Post Summary: The Best Utah National Park Road Trip Route + Tips For An Epic Trip!
Cleverly marketed as “The Mighty 5”, of the collection Utah national parks are pretty much a staple on any adventure-lovers bucket list. From the towering hoodoos of Bryce Canyon to the deep valleys of Canyonlands, the possibilities and activities are endless!
There is everything from hiking, camping, kayaking, climbing and so much more to do in Utah.
This past spring, Berty and I wanted to experience everything the state had to offer, and we discovered the best route to see all the national parks along the way.
In this post, we’re sharing our favorite route through all of the Utah national parks.
We’ll share with you our driving guide, what to see, and other helpful road trip tips to make this your most adventurous trip yet!
The Ultimate Road Trip To All 5 Utah National Parks
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Note: If you are coming from the Pacific Northwest (like we did) you will most likely start near Salt Lake City.
If you live south of Utah, like in big cities like Las Vegas, Phoenix, or Albuquerque you can do a smaller loop by taking Highway 70 that goes East-West to shorten your trip but still see all the parks! Here’s another example of a Utah National Parks road trip route starting in the Southwest:
UTAH ROAD TRIP STARTING IN LAS VEGAS
When Is The Best Time To Take A Utah National Parks Road Trip?
Each season brings its own unique take on a Utah National Parks road trip. Depending on the activities you’d like to do, there may be an ideal season to go for you and your group! Read below for a quick summary 0f what you might expect on a Utah road trip during each season:
Visit Utah National Parks in Winter: Taking a Utah road trip in the winter will provide you with opportunity to have plenty of peace and quiet! You’ll run into very few crowds, but many of the popular attractions (like Angels Landing Trail in Zion) will likely still be closed because of snow.
Visit Utah National Parks in Spring: We think springtime is the best season to take a Utah National Parks road trip. This is because the weather is mild and the crowds are few, so you’ll have places like Delicate Arch Trail to yourself! The downside is that things still might be closed because of snow, and nights can still be very cold!
Visit Utah National Parks in Summer: This is the most popular time to visit Utah National Parks, because you’ll have the most daylight hours, and nearly every attraction in the park is open. The downside? You’ll be sharing it with the largest visitors crowds the parks will see all season!
Visit Utah National Parks in Fall: In our opinion, a Utah road trip in the Fall is the second best option! The family crowds have dissipated in anticipation for school starting, so you’ll have fewer people to share it with. Unfortunately, you may run into very cold nights and a high chance of bad weather at the end of the season.
The Best Car Rentals For Your Utah National Parks Road Trip
One of the most important aspects of your Utah National Parks road trip is picking the right car for your adventure. Your set of wheels can determine where you will be staying, how much money you spend overall, and which parts of the parks you can access. Here are our suggestions for each level of adventure:
For Convenience And Comfort (Staying In Hotels/Airbnbs): We recommend a regular, full-sized sedan to fit in hotel parking lots and small spaces! These types of cars should give you plenty of room for those long drives, and plenty of trunk space between hotels and resorts!
For Budget Savvy Travelers And Campers: We highly recommend checking out campervan rentals at Outdoorsy. Think of it like Airbnb but for recreation vehicles! You can choose anything from cool vintage VW buses to tricked-out Sprinter Vans for a big dose of van life for your Utah road trip.
For Adventure and Thrill-Seekers: If you’re trying to explore deep into BLM land around the parks or off-road adventures like in the MAze in Canyonlands, you’ll want to make sure you have a high-clearance vehicle like a Jeep.
Utah National Park Stop 1: Zion National Park
Established in 1919, Zion is one of the most popular parks in the US, and naturally so! Its red cliffs, slot canyons, and amazing hikes will keep you busy for weeks.
Best Hikes In Zion National Park
It’s important to plan to give yourself adequate time and preparation for some of these epic hikes in Zion National Park. Some of the most popular trails in Zion are Angels Landing Trail, Observation Point, hiking through The Narrows, the Court of the Patriarchs and Towers of the Virgin.
One Day In Zion National Park
Being one of the most visited parks in the United States, be prepared for crowds and reserve accommodations and activities EARLY to avoid last-minute stress!
If you have only one day in Zion National Park, consider taking the shuttle bus on its full route through the park loop, and stop to see the attractions in each area. An easy hike would be the Pa’rus Trail, which is . 3.5 mile paved bike/walking path along the river.
Have Some Extra Time?
If you are looking for more solitude, come during the off-peak months (November – March) or explore Kolob Canyons, which is a lesser-known area of the park.
Where To Stay Near Zion National Park
For the most convenience to the park, book your hotel in Springdale, Utah. From the city, you can easily take a shuttle bus into the park to maximize your time in Zion.
To save a little money, consider booking a place on Airbnb (and if it’s your first time booking, get $40 off here!)
Looking for a little backcountry camping in Zion? Check out the The West and East Rim Trails, which offer incredible opportunities to stay in the wilderness of Zion.
Best Photo Spots In Zion National Park
Nearly every corner of Zion National Park is photo-worthy! However, some of the best spots for photos in Zion include The Watchman, the view from the top of Angels Landing, The Narrows, Observation Point, and anytime during sunrise!
Read More: Hike Zion’s Dangerous Angels Landing Hike
Utah National Park Road Trip Stop 2: Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park was created (and is still being formed) by a combination of ice, weather, and erosion. Bryce Canyon has the largest assortment of hoodoos in the world, which makes this place an iconic stop on any Utah national parks road trip.
Best Hikes In Bryce Canyon
Here, there are lots of hikes within the canyon and several scenic overlooks to keep you busy for a long time. Try taking the Queen’s Garden Loop, Mossy Cave Trail, and Bristlecone Loop Trail for easy and beautiful ways to get up close to the Bryce Canyon hoodoos.
One Day In Bryce Canyon National Park
You can easily see Bryce Canyon in one day! You may have to prioritize one hike (or maybe two) but prepare to spend plenty of time in the car, stopping at various points along the 30 mile stretch of the canyon rim drive.
Coming To Bryce Canyon In The Shoulder Season?
If you’re visiting Bryce Canyon in the shoulder season or off-season (Fall, Winter or Spring), make sure to pack warmer clothes when visiting here – the high elevation causes this area to have variable conditions, on top of already having an average of 200 days per year with a chance of below-freezing weather.
If you decide to take a winter road trip to Utah, you might be able to see Bryce Canyon is a beautiful blanket of snow!
Where To Stay Near Bryce Canyon National Park
The most convenient place to stay near Bryce Canyon is at Bryce Canyon City. Here there are tons of hotels to choose from!
If you want to stay in the park, consider the two campgrounds in Bryce Canyon, North Campground and Sunset Campground. They are first-come-first-serve in for the tent sites, so come early to claim a spot!
Best Photo Spots In Bryce Canyon National Park
For some of the best photo spots in Bryce Canyon, watch the sunrise/sunset on the Canyon Rim trail!
Read More: 5 Things To Do at Bryce Canyon National Park
Utah Road Trip Stop 3: Capitol Reef National Park
The underdog of the five parks, still, Capitol Reef National Park shouldn’t be missed! It’s one of the most beautiful photography locations in the American Southwest!
Best Hikes In Capitol Reef National Park
- Cassidy Canyon
- The Grand Wash
- Chimney Rock
- Frying Pan Trail
- Capitol Gorge
One Day In Capitol Reef National Park
If you have only one day in Capitol Reef National Park, we suggest sticking to the main roads to see the most attractions in the shortest amount of time. You can easily visit the main attractions right off Highway 24.
Some of these attractions include the Gifford Homestead in the Fruita Historic District, Hickman Natural Bridge, the Grand Wash, Capitol Reef Visitor Center, and Panorama Point.
Have Some Extra Time?
This is the least visited of the Utah national parks, so if you are looking for solitude, you’ve found it here at Capitol Reef. To venture out even further into the park, consider taking the off-road adventure the Cathedral Valley, a section of the park with towering structures that very few see with their own eyes!
Where To Stay Capitol Reef
For the comfort of a warm bed in a hotel, consider staying in the nearby town of Torrey near Capitol Reef National Park.
Looking for a bit more adventure under the stars? There are plenty of backcountry dirt roads ready for the most adventurous of visitors! If you want to camp, there is plenty of BLM lands to spend the night near the park borders. Make sure to read our guide to free camping in the USA here!
Best Photo Spots In Capitol Reef
With its own unique set of natural arches, petroglyphs, canyon hikes and more, this area of Utah has some of the most spectacular photo opportunities in the state.
Some ofther beautiful photo spots in Capitol Reef include Hickman Natural Bridge, Cassidy Arch, Capitol Dome, and Chimney Rock.
Utah National Parks Road Trip Stop 4: Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park is exactly what it sounds like. The main part of the park consists of a few roads on a long mesa which towers above the enormous surrounding canyons. There is very little light pollution within the park, so we actually suggest visiting Canyonlands in the day AND night!
Officially named a “Dark Sky Park” by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) this place is world renowned for its summertime Milkyway viewing and star-gazing.
Best Hikes In Canyonlands National Park
There are some incredible hiking trails in Canyonlands National Park! The most popular would be the short trail to Mesa Arch, but other great trails include Aztec Butte Trail, Gooseberry Trail, Wilhite Trail, and Grand View Trail.
Make sure to pack a sun hat and wear plenty of sunscreen – there is absolutely NO shade in this park!
One Day In Canyonlands National Park
The park is divided into four areas – The Island In The Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the rivers themselves. Each has its own unique set of activities, but the one with the most accessibility would be the Islands In The Sky.
If you only have one day to spend in Canyonlands National Park, we highly suggest spending your time in the Island In The Sky Section. This section brings you to some of the most iconic views in the park, as well as the most easily accessible places.
Have Some Extra Time?
Try checking out the nearby Dead Horse Point State Park. Here, you can find iconic views of the Colorado River that winds through the canyon.
Where To Stay Near Canyonlands National Park
The easiest and most convenient place to stay near Canyonlands National Park is in the nearby town of Moab, Utah.
Best Photo Spots In Canyonlands National Park
If you’re looking for iconic photos spots in Canyonlands National Park, Mesa Arch during sunrise can’t be missed. Additionally, Candlestick Tower during sunset and Grand View Point during the day are excellent options for photos.
Read More: Sunset At Canyonlands National Park
Utah Road Trip Stop 5: Arches National Park
With over 2,000 natural stone arches in the park, there won’t be a dull moment during your time in Arches National Park. Whether you are taking a day hike, overnight camping, or simply just passing through, Arches is guaranteed to leave an impression on any adventurous spirit.
Best Hikes In Arches National Park
There are plenty of amazing hiking trails in Arches National Park to choose from! Some of our favorite hikes include a sunrise hike to Delicate Arch, Fiery Furnace, Double Arch, Park Avenue Trail and the Windows Loop.
One Day In Arches National Park
Only have one day in Arches National Park? Spend some time driving the Arches Scenic Drive, the 36-mile round trip road. This road connects nearly all the major sections of the park, so you can easily stop to quickly explore a section, or pull over for a photo. We also made a 24-hour guide to Arches National Park!
Have Some Extra Time?
If you have a little extra time to spend in teh park, consider taking the Devil’s Garden Loop trail, a 7.5 mile path which connects seven iconic arches, inlcuding Landscape Arch (the longest one in the park), Navajo Arch, Double Arch, and more!
Where To Stay Near Arches National Park
Similar to Canyonlands, the most convenient place to stay near Arches National Park is in the nearby town of Moab, Utah.
Best Photo Spots In Arches Canyon National Park
Some of the most iconic photo spots in Arches National Park include Delicate Arch, the Windows Loop, Balanced Rock, the Courthouse Towers, and Park Avenue.
UTAH NATIONAL PARKS ROAD TRIP FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What Are The Best Utah National Parks?
Ranking the Utah National Parks form best to worst isn’t quite a fair comparison, because it implies we think some are bad. That’s certainly not the case! Here they are in order of popularity, according to PlanetWare.
- Zion National Park
- Arches National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Capitol Reef National Park
What Else Is There To See Beyond The Utah National Parks?
Want to see more than just the stops on your Utah National Parks road trip? There are plenty of other amazing Utah and Arizona features to discover! We connect nearly everything in our Southwest Road Trip Itinerary here, which we highly recommend if you’ve got some extra time.
In the meantime, here are some other amazing places to see in the American Southwest, near Utah National Parks:
- Goblin Valley State Park
- Corona Arch near Moab, Utah
- Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
- The Grand Canyon
- Page, Arizona
- Monument Valley
- Amazing Hikes In Sedona, Arizona
Have you ever taken a road trip to all of the Utah national parks? What was your experience like? Tell us about it in the comment section below!
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