National Parks

Perfect Utah National Parks Road Trip: Your Big 5 Bucket List Trip

Mar 16, 2022

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With their popular attractions like Angels Landing, the orange hoodoos of Bryce, and Canyonlands’ vast landscape, it’s no wonder you’d want to explore all 5 parks! I mean, you can’t go wrong with a Southern Utah National Parks road trip.

And if a Big 5 Utah Parks road trip is on your bucket list to explore Utah’s Mighty 5 then prepare for the adventure of a lifetime! In this blog, we’re going to cover the best itinerary for seeing all the parks in their glory. PREPARE YOSELF. I should mention, though, you might also find these posts helpful for planning your trip:

So let’s not take up any more time, shall we? We’ll start this blog by discussing some of the must-know details before you embark on your trip, then we’ll get into the itinerary.

Disclaimer: This blog contains affiliate links which means I earn a small percentage of every purchase at no additional cost to you.

Planning a Trip to Utah National Parks

  • 🌵When to Go: You can get away with visiting the parks anywhere from February to May.
  • Trip Length: You can see the Utah Mighty 5 in 7 days. This Big 5 Utah road trip will be 8 days – this includes your departure.
  • ✈️Fly: For the best tickets, check KAYAK. Fly into Las Vegas, Flagstaff, or Salt Lake City for the best routes.
  • 🚗Rental Car: KAYAK can help you find cheap rental cars as well! You will not need a 4×4 for this trip.
  • 🚐Rental Campervan: Want a campervan instead? You can rent one using Outdoorsy.
  • 🏨Stay: We’ll discuss your options!
  • 🎟Park Fees: The standard entrance fee is about $35 per park. To save, snag the America The Beautiful Pass ($79.99) and will be your annual pass for all US national parks.

If February to May doesn’t work for you, there are other times to embark on this road trip! Spring is great from a weather perspective and brings in fewer crowds, but summer can be enjoyable. You will have to keep an eye on the weather and make sure summer won’t be too hot. A Utah National Parks road trip in winter is doable too, but will require extra preparation.

Where to Start Your Big 5 Utah Road Trip

To start your Utah parks road trip, you have a few cities you can fly into:

  • Las Vegas, NV – 16 hours and 50 minutes, round trip way, starting from Zion National Park. 
  • Flagstaff, AZ – Your drive will be 16 hours and 40 minutes, round trip, starting in Zion National Park. If you choose this route, it’ll be easy to actually do an Arizona Utah road trip itinerary!
  • Salt Lake City, UT – You can certainly take a Utah National Parks road trip from Salt Lake City. Your drive will be 15 hours and 30 minutes, round trip, starting from Arches National Park.
  • Denver, CO – A Utah National Parks road trip from Denver, CO is an option too. Your round trip drive will be about 22 hours.

If you’re comfortable coordinating your flights, you can start in LV, head to the UT National Parks (starting with Zion), and fly out of SLC. This route will be 13 hours and 50 minutes round trip. This same concept can be applied to any combination of the cities we just discussed.

I recommend checking KAYAK to see what the best way to visit Utah National Parks is for you!

8 Day Utah National Parks Road Trip Itinerary

  • Day 1 – Land in Vegas and arrive in Zion National Park
  • Day 2 – Explore Zion
  • Day 3 – Head to Bryce Canyon and explore
  • Day 4 – Head to Capitol Reef National Park and explore
  • Day 5 – Drive to Canyonlands National Park and explore
  • Day 6 – Explore Arches National Park and Moab
  • Day 7 – Explore Arches
  • Day 8 – Head to SLC

In this blog, we’ll cover a Utah National Parks itinerary from Las Vegas. I will start the route in Zion NP, ending with Arches and flying out of Salt Lake City. Click here for a link to the road trip map of Utah National Parks I created for you!

Remember, a Utah road trip from Las Vegas isn’t the only way to go. As we discussed in the previous section, you can always fly in and out of LV or vice versa! You will be spending 1 to 2 days in each park, with a couple of exceptions.

Day 1 — Las Vegas to Zion National Park

Morning

Once you land in Las Vegas, pick up your rental car, and head to a grocery store to stock up on snacks before heading to Zion. We’re going to assume you arrive in LV early morning to early afternoon! Time to begin your Big 5 Utah road trip!

Zion National Park as a whole is just beautiful. Once you get there, it’s easy to see why folks love it so much. This park has plenty of hiking trails to choose from, which means you’ll never get bored!

I suggest parking at the Visitor Center or in one of the paid Springdale lots. You will have to take the Zion shuttles to get around (assuming you are not visiting the park in winter. I explain all of this in my Zion park guide. You’ll be spending 2 nights here starting tonight.

Afternoon

Depending on how you’re feeling after your drive, you have a few options for activities! Here are some notable ones to consider:

  • Emerald Pools Hike This will be a 2 mile RT hike to the Upper Pool. The Emerald Pool trails are an easy entry trail into the park!
  • The Narrows The Narrows will take you deep into a canyon system in Zion National Park. Folks from all over love to take this trail because you feel a little Indiana Jones-ish when you’re walking through the water channels! Starting from the Temple of Sinawava, the Bottom-Up section of The Narrows is free to explore!

Evening

Let’s cap off the day with a lovely sunset! The Watchman is the iconic rock formation you always see pictures of in Zion National Park. Scott and I discovered the Watchman Trail on our most recent trip there and LOVED it!

This is a beautiful sunset hike, and it’ll take about 2 hours to hike and is 3.3mi RT and 300ft+ elevation gain. The trailhead can be accessed by the Visitor center!

Not in the mood to hike? Watch the sunset at Canyon Junction Bridge! There is parking on the side of the road. You can also park at the Visitor Center and walk to the bridge. This is a great way to end day 1 of your Utah Mighty 5 itinerary.

Get to bed early! You have a early wakeup time tomorrow!

Day 2 Angels Landing and Wrap Up

Morning

Angels Landing is the most noteworthy hike in Zion National Park! Known for its amazing park views, it attracts millions of visitors to Zion every year. It’s a BEAUTIFUL hike, to say the least, and if you skip it on your Utah National Parks road trip, I think you’ll end up regretting it!

The hike starts at the Grotto Trailhead and goes along the lower West Rim Trail. It is 4.8mi RT and has 1,630ft in elevation gain, and can take most hikers 4 hours to complete. To get there early in the morning, you will have to take the earliest Zion shuttle to the trailhead. Read more about the Zion shuttle system on NPS.gov.

✨PS: Want to hike Angels Landing for Sunrise? Read how to coordinate biking to the trailhead in my Zion National Park 2 day itinerary blog!

Afternoon

Here’s a quick list of activities you can do while you wait for sunset!

Evening

Canyon Overlook Trail will give you gorgeous views of Zion Canyon and will GLOW at sunset. This is an easy 1-mile hike that can take 30 minutes to an hour. After your sunset mission, head back to your accommodations!

Tomorrow you’ll be driving to Bryce. I highly recommend grocery shopping in Springdale before you leave. Food options are sparse in Bryce! You can stop in Kanab, but this will add time to your trip.

Day 3 Bryce Canyon National Park

Morning

Your Utah National Parks road trip continues! You can choose to leave early in the morning to catch the sunrise at Bryce (no hiking required). Let’s get into day 3 of your Utah big 5 itinerary!

Bryce has made your life easier and told you where exactly to catch the sunrise! Sunrise at Bryce National Park has become one of my favorites because of the COLORS. I am not lying when I say this place is orange, and I am here for it. If Bryce doesn’t convince you that you’re on the best Utah road trip, I’m not sure what will.

Afternoon

During the day, jump on the Navajo Loop and Queens Garden Trail! The Navajo Loop and Queens Garden Trail is probably the most popular hiking route in Bryce Canyon National Park. The trail takes you deep into the canyon, where you will come face to face with some fairly interesting rock formations.

Expect the hike to take around 2 hours, depending on how many stops you make for photographs and breaks. The loop is just about 3 miles.

Depending on how much time you have between the end of your hike and sunset, you can go back to your campsite or accommodations to relax. Another great option is to head outside of Bryce National Park and explore the Red Canyon area!

Evening

If you’re not too tired after your hike, check out Sunset Point before calling it a night! Sunset point is located near Sunrise Point. About .6 miles of sidewalk separates them. If you don’t want to see the same view for sunset, skip this!

Sleep tight! Tomorrow you’ll head to Capitol Reef National Park for the next park of your Utah Parks road trip!

Day 4 — Capitol Reef (Utah National Parks Road Trip Halfway Point)

Morning – Afternoon

Ahhhh yes, Capitol Reef. There is no need to get here for sunrise, so feel free to sleep in a bit. When you arrive in Capitol Reef National Park, you’ll automatically notice how cute it is. There are multiple picnic areas and little farmhouses – adorrrrable!

Once you get there, I recommend sampling the baked goods at Gifford House! And when I say baked goods, I am NOT messing around. Inside the bakery, you’ll find fresh-baked PIES. Yes. PIES. Like rhubarb and strawberry. Loaves of bread, salads, jellies. I mean, it’s incredible. I mean, who doesn’t want a pie on a national parks Utah road trip?

Across from Gifford House, there is a small picnic area. Snag yourself a table and chill! If you have a campervan, you can cook some lunch and enjoy the outdoors. That’s what Scott and I opted to do during this segment of our trip!

Ready to explore after your picnic? Here are some activities you can do!

  • Drive Capitol Reef Scenic Byway
  • Hike to Hickman Natural Bridge
  • Drive Cathedral Valley Road – Requires a high-clearance 4×4. If you want to drive this road, I suggest adding a day to your trip to accommodate.

Evening

Don’t ​we love it when parks make this stuff easy? I’m here for easy days on a Utah parks road trip. You can watch the sunset over Capitol Reef at sunset point! This is a short .3 mile hike. Access the Sunset Point Trail from the Goosenecks Overlook parking lot. Another option is to take a scenic drive through the Byway for sunset!

Tomorrow you’ll head to the Moab area and explore Canyonlands National Park!

Day 5 — Canyonlands National Park

Morning

Woohoo! Day 5. Today you’ll be exploring Canyonlands National Park. You don’t need to get here early, but you certainly can! Arches National Park is in the same area, so you won’t have to do any significant driving once you arrive in Moab!

It is no question that Mesa Arch is easily one of the most popular things to do in Canyonlands National Park. It is a photographer’s hot spot for sunrise, which is usually very crowded. But, the view is worth it! If you get to the park early enough for sunrise, you can head here first. The walk to get to Mesa Arch is less than a mile!

Afternoon

Canyonlands is an adventure hub. To make the most out of day 5 of your Utah National Parks road trip, I recommend booking an excursion like mountain biking, off-roading, or horseback riding!

You can also spend quite a bit of time exploring Moab and the local areas like Long Canyon. There is plenty to see and do once you’re in the Moab area! You can also book a canyoneering and packrafting combo trip!

Evening

The Grand View Point Overlook area can be fantastic for sunset! Green River Overlook is another option. Regardless, the scale of the viewpoints are insane! I love these areas of the park because it has a way of making you feel so small. No hiking is required for either view. You can enjoy them as soon as you park and witness an amazing sunset!

Tomorrow you’ll start your Arches National Park journey with a sunrise mission!

Day 6 — Arches (A Utah National Parks Road Trip Favorite)

Morning

Woohoo! Today you’re starting your journey in Arches. Since you’re in Moab, getting here will take a matter of minutes. You can sleep in if you want or opt for a sunrise journey.

Delicate Arch is probably the most iconic structure and top things to do in Arches National Park. There is no reason to not include it in your Utah National Parks road trip!

You can expect this trail to have a crowd if you visit it in the middle of the day, but it is still worth the visit! The hike is 3.1mi round trip with 613ft in elevation gain. Hiking Delicate Arch will take about 2 to 3 hours. In the dark, it may take you a bit longer. The trail is marked but can be tricky to navigate, so plan accordingly!

Afternoon

In the afternoon, head to Moab for lunch and explore some of the local areas, book a tour, or relax!

Evening

Park Avenue Trail is a beautiful area of Arches National Park that’s an excellent choice for sunset. The path is 2 miles round trip and is relatively flat. Otherwise, the view from the initial trailhead is impressive at sunset.

Tomorrow will be your last day in Moab!

Day 7 More Arches and Wrap Up

Morning

Today will be your last day exploring Utah National Parks on your Utah Mighty Five road trip! So let’s end it with some more adventure.

Want to explore a little bit more of Arches National Park? The Windows Section is another easy thing to do in Arches National Park if you’re looking for a quick yet scenic area to stop by on your Utah National Parks road trip!

This is also a popular area for sunrise because there are various arches located near each other (Double Arch, Cove Arch, etc.). No hiking is required here.

Afternoon

After your sunrise mission, you can head over to Sand Dune Arch to explore some more of the park. Otherwise, you can head back into Moab until sunset!

Evening

While you’re in the Moab area, you might as well drive over to Dead Horse Point State Park and watch the sunset! It’s a gorgeous area and honestly rivals views in Canyonlands, in my opinion! Regardless, Dead Horse Point is a great way to cap off a road trip to the Big Five Utah parks.

After your sunset mission, rest up! You’ll be driving to SLC tomorrow!

Day 8 — Final Day on Your Big 5 Utah Road Trip

  • Total Drive Time: 3 Hours and 50 Minutes
  • Time Exploring: 1 Day
  • Stay: SLC
  • Eat: SLC
  • Fees: None

Once in SLC, you can rest up, eat some food, and depart Utah the following day! If you want to explore SLC a bit, add a day to your trip and leave on day 10!

PS: You can also head to Arizona for a Utah and Arizona road trip!

And fin.

I hope you enjoyed this blog and you get to see all 5 parks in Utah! Utah National Parks have endless things to do, and we only touched the surface here. However, a Mighty 5 Utah self drive tour is really the best way to go. It’s the national parks road trip of a lifetime if you ask me!

If you want to do this trip backward, starting in SLC then ending in Flagstaff, that’s an excellent option too! You’ll be able to see the Grand Canyon on your way down. Even Sedona. In that case, a Phoenix Sedona Grand Canyon trip (in reverse) may be of interest to you.

Regardless of what you do next, you just completed a bucket-list trip, so congrats! I’ll see you in the next post.

Happy exploring :)!

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I'm a burrito loving explorer who got fired from corporate America and turned that into my dream career as a photographer and blogger. Now I'm here to help you explore life's magic. Thanks for stopping by!