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Ultimate Southern Utah Road Trip: Exploring the Big 5 National Parks and Beyond

Everything you need to plan the most epic southern Utah road trip to all five national parks, plus many more amazing sites.

By: Madalyne Staab + Save to a List

If you are hoping to plan the perfect road trip through southern Utah - including stopping at each of the states five national parks: Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion National Parks, then you have come to the right spot. This in-depth travel guide outlines everything you need to know about road tripping across the wild and rugged Utah desert; including, just how many days you actually need, the type of vehicle to use, where to start and end your trip, and even where to camp. Plus, we have also added a couple of can't-miss destinations that give even the national parks a run for their money in terms of beauty and adventure.

If you are reading to start planning the perfect southern Utah road trip, then keep reading!

\\ How Many Days Do You Need?

Southern Utah is jam-packed with lots of amazing adventures, so the more time you have the better. We highly suggest putting aside at least 7 days for the road trip - though if you can double that and put aside 14 days that would be better.

One thing to know about road tripping across southern Utah is that, while places might look close on a map, in fact, because of the state’s rugged terrain, there are very few roads that connect the national parks so instead you often have to circumnavigate your way to each destination.

Another thing to note is that the road trip route you take between the five national parks will depend heavily on where you start and where you end (see more below). If you are heading in from the west (the Las Vegas or California area) you will likely start your trip at Zion National Park and end near Arches National Park on the other side of the state. While this would be fine if you were doing the route as part of a larger road trip itinerary, if you are planning to do a loop then you would then have to make the loooong drive back to where you started.


\\ Where to Start and End Your Adventure

Due to southern Utah's relativelyly central location in the western half of the USA, you can (somewhat) easily reach the five national parks from four major cities: Las Vegas, Nevada; Phoenix, Arizona; Salt Lake City, Utah and Denver, Colorado.

All four cities are within driving distance of one of the five national parks, with Denver being the farthest away (just over 5 hours). Also, each of the four cities have large enough airports to easily find flights year-round and on any time of the week. The only things to keep in mind when planning where you want to start and end is whether you want to start/end from the same city (cheaper rental car service, but more driving) or if you want to start/end from two different cities (more expensive rental car but likely less driving).

GOOD TO KNOW: the basic driving distance listed is a rough estimate of what the total driving distance for the road trip loop would be. It is likely that the distance will be longer after taking in various stops within the parks or any scenic detours.

Las Vegas

Likely the closest big city to southern Utah, Las Vegas, Nevada is a great spot to start your adventure. Plus, there are usually a lot of cheap flights into the city since it is such a popular tourist destination. From Las Vegas, your first stop will likely be Zion National Park which is just over 2.5 hours away.

Basic Driving Distance: 995 miles

Phoenix

Another option to start and end from is Phoenix, Arizona, located a couple of hours south of the Utah border. One great thing about starting and ending in Phoenix is the ability to add a couple of interesting places to the route. This includes the town of Flagstaff, Grand Canyon National Park and stunning Monument Valley.

Basic Driving Distance: 1,236 miles

Salt Lake City

If you are looking to head down from the north then your best bet is to start and end in Salt Lake City (SLC), the largest town in the state of Utah. From SLC your first stop will likely be Arches National Park or Canyonlands National Park, both of which are only about 3.5 hours from the city.

Basic Driving Distance: 908 miles

Denver

The final option when planning your route through southern Utah is to start and end in Denver, Colorado. This is a great option if you are also looking to explore parts of Colorado or can find cheap flights into Denver International Airport (one of the busiest airports in the USA). From Denver, it is just over 5 hours to Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park.

Basic Driving Distance: 1,326 miles

\\ The Best Season to Explore the National Parks

Summer (June - August)

Hot, hot, hot. Think 100°+ Fahrenheit (38° C) temperatures during the day and maybe mid-80s (27° C) at night. Visiting in the summer is really only smart if you are planning to do a lot of water sports down in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area or Lake Powell. Otherwise, it can be downright miserable (and even unsafe) to explore most of southern Utah during the hot summer months.

INSIDER TIP: if you are looking to go canyoneering in some wetter canyons (so most of the canyons in Zion) then the summer heat can actually be pretty nice.

Fall (September - November)

One of the best times to explore and adventure in southern Utah is during the fall (sometimes called the “shoulder season”). This is often one of the quietest times to visit the national parks, which is especially nice in parks like Zion and Arches - both of which can be super busy during other times of the year.

INSIDER TIP: we tend to make our annual pilgrimage to Utah in late November so we have had our fair share of late-fall weather. One thing to note is that while the days are super nice - think mid-50s (~10° C) and usually sunny skies - the nights can be brutally cold. If camping, come prepared for sub-freezing temperatures.

Winter (December - February)

During the winter months it starts to get quite cold - especially once the sun goes down. If you are fine layering up for a hike and don’t mind dealing with a bit of snow, then this is a good time to explore the five national parks (they will be nice and quiet). Plus, the contrast between the bright red rocks and the shiny white snow is pretty darn magical.

Spring (March - May) ~ Peak Season

This season is often the most popular time to explore and adventure in southern Utah. You can expect blooming wildflowers, perfect weather (if only a bit rainy), lush green canyon oasis’ and waterfalls. If looking to go for a hike, then this might be the best season to do it.

GOOD TO KNOW: the spring season is absolutely magical, but it feels like everyone has figured that out. If visiting the national parks during this time - especially Arches and Zion - expect lots of other travelers. That is why we always try to visit as early in the day as possible.

\\ How to Get Around Southern Utah

Due to its relatively rugged nature and far off local, southern Utah is not easy to get around without your own set of wheels. Unless you are exploring with a tour group, you will need your own form of transportation (public transportation is minimal at best). So what kind of vehicle should you rent or use for the trip?

Car vs. Van or RV

We have road tripped numerous times through southern Utah in both a regular car (a Toyota Rav4) and in our 1995 Dodge Ram van. Both of them have their own pros and cons. For example, a regular car - especially one with higher clearance and 4-wheel drive (like our Rav4) - will be better if you are looking to head a bit deeper into the desert on some rougher backroads (Utah has some awesome ones to explore). But a van will allow you to both sleep and cook inside (and work if you need to), meaning you will likely be able to be more self-sufficient and need civilization less often. Similarly, a van will likely be able to hold more stuff, like bikes and other outdoor gear.

In our experience, having our van was super nice because we knew we had everything we needed for all kinds of adventures (canyoneering, hiking, backpacking, etc.). Plus, the fact that we could just pull over whenever and camp in the middle of nowhere was pretty amazing.

Deciding between having a regular car or van (or an RV) comes down to really what kind of trip you want to have. If you are looking to simply drive between the national parks, stay at hotels/lodges and eat out most of the time, then you probably only need a regular car. But if you are hoping to explore the national parks and camp along the way then we suggest getting a vehicle that has all the amenities you would need - like a van or RV.

\\ Where to Camp Along the Way

All five of the Utah national parks offer camping within the park at one of their established campgrounds. Most of the national park campgrounds will have some form of bathroom (either with running water or without) and sites with a picnic table and fire ring. Similarly, most of the national park campgrounds can be reserved ahead of time (usually up to 6 months in advance) - though there is also usually the chance to reserve a site the day of (though this can be tougher during peak season). You can expect to pay between $15 and $25 per night at most of the national park campgrounds.

Now if you would like to camp but don't feel like being in an established campground you also have the option to simply boondock. This means camping on either National Forest or BLM land - both of which are usually free to camp on as long as you follow their rules: camp in already established spots, don’t build more fire rings, camp a set distance from water, follow all fire rules, etc. Boondocking is a great option if you are fine going without amenities like bathrooms or running water and you are looking to stay away from other people and in a more natural setting.

Luckily, Utah has some of the best boondocking sites in the whole USA. And even better, some of the best ones are very close to the national parks. So if you are fine roughing it a bit, we highly recommend spending at least a couple of your nights camping out in the wilderness.


The Best Ways to Find Free Campsites

When road tripping around the USA we almost always look to the site iOverlander for an idea on where to camp. The site - and their super handy app - have tons of options around southern Utah, and many of them are pretty easy to reach (a 4x4 is often not needed).

INSIDER TIP: if using iOverlander, we suggest reading some of the reviews beforehand so you have an idea of what the site is like. It will often say things like "rough road when wet" or "okay cell service." Like with almost everything else, we will read the reviews before deciding which spot to camp at.

Another way to find free campsites is to simply look at Google Maps for areas that are in the National Forest or on BLM land. Or better yet, find a site off of a BLM road (it will say BLM #). As long as there aren’t signs that say NO CAMPING or PRIVATE PROPERTY you should be fine. Just remember to follow the aforementioned regulations and rules. And as always, Leave No Trace!

Some Great Boondocking Sites in Southern Utah

\\ Wide open BLM land between the town of Torrey and Capitol Reef (here)

\\ Anywhere near Goblin Valley State Park off of Highway 24 (here)

\\ Off of Hole-in-the-Rock Road near the town of Escalante (here)

If you don't feel like camping, you can also get a room at a hotel or motel in many of the closest towns to the national parks: Moab for Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Torrey or Hanksville for Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce City for Bryce Canyon National Park and Springdale or Virgin for Zion National Park.

INSIDER TIP: or if you want a spot that is both rugged and comfortable, we highly recommend checking out Boulder Mountain Guest Ranch near the town of Boulder, Utah.

\\ The Big 5 National Parks in Utah

Arches National Park

Cost to Enter: $30 per vehicle (valid for 7 days)

Top Things to Do: check out Double Arch, Delicate Arch and the Devil’s Garden or go canyoneering (U-Turn is a great one). You can also do a couple of short hikes to places like Park Avenue.

Where to Stay: the closest town is Moab, Utah which has tons of hotel and motel options for every budget. If looking to camp, you can stay in the park at Devils Garden Campground (the only one in the park) or check out the Klonzo Trailhead area for boondocking (also a great mountain biking spot).

Nearby Attractions: Arches National Park is very close to Canyonlands National Park, as well as Dead Horse Point State Park (both of which are quite popular). Some less popular (but no less cool) places to explore include the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Bone Trail and the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite, the Gemini Bridges Off-Roading area (also fun for mountain biking) and the Behind the Rocks area (just west of town).

GOOD TO KNOW: during the busy season the national park can sometimes close due to too many people, hence why we always suggest heading into Arches early.

Learn more about Arches National Park here.


Bryce Canyon National Park

Cost to Enter: $35 (valid for 7 days)

Top Things to Do: check out the various viewpoints (Sunset, Sunrise and Bryce are good options), hike down into the canyon on the Navajo Loop or Queen’s Garden Trail, or check out the unique rock structures known as hoodoos.

Where to Stay: you can stay either in the park at one of the campgrounds (there are 2), or in the town of Bryce City. Or you can find a boondocking site in the nearby Dixie National Forest (here is a good spot).

Nearby Attractions: Kodachrome Basin State Park is a short drive away, as is Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and numerous hiking and off-roading trails in the Dixie National Forest.

Learn more about Bryce Canyon National Park here.

Canyonlands National Park

Cost to Enter: $30 (valid for 7 days)

Top Things to Do: explore the Island in the Sky District, check out the sunrise at Mesa Arch, hike to Confluence Overlook in The Needles District or head out to the rugged area known as The Maze near Hanksville.

Where to Stay: you can camp in the park (there is one campground in both the Island in the Sky and The Needles Districts), stay in Moab or Monticello (there are plenty of options in both towns) or simply boondock anywhere along the road up to the Island in the Sky area (this spot off of Road 313/Island in the Sky Road is especially good).

Nearby Attractions: Dead Horse Point State Park is only a couple of miles from the Island in the Sky park entrance, while the Navajo Rocks and Plateau Viewpoints are right off the road up to the park. Similarly, Goblin Valley State Park is just under 2 hours away (see more about Goblin Valley State Park below).

Learn more about Canyonlands National Park here.


Capitol Reef National Park

Cost to Enter: $20 (valid for 7 days)

Top Things to Do: hike to or canyoneer Cassidy Arch, explore the Fruita area (and get a pie if it is the right season), drive the Notom-Bullfrog Road Loop or head out to the Cathedral Valley area.

Where to Stay: you can camp inside the national park (there is only one campground), stay in the towns of Torrey or Hanksville (both have multiple hotels and motels) or boondock at one of our favorite BLM areas (this one here).

Nearby Attractions: consider checking out the nearby town of Boulder, hike to Calf Creek Falls, explore Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and drive down Hole in the Rock Road (where there are a lot of things to see).

Learn more about Capitol Reef National Park here.


Zion National Park

Cost to Enter: $35 (valid for 7 days)

Top Things to Do: hike the famous Angels Landing Trail, or head out to the Observation Point Trail (greaaaat views of the valley), explore the famous Subway, hike The Narrows or go canyoneering (Pine Creek is amazing).

Where to Stay: there are three campgrounds in Zion (Watchman, South, and Lava Point). You can also stay in the nearby towns of Springdale or Virgin, both of which have various motel and hotel options (as well as some upscale lodges) or you can easily boondock anywhere along Dalton Wash Road (on the west side of the park) or up on BLM land east of the park.

Nearby Attractions: close to the national park is Cedar Breaks National Monument, a fun slot canyon hike called Red Hollow Canyon (located near the town of Orderville), the stunning Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, and Lake Powell.

Learn more about Zion National Park here.

\\ Other Great Spots to Add to the Itinerary

While the Big 5 National Parks get most of the attention and tourists in Southern Utah, there are a lot of other really cool places to explore nearby. Plus, because of how popular the national parks are, you can very easily find yourself all alone in the desert once you actually head out of the parks.

Goblin Valley State Park and Little Wild Horse Canyon

Located off of Highway 24 and about an hour and 45 minutes from Canyonlands and Arches National Parks (and only about an hour from Capitol Reef National Park) sits a rather otherworldly landscape. Goblin Valley is famous for its high number of hoodoos - which are known locally at "goblins." Interestingly enough, this state park, along with Bryce Canyon National Park, has the highest concentration of hoodoos in the world.

If planning to visit Goblin Valley State Park, we recommend spending some time simply walking around the hoodoos and maybe exploring some of the other unique rock formations (including The Three Sisters). You can stay at the campground in the park or at one of their fancy yurts. This is a great idea if you are into astronomy for the park is a designated Dark Sky Park. It costs $20 per vehicle to enter and $35 for camping (per night). The yurts are $100 per night.

If heading to Goblin Valley State Park, we also recommend checking out the nearby Little Wild Horse Canyon hiking trail. The 8-mile long trail loops around colorful wide open canyons and through stunning slot canyons - giving you a great precursor into the magical landscape that southern Utah has to offer.

To reach the trailhead, head out from the state park and turn left onto Wild Horse Road. Drive for a couple of miles until you see an obvious parking lot on the right. From the park it is just over 6 miles to the trailhead.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Highway 12

Located in the far southern edge of southern Utah is the absolutely crazy area of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, one of the largest federally protected areas in the lower 48 states. This rugged landscape was one of the last areas in the country to be mapped and explored. Due to this, it still feels very untamed and wild.

If driving between Bryce Canyon National Park and Capitol Reef National Park, we highly recommend giving yourself a couple of extra hours and taking the scenic way through the Monument along Highway 12 - which is oftentimes listed as one of the prettiest drives in all of America.

Once in the Monument, head down Hole in the Rock Road (near the town of Escalante) and stop at some of the scenic pull-offs; including at Zebra and Tunnel Slot Canyons (park here) and at the Devil's Garden - a place full of crazy rock structures. Or if you are really feeling up to an adventure, head all the way down the road until you get to the trailhead for Reflection Canyon. From the trailhead it is a 15.2 mile (24.4 kilometer) out and back hike to one of the most beautiful viewpoints in Utah: the highly photographed Reflection Canyon.

Other things to do in the Monument include canyoneering and hiking/backpacking. Some great canyoneering routes include Micro Death Canyon and Red Breaks Canyon. Some good hiking trails are Coyote Gulch Trail, Sunset Arch and Hurricane Wash.


Monument Valley

Located on the border between Utah and Arizona, this large region of the Colorado Plateau has become synonymous with the rugged American West (thanks in part to numerous movies using it as a filming location). The area is characterized by massive sandstone buttes which sit proudly over the otherwise flat landscape. The iconic buttes can reach heights of 1,000 feet (300 meters) and can clearly be seen from miles away.

Monument Valley - or Tse’Bii’Ndzisgaii in the Navajo language - is a sacred area that lies within the territory of the Navajo Nation Reservation and is therefore run by the Navajo Nation (a Tribal Park is their equivalent of a national park). While you can drive through the park on a 17-mile stretch (which usually takes around 3 hours), if you are looking to explore the area more deeply you will need a guide.

It costs $20 (per vehicle) to enter the Tribal Park. The road that runs through the park is open from 8 AM to 5 PM (2 PM in the winter). Learn more about the park here.

Grand Canyon National Park

If you feel like you haven't gotten your fair share of national parks in already, then you can also add on the world-famous Grand Canyon National Park. This popular national park is located in Arizona and is about 3 hours and 40 minutes from Zion National Park and just over 5 hours from Arches National Park. If you are planning to start or end your southern Utah adventure from Phoenix then this is a great destination to add on to your itinerary.


\\ Perfect Southern Utah Road Trip Itineraries

Below are a couple of road trip itineraries from the closest four major cities surrounding southern Utah: Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Denver and Phoenix. All four cities have their own pros and cons - most commonly the amount of driving it will take to see all five of Utah's national parks.

Similarly, the itineraries are organized by the number of days you will need to do the whole trip (7, 10 or 14). In our opinion, the more time you have the better. So if you have the time, we highly recommend putting aside 14 full days to explore southern Utah.

Below is a concise outline of what an adventurous road trip itinerary through southern Utah might look like depending on what city you are starting from.

GOOD TO KNOW: we have also listed the driving distance between each park/destination and not driving time since this is entirely dependent on whether you like to make a lot of stops. Also, we list Moab as a destination since it is a great spot to base yourself for exploring both Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. 


From Las Vegas

\\ 7 DAYS

Las Vegas → Zion National Park | 160 miles // If time permits, consider also exploring the Virgin River Gorge which is located right before the city of Saint George.

Zion National Park // Spend the full day exploring the park and hiking either the Angels Landing Trail or up to Observation Point. Or if it is hot and you have the gear, consider canyoneering The Subway (permits are needed).

Zion National Park → Bryce Canyon National Park | 73 miles

Bryce Canyon National Park → Capitol Reef National Park | 116 miles (on Highway 12) // Head out early so you have time to take in the insane landscape that is Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Capitol Reef National Park → Arches National Park | 132 miles

Canyonlands National Park (from the Moab area, 30 miles) // Spend all day in the Island in the Sky District, either hiking down to the White Rim and Colorado River or checking out some colorful rocks like the Upheaval Dome.

Drive Back to Las Vegas from Moab | 458 miles

The 10-Day Road Trip Itinerary below follows the same route as the 7-Day Road Trip Itinerary above, but just includes a couple more interesting stops. If you would rather stick to just exploring the national parks, simply plan to spend an extra full day exploring either Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef or Arches National Parks.

\\ 10 DAYS

Las Vegas → Zion National Park | 160 miles

Zion National Park

Zion National Park → Bryce Canyon National Park | 73 miles

Bryce Canyon National Park and Kodachrome Basin State Park // Explore both parks or just spend the full day in Bryce Canyon National Park hiking down into the canyon or exploring the famous hoodoos.

Kodachrome Basin State Park (Bryce Canyon National Park) → Capitol Reef National Park | 108 miles (on Hwy 12) // Or if you don't want to visit Kodachrome Basin State Park, just spend a full day in Capitol Reef National Park hiking around the unique rock structures, canyoneering in crazy slot canyons or learning more about the historic town of Fruita (learn more about the park here).

Capitol Reef National Park → Goblin Valley State Park | 60 miles

Goblin Valley State Park → Moab | 100 miles // Base yourself in Moab or the surrounding BLM area so you can easily reach both nearby national parks.

Arches National Park

Canyonlands National Park

Drive Back to Las Vegas from Moab | 458 miles

If you have the opportunity to spend two full weeks in southern Utah take it. You will be so glad you did once you realize how much you can see and do. The 14-Day Road Trip Itinerary follows the same route as the two above but just includes a couple more stops along the way. The extra stops, most to state parks, will give you an even better idea on why southern Utah is so magical.

\\ 14 DAYS

Las Vegas → Zion National Park | 160 miles

Zion National Park

Zion National Park → Bryce Canyon National Park | 73 miles

Bryce Canyon National Park and Kodachrome Basin State Park

Kodachrome Basin State Park → Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument | 42 miles // Split up the two days in the National Monument by camping and exploring Hole in the Rock Road one day and the cute town of Boulder the next day (or stay here instead). OR you can instead drive the Burr Trail/Notom-Bullfrog Loop Road into Capitol Reef National Park (learn more about the park here).

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument → Capitol Reef National Park | 68 miles

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park → Goblin Valley State Park | 60 miles

Goblin Valley State Park and Little Wild Horse Canyon // Spend the full day exploring both the state park and the nearby Little Wild Horse Canyon Trail. And if you can swing it, consider camping either in the state park or on nearby BLM land for the best views of the stars.

Goblin Valley State Park → Moab | 100 miles

Arches National Park

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park (The Needles District) | 75 miles from Moab // The Needles District is located south of Moab and contains some crazy rock structures and awesome views of the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers. From The Needles (which has a campground) it is 75 miles back to Moab (making it a possible long day trip) or you can simply drive back to Las Vegas from the park - the fastest route is just over 8 hours and around 531 miles.

Drive Back to Las Vegas from Moab | 458 miles

From Salt Lake City (SLC)

\\ 7 DAYS

SLC → Moab | 230 miles

Canyonlands National Park // Spend all day exploring the park, and if you can get up early enough, consider heading up to Mesa Arch for sunrise.

Arches National Park → Capitol Reef National Park | 132 miles

Capitol Reef National Park → Bryce Canyon National Park | 116 miles (on Highway 12) // This is the driving distance for the more scenic drive, which in our books, is 100% worth doing.

Bryce Canyon National Park → Zion National Park | 73 miles

Zion National Park // Spend all day in the park either hiking up to Angels Landing or to the top of Observation Point. Or you can go even more adventurous and do a canyon (Pine Creek is wonderful, though permits are needed). Learn more about canyoneering here.

Drive Back to SLC from Zion National Park | 308 miles

The 10-Day Road Trip Itinerary below follows the same route as the 7-Day Road Trip Itinerary above, but just includes a couple more interesting stops. If you would rather stick to just exploring the national parks, simply plan to spend an extra full day exploring either Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef or Arches National Parks.

\\ 10 DAYS

SLC → Moab | 230 miles

Canyonlands National Park

Arches National Park → Goblin Valley State Park | 96 miles

Goblin Valley State Park → Capitol Reef National Park | 60 miles // Either on day 4 or day 3, plan to spend a couple of hours exploring the hoodoos that make Goblin Valley State Park so famous.

Capitol Reef National Park → Kodachrome State Park or Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument | ~108 miles (on Highway 12)

Bryce Canyon National Park Area // Consider spending all day in the national park or add on an adventure in the nearby Dixie National Forest (where you can find some great camping spots).

Bryce Canyon National Park → Zion National Park | 73 miles

Zion National Park

Zion National Park → Cedar Breaks National Monument or the Kolob Canyon Area | 70 miles to Cedar Breaks and 30-70 miles for Kolob Canyon (depending on where you want to go) // Learn more about the Kolob Canyon area of Zion National Park here.

Drive Back to SLC | 275 miles from Kolob // If you want to stop along the way, a great option is the town of Monroe, home to Red Hill Hot Springs.

Once again, if you can find the time definitely spend 14 full days adventuring in southern Utah. The 14-Day Road Trip Itinerary below pretty drastically veers away from the two itineraries above and instead heads more south to explore places like The Needles District (in Canyonlands National Park), Monument Valley and Lake Powell. This does take time away from exploring the Big 5 National Parks so if you would rather simply explore the parks just follow the 10-Day Road Trip Itinerary and plan to spend the extra days in each national park.

\\ 14 DAYS

SLC → Moab | 230 miles

Arches National Park // Spend all day in the national park, either hiking to one (or many) of the famous arches like Double Arch, Delicate Arch or Sand Arch or go for a longer hike in the Devil's Garden or consider going full adventurer and instead grab a rope and a harness and go canyoneering (we love U-Turn).

Canyonlands National Park → The Needles District (Canyonlands National Park) // The drive to the more rugged Needles District is around 75 miles from Moab.

The Needles District // Learn more about this area of Canyonlands National Park here.

The Needles District → Monument Valley | 143 miles // Keep driving south to the Arizona border to explore this amazing and quintessential Western landscape.

Monument Valley → Halls Crossing and Bullfrog (must take a ferry) | 124 miles // Start heading back north towards Capitol Reef National Park by taking the very scenic Highway 276 up to Halls Crossing and Bullfrog. Do know that you have to take a ferry to get across Lake Powell so make sure to research the right ferry time ahead of time.

Bullfrog → Capitol Reef National Park | 95 miles // The drive from Bullfrog to Capitol Reef National Park does go through the town of Hanksville, which has a small grocery store, a couple of gas stations, and a restaurant/café.

Capitol Reef National Park → Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument | 68 miles (on Highway 12)

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument → Bryce Canyon National Park | 49 miles

Bryce Canyon National Park and Kodachrome Basin State Park // Split your time between both the national park and the state park for some truly awe-inspiring desert landscapes.

Bryce Canyon National Park → Zion National Park | 73 miles

Zion National Park

Zion National Park → Cedar Breaks National Monument or the Kolob Canyon area (part of Zion National Park) | 70 miles to Cedar Breaks and 30-70 miles for Kolob Canyon (depending on where you want to go) // Learn more about the Kolob Canyon area of Zion National Park here.

Drive Back to SLC | 275 miles from Kolob // If you want to stop along the way, a great option is the town of Monroe, home to Red Hill Hot Springs.

 If you have any questions on any of the six itineraries below, please feel free to reach out to us for a more in-depth road trip outline (you can reach us here).


Extra Southern Utah Road Trip Tips

America the Beautiful Parks Pass

If you are planning to explore all 5 of the Utah's National Parks (the Big 5) then definitely consider buying the America the Beautiful National Parks Pass beforehand (or at the first national park you visit). The pass costs $80 and is good for a full year. While this might sound like a lot of money, if you consider all of the entrance fees just to enter the five national parks on the trip - which range from $20 to $35 - by buying the pass, you will already be saving money.

GOOD TO KNOW: the America the Beautiful National Parks Pass is not just good for the 63 national parks but all 400+ federally protected areas around the entire USA. This includes all National Monuments and National Historic Parks.

You can buy the national parks pass here.

Seasonal Closures

If you are planning to do this road trip during the winter season (late November to early March), definitely make sure all facilities will be open. In many of the parks (including Canyonlands and Zion National Parks) some of the facilities close during the winter, including campgrounds, visitor centers and bathrooms. The parks usually outline their seasonal closures on their websites so make sure to do a bit of research before heading out.

Similarly, make sure to check weather conditions and road closures during the winter, for even though southern Utah is a desert it is still at a high elevation and does get a good amount of snow.

Internet and Cell Phone Service

Due to southern Utah's rugged landscape, don't be surprised to get spotty phone service at best. More often than not, you will be totally out of range and get no service at all. Therefore it is smart to download anything you could need ahead of time - including offline maps, driving directions to campsites/hotels and any sort of entertainment.

If you are looking for an exciting, adventure-filled road trip through the USA, then definitely consider heading to stunning southern Utah - home to alien planet like landscapes, rugged terrain, and of course, five amazing national parks. Hopefully this in-depth road trip guide - including 7-Day, 10-Day and 14-Day Itineraries - will help you plan the perfect adventure in one of America's most amazing landscapes.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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