants.

Note: Some roads in the Utah national parks require 4×4, high-clearance vehicles. Keep this in mind if you plan to visit any of these locations within the parks so that you can rent the appropriate vehicle.

Best Time to Visit the Utah National Parks

A large rock formation at Capitol Reef
Unsplash/LJ Coates


I love visiting the Utah national parks in spring, from March to May. Not only are there fewer crowds, but you’ll also encounter milder temperatures.

My first visit to Utah was in May, and I loved the weather, though it was already getting warm. I’d pack sufficient layers, as it will still be cool in the evenings.


If you really want to experience your Utah national parks road trip during peak season, summer is a great option. However, keep in mind that the weather will be hot and it’s the most popular time to visit these locations.

You should expect crowds, especially at landmarks like Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park or the Narrows hike in Zion National Park.


Next to spring, fall is my next favorite time of year, between late September and early November. It’s not terribly cold yet, so you’ll still be able to hike and explore locations in the parks that are more popular during summer. Temperatures will be cooler in the fall, so I recommend packing layers.

Sunset Point, Bryce Canyon


Winter is my least favorite time of year to visit the Utah national parks, but it’s still worth experiencing. The red rocks are strikingly beautiful in the snow!

You’ll need to come prepared with warm winter clothing and snow gear. Visiting in the winter will be less crowded than during other seasons, which is the main draw of visiting this time of year.

Prepare for winter closures to be in place, such as some roads or trails. If you want to do some of the popular hikes, such as Angels Landing in Zion, visit another time, as the trail is unsafe in winter due to ice.

Remember that some roads in these parks are only open seasonally and may be closed in the winter months.

If you’re prepared for winter weather and want to avoid the crowds, this is one of the best seasons to visit. I did the Narrows hike in Zion in the winter and I don’t regret it!

What to Bring On a Utah National Parks Road Trip

Assorted items to pack for a Utah national parks road trip spread out over a map
Unsplash/Alice Donovan Rouse

Planning: There are a lot of books out there to help you plan your Utah national parks road trip. I recommend the Fodor’s Guide to Utah, this Gone Beyond Guide that includes Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde national parks, and the Lonely Planet Guide to Zion and Bryce Canyon. I’d also recommend purchasing this waterproof, tearproof map bundle of the Utah national parks.

America the Beautiful pass: Each of the Utah national parks charges an entrance fee. In order to save money, I would recommend purchasing a national parks pass. These cost $80 and are valid for a full calendar year at all public lands in the US. After you visit 3 national parks in Utah, it’ll have paid for itself.

Layers: As discussed, it can be cold at night or even during the day, depending on when you choose to visit. Down jackets are a must for chilly evenings. My favorite brands are Patagonia and North Face. I’d also recommend bringing a waterproof jacket if you’re visiting during monsoon season. My favorite waterproof brand is Helly Hansen.

Hiking tees: Good-quality hiking shirts should be moisture-wicking and quick drying. I would also bring short and long sleeve options for layering.

Hiking pants: Like your tops, I would make sure your hiking bottoms are moisture-wicking and quick-drying as well. These can be pants or shorts (I recommend packing at least two pairs of both).

Trusty footwear: One of the best ways to see the Utah national parks is hiking, so you’ll definitely want to bring some good hiking footwear. I love my Hoka trail runners and my Keen hiking boots. Both have great traction that’s great for climbing some of the slickrock on trails in Utah.

Backpack: My favorite backpacks are from Deuter, Osprey, and Gregory.

Hiking accessories: You may need sunglasses, sunscreen, bug spray, and a hat.

For Campers: Of course, you’ll need a tent, either for camping in campgrounds or backpacking in the wilderness. For comfort inside your tent, pack a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and camp pillow. You’ll also need a stove. I prefer the Pocket Rocket or Jet Boil. Then, naturally, you’ll also need fuel. Don’t forget some reusable cookware and dinnerware, too! I prefer collapsible bowls for my meals and all-in-one utensils. I’d also highly recommend a headlamp or flashlight.

Water bottle: I love the Nalgene narrow mouth bottles. For bottles that fit in my car’s cup holder and can always keep drinks hot or cold, I recommend the Hydroflask lightweight trail bottles. If you need a water bottle that also filters, try a Katahdin.

Food: Clif bars and trail mix are road trip staples and necessities. For larger meals, dry some freeze-dried meals from Mountain House or Backpackers Pantry. You may want a cooler to store everything in.

Where to Stay

Bryce Canyon in Utah from an overlook
Unsplash/Pam Lim

You have two options for where to stay on your Utah national parks road trip; hotels/inns or camping.

Hotels: hotels will offer more comfort and amenities. This is also the most expensive option. I book all my stays with

Camping: To save money, I’d recommend camping. This will also bring you closer to nature. I like using Campspot to find nearby campgrounds.

For specific recommendations near each park, keep scrolling!

Note: Many people also like to stay in vacation rentals using websites like Vrbo or Airbnb. Those will not be promoted on The Parks Expert. These types of accommodations have destroyed rental markets near national parks making it nearly impossible for our amazing and hardworking park rangers to find housing. For the benefit of National Park Service staff, please don’t support these vacation rental properties when you travel to national parks.

Tips for Planning Your Utah National Parks Road Trip

A view of the Green River in Canyonlands National Park from the canyon rim
Unsplash/Sandra Seitamaa

Plan Ahead: Make your reservations early on to get the best places to stay and the most affordable accommodations. Check to see when you can book popular campgrounds in the Utah national parks, as they are fully reserved months in advance. Popular attractions may need reservations as well, such as the Angels Landing hike. The National Park Service is currently considering a lottery system for this hike, so reservations are not yet required.

Buy a Parks Pass: As we’ve already discussed, purchasing an American the Beautiful Pass will save you significant amounts of money on a Utah national parks road trip.

Ask About Discounts: Check with your hotels or car rental companies to see if they have any promotions, deals, or discounts before you book. You never know how much money you could save!

Drive Safely: It can be easy to get distracted on a Utah national parks road trip with such beautiful scenery surrounding you around every corner. Remember to focus on the road. If you’re traveling with someone else, swap often so you can all take in the view. Don’t become another unfortunate national park death statistic.

Leave Room for Spontaneity: I’m a type-A planner who likes to have every detail laid out before traveling. While this has some advantages, it can also be exhausting. Leave some wiggle room for fun things to do that you may not have known about. This will also allow for any unexpected surprises on the way.

Meet Utah’s Mighty 5

A brief introduction to each of the five Utah national parks you’ll see on your road trip.

Arches National Park

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park on a partly cloudy day
Unsplash/Ben Stiefel

The highest density of natural arches in the world can be found at Arches National Park, located north of Moab in eastern Utah. Visitors flock to see over 2,000 rock arches (including Delicate Arch), but other rock formations are also preserved here including Balanced Rock and Landscape Arch.

An additional attraction is the Fiery Furnace, a maze-like hike that is best with a guided tour from a park ranger if you want to navigate it successfully.

Entrance Fee: $30 per vehicle, $25 per motorcycle, or $15 per person/cyclist (valid for 7 days)

Top Things to Do: Hike to Delicate Arch, tour Fiery Furnace with a Park Ranger, visit Balanced Rock, explore the Devils Garden or the Windows. You can see most of Arches in one day.

Best Hikes: Read about the best hikes in Arches National Park.

Nearby Restaurants: Moab Brewery, Jailhouse Cafe, Moab Food Truck Park, Desert Bistro, Zak’s Restaurant & Watering Hole, Sweet Cravings Bakery & Bistro

Where to Stay: Canyonlands RV Resort and Campground, Up the Creek Campground, Slickrock Campground, Moab Valley Campground & RV Resort, Archview RV Resort & Campground, Best Western Plus, Hotel Moab Downtown, Expedition Lodge, Holiday Inn

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon in Utah from an overlook
Unsplash/Tom Donders

Bryce Canyon National Park in southwestern Utah is home to hundreds of hoodoos, which are unique rock formations. Hoodoo shapes can be anything from flat-topped spires and pillars standing alone or together as tall structures with one side appearing thicker than the other.

Millions flock here every year for their beauty during sunrise/sunset hours when they’re lit up by warm shades of light. The best views at Bryce Amphitheater (which isn’t actually a canyon) come via hiking Rim Trail along sections like Sunrise Point and Sunset Point that provide panoramic vistas.

Entrance Fee: $35 per vehicle, $30 per motorcycle, or $20 per person/cyclist (valid for 7 days)

Top Things to Do: Visit scenic viewpoints, hike the amphitheater trails, visit Mossy Cave

Best Hikes: Read about the best hikes in Bryce Canyon.

Nearby Restaurants: Wanderlust Cowgirl Coffee, Devil’s Garden Grill, Cowboy’s Smokehouse Cafe, Ebenezer’s Barn & Grill, Bryce Canyon Pines, Kenny Rays, Cowboy Ranch House, Magnolia’s Street Food, Stone Hearth Grille, Kiva Koffeehouse, Circle D Eatery

Where to Stay: Bryce Pioneer Village, Bryce Country Cabins, Ruby’s Inn, Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel, Bryce View Lodge, Bryce Canyon Pines

Canyonlands National Park

A view of the Green River in Canyonlands National Park from the canyon rim
Unsplash/Dulcey Lima

Located in eastern Utah, Canyonlands National Park is split into three main sections: Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze. Each section offers a unique landscape that provides views of the Colorado River’s natural world.

The landscape at Islands in the Sky was carved by wind erosion to form large cliffs which provide stunning overlooks for visitors.

Those who visit The Needles will be blown away by its towering pinnacles jutting out from red rock formations or canyons.

Finally, The Maze is one of the most remote districts in the continental United States. It is home to some truly wild and isolated places.

Entrance Fee: $35 per vehicle, $30 per motorcycle, or $20 per person/cyclist (valid for 7 days)

Top Things to Do: Drive unpaved roads, hike along the canyon rim, visit viewpoints, backpack in the expansive wilderness

Best Hikes: Read about our favorite hikes in Canyonland National Park

Nearby Restaurants: Moab Brewery, Jailhouse Cafe, Moab Food Truck Park, Desert Bistro, Zak’s Restaurant & Watering Hole, Sweet Cravings Bakery & Bistro

Where to Stay: Canyonlands RV Resort and Campground, Up the Creek Campground, Slickrock Campground, Moab Valley Campground & RV Resort, Archview RV Resort & Campground, Best Western Plus, Hotel Moab Downtown, Expedition Lodge, Holiday Inn

Capitol Reef National Park

Hikers explore natural rock fins in Capitol Reef National Park
Unsplash/Brady Stoeltzing

While many national parks are popular tourist destinations, Capitol Reef National Park in south-central Utah is an underappreciated gem.

It’s a shame considering all the park offers: nearly 100 miles of protected Waterpocket Fold and sprawling desert landscape that includes a sandstone dome formation similar to that found on our nation’s Capitol building!

Entrance Fee: $20 per vehicle, $15 per motorcycle, or $10 per person/cyclist (valid for 7 days)

Top Things to Do: Visit the orchards, eat pie at the Gifford House, view the Waterpocket Fold

Best Hikes: Cohab Canyon, Hickman Bridge, Surprise Canyon, Chimney Rock

Nearby Restaurants: Chak Balam, Wild Rabbit Cafe, Dark Sky Coffee, Capitol Reef Inn & Cafe, Slacker’s Burger Joint

Where to Stay: The Noor Hotel, Capitol Reef Resort, Broken Spur Inn & Steakhouse, Red Sands Hotel

Zion National Park

A light blue river runs through green shrubs below red rock canyon walls
Unsplash/Yannick Menard

Zion National Park is one of the most-visited parks in the country. It’s home to amazing views, slot canyons, and some incredible hiking opportunities including Angel’s Landing (one of America’s best hikes), The Narrows, and The Subway.

Additionally, Zion Canyon & Kolob regions provide astounding scenery making it a must-see national park.

Entrance Fee: $35 per vehicle, $30 per motorcycle, or $20 per person/cyclist (valid for 7 days)

Top Things to Do: Hike Angels Landing, trek through the Narrows, take the Zion shuttle on the scenic Zion Canyon Drive

Best Hikes: Angels Landing, Observation Point, Narrows

Nearby Restaurants: Cafe Soleil, Spotted Dog Cafe, Bit & Spur, Oscar’s Cafe, Whiptail Grill, MeMe’s Cafe

Where to Stay: Campgrounds in Zion National Park, Zion Glamping Adventures, Glampers Inn RV Resort, Dark Sky RV Resort, Pioneer Lodge, Driftwood Lodge, Hampton Inn, Harvest House B&B

10-Day Utah National Parks Road Trip Itinerary

Two large rock formations in Bryce Canyon
Unsplash Photo

For this road trip, we’re assuming that you’ve started in Salt Lake City and are making your way to Las Vegas to return home. Feel free to alter the itinerary to accommodate your schedule. If you need help doing so, please email us!

Here’s an overview of the ultimate Utah road trip:

Day 1: Salt Lake City to Moab

Day 2: Canyonlands National Park

Day 3: Arches National Park

Day 4: Arches National Park, drive to Torrey

Day 5: Capitol Reef National Park

Day 6: Drive Scenic Highway 12 to Bryce Canyon

Day 7: Bryce Canyon National Park

Day 8: Zion National Park

Day 9: Zion National Park

Day 10: Drive to Las Vegas

Land Acknowledgment: By following this itinerary, you’ll be on tribal lands for the following nations: Ute, Paiute, Pueblos. We honor all Indigenous caretakers of these lands and waters, the elders who lived here before, the Indigenous today, and the generations to come.

Day 1: Drive to Moab

Natural rock arches and formations are framed by another rock arch
Unsplash/Intricate Explorer

It takes about four hours to drive from Salt Lake City to Moab, mostly on I-15 and Highway 6.

Depending on when you depart Salt Lake City, there are several things that may fit into your schedule. Consider hiking near State Route 128 or Kane Creek.

For lunch, take a break in the riverside town of Green River. Ray’s Tavern or Tamarisk both have river-side views. Or, push on and maybe you’ll have enough time for an afternoon in Canyonlands National Park or Arches National Park.

One last option is visiting Main Street in Moab for a sense of its charm before the day ends with some galleries, delicious meals, and gift shops nearby.

Day 2: Canyonlands National Park

A hazy canyon framed by a natural rock arch
Unsplash/Alex Azabache

With limited time in Canyonlands National Park, I would focus on the Island in the Sky district. It’s the most accessible district from Moab and the easiest to explore.

There are plenty of hikes in the Island in the Sky district that take you to viewpoints with some incredible views. I would depart early and prepare to hike for at least six hours.

After finishing up, it’s worth exploring some of the other hikes and vistas in Canyonlands National Park. Some suggestions include Mesa Arch (pictured above), which is a short and easy hike with stunning views. You could also visit Upheaval Dome and hike in that area.

Day 3: Arches National Park

Two red rock arches side by side
Unsplash/Moriah Wolfe

Arches National Park is my favorite national park in Utah, which is why this road trip includes two days there.

For a full day in Arches National Park, I would pick one of two activities: hiking through the Fiery Furnace with a park ranger or a self-guided hike in the Devils Garden. Both of these will take almost a full day.

The Fiery Furnace is a maze-line section of the park with deep sandstone walls and canyons. Without a park ranger as your guide, it’s easy to get lost, though you can also explore on your own. Reservations and permits are required for this hair-raising adventure.

If you’d rather spend your day self-guided, there is plenty to see in the Devils Garden. The trail to Landscape Arch is maintained, then the trails will drop off. You can follow some signs deep into the area to discover some of the best arches in the park. Read my post on the best hikes in Arches National Park to learn more.

After your day hiking, stick around to see the night sky in one of the darkest spots on your Utah national parks road trip.

Day 4: Arches National Park, Drive to Torrey

A natural rock arch frames the night sky
Unsplash/Tom Gainor

On your second day, get up early to hike to Delicate Arch, the most popular hike in the park. I recommend beginning early because the crowds and the heat will intensify as the day goes on.

You should also see Balanced Rock before you go, another Arches National Park staple!

After checking those must-sees off your list, continue toward Torrey and Capitol Reef National Park.

Day 5: Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park, Fruita Utah

Capitol Reef National Park is the least visited on this Utah national parks road trip. In my opinion, that makes it one of the most special. You can see the unique landscape without hoards of people crowding you.

Some of the best hikes in the Capitol Reef District are the Fruita Campground Trail (3 miles roundtrip) and the Chimney Rock Trail (2 miles roundtrip). Fruita Campground is a popular destination for beginners and families. Chimney Rock is a short hike with some steep areas making it a bit more challenging.

If you’re looking for more of an afternoon hike, go to Mt. Ellen Loop (7 miles roundtrip). It has some pretty incredible views at the top! Hickman Bridge is another popular, longer hike if you’re not sick of seeing natural rock arches yet.

After hiking, spend your time exploring Capitol Reef by driving the scenic road. The entire route will only take about an hour.

Also, don’t miss a chance to stop at the Orchards! You can pick your own fruit to take with you on the rest of your Utah national parks road trip. You can also stop into Gifford’s for some pie to reward yourself after a day of hiking.

Day 6: Drive to Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon in Utah from an overlook
Unsplash/Marissa Duenas

While it may not be the fastest route, Route 12 is the most scenic road on this Utah itinerary. Plus, you’ll drive through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and the cute town of Escalante, which has an excellent interagency visitor center.

Take your time on the drive to enjoy the scenery. If you arrive early enough, you may be able to spend the afternoon at Bryce Canyon.

Day 7: Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park is famous for its hoodoos that appear to be from another planet. The best way to experience them is by hiking.

Popular trails include the Fairyland and Navajo/Queen’s Garden loops. Both of these will bring you down into the amphitheater filled with orange rock spires. Reaching the rim is a steep hike no matter which trail you choose.

For an easier hike with equally spectacular views, try the Rim Trail. This will bring you along the rim of the amphitheater to viewpoints like Sunrise, Sunset, and Inspiration.

To avoid the crowds, head over to Mossy Cave. I love this hike in the winter when the waterfall is frozen.

It’s only a couple of hours between Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks, so decide if you’d like to leave this evening or first thing in the morning.

Day 8: Zion National Park

Zion National Park

Zion National Park is a popular national park and it’s one of the most visited in Utah. When you see its amazing canyons and valleys, you’ll understand why.

One of the top things to do in Zion is hiking. Some of the most popular trails will take most of the day, including the Narrows or Angels Landing. I would spend one of your two days in Zion hiking one of these trails.

Don’t forget, both of these trails can only be accessed by the Zion shuttle in the busiest months. Angels Landing also requires a permit.

Day 9: Zion National Park

Zion Narrow Zion National Park

On your second day, spend time on some of the smaller hikes. Observation Point and Emerald Pools are some popular choices with epic views and waterfalls.

You could also see the least visited area of the park, Kolob Canyon. It’s a bit farther away than the main canyon and the crowds, making it a great destination if you’re hoping to escape. Even though it’s a bit of a drive, the scenery is incredible and worth seeing if you have the time.

Day 10: Drive to Las Vegas

Red Raod

And just like that, your Utah road trip has come to an end. Zion National Park and Las Vegas are only two hours apart from each other, so you have plenty of time to catch your flight home.

Consider stopping at Cedar Breaks National Monument or Valley of Fire State Park if you can.

Extending Your Utah National Parks Road Trip

Monument Valley, Fire Mist...

Read my 12-day Southwest road trip itinerary for more ideas! It includes many of the destinations below in addition to the Utah national parks.

Valley of Fire State Park

Fire Wave @ Valley of Fire State Park {Explore}

Near Las Vegas, this park is famous for its red waves on sandstone rock.

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park - South Rim - Arizona - 1981

On your way between Zion and Las Vegas, you could also extend your trip to visit one of the wonders of the world. The North Rim would be the most convenient for this route, but you could also visit the more popular South Rim if you had the time.

Page, Arizona

Page has become a hot spot for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts in recent years. In a seemingly sleepy town, there are so many amazing opportunities to explore. If you have an extra day or two, consider spending them seeing some of the following attractions in Page, Arizona.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Glen Canyon Dam
Horseshoe Bend
Horseshoe Bend, Arizona....6O3A5592_tonemappedA

Rainbow Bridge National Monument

Rainbow Bridge Page Az

Antelope Canyon

Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Monument Valley

A dirt road traverses near large red rock formations
Unsplash/Betty Subrizi

Pin Our Utah National Parks Road Trip Itinerary

If you want to see some of America’s most incredible natural wonders, then I would highly recommend a Utah national parks road trip.

Start planning your road trip today. It’s going to be an adventure like no other!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.