Ultimate Utah State Park Road Trip with Itinerary

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Visiting Utah’s National Parks has always been on our bucket list. While we originally had plans for an international trip this summer, we decided on our midwest road trip instead. In this article, we will cover two different routes depending on if you would like to adventure over through Arizona to stop at Horseshoe Bend & Antelope Canyon. For our trip, we started from flying JFK to LAS and opted to do a one way rental from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City. You could also do this trip opposite from Salt Lake City to LAS if you would like.  Prior to our trip, we checked out the amazing TWA Hotel off of JFK’s airport terminal. If you have overnight, this is a great option for JFK airport. Now let’s get to the Ultimate Utah State Park Road Trip.

Route Options

I have two different options for routes for a Utah National Park Roadtrip. We did Route 2, however, it is going to be more driving for Route 2, so it really depends on how much time you have. I included how many days you should spend in each, as well as what hotel we booked along our travels. I highly recommend getting an annual America the Beautiful National Park Pass if you will be visiting more than 2-3 national parks. These are $85 for the year and will save you money upon entry of each park. You can get more information on the nps.gov website. I will also include the breakout of prices for each place.

Route 1:

14 hours 4 minutes driving and you can start in Salt Lake City or Las Vegas

  • Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Zion National Park
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Capitol Reef National Park
  • Goblin Valley State Park
  • Moab
  • Arches National Park
  • Canyonlands National Park
  • Salt Lake City

Route 2: 

20 hours 21 minutes, and you can still start in Salt Lake City or Las Vegas

This route actually crosses into Arizona a bit also.

Stops:

  • Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Zion National Park
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Horseshoe Bend, Arizona
  • Natural Bridges National Monument
  • Capitol Reef National Park
  • Goblin Valley State Park
  • Moab
  • Canyonlands National Park
  • Salt Lake City
Google Map directions of route

Zion National Park

Drive Time: 2 hours 40 minutes

Number of Days: 1-3 days

Park Price: $25 per vehicle for a 7 day pass *Included in America the Beautiful Annual Park Pass

Starting our trip off in Las Vegas made the most sense to have a one-way drive. We drove from LAS to Zion National Park. Due to new COVID regulations, you now need a Zion National Park Shuttle Ticket prior to entering the park. Because of the new rule, we only had one day in Zion National park and decided to maximize our time there. The shuttle ticket is in addition to your park entrance fee.

Shuttle tickets

As of June 30th, 2020, you can purchase a shuttle ticket in advance or the day prior at 9:00 am MT on a rolling window. Shuttle tickets cost $1 USD per person and you may purchase at Recreation.gov. Advance tickets seem to be released mid-month for the following month. We were able to get a ticket at 9:00 am the day prior for an 8:00 am shuttle time. The shuttle tickets are released in one-hour time slots, and you have one hour to utilize the ticket to go up the mountain. So if you got an 8 am shuttle ticket, you could go up from 8:00 am-9:00 am. The tickets sold out immediately so be ready prior to the sale time. If you don’t get a shuttle ticket, you can bike or walk up the path, which I believe is about 11 miles. 

Hiking

The top few trails we have heard of to hike at Zion National Park are: Angels Landing, The Narrows, and Canyon Overlook at Zion. We decided to do Angels Landing first, then the Narrows since we would be walking in water. Lastly, we were able to fit in Canyon Overlook as well. Canyon Overlook is good if you don’t have a shuttle ticket as you can just drive and park at the lookout spot to hike.

Angels Landing

A few things to note were that some trails are closed during COVID. We had wanted to hike Angel’s Landing but it was closed at the chains. You can hike up to Scout’s lookout point though, which was absolutely worth the views! Angels Landing took us about 2 hours round trip to hike and walk around the top. It is a pretty well-paved path with an incline. Also, note people do get fined if you hike past the chains when they are closed. It was a $10,000 fine we heard that some people took the risk and had park rangers waiting for them at the bottom.

The Narrows

The Narrows Hike was open, but only from the bottom up and you had to turn around and come back. The Top-down option was not open at the time of our visit. We walked for about 3 hours and turned around and came back. It was so unique each turn we took. The views were worth waking in the water for hours. There were actually some points you could get onto land here and there, so you weren’t in the water the entire time.

Canyon Overlook

Canyon Overlook at Zion was a short/easy one-mile hike that we saw plenty of kids on. The one took us about 45 minutes round trip, and that included taking photos and hanging out at the top. There were a few sketchy spots so be sure to keep kids close by. 

We were able to hike all 3 in one day, but, we were SUPER tired by the end of the day and had hiked about 18 miles. 

Overview:

 Angels Landing: Hike up to Scout’s lookout Approx. 2 hours, 4-5 miles roundtrip

 The Narrows: 5 hours maybe 7-9 miles

 ‍♀️Canyon Observation Point- about a mile hike, took us 40 minutes RT

Hotel Booked:  Best Western Plus- Springdale

   Cost: The going rate was $312- we used 20,000 UR points and $0.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Drive time: 2 hours 39 minutes

Number of Days: 1-2

Park Price: $35 per vehicle for a 7 day pass *Included in America the Beautiful Annual Park Pass

Bryce Canyon National Park was probably my favorite park out of all of Utah National Parks. It was incredibly unique with all of the hoodoos to see. We got up early to watch the sunrise over the hoodoos, which is highly recommended. There is a spot called ‘sunrise point’ that you can easily walk up to bright and early. I suggest getting there early as there were a lot of people as the sun rose! 

After watching the sunrise, we were able to hike the Navajo trail which took a couple of hours. We brought a sandwich in our bags and plenty of water which was the perfect amount. These were the only two hikes we did at Bryce Canyon National Park and we were able to finish it in a morning. I would have liked to stay an extra day here though as it really did have some incredible views.

Overview: 

☀️Sunrise over Hoodoos

 Navajo Trail- approximately 5 miles round trip

Hotel Booked:  Bryce View Lodge, Part of the Ruby’s Inn Resort

   Cost: $83.48 5,000 UR points

Route 2 Add-in:

If you are going to add in these few options, keep reading. If you are going to stick to Route 1, you can skip down to Capitol Reef National Park. This route does add a few extra hours of driving, but if you have the time I think it’s worth it. 

Horseshoe Bend & Antelope Canyon

Drive time: 2 hours 39 minutes from Bryce Canyon

Number of Days: 1-2 (if Antelope Canyon is open)

Park Price: $10 for parking at Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend is separate from the National Park Pass, as you need to pay for parking. Parking was $10 and it was a quick walk up to the bend. There were two rest stops along the way. This was a wide path trail that was extremely easy to hike, so fun for all ages. We probably spent maybe about an hour here taking photos and enjoying the viewpoint. There were plenty of people but it was easy to get some shots without anyone else in it.

Horseshoe Bend, AZ

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon is only 10 minutes away from Horseshoe bend. As of July 22nd, 2020, Antelope Canyon is closed through August 16th, 2020. They are expected to hear another update from the Navajo Nation Government from August 11th-15th, 2020. I honestly expect this to stay closed until the foreseeable future as a protection for the Navajo Tribe. You can follow along for more updates on antelopecanyon.com/updates.

*Note if Antelope Canyon is open and you also have a desire to see the 4 corners, it is about a 3-hour drive from Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. This is also located on Navajo Tribe Land, so based on if Antelope Canyon is open I would imagine it follows along the same lines of 4 corners.  

Overview:

☀️Sunset over Page, AZ

Horseshoe Bend

Antelope Canyon

Hotel booked:  Hyatt Place- Page, AZ

   Cost: $232.83- used 12,000 Hyatt Points

Natural Bridges National Monument

Drive Time: 3 hours 27 minutes

Number of days: 1 or even a half day

Park Price: $10 *Included in America the Beautiful Annual Park Pass

Forest Gump Hill

Driving up through Natural Monument National Park from Horseshoe Bend we were able to stop and take a photo at the famous “Forest Gump Hill”. This was basically right after we passed into Utah and we actually just happened to notice other cars pulled over to take pictures, so we did too.

Natural Bridges National Monument

One main reason we visited Natural Bridges National Monument is that they were the first park to ever be the world’s first “International Dark Sky Park”. Natural Monument National Park was open at the time, however, the visitor center was not. You can drive up to the visitors center and get some information outside, but note that no rangers were around. Also, note that there is no cell phone service in this park.

We opted to drive the one-way paved highway, Bridge View Drive. This scenic 9-mile drive has stops along the route that we were easily able to see all of the bridges from the short walk to the viewpoint lookout. There are 3 main bridges that were formed by the erosive action of moving water. We arrived later in the day and decided to watch the sunset over the last bridge, Owachomo Bridge, that was the shortest hike down to it. The other two bridges were Sipapu Bridge and Kachina Bridge. 

Watching the sunset over Owachomo Bridge was pretty magical. There was nobody else around the entire time we were there, and we got to watch the stars come out one by one for hours. Slowly the full moon came up and distorted the dark sky view, but it was a magical experience.

If you are someone who enjoys going to all of Utah’s National Parks, but maybe want smaller crowds, and having the park to yourself, this is a park I would 100% recommend. It is so unique and peaceful to just listen to nature’s sounds.

Overview: 

Natural Bridges National Park

⭐️Watched the sunset & moon come up while we star gazed. 

Hotel:   Slept in our car because the few motels looked sketchy and too tired to drive another hour to Moab

   Cost: free

Capitol Reef National Park

Drive Time: Route 1: 2 hours 6 minutes [Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef]

Route 2: 2 hours 45 minutes [Natural Bridges National Monument to Capitol Reef]

Number of days: 1-2

Park Price: $20 for private vehicle for a 7 day pass. *Included in America the Beautiful Annual Park Pass

Hiking

Capitol Reef National Park in Utah’s National Park road trip has an assortment of hikes including short, medium, and long distances. They also have hikes to natural bridges, an arch, or even hiking through a creek. If you are looking for a quick hike to stretch your legs while driving through, Hickman Bridge might be a good choice. Only two miles round trip, this hike follows the Fremont River, and is even easy enough for kids! 

Hickman Bridge in Capitol Reef National Park
Hickman Bridge Capital Reef National Park
Photo courtesy of Flickr

You could easily spend a few days in Capitol Reef National Park to explore what it has to offer. Your best bet is to stay in a local hotel until you are ready to move on, then stop by Goblin Valley State Park along your travels to Moab.

Hotel: You can either stay in Moab or book somewhere nearby, like this unique teepee with Capitol Reef Resort! Moab is about 2 hours drive from Capitol Reef National Park.


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Goblin Valley State Park

Drive Time: 1 hour 22 minutes from Capitol Reef and 1 hour 35 minutes from Moab

Number of Days: 1-2 days or even a half day

Park Price: $20 for a private vehicle for 2 day pass

The Valley of the Goblins is the most well-known attraction of Goblin Valley State Park. They also offer 6 miles of hiking trails. There are some pretty easy hiking trails that can get you to sites such as the three sisters, Carmel Formation, Molly’s Castle, and Carmel Canyon Narrows. 

Goblin Valley State Park
Photo courtesy of Flickr

One thing to note is that Goblin Valley State Park is not included in Utah’s National Park and does not include entry with the Annual America the Beautiful Park pass. Entry into Goblin Valley State Park is $20 per vehicle for a private vehicle.

Hotel Booked: Stayed in Moab

Moab

Drive Time: 1 hour 35 minutes from Goblin Valley State Park

Number of Days: 2-3 days

Moab is such a great little town for a hotel stay to visit a bunch of Utah’s National Parks. If you would prefer, you could always set up camp in Moab and drive out to a bunch of the places as day trips that are about 1-2 hours away. There was a great brewery that also served Gelato. I was impressed with how delicious the gelato was too! We visited Arches National Park and Canyonlands from Moab. We did both in the same day, but you could definitely spend a day or two in either park.

Arches National Park

Drive Time: 10-15 minutes from Moab

Number of Days: 1-2 days

Park Price: $23 for a private vehicle for 7 day pass *Included in America the Beautiful Annual Park Pass

Arches National Park has over 2,000 Natural Stone Arches, which makes it the densest concentration of arches in the world. There are plenty of great trails in Arches National Park. One of the most famous, however, would be Delicate Arch. You might actually recognize this arch as one of Utah’s National Parks Icon. Do you know where?? If not, it is located on Utah’s license plate. Delicate Arch is a moderate to difficult trail according to nps.gov, with the trailhead being a super easy paved path. Eventually, it leads you onto a steady climb on the rockface. Then you will finally reach a narrow pathway to walk before finally reaching your destination.

Watching the sunset at Delicate Arch was pretty magical. After it set, and most of the crowds dipped away, we were able to stargaze with a handful of other people. We hiked back in the dark fairly easily with a few others who watched the sunset. It was nice being in a bigger crowd with more flashlights to see where we were going.

One thing to note is there is actually a viewpoint trail where you can see Delicate Arch from afar. Because of the distance, this is actually an easy half-mile trail to walk.

Overview:

Arches National Park at sunset for Delicate Arch

⭐️Watched the sunset & moon come up while we star gazed. 

Hotel Booked:  Hyatt Place Moab

   Cost: $233.26- used 8,000 Hyatt Points

Canyonlands

Drive Time:  35 minutes 

Number of Days: 1-2

Park Price: $23 for a private vehicle for 7 day pass *Included in America the Beautiful Annual Park Pass

Canyonlands was about 45 minutes from Moab or Arches, therefore we were able to sneak in a quick trip before sunset. Mesa Arch was an incredibly easy hike, only being about .5 mile hike. It was a pretty cool arch to hike out to, however, this was one of the more crowded areas we saw along our travels. 

Mesa Arch at Canyonlands

Overview:

Moab

Canyonlands National Park- Mesa Arch

‍♀️Arches National Park- Delicate Arch

Hotel Booked:  Hyatt Place Moab

   Cost: $233.26- used 8,000 Hyatt Points

Salt Lake City

Drive Time: 3 hours 45 minutes from Moab

Number of Days: 1-2

During our time in Salt Lake City, mostly everything was shut down due to the pandemic and restrictions. We were able to snag a great meal at Blue Iguana with our friends over at Award Travel 101. The food was delicious and we were even able to walk through Temple Square a little bit. We mostly used this time to re-pack our belongings and then fly out the following morning.

Overview:

Hotel Booked:  Hyatt Place Salt Lake City

   Cost: $135.44- used 8,000 Hyatt Points

Basic Recap

Road tripping through Utah National Parks was an incredible adventure. Being able to book a one-way rental car made it even easier to not backtrack. I was extremely impressed with all of the national parks and state parks that Utah had to offer. During our trip, we took us about 7-10 days, but we really could have easily spent a day or two additional in each park we visited. Depending on how much time you have, you could revise this itinerary to be a 5 day trip with only a few of the parks mentioned, or spread it out over 2-3 weeks. 

Have you road tripped through the national parks? Where were your favorite spots? Would love to hear it!

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