Ever dreamed of watching the rising sun while sitting along the bowl at Delicate Arch? Or what about conquering one of the greatest hikes, Angels Landing, at Zion National Park? With this epic road trip that I am going to lay out, all of those dreams will become realities! Not only will I tell you all about the Mighty Five, the nickname for Utahs’ National Parks, but I’ll also give you some recommendations about hidden gems and worthy stops along the way!
Most people will either fly into Salt Lake City or Las Vegas. Either one works fine. If you want to save time you could fly into one airport and out of the other. Just be aware that most car rental companies do charge more if you don’t drop the vehicle off at the same location you rented it at.
For the purpose of this itinerary, let’s say that you fly in the Las Vegas airport and work your way up north.
Worthy Stop #1
Before you even get to your first National Park, you’ll drive near the Valley of Fire State Park just outside of Las Vegas. I totally recommend taking a slight detour and touring this park. The drive itself is gorgeous and there are plenty of short, family-friendly hikes that could take up an afternoon. I’ve written all about that incredible park along with my favorite trails here.
Worthy Stop #2
If after exploring the Valley of Fire, you decide that you want to rest up before adventuring to Zion National Park then stay in St. George, Utah. Most people completely miss this town on their way to Zion, however, they are plenty of great hikes, views, and good eats to be had. Take a look at our stay in St. George, Utah to add to your road trip list!
National Park #1
Zion National Park is the first National Park that you will arrive at if you are driving north. Its’ beautiful Zion Canyon is all over the internet due to its’ incredible beauty with its’ tan/reddish Navajo Sandstone walls that have been eroded by the Virgin River. Consequently, it can be quite busy if you go during high season. Here’s a guide that we wrote about how to ditch the crowds while visiting this park! This park will always be special to me as it was my FIRST ever National Park in Utah I had ever visited.
Top Trails: Angels Landing, Riverside Walk, Emerald Pools, Weeping Rock, and Observation Point.
Worthy Stop #3
If after exploring Zion National Park you want to explore a hidden gem before arriving at the next National Park, my recommendation would be to take the short drive to Kanab, Utah! It’s only about a 20-minute drive from the East Entrance and well worth it. From the deserted slot canyons to the sun-lit caves, Kanab is worthy of a stop along this road trip. Read more about Kanab here.
Worthy Stop #4
And hey, if you’ve already took the slight detour to Kanab, why not drive an extra hour and make it to Page, Arizona! Horseshoe Bend is still my FAV view that I’ve ever witnessed. So I would say it’s totally worth the drive! Obviously, you don’t want to spend too much time getting off course from the National Parks Road Trip so here’s a 24 Hour Guide to Page, Arizona.
National Park #2
The next National Park on the list, if you are driving from the south, is Bryce Canyon! Bryce Canyon is such a special park because it’s the first National Park that my parents have ever visited with me. It was so neat being able to show them why I love Southern Utah so much that I’ll always have fond memories here. If you want to read more about that incredible weekend along with where to sleep, eat, and hike, you can find it here.
Top Trails: Queens Garden Trail, Navajo Loop, Peek-a-boo loop
National Park #3
Capitol Reef National Park is next on the list as you continue your drive. It is the least visited National Park in Utah and I am so glad it is! Incredible vistas with great hiking trails…and no crowds! You get the best of both worlds here. Don’t forget to check out the Gifford Homestead (orchards in the middle of a red rock canyon) and get yourself a fresh, homemade pie! Read this article for our experience at Capitol Reef.
Top trails: Sunset Point, Goosenecks Point & Grand Wash Trail
Worthy Stop #5
Goblin Valley State Park is straight out of a Mars movie scene. This other-worldly landscape deserves to be our stop #5 because of its sheer uniqueness. Goblin Valley is home to hundreds of hoodoos (goblins, as the locals say) which are mushroom-shaped rock pinnacles. The valley is beyond beautiful and welcomes hikers, bikers, and explorers. You can spend hours walking through the valley admiring these strange looking forms. My only regret? Not bringing a large group with me to play hide n seek! It would have been epic! You can see more photos of Goblin Valley here.
After exploring Goblin Valley, you may want to take a break before getting close to Moab (Arches National Park & Canyonlands). We recommend staying here! Great boutique hotel with incredible views of the river and on-site restaurant.
National Park #4
Arches National Park is so popular that one of its’ arches are featured on the Utah license plate. It’s incredible and is a park that I keep coming back to throughout the years. I am amazed at the rock formations, the killer views, and of course, the wide variety of arches. This is a park that you do not want to miss while visiting Utah. Check out my complete guide to Arches National Park here.
Also, most people end up staying in Moab while visiting Arches National Park, I would recommend switching out the typical hotel room with a unique glamping experience!
Top Trails- Delicate Arch, Fiery Furnace, & Devil’s Graden
Worthy Stop #6
Corona Arch is one of the most overlooked arches in Moab, Utah. The reason? It’s not actually found in the park. Located just west of Moab, the Corona Arch stands for all visitors to marvel at that are willing to make the short hike. Bonus- you’ll also be able to see the Bowtie Arch along the way! Read my guide to find these two arches.
Worthy Stop #7
The last worthy stop in this Epic Utah Road Trip Guide has got to be Dead Horse State Park. You may have heard about Dead Horse State Park through the iconic shot, a view of a gooseneck in the Colorada River as pictured below. Dead Horse State Park got its name through an unfortunate event that occurred at Dead Horse Point. The mesa top was used as a corral for horses due to its unique location. Local ranchers would try and herd wild mustangs onto that point. And then after selecting which ones they wanted, they left the gate closed (accident or not?) and stranded the remaining horses there. They all died of thirst while looking at the Colorado River below the sheer cliffs.
Incredibly sad legend, but that is how the park got its name. While here you can hike, bike, and even camp! If we could do it over again we would have packed a lunch and ate it while taking in the incredible view!
National Park #5
Canyonlands is the last of the Mighty Five on this road trip. It is remarkable due to the unique sandstone structures, a plethora of hiking trails, and Native American ruins. The Park has several different districts that are worth exploring including The Needles District and Island in the Sky. If nothing else, catch a sunrise at the famous Mesa Arch.
We hope you enjoy this Epic Utah Road Trip Guide! Still need a little convincing to take the road trip (or maybe your travel buddy does)? Check out this article about Why You Should Finally Take That Road Trip!
Also, be sure to read my Guide to 5 Insanely Easy Ways to Eat Healthy While Traveling.