Utah is famous for its “Mighty 5” National Parks. Arches, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Zion National Park are all located in southern Utah and able to be seen on the same trip. This combination of national parks creates the highest density of national parks in one area in the entire United States. Many people choose to vacation in southern Utah in order to see all of the Mighty 5. If you are looking to do the perfect Utah national parks road trip, then you’ve come to the right place! This itinerary will allow you to see all five national parks, as well as some other really amazing sights that others seem to leave out.
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Fly into Vegas
The cheapest option for starting your Utah national parks road trip is to fly into Las Vegas. If you are looking for cheap flight options, then Vegas gives you more flight times, prices, companies, and opportunities. Plus it makes a great start and ending point for your trip. You can party in Vegas and then head off to explore nature.
The way this road trip is designed, you will fly into Las Vegas, travel along the Utah-Arizona border until you reach Arches National Park, and from there you will hit all of the Utah Big 5 National Parks on your way back to Las Vegas.
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In Las Vegas, you will pick up a rental car and in the morning, you will being your Utah national park road trip by heading to the town of Kanab which is located on the Utah/Arizona border near Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Kanab is a super cute town that will give you a true feel for desert living. It is also the closest city to multiple different hikes. From Kanab, you can visit Coral Sand Dunes State Park and go sandboarding. You can also visit Moqui Cave which is an awesome cave that overlooks the valley below and contains some awesome pieces of Native American history.
From Kanab, you can also drive to Page, Arizona, which is famous for Antelope Canyon and Horsebend. It is on your way to Moab and an easy stopover!
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Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
After spending a day exploring Kanab, you can head to the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. This national monument is actually a HUGE area. It runs into the area of Page, AZ, as well as all the way North to Bryce Canyon.
This national monument is most famous for its slot canyon hikes. There are multiple slot canyons in the area, and I would definitely recommend planning one into your time in this area! Even if you are focusing on the Utah National Parks, you’d be missing out to skip these awesome natural phenomenons. Make sure to check out Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail while you are there as well!
Grand Staircase also runs into Vermillion Cliffs National Monument where you can find the very famous location of “The Wave.” If you want to hike to “The Wave,” then you need to apply for the National Parks System lottery for an opportunity to go.
The next major stop on your Utah national parks road trip is the cute town of Moab. This hiker town feels like something out of a movie. All of the shops are outdoor, rock, or park-themed. You can stock up on awesome hiking and biking gear in the different shops or even buy fossils in some of the rock shops.
The town itself’s claim to fame is that it is 5 minutes from Arches National Park and only 30 minutes from Canyonlands. This is the closest town to both parks so it is the ideal location to stay for a few days and make your base camp.
Moab offers both camping and hotel accommodation options, and there are many tours of the area that run out of the city. It’s an awesome little town to spend some time exploring and relaxing on your trip.
Arches National Park
After days of driving and experiencing Utah outside of the national parks, it’s FINALLY time to hit the first of your Utah “Big 5” National Parks: Arches National Park. Arches is one of my favorite national parks in the United States. It is just truly so unique and an awesome sight to behold.
What makes it such an awesome place is that there is SO much to do in Arches National Park. There are dozens of hikes that you can go on. One of my favorite hikes that we did in Arches was the “Delicate Arch” hike that you can see in the photo below. It takes you up the side of a rockface (which is NOT an easy walk). Once you arrive at the top you get this amazing few of this geological masterpiece of an arch.
Besides hiking, there are also miles of the park to bike or drive, incredible stargazing, and dozens of cool rock formations. It is ideal to plan to spend at least 2 days in Arches on your Utah national parks road trip. This will give you ample time to explore the park and Moab. I would recommend spending 3-4 days in Moab and spending the first 3 days exploring Arches and Moab.
Canyonlands National Park
On your final day in Moab, I would recommend saving the entire day for Canyonlands National Park. Canyonlands is such a unique national park because it is all along a plateau and on one road. Once you get up to the plateau that overlooks the canyon below, you are immediately in the park. The park itself features multiple viewpoints and hiking trails along the edges of the cliffs that will allow you to see the canyon from multiple different angles.
While Canyonlands is much less massive than the Grand Canyon, it is still absolutely breathtaking and amazing the way rivers, glaciers, and erosion have carved out the earth in this manner. The canyon is HUGE, and I could simply stare at it for hours.
You don’t actually need a ton of time in the park if you don’t plan on doing any hiking. You can drive through and hit all of the viewpoints in about an hour and a half. It is important to note that you should bring food and water with you as you are FAR from any place where you could purchase food and beverages from.
Goblin Valley State Park
After Canyonlands, you will make the long drive to Capitol Reef National Park, but on the way, you MUST take time to stop at one of the best-kept secrets in Utah: Goblin Valley State Park. This park is truly other-worldly as it looks like you have stepped onto an alien planet. In fact, the famous Tim Allen movie “Galaxy Quest” actually filmed their alien planets at Goblin Valley!
When it was first discovered, Goblin Valley was nicknamed “Mushroom Valley” due to the odd rock structures that are found all over the valley. They look like little mushrooms or mini hoodoos, and they are everywhere. There are also so many amazing hikes in Goblin Valley State Park that you can do.
If you would like to stay the night near Goblin Valley on your Utah National Parks Road Trip, you can free camp or boondock in the neighboring BLM land (Bureau of Land Management), just remember to leave no trace! There are also some awesome yurts that you can stay in that are inside the park itself. Just make sure if you choose to boondock that you bring all of your wild camping essentials with you.
Capitol Reef National Park
Next on your Utah road trip is Capitol Reef National Park. I highly recommend arriving in the daylight because Eric and I arrived in the middle of the night, and it is truly terrifying. As your elevation rises, you can no longer tell where you are, and it can feel pretty creepy. However, when the sunrises and you can see the park, all of the creepiness washes away by the beauty of the rock walls that make Capitol Reef famous.
If you don’t plan on doing much hiking, you can see all of Capitol Reef in one day. There is a “main drive” that you can do through the park that will take you 2-4 hours depending on how often you stop for pictures. Plan on bringing food with you into the park as there is nowhere to buy food and drinks except the entrance to the park which has a few vending machines.
Bryce Canyon National Park
The second to last stop on your Utah National Parks road trip is Bryce Canyon National Park. Bryce Canyon is actually one of my all-time favorite national parks in the entire United States. The canyon is something so incredibly unique that there is nothing similar in the entire world.
Bryce Canyon is famous for its “hoodoos” which are tall rock formations that have been created through everything else eroding around them. From the top of Bryce Canyon, you can look down into the canyon itself and see thousands of these crazy rock structures.
When sunset hits, the canyon turns a bright orange/red color as the sun’s light reflects off of the rock formations.
You should plan to spend at least 2 full days at Bryce Canyon. There are multiple hikes that take you into the canyon itself that I would highly recommend doing. You can also book a horseback riding tour that will take you into the canyon by horseback!
Zion National Park
Zion National Park is possibly the most famous and DEFINITELY the busiest place on your Utah National Parks road trip. During the summer months, Zion gets so busy that they have a mandatory shuttle system that can only be accessed through the National Parks website, and often have to be gotten far in advance so keep that in mind while planning your trip.
You can drive through a large portion of Zion National Park by yourself, but if you want to see the Valley of the Patriarchs, hike Angel’s Landing, or explore the Narrows, then you will definitely need a shuttle pass.
Pro tip: If you stay at the Zion Lodge, you get automatic shuttle access for the time you stay there!
While you are in Zion, I highly recommend planning to do at least one of their famous hikes. If you have no fear of heights, then you can take on the daunting Angel’s Landing. If you want to get your feet wet (literally) and the skies are clear, then you can hike in the river between cliff faces for the famous “Narrows” hike. If you plan on doing either of these hikes, then you should plan to dedicate an entire day to each one.
I would dedicate at least two days to Zion National Park, and I would definitely spend more time there if you plan on doing the famous hikes as well.
At the end of your Utah National Parks road trip, you will make the two-and-a-half-hour drive from Zion National Park back to Las Vegas. After over a week of road-tripping through the desert, Las Vegas is the perfect getaway to either pamper yourself or party it out. Once you return your rental car, you can simply use taxis, Ubers, and public transport to get around Las Vegas.
I highly recommend booking a table at Hell’s Kitchen by Gordon Ramsay if you have the time! It is the perfect way to end your amazing road trip, and the food is to die for.
What are you most excited for about an Utah road trip?
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