UTAH NATIONAL PARKS ROAD TRIP : 10 EPIC DAYS TO EXPLORE THE MIGHTY 5

Hands down, there is nothing as exciting as a Utah National Parks Road Trip. Visiting the “Mighty 5” on a road trip through Utah was the highlight of our West Coast RV adventure. This article will take you through the best-of-the-best for your national parks excursion, with several options for people who like to travel a little differently than we do.

We’ve outlined the must-do activities for you in a 10-day itinerary, but it’s easy to take it to 7-days with the modifications we highlight below. We also take you off the national park scene a little with a few suggestions, if you’re up for it.

BEFORE YOU PLAN YOUR ROAD TRIP…

UTAH NATIONAL PARKS ROAD TRIP : 10 EPIC DAYS TO EXPLORE THE MIGHTY 5
When you arrive with the sun, you can catch a glimpse of Delicate Arch before the crowds gather.

Before you begin mapping your itinerary, there are a few things to need to consider:

  • Which airport will you be flying into? Las Vegas and Salt Lake City are the most popular so we’ve included drive times for those from each park below.
  • How will you travel around? Before you book your flight, you might consider calling both airports about rental cars. They are very expensive and supply is low so this might make a difference in where your adventure should begin.
  • Another alternative is to rent an RV for your roadtrip. It will be more expensive but can save you money on hotels, car rental and even food (if you have a kitchen in your rig.)
  • Order your American the Beautiful Pass if you haven’t already. It will save you money, and it will allow you to get in lines that move faster as you enter the park. Also, it covers far more than just the national parks. Finally, get it now because there is not a downloadable version available; it must be mailed.
  • Pick the time of year for your visit. Small crowds and more friendly temperatures make April–May or September–October  the best time to visit Utah National Parks. We visited in Spring and found it to be idyllic, with plenty of wildlife sightings and blooming flowers on our scenic drives.
  • After you plan your itinerary, make your park and/or activity reservations. Apply for the lottery for Angel’s Landing if you desire. Reservations might include Zion Adventure Company, RedRock Astronomy, Cathedral Valley jeep rental, mountain bike rentals at Deadhorse, etc

HOW TO USE THIS GUIDE FOR YOUR MULTI-DAY JOURNEY

We’ve outlined 10 days of exploring on your Utah National Parks Road Trip, but you’ll also need a day prior and after for travel time. That is not included in this itinerary.

You might also choose to reorder the way you visit the parks. For example, if you fly into Las Vegas then you might decide to start with Zion. The park activities listed below are made to accommodate a shuffling of the order of experiences.

We’ve included our favorite side junkets, as well. If you have the time, we highly recommend extending your stay to explore beyond the national parks. It took us an entire month to visit all the side trips, and it was magical.

Planning a National Parks road trip? The America the Beautiful Pass covers entrance for an entire year to all the US National Parks and over 2,000 federal recreation fee sites. Fees are covered for everyone in the car for per-vehicle sites and for up to 4 adults for per-person sites. This is a no-brainer, friends. While fees vary, you’ll likely break even after two visits. Plus, REI will donate 10% of pass sale proceeds to the NPS Foundation.

YOU UTAH NATIONAL PARKS ROAD TRIP ITINERARY AT-A-GLANCE

Here is your 10-day Utah National Parks itinerary at a glance. Need to make it a 7-day Utah road trip itinerary? Remove days 3, 6 and 10.

DAY 1: ARCHES NATIONAL PARK

  • Delicate Arch
  • Landscape Arch
  • Navajo Arch
  • Fiery Furnace Viewpoint 
  • Panorama Point, Balanced Rock and Courthouse Towers
  • Redrock Astronomy

DAY 2: CANYONLANDS (THE NEEDLES) + ARCHES NATIONAL PARK

  • Chesler Park Viewpoint
  • Roadside Ruin and Wooden Shoe Arch
  • Double Arch, Turret Arch, and North Window and South Window Arches

OR

  • Roadside Ruin and Wooden Shoe Arch
  • Slickrock Trail
  • Cave Spring Trail
  • Pothole Point Trail
  • Big Spring Canyon Overlook
  • Double Arch, Turret Arch, and North Window and South Window Arches

DAY 3: MOAB AREA

  • Dead Horse Point State Park
  • Potash Road

DAY 4: CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK

  • Mesa Arch
  • Grand Viewpoint Overlook
  • Green River Overlook.
  • Whale Rock
  • Aztec Butte
  • Shaffer Canyon Overlook 

DAY 5: CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK

  • Cassidy Arch
  • Gifford House
  • Cohab Canyon
  • Panoramic Point, the Goosenecks, and Sunset Point 
  • Historic Fruita School, the petroglyphs, the fruit tree groves
  • Hickman Bridge

OR

  • Cassidy Arch
  • Gifford House
  • Rim Overlook
  • Historic Fruita School, the petroglyphs, the fruit tree groves

DAY 6: CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK

  • Cathedral Valley

DAY 7: BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK

  • Fairyland Loop
  • Mossy Cave
  • Natural Bridge and Rainbow Point Overlooks

DAY 8: BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK

  • Navajo Loop to Queen’s Garden
  • Rainbow Point or Peekaboo or Sheep Creek Hiking Trails

OR

  • Figure Eight Loop
  • Rainbow Point

DAY 9: ZION NATIONAL PARK

  • The Narrows

DAY 10: ZION NATIONAL PARK

  • Emerald Pools
  • Red Desert Adventure

ARCHES NATIONAL PARK

arches national park
Double Arch before sunset

CAN’T-MISS EXPERIENCES AT ARCHES NPS

  • Delicate Arch
  • Landscape Arch
  • Fiery Furnace Viewpoint
  • The Three Gossips
  • The Broken Arch, Sand Dune Arch, Skyline Arch balloon trail
  • Double Arch
  • North Window and South Window Arches

IDEAL ITINERARY

Arrive in Moab, grab a bite to eat and hit the sack early. You’ll be up well before the sun tomorrow.

DAY 1

MORNING

Wake early and hike to Delicate Arch for sunrise. It will take you about 30 minutes to get to the trailhead from the park entrance. Add that calculation into your timeline once you look up the time for sunrise during your stay.

Even if you miss sunrise a few minutes like we did, it’s worth the effort because there are so few people there in the morning. If you’re lucky like we were, people will wait a good while before starting their “selfies” in front of the arch…it’s a magical time.

Eat breakfast there, grab your photos when it’s time, then head back to the car. Drive further into the park to Landscape Arch. Be sure to go the entire way on the trail because the view as you get closer is so much better.

From there add Navajo Arch to your itinerary.

AFTERNOON

Time to grab lunch outside the park. It’s hot and the park is very full now, so it’s a good time to take a break. On your way out of the park, stop to see the Fiery Furnace Viewpoint (it was closed for hikers when we visited), Panorama PointBalanced Rock and Courthouse Towers (and see The Three Gossips).

In Moab, grab some lunch. We’ve got recommendations below.

EVENING

Spend your evening with RedRock Astronomy, if you can. Depending on sunset times on the date of your visit, this adventure will start between 5pm and 9pm.

DAY 2

MORNING AND AFTERNOON

You’re going to visit another national park today — Canyonlands. The Needles section is located about 1.5 hours South of Moab.

Your visit here now because this section of Canyonlands isn’t accessible via the entrance you’ll go into to visit the “main” part of that park. Also, very few people see The Needles section of Canyonlands. It’s the ideal way to spend time that is “high peak” within Arches.

Just a note: You’re heading into No Man’s Land so pack extra water, lunch and plenty of snacks. And fuel up the car!

Option 1: A long hike and some overlooks

This is my personal favorite. Hike the Chesler Park Viewpoint trail. There are varying versions of this, but because of the long drive we suggest the short version – a 6 mile hike, round trip. It’s “moderately strenuous” so consider that in your time estimates.

Afterward, you’ll still have energy (and day light) to see Roadside Ruin and Wooden Shoe Arch

Option 2: Several shorter hikes

If you’re worried about daylight or you prefer several shorter hikes then you can stop to see Roadside Ruin and Wooden Shoe Arch.

After that, take the Slickrock Trail loop, which is 2.4 miles and takes about 2.5 hours. From this trail you can really get a beautiful view of The Needles.

Still have some time? Hike two additional easy .6 mile round trip trails: Cave Spring Trail and Pothole Point Trail. Then head to the end of the road to see views from Big Spring Canyon Overlook.

EVENING

Head into Moab for some dinner (see our suggestions below) and then be sure to be in Arches about 45 -60 minutes before sunset. Why? Because Double Arch and the Windows are great this time of evening!

Take the 30-ish minute drive to the parking lot. You’re able to get to Double ArchTurret Arch, and North Window and South Window Arches from here. Start with Double Arch. End with the windows for sunset! It will take your breath away.

landscape arch
Elliot looking up at Landscape Arch

DRIVE TIMES

  • From Salt Lake City Airport: 3 hours 40 minutes
  • From Las Vegas Airport: 8 hours
  • From Canyonlands NPS: 30 minutes
  • From Capitol Reef NPS: 2 hours 15 minutes

WHERE TO STAY NEAR ARCHES NPS

There are no lodging options inside Arches. All the lodging (and restaurants) are in Moab, which is only about 5 minutes from the entrance.

STAYING OUTSIDE THE PARK

OUR FAVORITE EATS NEAR ARCHES

  • Sunset Grill; Amazing views of Moab and yummy dinner. Closed Sundays.
  • Moab Brewery; When you need a burger and beer after a long hike.
  • Jailhouse Cafe; Affectionately known as “Moab’s Breakfast Place”

EXPLORING OUTSIDE THE PARK

CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK

mesa arch
Mesa Arch in the morning. If you don’t get there early you have to stand in line for this shot.

CAN’T-MISS EXPERIENCES AT CANYONLANDS NPS

  • Mesa Arch
  • Aztec Butte Trail
  • Fiery Furnace Viewpoint
  • The Needles
  • Indian Creek Falls

IDEAL ITINERARY

It is most common to stay in Moab while exploring Canyonlands. There are no hotels or restaurants in the area near the park. However, if you’re in an RV then consider moving to Dead Horse Point State Park to save commute time.

You can also grab a tent spot or yurt here, but you’ll need to figure out your plans for meal time.

We stayed in Dead Horse Point in our RV, but still drove in to Moab for dinner a few times. It’s about a 30-minute commute.

DAY 3

MORNING/AFTERNOON

If you need to shorten this itinerary by a day then you can skip “Day 3” and head straight to Day 4. You’re not visiting a National Park today, but exploring an amazing state park.

You’re going to be visiting Dead Horse Point State Park today, starting with a mountain bike adventure.

Reserve your bikes from Bighorn Mountain Biking, and pick them up inside the park right near the trailhead. You have to be at the rental pick-up location before noon, and you’ve got three hours to enjoy on the trails. We fully planned to spend all three hours out there, but as novice riders we were spent after about 2.5 hours. But, we saw everything we wanted to see in that timeframe.

The team here will give you a trail map and guide you on the path that suites your experience level. For those who like to plan ahead, consider the route we took: Intrepid to Raven Roll…Keep going to Big Chief (with the very best views) and then head back to home base via Pyramid.

I note for wary parents…this biking adventure allows you to bike along the rim of the canyon. I was very nervous about it, especially because my guys are new mountain biking. The truth is that the trails are not too close to the edge. I felt safe the entire time along the trails I mention above. Anxious parent? You got this!

Now, before you leave the park after your mountain biking adventure, be sure to follow the main road to the end of the park for a view of Head Horse Point. It’s a great place to have a picnic lunch.

LATER AFTERNOON/EARLY EVENING

If you’re visiting during spring or summer, with longer daylight hours then take a tour along Potash Road. Along this spectacular corridor you’ll find lush canyons, dinosaur tracks, ancient rock art, arches, and more.

Be sure to stop at Wall Street, so named because of the amazing canyon walls. Pull off and grab some fun views of climbers on the slickrock.

Look for the pullout with a sign that says Indian Writing. You’ll find a 125-ft panel from the Formative Period (bring binoculars) plus if you keep your eyes peeled you’ll see three-toed allosaurus tracks on the north side of the road. The spotting tubes are a clue.

Further down you’ll also see a marker for the Gold Bar camping area. Find a parking spot in here for the Corona Arch trailhead. This trail is 2.4 miles and labeled moderate. It’s not too difficult, but there is an area on the slickrock that includes safety cables to help you climb, but it’s only one small section.

Afterward you can grab some dinner in Moab. If you’re staying in Dead Horse Point then be sure to look up when you get back for the evening. You’re far enough from Moab that the sky is pitch black and the stars put on a show.

DAY 4

MORNING/AFTERNOON

You’ve already explored The Needles section of Canyonlands. Today you’ll explore the most popular section: Island in the Sky.

Much like Arches, getting up early is worth the effort. Start your day with a sunrise hike to Mesa Arch.

From there you’ll visit several overlooks. Start with Grand View Point Overlook where you can take in the overlook and hike the easy but beautiful 1.8 mile trail.

Keep heading North on Grand View Point Road then continue North on Upheaval Dome Road to the Green River Overlook.

Many people recommended Whale Rock trail to us since we were with the kids. You’ll keep going on this road to Whale Rock if you want to take on that 1 mile hike. We skipped it, though, in favor if Aztec Butte, which is just beyond the Green River Overlook.

Aztec Butte is 2 miles, round trip..but it took us about 2.5 hours because we explored every nook and cranny along the route.

We didn’t make it all the way to the top of Aztec Butte because it was super steep and very very windy on the day we visited. It didn’t seem safe to do that last 10 yards with the kids…but WOW! It was still so beautiful.

A spur trail off the main trail takes you to ancestral Pueblo granaries are over 1,000 years old! They are a little hard to find because they are kind of “under” the trail. Don’t give up; it’s so worth it!

Finally, on your way out, visit Shaffer Canyon Overlook near the Visitor Center.

We recommend you move this evening toward Capitol Reef. You’re going to want to get an early start tomorrow.

canyonlands
Can you see the snow caps and the 4×4 road through the canyon?

DRIVE TIMES

  • From Salt Lake City Airport: 3 hours 50 minutes
  • From Las Vegas Airport: 6 hours 45 minutes
  • From Arches NPS: 30 minutes
  • From Capitol Reef NPS: 2 hours 30 minutes

WHERE TO STAY NEAR CANYONLANDS NPS

There are no lodging options inside Canyonlands. Most people stay in Moab (the largest city in the area) and drive the half-hour to visit Canyonlands.

STAYING OUTSIDE THE PARK

OUR FAVORITE EATS NEAR CANYONLANDS

There are ZERO restaurants in the area. Bring your own groceries or head into Moab for good eats.

EXPLORING OUTSIDE THE PARK

  • The slots in Little Wildhorse Canyon in the San Rafael Swell are not technical and not too narrow, and very close to Goblin Valley.

CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK

cassidy arch
Look closely to see Lesli and Elliot on the arch

CAN’T-MISS EXPERIENCES AT CAPITOL REEF NPS

  • Pies from Gifford House
  • Cassidy Arch
  • Hickman Bridge
  • Panoramic Point, the Goosenecks, and Sunset Point overlooks
  • Cathedral Valley Road

IDEAL ITINERARY

DAY 5

MORNING

There are plenty of things to see as you enter the park, but much like Arches, you are going to come back to all of that later. First, head straight to the trailhead for Cassidy Arch.

No need to get up before sunrise, but you do want to start your day early because it can get super hot and crowded hiking Cassidy Arch. But man, is it worth it!

It was my favorite hike over all five parks in Utah. Every turn, every viewpoint, every rock…is just breath-taking. And if you’re not too scared, be sure to get a photo standing on top of the arch. It’s one of the few places you are able to do this.

After you’re done, head back to Gifford House for a few pies. Don’t wait until later, because they sometimes run out of pies in the peak season. These small pies have been making history here for decades. We left with an apple, wild berry and cherry. They will hold for you in the car just fine, but if you want to try them early then bring a fork with you.

AFTERNOON

Option 1 – Head into Torrey for lunch. After that, come back to the trailhead for Cohab Canyon, just a little South of your pie stop.

The Cohab Canyon trail is 3.5 miles, but you don’t have to do all of it to see the best parts. The first 15 minutes is very hard because of the elevation…but then it gets easier (Not easy, just easier.)

When you hit the junction with the Frying Pan Trail, be on the look out for two scenic overlooks: North Overlook and South Overlook. Don’t miss these for sensational bird’s-eye views of Fruita. After seeing those, you can head back or keep going until you reach Hwy 24 (the end of the trail) before turning back.

Use this hottest time of day to do some easy “hikes” by visiting the overlooks: Panoramic Point, the Goosenecks, and Sunset Point are your must-dos.

Option 2 – Bring your lunch with you (but you still need pies – don’t skip that!) and hike the longer and more strenuous trail called Rim Overlook.

It’s 4.6 miles round trip, and the views of Fruit and the waterpocket fold are unmatched anywhere in the park. The waterpocket fold is the 10-mile “wrinkle” in the earth’s crust. Be sire to compare the left side to the right side…one of these is about 7,000 feet higher than the other!

EVENING

If you’re visiting in Spring or Summer when the sun sets late, then you still have time for a few more stops like Historic Fruita School, the petrogyphs, the fruit tree groves and any overviews you missed.

If you didn’t hike the Rim Overlook then you’ll also enjoy taking the Hickman Bridge hike this evening. The Freemont River runs along the trailhead, and it’s a good place to cool off before and after the hike.

DAY 6

ALL DAY

Today you’ll be exploring Cathedral Valley. This is a 4×4 road. Even though we have a 4WD truck, we heard this was a very bumpy road and didn’t want to take the risk with our primary vehicle. We opted to rent a 4WD Jeep from a nearby vendor and were very glad we did.

If you go this route then plan to pick up your Jeep in the morning. You won’t head back into the main entrance of the park, but to the Cathedral Valley road. Plan to spend about 6 hours exploring.

Highlights here include enjoying a picnic high above Cathedral Valley at the CV Overlook, Glass Mountain, Temple of the Sun (and Moon), the Bentonite Hills, and of course fording the Freemont River!

After you return your Jeep, it’s time to move to Zion for tomorrow’s adventure.

capitol reef
Sneaker Shot from Panoramic Point

DRIVE TIMES

  • From Salt Lake City Airport: 3 hours 30 minutes
  • From Las Vegas Airport: 5 hours 20 minutes
  • From Canyonlands NPS: 2 hours 20 minutes
  • From Arches NPS: 2 hours
  • From Bryce Canyon NPS: 2 hours 10 minutes

WHERE TO STAY NEAR CAPITOL REEF NPS

STAYING OUTSIDE THE PARK

  • There is no lodging inside the park, but Capitol Reef Resort is just outside. Pick from guest rooms, cabins, teepees or Conestoga wagons.
  • The Snuggle Inn is a little further out, but the rooms are huge and include a kitchen if you’re looking to save on meals.

OUR FAVORITE EATS NEAR CAPITOL REEF

  • Do NOT forget to pick up a pie inside the park at Gifford Homestead. Even if you don’t usually eat sweet treats, this is a must.
  • In Torrey, Capitol Burger is where to fuel up! It’s a food truck, so check their FB page to see where they are parked.

EXPLORING OUTSIDE THE PARK

  • If you missed Goblin Valley and Little Wild Horse Canyon then its not too late to visit them.

BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK

bryce canyon

CAN’T-MISS EXPERIENCES AT BRYCE CANYON NPS

  • Fairyland Loop
  • Navajo Loop to Queen’s Garden
  • Rainbow Point 
  • Mossy Cave

IDEAL ITINERARY

DAY 7

MORNING

While you don’t have to get up before the sun this time, consider an early start as you head out to the Fairyland Loop. Parking here (and at the Navajo Loop tomorrow) is hard to get.

Fairyland Loop is the one hike you have to do, if no other. It’s officially 7.8 miles, but we’ve heard others call it closer to 9 miles, and that’s what we experienced, too. You’ll walk through the hoodoos, see Tower Bridge, catch gorgeous views along the rim, and more.

Be warned: it’s not easy. The 2300 ft in elevation change is a doozy. But hey, even our kids were able to make it happen.

AFTERNOON

Your next hike actually starts outside the park, so plan to have lunch in one of the restaurants that line the road into the park…or in Tropic, which is the direction you’re heading.

After lunch, it up Mossy Cave. It’s a Bryce hike but it is outside the ticketing gate – super short, but oh so sweet.

We loved the water flowing here in the creek as well as at the waterfall. Be sure to hike up and see the cave (more like a grotto) and touch the moss, and then as you’re coming down, overlooking the waterfall, you’ll see Turret Arch. Even though this hike is only a mile, we were probably here about 2+ hours.

EVENING

At this point, the crowds have dissipated. You can go back into the park and drive the long road through the park, checking out the overlooks, or you can decide to do that tomorrow afternoon.

The benefit of doing it today is that you can leave for your next destination tomorrow (after a long hike), but we also know from experience that by Day 7 of this journey an early evening is welcome for the family.

If (when) you take the drive, be sure to stop at Natural Bridge and get a selfie with the arch, and Rainbow Point (at the very very end) where you’re over 9,000 ft in elevation and can really see the rock layers change colors.

DAY 8

MORNING

Today’s plan depends on a few things: Are you ready to hike another 7-ish miles, or do you want the “package” version of this hike in a short – but not easy – 3 miles? Did you drive the road to Rainbow Point yesterday, or are you doing that today? How early do you need to leave for your next destination?

One of Bryce’s can’t-miss hikes is the “Figure Eight” hike…but our kids would have killed us if we made them walk another 7-9 miles. Instead we hiked 2 of the three trails in the Figure Eight: Navajo Loop to Queen’s Garden. If you’re low on time (or energy) then I recommend this approach, which is also a loop.

You can go either direction on this loop, but we ended our hike through the Queen’s Garden and I feel like that was the least strenuous direction. Don’t miss the side spur to see the Queen!

This hike includes the most important overlooks along the rim like Sunset Point, Sunrise Point, and Observation Point.

AFTERNOON/EVENING

If you ask me, the very best itinerary option here is to drive the road (if you haven’t) and then pack it up and head to Grand Staircase Escalante (specifically Kanab) for two days before heading to Zion.

We’ve got a great article about Kanab that will show you what to do (linked below). Hike several of Utah’s best slot canyons: Peekaboo, Zebra and Buckskin Gulch. Ride a board down pink sand dunes, climb the Moqui caves…and more.

Can you add an additional week? From Kanab, it’s relatively easy to get to Antelope Canyon, Lake Powell and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Can’t extend your stay?

Hike another of the beauties in Bryce like Peekaboo Loop (if you didn’t do the Figure Eight), the Rainbow Point Hike, or Sheep Creek and Swamp Canyon Loop.

Read More: 13 BEST HIKES IN BRYCE CANYON FOR FAMILIES

bryce canyon

DRIVE TIMES

  • From Salt Lake City Airport: 4 hours
  • From Las Vegas Airport: 4 hours
  • From Canyonlands NPS: 2 hours 20 minutes
  • From Capitol Reef NPS: 2 hours 10 minutes

WHERE TO STAY NEAR BRYCE CANYON NPS

STAYING IN THE PARK

  • The Lodge at Bryce Canyon is the only hotel inside the park. Reserve a cabin or several room types include suites and studios.

STAYING OUTSIDE THE PARK

  • Try an affordable rental home with plenty of space only 6 miles from the entrance.
  • This luxe rental sleeps 10 and is only 1 mile from the park.

OUR FAVORITE EATS NEAR BRYCE CANYON

  • Stone Hearth Grille was our go-to spot for steaks and meals to really fill up our belly.
  • Hell’s Backbone Grill offers food from local farmers in the area.
  • Boulder Mountain Guest Ranch ‘s Sweetwater Kitchen is a great lunch or dinner option, and you’re welcome to visit even if you’re not staying there.

EXPLORING OUTSIDE THE PARK

  • Grand Staircase-Escalante and Kodachrome Basin State Park are not too far. If you can add time on to your visit then I highly recommend a few days in Kanab to explore Escalante.

ZION NATIONAL PARK

zion narrows

CAN’T-MISS EXPERIENCES AT ZION NPS

  • The Narrows
  • Angel’s Landing (though I admit to skipping it out of fear of doing it with my kids)
  • Emerald Pools

DAY 9

ALL DAY

Today you’re hiking The Narrows of Zion. It’s an all day event, so have a good breakfast and pack a lunch.

We hiked The Narrows in 2021 when the plague made things a little weird so your experience may differ, but here are a few notes that will help.

  • We rented shoes from Zion Adventure Company which kept our feet warm …highly recommend this
  • Pre-booked tickets for the shuttle are no longer necessary. We walked right on to the shuttle in both directions with no issues (and there were 10 of us!), but I am hearing this is an anomoly.
  • Parking in Springdale to get into Zion is not easy. It took forever to find a spot. Plan for that. Finding a parking spot, getting shoes for the hike, and riding the shuttle into Zion (to catch the park shuttle) took us about 2 hours.
  • The Narrows is the last stop in the park shuttle
  • There was a bacteria blooming at high levels in the river when we visited. It was still safe to hike, but keep your head out of the water and don’t drink it, even with a filter.
  • We all agreed that the large, thick sticks worked better for staying dry than regular hiking poles would. And yes, I fell in. Kept my face out of the water but lost my phone for a while. Thankful I have the more water-resist iPhone 11. If you don’t, bring a waterproof case.
  • The park is the most crowded we visited but don’t give up. The Narrows are worth it.

DAY 10

ALL DAY

Unless Angel’s Landing is the reason for your visit then my recommendation is to skip it (especially if you have kids.) The lines are long, and they’ve gotten even longer since the plague. In fact, beginning in 2022 there will be a permit system for the hike and only those who win the lottery will be eligible to hike it. (Permit application)

Spend the morning hiking to the Emerald Pools instead. To see all three pools is 6 miles round trip, and as you can imagine the furthest pool is the most gorgeous.

After your hike, head out of the park and grab some lunch, then meet up with the team from Red Desert Adventure. Yes, you’ll need to make a reservation ahead of time, so don’t forget that. But you’re going to LOVE a canyoneering adventure with them.

Our first two canyons were 75 feet drops, and the remaining ones were about 50 feet drops. Sometimes we went by ourselves, and other times two people went down at a time.

Even though it was a hot day, the canyons were cool and welcoming! The boys gave this day a 12 (on a scale of 1-10!)

Our guides really made a difference – and we could tell how great they were as we spied on other groups. They were fantastic with the kids…and they made sure that even though there were 10 of us we did tons of rappels – 5 total!

There were other groups of 2 that only did two rappels – I can’t even imagine! By the second one you’re a pro and ready for more more more!

zion canyoneering

DRIVE TIMES

  • From Salt Lake City Airport: 4 hours 35 minutes
  • From Las Vegas Airport: 2 hours 45 minutes
  • From Capitol Reef NPS: 3 hours 10 minutes
  • From Grand Escalante (Hole in the Rock Road): 3 hours 10 minutes

WHERE TO STAY NEAR ZION NPS

STAYING IN THE PARK

  • Zion Lodge is a gorgeous in-park option with rooms, suites and cabins.

STAYING OUTSIDE THE PARK

  • Zion Wildflower is a little ways out but has adorable tiny homes and glamping tents.

OUR FAVORITE EATS NEAR ZION

  • There is nothing like the Classic Pad Thai at Thai Sapa

EXPLORING OUTSIDE THE PARK

  • Canyoneering with Red Desert Adventure is not inside the park (tour companies cannot run canyoneering trips there) but just outside. It was one of the highlights of our Zion adventure.
  • Snow Canyon State Park is about an hour away, and it was named the best state park in Utah. Just beware…it gets HOT here!

UTAH NATIONAL PARKS ROAD TRIP FAQ

cathedral valley
  • WHAT IS THE BIG 5 IN UTAH? This is what people affectionally call the five national parks in Southern Utah: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion. It was the name given by the state of Utah as a marketing push in 2012 – and boy did it work. You can read more about how the name came about here.
  • WHAT IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PARK IN UTAH? Most people say Zion is the most beautiful, but I’d have to disagree simply because of the vast number of people visiting there. It’s almost impossible to see it for what it is. Capitol Reef was my favorite – for the beauty of the park and the lack of people.
  • WHAT IS THE MOST VISITED NATIONAL PARK IN UTAH? Zion, which was also the state’s first national park. And the least visited? Canyonlands (Also the largest!) Which is a shame since it’s so close to Arches that you can knock them both out with one hotel stay.
  • HOW CAN I SPEND 7 DAYS IN UTAH? Totally doable! Use our itinerary above for 10 days, but skip days 3, 6 and 10.
  • WHICH IS THE BETTER PARK: ARCHES OR ZION? Zion is the most popular and considered the most beautiful, so it might be considered “better.” I enjoyed Arches more because there were fewer people and more hiking opportunities for our entire family. I also really enjoyed the town of Moab and the other nearby attractions: Dead Horse Point State Park, Canyonlands, Potash Road, and more.
  • WHERE CAN I CAMP FOR FREE IN UTAH? We did this – a lot! It’s easy with the vast amount of BLM land in the state and around the parks. A good source for where to camp is Campendium, because it lets you know about cell service, dump stations (if you’re in an RV) and more.

MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO UTAH

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