Planning a Utah National Parks Road trip and can’t decide what to do, where to stay and how long to spend in each place? We’ve got you covered! In this article, we will highlight the best of each of the Utah National Parks, including easy, moderate, and hard hikes, backpacking trips, viewpoints, and places to stay to help you plan your trip. At the end of the article, we’ll tie it all together with a few Utah National Parks road trip itinerary options with either 7-days or 10-days.

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How to plan an epic Utah National Parks road trip

Planning a road trip to visit the Mighty 5 Utah National Parks, but have a hard time deciding what to do and where to stay? With so many incredible hikes and otherwordly sights to see in each of the parks, it can be overwhelming to decide how to spend your precious time.

Luckily, we’ve rounded up all the top hikes, ranging from easy to difficult, backpacking trips, and viewpoints in each of the Utah National Parks. We’ll also provide tips on where to stay in and near the park, including hotels/lodging, dispersed camping options, and campgrounds. We hope this guide will make planning your Utah National Parks road trip a breeze!

How much time do I need to visit all 5 Utah National Parks?

Unfortunately, the truth is that you can’t possibly see everything in the 5 Utah National Parks in one week, 10 days, or even 2 weeks. The parks are huge and there is so much to do and see in each!

With one week, you can see the highlights of each park but you will be rushed. With 10-days, you can take your time a bit more and/or explore a few of the lesser-visited spots. With 2-weeks you can delve deeper into each park without feeling too rushed.

We’re all for jam-packed busy itineraries, but we wouldn’t recommend trying to see all 5 Utah National Parks with any less than one week. You’ll be way too rushed and spend more time in the car than enjoying the beauty of the parks. Pick two or three of the parks and really experience them instead.

  • At the bottom of this article, we’ve compiled a few sample Utah National Parks road trip itineraries for 7-days or 10-days, hitting as many of the best spots in each park as possible to give you a few ideas.

When is the best time for a Utah National Parks road trip?

With the exception of Bryce Canyon, the best time to visit all of the Utah National Parks is during the spring (March – May) or fall (September through November) when temperatures are milder.

Bryce Canyon is located at a higher elevation than the other parks and therefore tends to be colder and get more heavy snow. April, May, September, and October are good times to visit, but in March and November, you will likely experience snow and possible road or trail closures.

A chilly February morning at the Zion Canyon Overlook

How to get between the parks

To road trip between the 5 Utah National Parks, you will need to rent a car, or drive your own. Some of the National Parks offer shuttles inside the park, but it would be very logistically complicated to get between the parks without a vehicle.

Tips for a great road trip

Below are a few important details to be aware of when planning your Utah National Parks road trip.

  • Arches National Park now requires ticketed entry tickets – don’t forget to reserve tickets as soon as they are released, 3 months in advance of your trip. You can find more details about entrance tickets on the Arches NPS website and make reservations on recreation.gov.
  • Permits to hike Angel’s Landing in Zion are released 3 – 5 months in advance of your trip and during a day-before lottery. Be sure to check the Zion NPS website for exact details on when permits for your dates will be released (the rules are a bit complicated).
  • If you want to camp in the national parks, make sure you book campsites well in advance. Campsites during peak season tend to sell out almost immediately upon release.
  • If you don’t get a campsite inside the park, there are free dispersed camping options near most of the parks. We’ve included a few options under the details below for each park, but you can always search on the Dyrt or Campendium.
  • There is no cell service in most places in the parks, and service is often spotty driving between them.

Mighty 5 Utah National Parks road trip map

The map below displays the location of each of the hikes, viewpoints, and places to stay that we cover in the article below. Landmarks in each of the 5 Utah National Parks are color-coded to help you easily plan your road trip.

  • To email this map to yourself for future use, click the three dots in the upper right corner.
  • To view more details about each location, click on the marker on the map.

Details | Best of the Big 5 Utah National Parks

We want to make your Utah National Parks road trip planning as easy as possible, so we’ve rounded up the best of hiking, backpacking, viewpoints, and places to stay for each park.

Zion National Park

Located at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, Mojave Desert, and the Great Basin, Zion National Park is one of the most unique and geologically-diverse places in the southwest. The 15-mile Zion Canyon with sandstone walls that reach nearly 3000 feet tall was formed by the North Fork of the Virgin River.

Zion National Park is the most popular of Utah’s “mighty five” national parks, receiving over 3.5 million visitors in 2020. Zion currently ranks as the fourth most visited park in the United States, which means many of the popular spots in the park are typically quite crowded.

Despite the crowds, Zion’s most iconic spots, like Angel’s Landing, the Narrows, and Observation Point, live up to the hype and are worth battling the crowds for!

Highlights

  • Crazy, unique landscapes
  • Great views are easily accessible
  • Trails can be easily combined to form longer hikes

Lowlights

  • Trails can get crowded
  • Hiking options are fairly limited
  • Frequent trail closures (during the winter, late fall, early spring)

Best hikes in Zion

  • Easy | Lower Emerald Pools (3 miles, 320 feet elevation gain): Discover three lovely pools – Lower, Middle, and Upper Emerald Pools – tucked away in the desert among the massive canyon walls.
  • Medium | Angel’s Landing (4.4 miles, 1600 feet elevation gain): Zion’s most infamous hike, known for the harrowing final climb from Scout Lookout up a steep, narrow ridge that features stunning views down Zion Canyon.
  • Hard | The Narrows (9 miles, 700 feet elevation gain): Another iconic Zion hike leading upriver through the Virgin River into one of Utah’s most stunning slot canyons!
  • Best backpacking trip | West Rim Trail (15.5 miles, 4400 feet elevation gain): For an epic backpacking trip with the option to tack on Angel’s Landing, you can’t beat the Zion West Rim Trail!

Best viewpoints in Zion

  • Canyon Overlook | A short 1-mile roundtrip hike leads to sweeping views over Zion Canyon – a great option for a sunrise or sunset hike!
  • Lava Point | Escape the crowds at this unique viewpoint of the Zion Canyon in the distance.
  • Timber Creek Overlook | A lesser-visited spot located in the Kolob Canyon section of Zion National Park.

P.S. For more on how to spend one day in Zion National Park, we’ve put together 3 awesome ideas here:

view from Canyon Overlook

Best places to stay near Zion

Bryce Canyon National Park

At a mere 35,000 acres, Bryce Canyon National Park is relatively small compared to other Utah national parks but it more than makes up for its small size with its indescribable beauty and iconic rock formations. Not actually a canyon (it’s technically an amphitheater), Bryce Canyon sees less than half as many visitors as Zion and we don’t understand why! It is definitely one of our favorite parks.

Bryce Canyon National Park is best known for its hoodoos, towers of pink and orange rock formed by thousands of years of erosion. Resembling something out of a Dr. Seuss book or sandcastles made by an energetic child at the beach, the hoodoos that dominate Bryce Canyon will leave you wondering if you are on another planet.

Highlights

  • Incredible otherworldly views
  • Less crowded than Zion & Arches
  • No permits or tickets required

Lowlights

  • Limited hiking options
  • Often colder than the other Utah National Parks
Bryce Canyon, a must-stop on a Utah National Parks road trip

Best hikes in Bryce Canyon

  • Easy | Navajo Loop (1.5 miles, 500 feet elevation gain): see the most iconic spot in Bryce Canyon, a steep trail of switchbacks winding through towering walls of hoodoos on either side, known as Wall Street.
  • Medium | Figure 8 Loop (6.3 miles, 1600 feet elevation gain): a perfect way to explore many of the best sights in the park, combing Queen’s Garden, Navajo Loop, Peekaboo Loop, and the Rim Trail (between Sunrise and Sunset Point).
  • Hard | Fairyland Loop (7.8 miles, 15500 feet): the longest hike in the park, which provides sweeping views of the Hoodoos and slightly fewer crowds than the more popular trails.
  • Best backpacking trip | Under the Rim Trail (22.4 miles, 4400 feet elevation gain) the only backpacking route in the park, which is 22.4 miles one way.

P.S. Read more about all the best hikes in Bryce Canyon here:

Read More

views from the Fairyland Loop

Best viewpoints in Bryce Canyon

  • Sunset Point | easy to access and beautiful viewpoint on the Rim of Bryce Canyon.
  • Sunrise Point | another awesome viewpoint and starting point for the Figure 8 Loop trail.
  • Fairyland Point | a lesser visiting viewpoint with similar views and the starting point for the Fairyland Loop

Best places to stay near Bryce Canyon

Arches National Park

Did you know that there are over 2000 natural arches in Arches National Park?! Home to sandstone arches of every shape and size, the park rightfully earns it’s name. Of those 2000 arches, easily the most famous is Delicate Arch, the largest free-standing arch in the park at 46 feet tall.

But Arches is more than just arches! The red rocky landscape is juxtaposed against a background of snowy mountain peaks, a truly picturesque sight!

In 2021, Arches National Park broke all-time visitation records, often drawing long lines of cars waiting to get in and having to turn away visitors due to exceeded capacity. Starting in 2022, Arches will implement a timed entrance ticket system in hopes to alleviate the overcrowding, protect the park’s precious resources and give visitors a better experience.

Highlights

  • Many cool easily accessible arches
  • Home to the iconic Delicate Arch

Lowlights

  • Very heavy crowds – tickets required for entrance
  • Not many options for longer hikes

Best hikes in Arches

  • Easy | Double Arch (0.6 miles, 95 feet elevation gain): Short, quick hike to two enormous arches carves out of the cliff wall.
  • Moderate | Delicate Arch (3.2 miles, 630 feet elevation gain) The most iconic spot in Arches, if not all of Utah, no Utah National Parks road trip is complete without this classic hike!
  • Hard | Devil’s Garden & Primitive Trail Loop (8 miles, 1100 feet elevation gain) Escape the crowds and explore a lesser visited part of the park, with arches around every turn!
  • Best backpacking trip | Devil’s Garden: Cackcountry camping in Arches is very limited but there is one campsite along the Devil’s Garden & Primitive Trail Loop that would be an awesome place to spend a night in the backcountry!

Best viewpoints in Arches

  • The Windows | 2 impressive arch “windows” that can be seen from the parking area or accessed up close via a 1-mile hike.
  • Delicate Arch viewpoint | While the hike to Delicate Arch gets you up close, it is possible to see the other side of the arch from a viewpoint located at a distance.
Double O Arch on the Devil’s Garden Trail

Best places to stay near Arches

  • Campground | There is only one campground inside Arches National Park, and spots here are in very high demand. There are also a few campgrounds in nearby Dead Horse State Park:
  • Dispersed Camping | If you aren’t able to secure a campground reservation, there are many dispersed camping options fairly close to Arches. We’d recommend checking out the Dyrt or Campendium to find a spot nearby.
  • Lodging | Moab is the closest town to Arches and offers a variety of hotel and lodging options:

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park is made up of 4 distinct districts: Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze and the Rivers.

Island in the Sky is the easiest area to access and by far the most popular, located about 30 minutes from Arches National Park. The Needles district is more remote and takes more effort to reach. The Maze is the most remote area of the park, accessible only via dirt roads requiring a high clearance 4WD vehicle. Lastly, the Colorado River and Green River which wind through the park are considered their own district.

Highlights

  • Chance to get off the beaten path in the more remote districts
  • Easily accessible hikes and viewpoints in Island in the Sky

Lowlights

  • Remote and more difficult to reach (aside from Island in the Sky)
  • Limited lodging options near the Needles
view from Grand Viewpoint

Best hikes in Canyonlands

  • Easy | Mesa Arch (0.7 miles, 90 feet of elevation gain): One of the most popular spots for sunrise in the area, Mesa Arch offers beautiful views lookout through the arch on the canyons below.
  • Moderate | Upheaval Dome (1.3 miles, 225 feet elevation gain): A short but steep hike to one of the most unique geological features in Canyonlands, likely created by a massive meteor.
  • Hard | Druid Arch (10.5 miles, 1600 feet elevation gain): Hike to a 150-tall sandstone arch with a unique shape that features sweeping views looking down Elephant Canyon in the Needles District.
  • Best backpacking trip | The Needles District: There are many possible backpacking route options in the Needles, but make sure you don’t miss out on Chesler Park and Druid Arch!
Druid Arch
backpacking in the Needles District
Chesler Park in the Needles

Best viewpoints in Canyonlands

  • Grand Viewpoint (Island in the Sky) | Grand Viewpoint offers one of the best views in Island in the Sky and perfectly encapsulates the type of landscapes after which Canyonlands is named – canyons stretching out below as far as the eye can see! You can also hike the 1.8 mile Grand Viewpoint Trail along the rim of the canyon.
  • Green River Overlook (Island in the Sky) | Another beautiful and easily accessible viewpoint in Island in the Sky, under 15 minutes from Grand Viewpoint.

Best places to stay near Canyonlands

  • Camping | There are two campgrounds inside Canyonlands National Park. These campgrounds book up well in advance so plan ahead if you want to camp in the park.
  • Dispersed Camping | For visiting Island in the Sky, check out any of the dispersed camping options near Moab. For visiting the Needles, dispersed camping is more limited but there are several campgrounds just outside the park:
  • Lodging | The best place to stay for visiting the Island in the Sky District is Moab. For visiting the Needles, the small town of Monticello is a bit closer. Here are a few options in Monticello:
View down the canyon from Druid Arch Canyonlands

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef is Utah’s least national park, but we believe it deserves a spot on your Utah National Parks road trip itinerary! Although the park is full of sandstone arches, colorful badlands, canyons, natural bridges and domes of rock, Capitol Reef’s most defining feature is the 100-mile long Waterpocket Fold. Waterpocket Fold is a monocline, or step-like fold in the rock resulting in exposed layers of stratified rock.

Capitol Reef gets it’s name from two distinctive geological formations: “dome” comes from the dome-shaped white sandstone cliffs that resemble the dome of a capitol building, and “reef” is named after the rocky cliffs of the Waterpocket Fold that resemble an ocean reef. 

If you’re looking to get off the beaten path and escape the crowds that are found at most Utah national parks, add Capitol Reef to your bucket list.

Highlights

  • Least visited of Utah’s National Parks means fewer crowds!
  • Cute farm area with shop selling fresh apple pies
  • Landscape is full of arches, towers, bridges and canyons!

Lowlights

  • A large part of the park is difficult to access
  • Less iconic than other Utah National Parks
Cassidy Arch in Capitol Reef

Best hikes in Capitol Reef

  • Easy | Hickman Bridge (1.7 miles, 400 feet elevation gain): A short hike to a beautiful natural bridge.
  • Medium | Cassidy Arch (3.1 miles, 700 feet elevation gain): A short but steep hike up to the top of a massive sandstone arch that you can walk across with sweeping views of the Waterpocket Fold.
  • Hard | Chimney Rock & Lower Spring Canyon (11 – 21 miles, 1000 feet of elevation gain) Combine two of the best hikes in the park into one epic hike! Lower Spring Canyon is 10 miles long one way. We recommend starting from Chimney Rock trailhead, taking the loop trail to the mesa above Chimney Rock and then continuing out and back down Lower Spring Canyon as far as you please!
  • Best backpacking trip | Lower Spring Canyon: Backpacking is permitted in Lower Spring Canyon, offering the chance to explore the full canyon and have the area largely to yourself!
Cassidy Arch in Capitol Reef
Hickman Bridge
Backpacking Lower Spring Canyon

Best viewpoints in Capitol Reef

  • Temple of the Moon & Sun | Getting here requires a long drive on the Cathedral Valley Loop, a rough and sometimes impassible dirt road requiring 4WD and high clearnace, but these views are 100% worth the effort!
  • Scenic Drive | The roughly 8-mile long (one-way) Capitol Reef Scenic Drive offers consistent views of the Waterpocket Fold with many beautiful viewpoints.

Best places to stay near Capitol Reef

  • Campgrounds | There is one established campground in Capitol Reef and several primitive campground options:
    • Fruit Campground | centrally located campgrounds with RV and tent sites near the park’s main entrance.
    • Cathedral Valley Campground | primitive campground with 6 spots located on the Cathedral Valley Loop.
    • Cedar Mesa Campground | primitive campground with 5 spots located further south off Notom-Bullfrog Road.
  • Dispersed camping | several dispersed camping options are available near Capitol Reef:
  • Lodging | the closest town to the main section of Capitol Reef is Torrey, which offers a few hotel and lodging options:

Sample Utah National Parks Road Trip Itineraries

Still feeling overwhelmed by all the options? If you have just one week or 10 days to spend roading tripping through the mighty 5 Utah National Parks, we’ve compiled a couple ideal itinerary options below, covering the best of each park.

1 Week Utah National Parks Itinerary

Note that one week is not nearly enough time to see everything these parks have to offer, but you can squeeze in the main highlights. Both of these itineraries are geared towards people who love to hike, so expect busy days!

  • Day 1 | Travel to Arches
    • Fly into Salt Lake City, drive to Arches (4 hours)
    • Sunset hike at Delicate Arch (time permitting)
  • Day 2 | Arches
    • Hike the Devil’s Garden – Primitive Loop
    • Visit Double Arch & the Windows (time permitting)
  • Day 3 | Canyonlands
    • Sunrise hike Mesa Arch
    • Drive through Island in the Sky, stopping at the viewpoints (Grand Viewpoint) and for any short hikes (Upheaval Dome)
    • Drive to Capitol Reef (4 hours)
  • Day 4 | Capitol Reef
    • Hike Cassidy Arch and Chimney Rock
    • Drive the Scenic Drive and grab an apple pie at the Gifford House
    • Drive to Bryce Canyon (2 hours)
  • Day 5 | Bryce Canyon
    • Sunrise at Sunrise Point
    • Hike the Figure 8 Loop
    • Drive to Zion (1.5 hours)
  • Day 6 | Zion
    • Hike Angel’s Landing and continue along the West Rim Trail
  • Day 7 | Travel home
    • Sunrise hike Canyon Overlook
    • Drive from Zion to Las Vegas airport (3 hours)

10 Day Utah National Parks Itinerary

With 10 days, you have a little more flexibility and can spend more time at a few of the parks. With the extra three days, we’d make time to visit the Needles District of Canyonlands, hike both the Narrows and Angel’s Landing in Zion, and add an extra day in Capitol Reef. You still won’t see everything, but you can comfortably see the main highlights.

  • Day 1 | Travel to Arches
    • Fly into Salt Lake City, drive to Arches (4 hours)
    • Sunset hike at Delicate Arch (time permitting)
  • Day 2 | Arches
    • Hike the Devil’s Garden – Primitive Loop
    • Visit Double Arch & the Windows (time permitting)
  • Day 3 | Canyonlands
    • Sunrise hike Mesa Arch
    • Drive through Island in the Sky, stopping at the viewpoints (Grand Viewpoint) and for any short hikes (Upheaval Dome)
    • Drive to the Needles (2 hours)
  • Day 4 | Canyonlands
    • Hike Druid Arch (you will want to get an early start)
    • Drive to Capitol Reef (4 hours)
  • Day 5 | Capitol Reef
    • Hike Cassidy Arch and Hickman Bridge
    • Drive the Scenic Drive and grab an apple pie at the Gifford House
  • Day 6 | Capitol Reef
    • Hike Chimney Rock and Lower Spring Canyon
    • Drive to Bryce Canyon (2 hours)
  • Day 7 | Bryce Canyon
    • Sunrise at Sunrise Point
    • Hike the Figure 8 Loop
    • Drive to Zion (1.5 hours)
  • Day 8 | Zion
    • Hike Angel’s Landing & continue along the West Rim Trail
  • Day 9 | Zion
    • Hike the Narrows
  • Day 10 | Travel home
    • Sunrise hike Canyon Overlook
    • Drive from Zion to Las Vegas airport (3 hours)

10 Day Itinerary (if you like to backpack!)

If you are a backpacker, we have a special 10-day Utah National Parks road trip itinerary for you. There are several awesome short backpacking trips that we’d highly recommend working into your road trip. This itinerary includes three one-night backpacking trips, while still allowing you to see all 5 Utah National Parks! Admittedly, this would be a huge undertaking but if you’re looking for a challenge and are willing to subject yourself to very sore legs, here you go!

  • Day 1 | Travel to Arches
    • Fly into Salt Lake City, drive to Arches (4 hours)
    • Sunset hike at Delicate Arch (time permitting)
  • Day 2 | Arches
    • Hike the Devil’s Garden – Primitive Loop
    • Drive to the Needles (1 hour 30 minutes)
  • Day 3 | Canyonlands
    • Start 1-night backpacking trip in the Needles (build your own 1-night itinerary based on how much distance you’d like to cover, but we’d recommend prioritizing Chesler Park and Druid Arch!)
  • Day 4 | Canyonlands
    • Finish the Needles backpacking trip
    • Drive to Capitol Reef (4 hours)
  • Day 5 | Capitol Reef
    • Backpack Lower Spring Canyon with detour to the Chimney Rock mesa (Ideally one-way, but if you only have one car, start from Chimney Rock trailhead and hike in as far you’d like – the first ~5 miles are the best!)
  • Day 6 | Capitol Reef
    • Finish Lower Spring Canyon backpacking trip
    • Hike Cassidy Arch (time permitting)
    • Drive to Bryce (2 hours)
  • Day 7 | Bryce Canyon
    • Hike the Figure 8 Loop
    • Drive to Zion (1.5 hours)
  • Day 8 | Zion
    • West Rim Trail backpacking trip with detour to Angel’s Landing
  • Day 9 | Zion
    • Finish backpacking trip and celebrate with a beer in Springdale!
  • Day 10 | Travel home
    • Drive from Zion to Las Vegas airport (3 hours)

Utah National Parks Road Trip Packing List

Before setting off on your Utah National Parks Road Trip, make sure you are prepared with the following items:

P.S. for more details on what to pack for your Utah National Parks road trip, check out our complete road trip packing list and car camping essentials:

Other Useful Resources

Looking for more inspiration to help you plan an unforgettable Utah National Parks road trip?! You may also like these resources below:

For all things Utah: Utah Travel Guide

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