utah national parks road trip utah national parks road trip

A Complete Guide to Utah National Parks Road Trip

For a journey filled with blue skies, sunshine, incredible landscapes, and stunning nature, the Utah National Parks Road Trip is the answer for you.

Utah national parks offer some of the world’s most distinguished and magnificent natural attractions that are the greatest representations of nature’s art.

So, Utah National Parks Road Trips is an adventure that should certainly be at the very top of your travel bucket list.

On a trip here, be prepared to be amazed by the sculptures of nature and have the most amazing experience of your life with a Utah National Parks road trip.

1. Utah – The Home of ‘Mighty Five.’

The state of Utah can be found in the Mountain West area of the Western U.S.A.

Utah is surrounded by the famous names of  Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Arizona, and Nevada. It reaches a corner of New Mexico in the southeast direction as well.

You cannot think of the “Beehive State” without the “Mighty Five” immediately coming to your mind.

The “Mighty Five” in Southern Utah refers to the five most incredible national parks of the state as well as the entire world.

Utah National Parks
Image by David Mark from Pixabay Copyright 2016

The five of the most known and visited national parks in Utah are:

1.1) The Arches National Park

The Arches National Park is situated in the southeastern region of Utah.

The Arches National Park has an important objective of conserving and protecting various unique and amazing geological formations and structures like arches, spires, rocks, and more.

1.2) Bryce Canyon National Park

Located in southwestern Utah, the Bryce Canyon National Park is famous for the Bryce Canyon, from which it gets its name. Funnily enough, the Bryce Canyon is not a canyon but a series of vast amphitheaters.

The Bryce Canyon National Park is also notable for its hoodoos made of weathering and corrosion.

Bryce Canyon National Park is considerably smaller in size and stands at a much greater height than Zion National Park, which is also located nearby.

1.3) Canyonlands National Park

The Canyonlands National Park can also be found in southwestern Utah.

It conserves striking geographical features formed and corroded into many canyons, mesas, and buttes along the rivers of Colorado and the Green River.

The wildlife at Canyonlands National Park is also vast, with animals like elks, foxes, deers, kangaroo rats, cougars, sheep, bats, and ring-tailed cats. Birds include hawks, eagles, ravens, ducks, sparrows, bluebirds, woodpeckers, and owls.

Various cacti, wildflowers, junipers, and grasses are scattered throughout Canyonlands National Park’s grounds.

1.4) Capitol Reef National Park

The Capitol Reef National Park can be found in the south-central part of the state.

The desert-like topography of the Capitol Reef National Park is accessible all year. Activities like hiking, trekking, camping, and canyoneering are popular among tourists.

Capitol Reef Utah
Image by Teresa from Pixabay Copyright 2020

1.5) Zion National Park

Another one of Southern Utah’s national parks, Zion National Park, is most famous for its Navajo loop trail featuring the Navajo Sandstone formed by the influence of the Virgin River.

Start your journey at Salt Lake City and end it with Zion National Park for your Utah Road Trip.

The diverse lands of the National Park will be the best final destination for your Utah National Parks road trip.

So, if you ever plan to visit Utah National Parks with “Mighty Five,” make sure to include a Utah National Parks Road Trip itinerary on your list.

2. Best Seasons To Make A Utah National Parks Road Trip

No time is wrong to visit the wonders of Utah; however, some particular months can be deemed ideal for a Utah National Parks Road Trip.

An exciting adventure in Utah’s five national parks is perfect in spring or fall.

This means you should pack your bags for a Utah National Parks road trip during May, June, September, and October.

Climates in July and August can become intensely hot, and it can also get crowded as well because of the holidays. You can hope for much more pleasant and milder weather in spring and fall.

To know about all the activities and permit requirements for the Utah National Parks road trip, you should visit the official website of Utah’s National Park Service.

This will give you the necessary information about hiking, trekking, and camping.

Make sure to do your research and bring all the essential gear for the Utah National Parks road trip adventure.

Before visiting all the parks, you remember to plan and create a proper road trip itinerary.

Both rental can and car are good options if you have the right national park pass. For more information, you can always try the visitor center.

3. The “Mighty Five” Stops On Your Utah National Parks Road Trip

Even though the national parks in southern Utah are near each other, exploring all of them can get fairly difficult due to the jagged landscape.

While you will need a fair amount of driving, it is all a part of the road trip and worth viewing the wonders each park offers.

This Utah national parks itinerary will guide and allow you to learn about the best parts of each stop and help you perfectly navigate your Utah National Parks road trip.

3.1) Arches National Park Day

Find a land of varying and vibrant colors, shapes, and compositions that cannot be compared to any other in Arches National Park.

The Arches National Park has more than two thousand natural arches of stone, several looming heights, and huge proportional rocks.

The landscape of red rocks in Arches National Park will stun you with its stunning appearance and spectacular sunset.

Arches National Park
Image by David Mark from Pixabay Copyright 2016

To begin your Utah road trip, you should start at Salt Lake City and continue to Arches National Park.

The Arches National Park is the perfect first stop in your southern Utah National Parks road trip. It offers the most amazing parts of everything you need to see and explore – ruddy rocks, huge arches, spectacular views, and adventurous hikes.

i) Things To Do On Arches National Park Day

There will be no shortage of fun and delightful things in Arches National Park.

Such a list can only start with a stunning sunrise. It does not matter if you are not an early riser or a morning person; the striking splashes of blue, pink, gold, and red will make getting out of bed worth it.

Next, if you are ready for an adventure at Arches National Park, you should check out the trail from Devils Garden Trail to Landscape Arch.

The easy hike of wandering past the huge Three Gossips and Courthouse Towers at Park Avenue is also a popular option.

Make sure to visit the La Sal Mountains Viewpoint and the Balanced Rock.

And if you have the time, try to fit the Windows and Turret Arch along with the heavenly Garden of Eden to complete your day at Arches National Park.

ii) Food And Lodging

Try The Moab Resort, Moab Springs Ranch, or Red Cliffs Lodge to get the best lodging near the Arches National Park.

For food as well, the nearest diners are in Moab, which is approximately five miles from the park.

If you are thinking of bringing your food, there are many picnic spots where you can have a great time. Or you can try the restaurants like Moab Brewery or Jailhouse Cafe.

3.2) Bryce Canyon National Park Day

Bryce Canyon National Park is a must-vis your Utah National Parks road trip.

Bryce Canyon National Park’s hoodoo-filled terrain is amazing, and you can trek to these extraordinary formations to bask in their intimidating elevations and magnificence.

The highlight of Bryce Canyon National Park is undoubtedly the Navajo Loop Trail, with jaw-dropping scenic views.

Bryce Canyon Hoodoo
Image by Mike Goad from Pixabay Copyright 2018

i) Things To Do On Bryce Canyon National Park Day

Part of the Utah National Parks road trip is the drive itself, and the scenic ride with many viewpoints is one of the best parts of the journey.

The glowing landscape of Bryce Point is worth waking up in the insanely early hours.

Prepare to find your inspiration by getting motivated by the spectacular views at the Inspiration Point of Bryce Canyon National Park.

The locations of Sunset Point and Sunrise Point of Bryce Canyon National Park should also be on your Utah National Parks itinerary.

The ultimate stop through Bryce Canyon National Park is Rainbow Point. Here, you will be rewarded with picturesque views of South Utah.

It is impossible to fit all the wonders of the land in a single Utah National Parks road trip but still make sure to take a short time at the longest trail of Bryce Canyon national park – The Rim Trail.

ii) Food and Lodging

The Lodge at Bryce Canyon national park is one of the most notable historic buildings. It is only a quick stroll from the park’s famous Bryce Amphitheater.

The place has over a hundred rooms, lodge suites, motel rooms, and cabins. A dining room and a gift shop are the highlights.

Grand Staircase Inn, Stone Canyon Inn, and Under Canvas are other lodging options near Bryce Canyon National Park.

For restaurants around Bryce Canyon national park, you can try the Trailhead Cafe, Cowboy Blues, El Bambi Cafe, and Beaver Taco.

However, the dining room of The Lodge at Bryce Canyon is the most loved option among visitors.

3.3) Canyonlands National Park Day

The topography and view in Canyonlands National Park are something out of a picture book and is no way to skip the place at the time of your great Southern Utah national parks road trip.

The vast expanses of spectacular canyons in Canyonlands national park remind you of another wonderful majestic creation of nature – the Grand Canyon.

Canyonlands National Parks are divided into three areas

  • Maze District (the least accessible area of Canyonlands National Park)
  • Island in the Sky District (the easiest part of Canyonlands to visit)
  • Needles District (Popular for colorful spires and hiking trails)

The Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands national parks is only a quick half-hour’s drive from the Arches National Park and is, therefore, one of the most visited areas.

Image by Adam Derewecki from Pixabay Copyright 2016

i) Things To Do On Canyonlands National Park Day

Along with visiting each of the three special districts of Canyonland national park, you can also visit the Mesa Arch, Green River Overlook, and Buck Canyon Overlook.

Go to the Grand View Point Overlook for, you guessed it, a grand view of the Green River and mighty Colorado River along with a maze of scenic canyons.

You can also try the Shafer Canyon and its trail viewpoint if you have time. Aztec Butte, White Rim Overlook, and Dead Horse Point are popular options.

ii) Food and Lodging

For visiting the Island in the Sky District of the Canyonlands National Park, you should look for lodging in Moab.

Hotels like Big Horn Lodge, Blue Sage Inn & Suites, and Grist Mill Inn are notable options.

Some hotels are ideal for lodging, depending on each district. For Island in the Sky, dwellings are:

  • Moab Under Canvas
  • Expedition Lodge
  • Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Moab

In the case of Needles District, you have:

  • Inn at the Canyons
  • Blue Mountain Horsehead Inn
  • The Grist Mill Inn

Lastly, for the Maze District, the best options are:

  • Whispering Sands Hotel
  • Holiday Inn & Express Suites
  • Duke Slickrock Campground & RV Park

Either you can have a picnic at the Canyonlands National Park campgrounds, or you can always try nearby restaurants like Moab Paleosafari Cafe, El Charro Loco, and Lop’s Pop Stop.

3.4) Capitol Reef National Park Day

The Capitol Reef National Park is probably the most underrated of the Mighty 5.

Luckily for you, this means you will find the place less crowded and can explore this hidden gem of Capitol Reef national park to your heart’s content.

The best time to visit the Capitol Reef National Park is undoubtedly the Spring month. The blooming trees and plants with beautiful fruits and flowers will leave you speechless.

And that’s not all! It is also the time of homemade pies made from fresh fruits plucked from the trees.

Now, that is one experience of Capitol Reef National Park you don’t want to miss. So make sure to visit Gifford Homestead for a delicious slice of pie.

i) Things To Do On Capitol Reef National Park Day

At Capitol Reef National Park, you can drive the scenic expanse of the Driveway 24 past rivers, rocks, canyons, and orchards.

Capitol Reef
Image by Adam Derewecki from Pixabay Copyright 2016

From there, it is easy to reach Panorama Point for a gorgeous view of the place.

Don’t forget to look out for the beautiful rock art of Petroglyphs that were created by American Natives long ago.

Hiking the trails of Grand Wash, Rim Overlook, Cathedrals Trail, Sulphur Creek, Goblin Valley State Park, and more are also good choices.

And if you have the time, try to fit Historic Fruita and Goosenecks Overlook into your schedule.

ii) Food & Lodging

If you haven’t already stuffed yourself with the homemade pies of Gifford Homestead, make sure to do that.

Other options near Capitol Reef National Park include The Pioneer Kitchen and The Rock Garden Eatery and Bar.

The perfect option for both food and lodging is Broken Spur Inn & Steakhouse. You will be in awe of this place’s taste and portion size.

You can also stay at Capitol Reef Resort, Circle D Motel, Ticaboo Lodge, or the Red Sands Hotel and Spa.

3.5) Zion National Park Day

Of course, you should save the best for the last in your Utah National Parks list!

The popularity of Zion National Park is so much for a good reason.

It is not surprising that Zion National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the United States.

Zion National Park
Image by Simon from Pixabay Copyright 2016

Firstly, you must book the Zion Shuttle tickets to experience the most beautiful views possible.

It can get a bit crowded, but if you don’t mind that, you will find yourself wishing to return to Zion National Park again and again.

Without this, your Utah National Parks road trip will remain incomplete.

i) Things To Do On Zion National Park Day

As already mentioned, the first thing you should do is experience the spectacular views through the Zion Shuttle.

The place is all about fantastic adventures and remarkable sightseeing.

Firstly, riding along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive from the park entrance is the most important part of your Utah National Parks road trip. Make sure to drive through the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway for the Canyon Overlook Trail.

Hikes at The Narrows and Angels Landing are also great options.

One thing you cannot miss on your ride is The Weeping Rock, the sixth stop on the drive.

The dribbling rock changes the among of water based on the time of year.

Include the Observation Point, Canyon Junction Bridge, and West Rim Trail in Zion National Park, unlike most national parks. You can stroll along the Riverside Walk along the Virgin River for a relaxing time.

As for the history nerds out there, make sure to check the Human History Museum. The giant replica of the park here will make your jaw drop, and the detailed tours and brilliant displays will make your visit worth it.

As for the adventurous souls, exploring Zion National Park for canyoneering, hiking trails, and rock climbing near Springdale will trigger your adrenaline.

To retreat from the too-crowded parts, your best option at Zion National Park is the distant part of the area and the Kolob Canyons.

Though less visited, the Kolob Canyons are no less stunning than any other part of Zion National Park.

You cannot overlook the Timber Creek Overlook with a simple one-mile journey and incredible scenic beauty, particularly at the climax.

While your road trip should focus on all the national parks, you also stop at Dixie National Forest, Monument Valley, the fire state park, Natural Bridges National Monument,d the Antelope Canyon during your southern Utah national parks trip.

Zion National Park Utah
Image by Brigitte Werner from Pixabay Copyright 2013

ii) Food and Lodging

To find good hotels and lodging while visiting Zion National Park on your Utah National Parks road trip, your best bet is to find something at Springdale.

Hotels of all price ranges, from expensive luxurious ones to affordable ones, can be found here.

Some are Cliffrose Springdale, The Majestic View Lodge, and the Chalet Motel. You can also stay at Zion Wildflower Resort, Zion National Park Lodge, Bumbleberry Inn, or Open Sky Zion.

Visiting national parks, you need to give your taste buds the best possible experience and try the restaurants like Castle Dome Cafe, Oscar’s Cafe, Zion Canyon Brew Pub, and Spotted Dog.

Flavorful dishes like Muscovy Duck Breast and Wild Game Meatloaf Dinner will change your life.

So visit Utah’s national parks and have an adventure you will never forget.

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Closing Thoughts

With its magical terrains, national parks, and mesmerizing canyons, Utah is undoubtedly one of the most extraordinary states in the United States of America.

And nothing else is better at demonstrating the state’s beauty and individuality than the Utah National Parks road trip.

A journey to Southern Utah’s national parks and nearby towns will change your life. It feels like the land of Mighty 5 was created for road trips.

Utah Road Trip
Image by Egor Shitikov from Pixabay Copyright 2017

On your Utah Road Trip, you will find many lanes and roads to roam, peaceful nooks to scour, sunrises, sunsets, and starry nights to delight in, and wonderful lands with the amazing art of nature to seek, explore, and love.

In the end, no matter the careful planning and listing, you will miss some of the attractions while exploring Utah’s National Parks.

So, the best thing you can do is come back to the land of spectacular landscapes for more. And if you take the amazing Utah National Parks road trip once, you will be back again.

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Last Updated on October 5, 2023 by Sathi Chakraborty


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