The Southwest is home to some of the prettiest scenery and hiking in the US. Particularly, in Utah, the five National Parks are magnificent to see. In these parks, you will not be disappointed by the natural arches, canyons, narrows and desert views. Follow our Utah National Parks/Southwest Road Trip: 10 Day Epic Guide to see all of these parks and some other Southwest gems alongs the way.
FYI: This post was written based on a trip taken in mid-September
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Day 1 Utah National Parks/Southwest Road Trip: Arrive in Las Vegas
To start your Utah National Parks/Southwest Road Trip, either drive or fly to Las Vegas. You could alternatively start your road trip from Salt Lake City but flight options tend to be more pricey, and often involve layovers to fly into Salt Lake City. We think your best bet is to fly in/out of LAS. There tend to be some amazing flight deals in/out of Las Vegas so keep your eyes peeled for those.
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We flew into Las Vegas in the late afternoon but if you arrive earlier in the day, you might be able to catch a show or explore the strip. We have both visited Las Vegas previously. Though the strip was neat to see, the outdoors is more of our jam so we did not feel the need to arrive earlier.
We stayed at a hotel, La Quinta by Wyndham Las Vegas, right outside of the airport that was reasonably priced with free parking. We picked up our rental car (see How to Save on a Rental Car) right after landing so that we would have it available to us early the next morning to start our day.
Day 2: Valley of Fire State Park, drive to Page, Sunset at Horseshoe Bend
Valley of Fire State Park
On this morning of your Utah National Parks/Southwest Road Trip, wake up early to start your drive towards Valley of Fire State Park. This state park is located in Nevada approximately 1 hour from the LAS airport. The striated sandstone, various colored limestone and slot canyons here will have you in awe of the natural beauty.
Tip: Bring exactly $10 cash as the park entrance fee of $10/car is self-pay and there is no option to pay with a credit card.
Hike at Valley of Fire State Park
At Valley of Fire State Park, hike one of the trails. We hiked several trails including Fire Wave (super neat striated sandstone that literally looks like a wave), White Domes Trail (named for the white domed rocks at the beginning of the trail), Mouse Tank Trail (Ancient Petroglyphs) and Elephant Rock Trail (as named, rock that looks like an elephant). Our favorite trail was the White Domes trail because it has the most diverse and includes the longest slot canyon in the park.
Tip: Hike Early! The desert sun is no joke. In September, it was already over 95 degrees by 10am at Valley of Fire State Park. The earlier you start your hike, the cooler it will be.
For more information on visiting Valley of Fire State Park, please see Valley of Fire State Park Guide
Drive to Page, Arizona
Next, drive to your next stop on your Utah National Parks/Southwest Road Trip – Page, Arizona. Page is about 4.5 hours from Valley of Fire State Park. During this drive you will cross the Utah and Arizona border a handful of times. The desert views on this drive are very pretty and much different than the geography we are used to in the Midwest. At some points, you will drive through Indian Reservations where service stations are limited. Make sure to be mindful of your car’s gasoline level.
Once we arrived in Page, Arizona, we checked into our Airbnb. We highly recommend it as it was only a 10 minute drive from Horseshoe Bend, very clean and reasonably priced. Our stay even included some delicious homemade banana bread, from the host, the next morning.
Once settled in Page, we headed to Horseshoe Bend to see Sunset. Horseshoe bend is truly goose-bump inducing with its natural beauty. Make sure to watch the sunset here if you can. It cost $10 to park at Horseshoe Bend for a carload and you can pay with cash or card.
Tip: Arrive about an hour or earlier to see sunset at Horseshoe Bend. It is a ¾ mile walk out to the viewpoint and it tends to be pretty busy here so you will want to get here early. Despite being busy, there is plenty of space for everyone to have their own spot and get pictures without other people in them.
Alternatives/Add-Ons to Utah National Parks/Southwest Road Trip
You can also go on a tour at Antelope Canyon (iconic slot canyon) while in Page, Arizona. A tour, through Navajo Nation (the only way to see), costs about $55+/person. We opted not to do this because we saw slot canyons in Valley of Fire State Park.
Another slot canyon to consider is Wire Canyon in Kanab. This canyon is located 8.5 miles south of US 89 (the main highway you will take from Valley of Fire State Park to Page, Arizona). Although only a short distance off the road, this will add on about 50 minutes total of drive time while headed to Page. This slot canyon may take longer to access, but is also less expensive as it only costs $6 (cash)/person. Again, we opted not to do this but if you have an extra day or want to see another slot canyon, consider these options.
Day 3: Drive through Oljato-Monument Valley to Moab, explore Canyonlands National Park
Drive through Oljato-Monument Valley
The next morning on your Utah National Parks/Southwest Road Trip, drive from Page, Arizona to Moab, Utah. This drive takes about 4.5 hours in total. On this ride, you will drive through the very scenic and iconic Oljato-Monument Valley. This scenery is really cool to see in-person. It will feel like you are in a scene out of the movie Cars. Try to leave Page as early as possible as this day is jam packed.
Stop At Wilson Arch
About 30 minutes before arriving in Moab, stop at the Wilson Arch. This arch is located right along the main highway (US 191) heading into Moab. This natural sandstone arch is just a teaser of what you will see in Arches National Park
Settle in Moab
Before continuing on our Utah National Parks/Southwest Road Trip to Canyonlands, we checked into our Airbnb, a cute casita away from downtown Moab in Spanish Valley. This casita has a kitchen, laundry and high-end finishes. This was a great place to create a home base for the next 4 days/3 nights to explore Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park and Dead Horse State Park.
Canyonlands National Park
After briefly stopping in Moab, we continued onto Canyonlands National Park: Island in the Sky District, located about 50 minutes northwest of Moab.
Note: Canyonlands National Park is split up into four districts–Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze and The Rivers. Our quick guide only covers the Island in the Sky District, which is the closest to Moab, Utah, as all four sections are actually quite far (hours driving) apart.
Hike in Canyonlands
While in Canyonlands National Park, hike some of the trails. We hiked the Aztec Butte Trail, Upheaval Dome and Mesa Arch. The most popular trail is Mesa Arch (the shortest hike) but our favorite views were on the Aztec Butte Trail and on the Upheaval Dome Trail.
Views in Canyonlands
We also were afforded some amazing canyon views at Green River Viewpoint and Grand Viewpoint. The Grand Viewpoint path affords you arguably the most stunning views in the park.
Please see Canyonlands National Park Quick Guide for more information on our visit to Canyonlands National Park: Island in the Sky District.
Tip: Buy an America the Beautiful Pass
Through this Utah National Parks/Southwest Road Trip itinerary, you’ll visit five National Parks and instead of paying for separate admission at each, buy an America the Beautiful Pass. This pass affords you admission to all the National Parks for one year and saves you money without having to buy separate passes at each park.
Day 4: Hike Devils Garden, Windows Loop and Double Arch in Arches National Park
Arches National Park
Today on your Utah National Parks/Southwest Road Trip, you’ll visit Arches National Park which is less than a 20 minute drive from Moab. Although only a 20 minute drive to the park, it will take you about 30 minutes more to drive to the Devil’s Garden trailhead for the park’s entrance. We arrived at the trail just before 7am and we were one of five cars there at this time. Arrive early at the trail. There is something really special about being one of the very few people on the trail at that time and seeing the Arches lit up in the morning’s golden hour.
Hike Devil’s Garden Trail
This is an amazing trail as it gives you the opportunity to see seven different arches. Of the arches we saw, our favorites were Landscape arch and Double O Arch. If you only can do one trail in Arches National Park, do this one as it has the most varied arches and other scenery.
Tip: The best views of Double O Arch are through and past the arch, as seen in our first picture. Few people know to continue to this spot so we had it completely to ourselves during our visit.
Hike Windows Loop, Double Arch and Turret Arch
After hiking Devil’s Garden, visit some other spots in Arches National Park. We opted to head to Double Arch and the Windows Loop to do another short, less than 2 mile, hike. These trails are the most popular trails in Arches National Park as they are short and have minimal elevation gain. The Double Arch was our favorite of the Arches in this area. However, if you are short on time or energy, this would be the first thing we would cut out as the Arches here were all very crowded.
Day 5: Sunrise at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, visit Dead Horse Point State Park
Sunrise at Delicate Arch
The next morning on your Utah National Parks/Southwest Road Trip, wake up early and head into the park in the dark. Keep in mind, it takes about 25 minutes to drive to the Delicate Arch Trailhead from the entrance to the national park. Plan to be at the trailhead and start your hike about an hour before sunrise in order to allow yourself enough time to get to Delicate Arch before sunrise. The hike up to Delicate Arch is a bit confusing in the dark but look for the rock cairns and keep going up. Don’t forget your headlamps!
The sunrise views at Delicate Arch and looking to the East are really spectacular here.
See Arches National Park Quick Guide for more information on Arches National Park.
Visit Dead Horse State Park
After seeing sunrise at Delicate Arch, drive to Dead Horse State Park, which is about 30 minutes from Arches National Park. This state park affords you stellar canyon views with the Colorado River winding through it. We hiked the loop trail around the park that includes the West Rim, East Rim and Dead Horse Point Overlook. This trail ends up being about 6 miles in total.
The best views of the canyon are from the West Rim of the trail and at Dead Horse Point Overlook. If you are short on time, you can skip the East Rim of the trail but it does make an easy loop path. You could also drive and park Dead Horse Point Overlook to experience great views with less effort. From here you could hike the distance you had time/energy to complete. Park admission is $20. As long as an attendant is at the park, you can pay with card or cash.
Day 6: Drive to and explore Capitol Reef National Park, stop at Goblin Valley State Park on the way
Drive Towards Capitol Reef National Park
The next morning on our Utah National Parks/Southwest Road Trip, we packed up early and left to start our journey to Capitol Reef National Park, which is about 2.5 hours from Moab. The drive to Capitol Reef National Park had limited service centers so be very mindful of your gasoline level when you leave Moab.
Goblin Valley State Park
On the way to Capitol Reef National Park, you will pass a turnoff for Goblin Valley State Park after about 1.5 hours of driving. Turnoff here! This is a nice place to stop for a quick visit and to break up the drive.
At Goblin of Valley State Park, alternating layers of eroded hard sandstone and soft siltstone create unique looking rock features here called Goblins. Here, we hiked the Carmel Canyon Loop (1.5 miles round-trip, requires some scrambling, several small slot canyons) and visited the Valley of Goblins. While hiking through this park, we felt like we had landed on Mars seeing the unique rock formations. Park admission is $20 and as long as an attendant is at the park, you can pay with card or cash. If arriving very early, plan to bring cash.
Capitol Reef National Park
After briefly visiting Goblin Valley State Park, continue another 1.5 hours onto Capitol Reef National Park. This park is the least visited National Park in Utah and in our opinion, it is really underrated. It has beautiful canyon and slickrock views without the crowds of some of the more popular parks.
Hike Capitol Reef National Park
While in Capitol Reef National Park on your Utah National Parks/Southwest Road Trip, make sure to go hiking. We hiked the Hickman Bridge Trail, Cassidy Arch Trail, part of the Grandwash Trail and the Chimney Rock Loop. Our favorite and most unique trail we hiked was the Cassidy Arch as it brings you to a massive natural arch that you can walk across. This trail also provides stellar canyon and slick rock views along the way.
That being said, we would recommend all these trails and you may even want to add on an extra day here so you can spend some more time hiking in the park. There is also a scenic drive to several historical sites and orchards within the park that we did not have time to visit.
Pie in Capitol Reef National Park
Make sure to get fresh homemade pie at the Gifford house here. We did not expect to find these homemade pies in the park and they were a very nice surprise. We highly recommend the apple and mixed berry pie.
Please see Capitol Reef National Park Quick Guide for more information on visiting Capitol Reef National Park.
Dinner & Stay Overnight in Torrey
Torrey is a cute little town with a population of less than 250 people. We really enjoyed the small town feel here. We recommend eating dinner at the cute Capitol Reef Cafe. Maybe it was just the appetite we had worked up from all the hiking we had done but we found the food here to be excellent. We stayed in a Tiny House that we would recommend if you are looking for simple accommodations for the night while passing through Torrey.
Day 7: Drive to and explore Bryce Canyon National Park, drive to Zion National Park
Sunrise at Bryce Canyon
The next morning on your Utah National Parks/Southwest Road Trip, get an early start if you want to get to Bryce Canyon National Park for sunrise. This park is well known for its unique orange hoodoo rock formations. Keep in mind it takes about 2.5 hours to drive to Bryce from Torrey. We were able to catch sunrise at Sunrise Point in Bryce National Park. The sunrise colors were really spectacular.
Tip: Buy a caffeinated beverage for the road the day prior. No service centers along the drive from Torrey to Bryce were open prior to 8 AM so we were SOL in regards to getting our normal caffeine fix before arriving at the park.
Hike Bryce Canyon
Next, pick a trail to hike in Bryce Canyon National Park. We recommend hiking the Queens Garden/Navajo Loop and Peek-A-Boo Trail in Figure 8 Pattern. This trail is about 6.5 miles round-trip with a little over 1600 feet of elevation gain. The hiking journey is well worth the effort. You will be afforded stellar hoodoo views on this trail. We ended this trail at Sunset Point. You can easily walk to this point from the parking lot if you are not up for the hike.
Please see Bryce Canyon National Park Quick Guide for more information on our visit to this park.
Drive to Zion National Park & Hike Canyon Overlook Trail
After getting your fill of the Hoodoos, head south towards Zion National Park, the next stop on your Utah National Parks/Southwest Road Trip. Take this day to explore the east side of the park, the area east of the Zion Tunnel and Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. The views driving through this side of the park are quite spectacular. We recommend stopping right before going west through the Zion Tunnel to hike at Canyon Overlook Trail. This trail rewards you with stunning views of lower Zion Canyon for minimal effort (less than 2 mile hike).
Day 8: Ride Bikes on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, Hike Angel’s Landing and The Narrows in Zion National Park
Ride Bikes on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive
The next morning, get another early start to rent bikes from Zion Outfitters and ride them into the park. Make sure to get there early (before 8am) so you can park in the Zion Visitor Center parking lot for free before it fills up. Then, take a short walk across the pedestrian bridge to Zion Outfitters. We loved riding bikes through the park and feel it was a much better option than taking the limited Zion shuttle.
See Zion National Park Quick Guide for all the details on renting a bike in Zion.
Hike Angel’s Landing
Ride your bike to the Grotto where you will start the hike Scout’s Lookout and Angel’s Landing. This was our favorite hike in Zion, mainly because hiking the narrow chains section of Angel’s Landing is so exhilarating. The views from this landing are awe-inspiring with steep drop-offs. Plan for this hike to take 2-3 hours.
Hike the Narrows
This narrow river, surrounded by gorge walls that are thousands of feet tall, is a unique trail in Zion National Park. This trail, round trip, can be up to 10 miles but we only hiked the first 1.25 miles. At times, this hike requires you to swim as the trail itself is through the river. If you are hiking the whole trail, consider renting neoprene socks/water shoes and hiking this on a different day than Angel’s Landing.
See Zion National Park Quick Guide for all the details on hiking Angel’s Landing and The Narrows.
Day 9 Utah National Parks/Southwest Road Trip: Explore Kolob Canyons in Zion National Park
Hike Taylor Creek Trail
The next morning on your Utah National Parks/Southwest Road Trip, drive to the west side of the park to explore Kolob Canyon. This area is the least visited part of Zion National Park, making it more serene than the busy Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. In Kolob Canyon, there are several hiking trails that bring you into the Zion Wilderness. We recommend hiking the Taylor Creek Trail as it brings you to a very unique Double Arch Alcove that is different from anywhere else we saw in the park. Consider driving on the Kolob Canyon Drive and doing the short Timber Creek Overlook Trail
We spent the rest of the day relaxing. We felt this was well-deserved after a lot of hiking on the trip. However, if you are feeling more ambitious, you could consider going to the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive to further explore or visit downtown Springdale.
Day 10 Utah National Parks/Southwest Road Trip: Drive back to Las Vegas, Fly Home
This morning, drive about 2.5 hours from your accommodations near Zion back to Las Vegas to end your Utah National Parks/Southwest Road Trip. Alternatively, you could fly out late on Day 9 but it is much more enjoyable to do it on day 10. On your ride back, you will see more pretty desert scenery. Drop off your rental car before heading home.
We hope this itinerary inspires you to plan your own Utah National Parks/Southwest Road Trip. Anything you would add to our guide? We would love to hear your feedback and questions. Please leave us a comment!
And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!