The Ultimate Utah National Parks Road Trip

Mesa Arch at sunrise in Canyonlands National Park in Utah

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Utah is home to some of the United States’ most popular national parks. The Utah national parks cover almost 2% of the state’s total land. From Bryce Canyon’s famous hoodoos to the arid desert arches, the best way to see southern Utah’s beauty is a  Utah national parks road trip.

You could spend months driving around Utah and still not see all the beauty and history this place has to offer. This Utah national parks road trip scratches the surface, highlighting Utah’s national parks. Plus, a few side trips along the way!

Without further ado, here’s the ultimate guide to the Utah national parks road trip.

Table of Contents

When to Go

Utah has something to offer all year long. Winters in Utah are beautiful, but snow and freezing temperatures limit your ability to hike. Summers are by far the most popular season but can be overwhelmingly hot and crowded. 

To explore the parks with fewer crowds and avoid the peak summer heat, I recommend going on your Utah national parks road trip in April-May or September-October.

Want a sneak peek into every season in Utah? Check out this guide to each season in Zion National Park!

Getting There

Utah’s parks are accessible by two major airports: Las Vegas or Salt Lake City. This trip can be done from either airport, so pick the one with cheaper flights for you. I like using Skyscanner to compare alternate routes when booking flights.

The first national park on this itinerary, Zion National Park, is 3 hours from Las Vegas and 5 hours from Salt Lake City.

Logistics for the Perfect Utah National Parks Road Trip

Before diving into the fun stuff, let’s sort out a few of the logistics for your Utah national parks road trip.

  • Book your trip at least 3 months in advance. The national parks in Utah are incredibly popular, which means hotels and campgrounds fill up months in advance. If you are dead set on camping in the park, I recommend booking exactly 6 months out when reservations open. If you’re looking for resources to book your trip, I recommend:
    • Recreation.Gov – the official site for reserving camping in the national parks
    • Hotels.com – the best site to get great deals on hotels near the national parks
    • Airbnb – the easiest way to find unique rentals close to the national parks
  • Get a rental car with AWD. Half the fun of your Utah national parks road trip is escaping the crowds on dirt backroads. While you won’t need a 4×4 off-road vehicle for this itinerary, I do recommend reserving an SUV with all-wheel drive. You might be able to get away with a sedan for a bit of off-road driving, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • Book excursions and request permits in advance. If you plan to do any backcountry exploration, check to see if you can request a permit in advance. In Zion National Park, backcountry permits for popular backpacking trails fill up months in advance. I also recommend booking tickets for ranger-led tours, like the Fiery Furnace tour, a few months out.

Utath National Parks Road Trip: The Route

This Utah national parks road trip is an 11-day loop. You can complete this loop from either Las Vegas or Salt Lake City airports. I flew in and out of Las Vegas, so I’ve written this itinerary from that perspective.

While I recommend this 11-day itinerary, you can condense or expand the trip to 10-15 days. I don’t advise trying to visit all 5 Utah national parks in less than 10 days – you’ll feel rushed and exhausted!

Day 1: Las Vegas to Zion National Park (Bonus Trip: Valley of Fire State Park)

Day 2: Zion National Park

Day 3: Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon National Park

Day 4: Bryce Canyon National Park to Capitol Reef National Park

Day 5: Capitol Reef National Park

Day 6: Capitol Reef National Park to Arches National Park (Bonus Trip: Goblin Valley State Park)

Day 7: Arches National Park

Day 8: Canyonlands National Park (Bonus Trip: Dead Horse Point State Park)

Day 9: Canyonlands National Park to Escalante (Bonus Trip: Natural Bridges National Monument)

Day 10: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Day 11: Escalante to Las Vegas

Google Map of Utah National Parks Road Trip route

Day 1: Las Vegas to Zion National Park

The first day of this epic Utah national parks road trip starts in Las Vegas (or Salt Lake City if that’s your airport of choice). I recommend booking the earliest possible flight, giving you time to relax and explore as your drive to Zion National Park.

After you’ve landed, rented your AWD vehicle (or campervan!), and downloaded Google Maps offline, it’s time to hit the road. Leave Sin City behind and head into the desert.

Las Vegas is roughly 3 hours from Zion National Park via I-15, but I recommend making a side trip to one of Nevada’s most popular parks: Valley of Fire State Park.

Valley of Fire State Park

Black asphalt meets rusty red rocks in this photo-famous state park. The vantages along the park’s main road are exactly what you’d expect from a desert landscape: warm and radiating, particularly at sunset.

To get to the Valley of Fire, take Valley of Fire Road off of I-15. The park is only an hour from the Las Vegas airport.

If you only have an hour or two in the park, take the scenic drive along Mouse’s Tank Road and hike the 2-miles out to the Fire Wave.

The Fire Wave is the park’s most famous rock formation. It might remind you of The Wave – Arizona’s competitively permitted rock formation. Valley of Fire’s Fire Wave doesn’t require a permit and is easy to access – only 1 mile off Mouse’s Tank Road.

Stop to take in the seemingly science-defying layers and curves of desert rock. Don’t forget to bring plenty of water and sunscreen – the park is hot and unshaded even in Spring and Fall!

What to Wear Hiking: The Best Women's Hiking Apparel

Arriving in Zion National Park

After you’ve had your fill of Nevada’s premier state park, head on to Zion National Park. As you enter Utah’s rugged southwest, you’ll find few places to stock up on groceries. I recommend making a stop in St. George to get groceries for the week. Things like trail mix, protein bars, and PB&J are quick trail snacks and lunches and don’t need refrigeration.

Zion National Park is the most popular of Utah’s parks, so you’ll need to book a place to stay well in advance. If you’re interested in camping, I recommend booking a spot at Watchman Campground 6 months out. If you prefer to stay in a hotel, I recommend booking a place in Springdale at least 3-4 months out.

Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Zion National Park

Day 2: Zion National Park

Even in shoulder months, Zion National Park is crowded. The park requires visitors to take the park’s shuttle to access trailheads. In peak months, afternoon shuttle lines can be over an hour. To avoid shuttle lines, I recommend getting an early start to your day by boarding the shuttle before 7 am.

The Narrows

For your first hike in Zion, I recommend one of the park’s famous hikes: The Narrows. This trail isn’t actually a trail at all – you’ll spend your “hike” wading up the Virgin River between canyon walls. While the official hike is 9.4 miles, many hikers just wade as far as they want upstream before turning back.

Take your time on this unique trail. Admire the tall canyon walls, carved out by the slow-flowing river at your feet. Hike further up the river to escape the crowds and find solitude amongst the narrow rock walls.

If you’re visiting Zion in the Spring, you’ll want to rent wading overalls and boots from Zion Outfitter. The water in April is only 45-50 degrees, so you’ll want to keep your body dry while hiking The Narrows.

If you’re visiting Zion in the Summer or Fall, you’ll be okay in shorts and waterproof shoes.

Summertime in Zion brings thunderstorms, which can cause deadly flash floods in the canyons. You should always check in with park rangers for trail conditions and the weather forecast before attempting to hike The Narrows.

The Virgin River flows through the slot canyon at The Narrows

Sunset at Canyon Junction Bridge

Don’t miss the opportunity to catch the sunset in Zion National Park. The Canyon Junction Bridge crosses the Virgin River. Facing south, your eyes follow the path of the Virgin River out to The Watchman – the park’s famous guardian.

As the sun sets, watch The Watchman glows orange and pink in the fading light. Sunset at Canyon Junction Bridge is popular amongst photographers, so get there early to find your perfect vantage point.

When I visited Zion, the sunset was cloudy as a storm brewed. I still like the way this photo turned out though 🙂

A cloudy sunset at The Watchman before a storm in Zion National Park

Day 3: Zion to Bryce Canyon

After a full day of exploring the canyons carved by the Virgin River, it’s time to see Zion from above. Choose between the park’s two best elevation-gaining hikes: Angel’s Landing or Observation Point.

Angel’s Landing

The most popular hike in the park, this trek is not for those with unsure footing or a fear of heights. Hikers navigate sheer 1,200-foot drop-offs holding on to a chain bolted in the rock. After hiking 2.7 miles, you’ll reach a 360-degree view of towering Zion Canyon around you.

This is the most congested trail in the park, so it’s important to get an early start. I recommend taking the first shuttle into the park at 6 am and proceeding immediately to the Angel’s Landing trailhead.

The rocky spine of Angel's Landing hike in Zion National Park

Observation Point

If crowds and dangerous drop-offs aren’t for you, consider hiking Observation Point instead. This is my favorite hike in the park, giving you views above Zion Canyon.

The peak of Observation Point stands another 1,000 feet above Angel’s Landing. From this vantage point, you can see the southern part of the park in its entirety.

Read More: Hiking Observation Point: The Best View in Zion National Park

Standing atop Observation Point overlooking the Canyon in Zion National Park

Zion-Mount Carmel Highway Scenic Drive

As you say your final goodbyes to Utah’s most popular national park, take in the views along Zion-Mount Carmel Highway.

Drive the steep switchbacks up to the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel – a historic landmark built in the 1920s. Just after exiting the tunnel, you’ll see the trailhead for the Canyon Overlook trail.

This quick 1-mile hike climbs a series of steps before walking atop a steep slot canyon. The trail ends at a view of Zion Canyon. Take in your final view of the park before heading on to Bryce Canyon National Park.

As you continue through the rusty red rocks on the scenic highway, keep a lookout for mountain goats that frequent the area. You’ll see Checkerboard Mesa in the distance. This unique rock formation was formed through erosion from both freezes and wind.

Arriving in Bryce Canyon National Park

Follow the scenic Zion-Mount Carmel Highway out to Highway 89, then up to Highway 12. You’ll gain over 4,000 feet as you drive to Bryce Canyon – the highest elevation park of the Utah “Mighty 5”.

Bryce Canyon National Park has two in-park campgrounds: North Campground and Sunset Campground. North Campground is first-come, first-served while Sunset Campground is reservable from May-October.

If you want to stay in a hotel, consider booking a place in nearby towns, Bryce or Tropic.

Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park

Day 4: Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef

Sunrise at Sunrise Point

Sunrise in Bryce Canyon is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The park’s famous hoodoos illuminate with the purples, pinks, and oranges of the rising sun.

Arrive at Sunrise Point (appropriately named!) before dawn to take in the last few minutes of the starry night sky. As the sun creeps over a distant plateau, the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon Amphitheater come alive and reflect the first light of day.

Walk along the Sunrise to Sunset Point Trail to see the hoodoos awake in the crisp morning air.

The sun rises over the amphitheater in Bryce Canyon National Park

Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop Combination Trail

This popular 2.9-mile hike allows you to see Bryce’s famous hoodoos up close.

Start at Sunrise Point after you’ve marveled at the morning colors. Follow the trail clockwise to the endpoint at Sunset Point. Don’t miss the park’s famous rock formations, like Queen Victoria, Thor’s Hammer, or Wall Street, on this hike.

The famous Thor's Hammer hoodoo stands tall in the Bryce Canyon amphitheater

Scenic Drive to Bryce’s 15 Vantage Points

Bryce Canyon National Park has one main road through the park, starting at the visitor center and ending at Rainbow Point. The 36-mile round trip drive takes about 3 hours in total and gains over 1,200 feet in elevation.

Start at the visitor center and drive straight to Rainbow Point. After taking in the view at the highest point in the park, make your way back down the drive, stopping at each of the 15 vantage points along the way.

My favorites of the 15 vantage points are Rainbow Point and Bryce Point. But you should stop at all 15 to take in the amphitheater from different perspectives.

Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park

Highway 12 to Capitol Reef National Park

The drive along Highway 12 from Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef is one of my favorites. As you drive, the landscape changes from the brushy brown growth near Escalante to tree-filled woods near Capitol Reef.

The rocky terrain between Escalante and Boulder is particularly captivating. Some of my favorite vista points along the drive are:

  • Powell Point Overlook
  • Boynton Overlook
  • Calf Creek Viewpoint
  • Larb Hollow Overlook.

Arriving in Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef is one of the more dispersed national parks in Utah. I recommend spending your limited time here in the Fruita and Cathedral Valley districts.

The national park has only one campground near Fruita: Fruita Campground. This site is first-come, first-served with all the basic necessities.

If you’d rather stay in a hotel, try the nearby town of Torrey for budget accommodations.

Sunset at Panorama Point

Desert sunsets reign supreme in my mind, so this itinerary is filled with opportunities to take them in. The best spot in Capitol Reef to see the sunset is at Panorama Point. The fading light illuminates the red, striped rocks before fading to darkness, allowing for stellar night sky viewing.

Day 5: Capitol Reef National Park

Goosenecks Overlook

Start your day in Capitol Reef with a drive out to Goosenecks Overlook. The viewpoint provides expansive views of the valley and creek that carved it. It’s only a short walk out to Sunset Point, a popular sunset spot that’s just as beautiful in the morning light.

Fruita Orchards

The Fruita district of Capitol Reef is particularly beautiful during Spring and Fall. The orchards planted by early homesteaders in the 1800s bloom in March and April. If you’re in Capitol Reef in the late summer or fall, you can handpick your own cherries, apricots, peaches, pears, and apples.

Scenic Drive

The Fruita district of the park is tourable via the park’s main scenic drive. Follow this 8-mile road through the start of the Waterpocket Fold, the park’s famous geological feature.

The Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef National Park was some of the last lands in the contiguous 48 states to be charted by cartographers.

Capitol Gorge Trail

After reaching the end of the paved scenic drive, take the last stretch of unpaved road to the Capitol Gorge Trailhead. This hike takes you along the historic pathway that settlers used to pass through the Waterpocket Fold.

Along the hike, you’ll find names carved into the rock. This Pioneer Register dates back to the late 1800s to early 1900s when pioneers were passing through the area.

Erosion has caused potholes in the rocks above the trail. After rains, these potholes fill up with water, almost giving the appearance of a hot spring!

This easy trail gives you a feel for the trail pioneers traveled when traversing southern Utah a century ago.

Temple of the Sun and Moon

Trade in the crowds of the Fruita district for the bumpy, off-road drive out to the Temple of the Sun and Moon. The hallmark of the Cathedral Valley district, these pointed rocks shoot out of the desert ground, standing isolated.

Start the drive on Cathedral Road near Caineville. This completely remote dirt road takes you 17 miles away from civilization. We only saw 2-3 other cars on our trip, and one of them was a park surveyor!

These temples glow in the fading light at sunset. If you’re just making a day trip into Cathedral Valley, return the same way you came in. Drive carefully if you’re making the return trip after dark.

Temple of the Sun in the Cathedral Valley section of Capitol Reef National Park in Utah

If you want to stay overnight in Cathedral Valley, consider camping at the primitive Cathedral Valley Campground. This campground has 6 first-come, first-served sites with pit toilets. The region has no potable water, so be sure to pack enough to last a few days. Camping is only allowed in designated campsites without a backcountry permit.

If you are camping at Cathedral Valley, be aware that returning via Hartnet Road requires fording the Fremont River near Highway 24. The park service recommends starting your drive at Hartnet Road and ending on Cathedral Road to ensure you can cross the river before entering Cathedral Valley. If you’re driving this route, I recommend staying the night in Cathedral Valley campground and visiting the Temple of the Sun and Moon for sunrise.

Day 6: Capitol Reef to Arches

Drive to Moab

The drive to Moab, the home base for both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, is 2.5 hours through Utah’s arid desert terrain. This area is remote, so fill up on gas in Torrey or Hanksville.

Break up your drive along Highway 24 with a stop in Goblin Valley State Park.

Goblin Valley State Park

Prepare to see a whole different type of hoodoo from what you saw in Bryce Canyon National Park. The hoodoos in Goblin Valley are short and mushroom-shaped, giving them the nickname of “goblins”.

Unlike the vast majority of parks in Utah, you’re allowed to hike off-trail and explore the mini hoodoos up close. Although you can hike off-trail, take care to reduce your impact on the fragile desert environment.

Explore the goblins on the easy 1-mile loop hike from Goblin Overlook. This hike is unshaded and hot, so bring plenty of sunscreen and water. Even on short hikes, you should carry the 10 day hiking essentials to ensure your safety.

Arriving at Arches National Park

Arches National Park has one official campground – Devils Garden Campground, which is reservable from March 1 to October 31. This campground is incredibly popular. To get a spot here, you’ll need to book 6 months out when reservations are released.

If you’d rather rent an Airbnb or stay in a hotel, the nearby town of Moab provides plenty of options.

Sunset at Corona Arch

Arches National Park has hundreds of arches, but arches can be found outside the park boundaries too. One of the most popular non-park arches is Corona Arch, an ideal spot for sunset.

This arch is about 20 minutes from Moab, along the Colorado River. Make the 1-mile hike out to the arch and settle in for a glowing sunset.

Day 7: Arches National Park

Fiery Furnace Ranger-Led Tour

I’m not usually a fan of ranger-led tours, but this tour of Fiery Furnace is the exception to the rule. A ranger-led tour is the only way to access Fiery Furnace without a special permit. Plus, the ranger provides history and geological details as you navigate through the maze-like terrain.

Tickets for the morning ranger-led hikes are reservable via Recreation.Gov for $16 from May-September. Tickets for this hike are in high-demand, so I recommend bookings at least 4-6 months out.

You must check-in at the Arches Visitor Center at least an hour before the hike begins. Allow plenty of time in the morning to make it to the visitor center by 8 am for the 9 am tour.

Scenic drive

Arches National Park has one main road through the park. This scenic drive takes you past all the best viewpoints in the park, including many arches that you can see from the road.

If you have time after checking in for the Fiery Furnace hike, I recommend stopping at a few points along the scenic drive on your way to the trailhead. Otherwise, retrace your path after you finish the Fiery Furnace hike.

Don’t miss these popular spots along the park’s main road:

  • Balanced Rock
  • The Windows Section – a brief hike takes you to Double Arch, North Window, South Window, and Turret Arch
  • Skyline Arch
Double Arch in the distance in Arches National Park in Utah

Delicate Arch for Sunset

The most popular hike in the park is a strenuous one. You’ll recognize Delicate Arch from computer backgrounds and stock photos everywhere. This arch is the crown jewel of Arches National Park.

This hike is grueling in the hot heat of midday, so I recommend starting this hike about an hour before sunset. You’ll gain nearly 500 feet of elevation on the completely exposed 1.5-mile slickrock hike out to the arch.

Once you arrive, settle in and wait for sunset. If you’re there on a new moon, you might even be able to stick around for milky way and night sky photography. I always refer to the Clear Dark Sky charts for night sky visibility day-of.

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park at sunset

Protect Arches National Park

While you should take steps to reduce your impact in all national parks, Arches has a particularly fragile environment. The desert ecosystem is easily disturbed by humans straying off the path. Protect the national park by staying on the trail and staying off the arches. Under no circumstances should you ever walk on an arch!

While this park makes for beautiful photos, it doesn’t solely exist to provide you with Instagram content. Don’t be that person. Okay, stepping down from my soapbox now…

Day 8: Canyonlands National Park

Sunrise at Mesa Arch

With only one day in this park, you’ll want to start your day early. And here, early means before the sun.

Mesa Arch is 45 minutes from Moab and over an hour from Devils Garden Campground, so you’ll need an early start if you’re staying near Arches. If you aren’t a morning person, consider staying in Canyonlands National Park’s Willow Flat Campground the night before.

Almost equally as famous as Delicate Arch is the sunrise at Mesa Arch. In fact, it was my own desktop background for years. The sunrise illuminates the expansive canyon floor in the background and burns bright orange on the underside of the arch.

Arrive early to secure a spot if you intend to set up a tripod. We arrived 30 minutes before sunrise and the best vantage points were already taken. Instead, we photographed the sunrise over the canyon. After dawn, photographers began to clear out and we took photos of the arch. It’s just as beautiful 30 minutes after sunrise, I promise.

The trail out to Mesa Arch is an easy 0.5-mile hike, but bring along a headlamp since you’ll be hiking out in the dark.

Mesa Arch at sunrise in Canyonlands National Park in Utah

Explore Island in the Sky on a Scenic Drive

Since you’ll only be in Canyonlands for the day, you’ll only be able to explore the Island in the Sky district. Other areas of the park, like The Needles and The Maze, are more remote and require a 4×4 vehicle to explore the backcountry.

The best way to see the Island in the Sky district in a short amount of time is via scenic drive. From Mesa Arch, continue south on Grand View Point Road until you reach Grand View Point. This viewpoint looks out over the expansive canyon. An easy 2-mile trail takes you around the rim of the canyon to the Grand View Point Overlook. This hike is perfect post-sunrise before the midday crowds gather.

Other spectacular viewpoints include:

  • Buck Canyon Overlook
  • Green River Overlook
  • Shafer Canyon Overlook.

From Shafer Canyon Overlook you can see the switchbacks of Shafer Trail Road, the entry point to the park’s White Rim Road. This rugged backcountry route takes you along the canyon floor for two days. It’s perfectly suited for those looking to spend more time exploring Canyonlands National Park.

Shafer Point Overlook off-road drive in Canyonlands National Park in Utah

Dead Horse Point State Park

Only minutes from the Island in the Sky Visitor Center, this park has one of the best overlooks in the area. Expansive views of the canyons extend for what seems like miles.

Walk along the short rim trail at Dead Horse Point Overlook to get a panoramic view. This overlook is particularly popular for sunset, as the deep, moody colors reflect on the walls of the canyon below.

After exploring both parks, I recommend continuing south along Highway 191. Spend the night in Monticello or Blanding to save driving time the next morning.

Optional Return Journey

If you’re looking to make this a shorter trip, head home after exploring Canyonlands National Park. From Moab, it’s 7 hours to Las Vegas and 4 hours to Salt Lake City.

But for those with time, I highly recommend exploring Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Day 9: Canyonlands to Escalante

Buckle up and hit the road – Day 9 is lots of driving. Before heading into the backcountry, stop at Natural Bridges National Monument for a quick leg stretch and photo op.

Natural Bridges National Monument

Natural Bridges National Monument was the first park in Utah’s national park system. This national monument has lasting Native American influence. The park’s 3 main attractions go by their Hopi names: Sipapu Bridge, Kachina Bridge, and Owachomo Bridge.

The best way to see the park is through a combination of scenic drive and hikes. Starting at the visitor center, follow the one-way loop on Bridge View Drive, stopping at each of the 3 bridges for a hike. The distances of each hike are below

  • Sipapu Bridge – 1.2 miles
  • Kachina Bridge – 1.5 miles
  • Owachomo Bridge (my favorite!) – 0.4 miles
Bridge in Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah

Scenic Drive to Escalante

While you could take the “quick” route (still 4.5 hours) along Highway 95 to Escalante, I highly recommend a trip through the backcountry instead.

This scenic drive takes you away from the crowds that can plague southwestern Utah in summer months and into the quiet desert.

This route sounds complicated, but I promise it isn’t as complicated when you’re driving it. I’ve included a map and turn by turn directions here. This drive will take between 6 and 8 hours, so I recommend saving plenty of time after Natural Bridges to arrive in Escalante before sundown.

Utah National Parks Road Trip route
  1. From Natural Bridges National Monument, you’ll turn right on Highway 95, heading south.
  2. Stay on Highway 95 for 50 miles until you reach Hite Crossing Bridge and Hite Overlook. Both vantage points provide stunning views of the rugged desert rocks along the Colorado River.
  3. Continue along Highway 95 for another 15 miles and then turn left on Highway 276.
  4. Stay on Highway 276 for 35 miles before turning right on BLM 12000, aka Burr Trail Road.
  5. After 19 miles, stop at Halls Creek Overlook by turning left onto BLM 132220. The view looks west into the southern Waterpocket Fold section of Capitol Reef National Park.
  6. Continue to drive north, entering Capitol Reef National Park (really bringing it full circle!). You’ll reach the Burr Trail Switchbacks 16 miles after Halls Creek Overlook. These steep switchbacks provide incredible views from the top.
  7. From the Burr Trail Switchbacks, you’re 60 miles and 2 hours from Escalante.

Arriving in Escalante

If you’re staying in a hotel, find accommodations in either Boulder or Escalante.

If you’re looking for a developed campground, Calf Creek Campground is a popular choice. It’s also the starting point for the trail to Lower Calf Creek Falls.

If you’re feeling inspired by the scenic drive, consider dispersed camping in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Dispersed camping is allowed in some areas of the park, but requires a free permit from the visitor center. The most popular area to find dispersed camping sites is off Hole-in-the-Rock Road.

Freecampsites.net is a great tool to help you find potential campsites.

Day 10: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

For your last full day in Utah, you have a couple of options:

  • Scramble through Peek-a-boo and Spooky Slot Canyons
  • Hike the long, but leisurely trail out to Lower Calf Creek Falls.

Both trails are best hiked in the morning, so arrive before the trailheads get too busy!

Peek-a-boo and Spooky Slot Canyons

If you like scrambling and slipping through tight spaces, then slot canyons are for you. These paired slot canyons are accessible from Hole-in-the-Rock Road, a little over 25 miles off Highway 12. This road is unpaved and bumpy, so I recommend attempting only with a high-clearance vehicle.

This trail starts at the Dry Fork Trailhead before climbing down a sandy hillside to reach the entrances to the area’s 3 slot canyons. Peek-a-boo and Spooky slot canyons are winding and narrow, but provide stunning views of the smooth rock. Dry Fork slot canyon is wider with plenty of walking space. If you’re short on time, I recommend hiking only Peek-a-boo and Spooky slot canyons.

The 3.5-mile loop from the Dry Fork Trailhead takes you through Peek-a-boo and Spooky slot canyons in a clockwise direction. After navigating through Peek-a-boo, you’ll emerge into the dry desert above the canyons. Follow the trail markers and enter Spooky slot canyon. Find your way out of Spooky and return to the trailhead the same way you came in.

I recommend hiking this trail first thing in the morning. The trail is unshaded and hot until you reach the slot canyons. Bring twice the amount of water you think you need.

Like many trailheads in the area, parking here is a hot commodity. There’s limited parking at Dry Fork Trailhead. If you do not arrive early enough, you’ll have to walk from the overflow parking area, adding 2 miles to your hike.

This trail requires significant scrambling, including a 10-foot drop in Spooky Gulch. Be prepared by bringing a rope and ensuring you’re physically able to complete the hike. Don’t attempt this hike with children or anyone who isn’t able to scramble or fit through tight spaces.

Peek-a-boo Slot Canyon in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah

Lower Calf Creek Falls

If tight spaces and scrambling aren’t your thing, the easy, but long hike out to Lower Calf Creek Falls is for you. The somewhat unshaded trail takes you on a 6-mile round trip hike to a long-dropping waterfall. Step into the cool water to refresh yourself on a hot summer day.

This trail is popular among families and campers staying at the Calf Creek Campground. If you’re interested in making this hike, get here early! There’s a limited number of parking spots at the trailhead and the trail gets busy by midday.

Lower Calf Creek Falls in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah

Day 11: Escalante to Las Vegas

Alas, every good thing must come to an end. After 10 long days exploring southern Utah, it’s time to head home. I recommend booking a late afternoon or evening flight to allow plenty of time to get to the airport from Escalante.

From Escalante, you’re about 5 hours to both Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.

General Tips for the Perfect Utah National Parks Road Trip

  • Download maps and trip details offline. Much of this Utah national parks road trip is remote, meaning there’s a high likelihood you’ll be without cell phone service for much of your trip. Download Google Maps for all of southern Utah offline (read how to do this in Step 9 of my Travel Planning Guide). This will ensure you’re able to navigate even without cell phone service.
  • Start your days early. Not only will you beat the crowds on the trail, but you’ll ensure you’re able to find parking at trailheads. Utah’s national parks are popular and parking is in high demand.
  • Stock up on groceries ahead of time. Large grocery stores are a rarity near the national parks. I recommend stocking up on groceries in St. George on your way to Zion National Park. Buy things like trail mix, protein bars, and PB&Js that don’t require refrigeration.
  • Always carry an emergency kit for hiking and camping. Even on day hikes, you should be carrying the essential gear to survive an emergency night on the trail. Bring a gear repair kit for your camping essentials if you plan to camp on your road trip.
  • Keep an emergency roadside kit in your vehicle. At a minimum, this should include a first aid kit, a basic tool kit, blankets, a flashlight, and jumper cables.
 

A Quick Recap 

  • The “Mighty 5” are best visited via a Utah national parks road trip. Plan to visit in April-May or September-October for the best temperatures and to avoid summer crowds.
  • Start your Utah national parks road trip in Las Vegas or Salt Lake City. Rent an AWD SUV to ensure you’re able to traverse Utah’s backroads.
  • The Utah parks are popular – book your trip at least 3-6 months in advance. If you plan to stay in the park’s campgrounds, book 6 months in advance when reservations open on Recreation.Gov.

Utah National Parks Road Trip: The Route

Day 1: Las Vegas to Zion National Park (Bonus Trip: Valley of Fire State Park)

Day 2: Zion National Park

Day 3: Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon National Park

Day 4: Bryce Canyon National Park to Capitol Reef National Park

Day 5: Capitol Reef National Park

Day 6: Capitol Reef National Park to Arches National Park (Bonus Trip: Goblin Valley State Park)

Day 7: Arches National Park

Day 8: Canyonlands National Park (Bonus Trip: Dead Horse Point State Park)

Day 9: Canyonlands National Park to Escalante (Bonus Trip: Natural Bridges National Monument)

Day 10: Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument

Day 11: Escalante to Las Vegas

What national park are you most excited to visit?

Let me know in the comments below!

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Utah National Parks Road Trip
Utah National Parks Road Trip
Hi, I’m Julia! I’m a national park lover and avid planner on a mission to visit every U.S. national park. My goal is to empower you to visit America’s national parks by providing super-detailed national park guides and the tools to grow your hiking and camping skillset so you can feel confident outdoors.

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Hi, I’m Julia! I’m on a mission to see every United States national park and I’m happy to have you along for the ride. Here I share super-detailed itineraries and guides to help you plan the national park trip of a lifetime.

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