Exploring Utah’s National Parks have always been high on my bucket list. There’s just something about the towering slabs of red rock, the narrow slot canyons, and the shimmering orange arches that fascinate me.
For the purpose of this article we’ll start from the south and work our way up, so if you’re coming from the north just reverse the order.
WARNING: PREPARE FOR LOTS OF HIKING
- 2 Days : Zion National Park
- 1 Day: Bryce Canyon
- 2 Days: Capitol Reef/ Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
- 2 Days Arches/Moab
Hike Angels Landing or Observation Point as each give extraordinary views of the canyon. Angels Landing takes a little more courage as the last half mile is narrow and has 1,000 foot drop offs on each side. There are chains to grab a hold of that provide support for you ascent but be warned that there are only one set of chains, hikers coming down and going up use the same ones so on a busy day it becomes a little more hectic as you maneuver around each other. If Angels Landing doesn’t sound like your cup of tea then Observation Point trail will provide you the same views, if not better as it is 500 feet higher in elevation and you look down on Angels Landing. Both hikes are strenuous and require 4-6 hours to complete.
You’ll be beat after one of these hikes so hop on the free park shuttle and enjoy the scenic tour of the park. It takes about 40 minutes and you can sight see and rest your tired legs. Hop off at the Zion Lodge to grab some lunch or a victory beer. Enjoy dinner in Springdale at one of the many restaurants and eateries that line the street and sip a cocktail as the sun dips down into the horizon.
Hike the Narrows, this trail requires you to get wet as you’ll be hiking through the river most of the time. The park recommends that you use water shoes (there are places to rent them) but I did it in an old pair of sneakers and I was fine. The trail is in total 12 miles one way and you can go as far or as little as you want. The farther you go, the thinner the crowds get. It’s definitely an experience you shouldn’t pass up.
Depending on how long you spent hiking the Narrows will determine if you have time for another hike. I personally spent most of the day (7 hours) romping around the Narrows and didn’t leave myself much time for anything else. If you only dabbled in the Narrows you’ll have time for another easy hike such as Emerald Pools, Weeping Rock, or Canyon Overlook. If you wore yourself out, enjoy dinner in Springdale and get to bed early as you’ll want an early start as you drive to Bryce Canyon.
Arrive in Bryce Canyon in the morning as it only takes a little over an hour to travel from Zion. Take in the views from Sunset and Sunrise points and began your decent down into the canyon. Hike down Queens Garden Trail and up the Navajo Loop Trail to get up and close with the hoodoos and to get a real feel of the canyon. The looped trails take about 3 hours and is only gets difficult when your ascending out of the canyon but overall is a easy hike.
Jump in your car and drive to the end of the scenic road and enjoy a picnic at Yovimpa or Rainbow Point. On your way back stop at all the view points along side the road like Natural Bridge, Paria, Inspiration and Bryce points as they’ll all be on the right side of the road. Once you feel satisfied with Bryce head up to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) and base yourself out of Escalante.
Pack a lunch and get an early start. Hike Lower Calf Creek Falls, an easy 5.5 miles round trip that ends at a 126-foot-high waterfall where you can enjoy your lunch. In the afternoon head to Dry Fork of Coyote Gulch to experience some slot canyons. Peek-a-boo, Spooky, or Dry Creek are all relatively assessable and you can explore all of them or just one. Or take a drive to Hell’s Backbone to get see some outstanding vistas. Grab dinner in Escalante and get some rest as you’ll have a long day of driving and sight seeing.
The drive from Escalante to Boulder is called the Million Dollar Highway. There are plenty of places to pull over, get a picture, and chew the scenery. Stop at the Kiva Koffeehouse to grab a coffee, enjoy the views and continue driving highway 12. This road will lead you right into Capitol Reef National Park. Hike the Grand Wash Trail, check out Goosenecks Overlook, and walk to to sunset point (0.3 miles from Goosenecks) to watch the sun sink into the west.
Explore Arches National Park, the drive through the park is beautiful with plenty of places to pull over, stretch your legs on the path and get some good photos. Hike Delicate Arch, it may be crowded but well worth the hike. Relax in the town of Moab for the evening, grab some beer (as you deserve it) at the Moab brewery and find a place for dinner that is desirable to your tastebuds.
This is your final day and your FREE day of hiking! Rent a RZR or a mountain bike to get your adrenalin rush in and explore the desert from a different perspective.
EXTRA DAYS: If you have more time to explore Utah I would spend some time in Lake Powell and check out Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe bend.
- Zion Park Motel – Located 1 mile away from Zion National Park and 300 feet from the free Zion shuttle this motel has an outdoor swimming pool and barbecue facilities. Prices start at $114 a night.
- Flanigan`s Inn – Amazing views, outdoor pool, bar on site, good and cheap breakfast. Prices start at $239 a night.
- SpringHill Suites by Marriott – Excellent location, several restaurants within walking distance. The rooms are very spacious and comfortable, huge bathroom and views of the mountains in Zion right out your window! Prices start at $284 per night.
- Zion Lodge – Only accommodations and food options within the park.
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- Escalante Outfitters – small comfy log cabins with a shared men’s and women’s bathroom. Barbecue and picnic areas. Great for the budget traveler. Prices start at $55 per night.
- Escalante Yurts – If you want to feel like you are in nature and camping, but we also want comfort after a long day of hiking and exploring than this is the place for you. Kitchenette in every yurt, coffee machine, private bathroom and a bbq area. This is the definition of glamping.
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- Best Western PLUS Ruby’s Inn – Located 1 mile from Bryce Canyon National Park. Convenient and comfortable amenities. Restaurant and large gift shop at the hotel. Prices start at $140 for a double room.
- Bryce Canyon Log Cabins – All cottages feature a balcony with a view. Located 15 minutes away from Bryce Canyon. Each equipped with a mini fridge, micro wave and has barbecue facilities. Prices start at $149 per cottage.
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- The Lazy Lizard Hostel – Simple dorm-style accommodations. All guests have access to a hot tub, kitchen, showers, common area with TV, bbq area, and a coin operated laundry machine. Ideal for someone on a budget wanted to explore this beautiful part of the country. Prices start at $11 per bed per night.
- Rustic Inn – Well-equipped, spacious rooms with a huge TV, 2 Queen beds and a nice kitchenette. Heated pool and free coffee in the lobby. Perfect mid range accommodation. Prices start at $140 a night.
- Gonzo Inn– Located 5 miles from the entrance to Arches National Park. This colorful southwest-style hotel features a courtyard with a pool and whirlpool, free Wi-Fi and a daily breakfast are provided. Prices start at $210 a night.
Click here to search for accommodations on your own.
- Watchman Campground
- South Campground
- Zion Canyon Campground
- Shooting Star RV Resort
- Calf Creek Campground
- North Campground
- Sunset Campground
- Bryce Canyon Pines Campground
- Devils Garden Campground
- Up the Creek Campground
I hope this post was helpful if your planning a road trip through Utah. Follow me @imjess_traveling as I adventure around the world.