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National Parks in Utah – Road Trip Guide

National Parks in Utah – Road Trip Guide

Utah is a beautiful, unique, amazing place. With 5 National Parks here, among many other fantastic places to visit, you won’t be bored. I have visited all of them and so I thought it would be fun to share a road trip guide to the 5 National Parks in Utah so you could plan a trip – and even hit them all at once if you wanted.

There are so many things to do and see at each of them, that I would plan on at least 7 days if you want to spend 1 day at each park.

National Parks in Utah - Road Trip Guide

The five National Parks in Utah are:

  • Zion National Park
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Capitol Reef National Park
  • Canyonlands National Park
  • Arches National Park

This road trip guide can be used going from the North to South or South to North. If you were to start at Zion and drive through over to Arches, it only takes about 7 hours.

You can start at Arches National Park or Zion National Park. That way you are driving in a line from one end to the other. If you want to make a loop then I guess it doesn’t matter, but it will double your driving time. On a side note, you will also be able to see some really amazing things like Natural Bridges.

I will list each park with the highlights below, and that way you can do them in any order you want.


ZION NATIONAL PARK

This park you can do in a day, but I would recommend two so you can do some of the hikes and really enjoy it all.

Zion National Park - National Parks in Utah
Lower Emerald Pools and Kayanta Trail. Photograph by Coralie Seright 2016.

Top things to see at Zion National Park

  • Riverside Walk (2.2 miles roundtrip) – Paved trail follows the Virgin River along the bottom of a narrow canyon.
  • Weeping Rock (0.4-mile roundtrip) – Shore, but steep. The paved trail ends at a rock alcove with dripping springs.
  • Lower Emerald Pools to Upper Emerald Pools (1.1 miles) and then to the Grotto on the Kayenta Trail (1 mile) – the Paved trail leads to the Lower Emerald Pool and waterfalls. A sandy and rocky trail that climbs to the Upper Emerald Pool at the base of a cliff.
  • Court of the Patriarchs viewpoint – view the rock formation in the distance with a photograph board as a guide.
  • Canyon Overlook Trail (1-mile roundtrip) – Long drop-offs, mostly fenced. The rocky and uneven trail ends at a viewpoint of Pine Creek Canyon and the lower Zion Canyon.
  • Checkerboard Mesa (view from road) – past the Canyon Overlook trail as you are leaving the park towards Kanab, you will find this unique formation on the south side. Also, keep an eye out for big-horn sheep and other animals.
  • Watchman Trail (3.3-miles roundtrip) – Ends at the viewpoint of the Towers of the Virgin, lower Zion Canyon, and Springdale.

Two more trails that are very popular are Angles Landing (5.4 miles round trip) and The Narrows (9.4 miles round trip). Each of those is probably a day on their own. See more things to do in Zion National Park.


BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK

This park could take weeks to explore. I have only been here in passing, but many of the places are on my bucket list.

Bryce Canyon National Park
Rim Trail near Bryce Point. Photographed by Brian B. Roanhorse NPS 11 June 2014

Top things to see at Bryce Canyon National Park

  • Mossy Cave Hike (0.8-mile round trip) – Streamside walk up to a mossy grotto that fills with spectacular icicles in winter, and dripping mosses in summer.
  • Sunset to Sunrise Hike (1-mile round trip) – Paved portion of Rim Trail; easiest hike with views of the scenic Bryce Amphitheater.
  • Bristlecone Loop (1-mile round trip) – Hike through spruce-fir forests with bristlecone pines and expansive vistas.
  • Navajo Loop (1.3-mile round trip) – See Thor’s Hammer, Two Bridges, and the bottom of Wall Street on this short but steep trail.
  • Tower Bridge (3-mile round trip) – See Bristlecone pines and the Chinese Wall. A shady 1/4-mile spur trail leads to the bridge
  • Hat Shop (4-mile round trip) – Descend the Under-the-Rim Trail to see a cluster of balanced-rock hoodoos.
  • 18 miles scenic drive (includes Natural Bridge and Agua Canyon)

Peek-A-Boo slot canyon and Spooky Gulch slot canyon are a couple of the slot canyons in the area. You can see all of the hikes in Bryce Canyon here.


CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK

This park isn’t very big unless you want to go into the primitive areas. Most things on this list can be done in one day. I love the Hickman Bridge trail. It is a beautiful viewpoint. The Goosenecks are also very cool.

Capitol Reef National Park
Hickman Bridge – NPS (photo credit)

Top things to see at Capitol Reef National Park

  • 8-mile scenic drive (includes Water-pocket folds)
  • Capitol Gorge (2-mile round trip) – Deep canyon, historic inscriptions, short climb to waterpockets (“tanks”)
  • Goosenecks (0.2-mile round trip) – Dramatic canyon views
  • Hickman Bridge (1.8- mile round trip) – 133-foot natural bridge, canyon views
  • Sunset Point (0.8-mile round trip) – Panorama, good for sunset
  • Grand Wash (4.4-mile round trip) – Deep canyon, narrows

There are many more hikes and viewpoint, but these are the easiest and give you a general overview of the park. Here are the other hikes at Capitol Reef you can do.


CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK

This park is huge, but unless you want to do a lot of hiking you can drive it in one day and see all of the top sites. We only had half a day here so we did mostly just drive. We did a few of the short hikes to see some of the Arches and ruins.

Canyonlands National Park - National Parks in Utah
Canyonlands Mesa Arch – Photograph by Coralie Seright

Top things to see at Canyonlands National Park

  • 34 miles scenic drive around Island in the Sky
    • Mesa Arch (0.5-mile hike) – Short walk to an arch on a cliff edge. Popular sunrise photograph.
    • Upheaval Dome (1-mile hike to the first overlook, 2 miles to 2nd overlook) – View of intriguing rock formation.
    • Whale Rock (viewed from the road or hike to the top) – Short climb up Whale Rock leads to views of Upheaval Done and surrounding area.
    • Aztec Butte trail (2 miles roundtrip) – Steep climb leading to ancestral Puebloan granaries and view of Taylor Canyon.
  • Scenic drive around The Needles
    • Roadside Ruins (0.3 miles roundtrip) – Trail features an ancestral Puebloan granary.
    • Pothole Point (0.6 miles roundtrip) – Uneven Slickrock leads to diverse pothole communities as well as views of the Needles.
    • Cave Springs (0.6 miles roundtrip) – Historic cowboy camp & prehistoric petroglyphs. Two ladders must be climbed.

Here are more trails at Canyonlands that you can do.


ARCHES NATIONAL PARK

We spent two days exploring here and I feel like you really need that time to see all of the arches and do most of the hikes. They are all worth it. Delicate Arch will take half a day if you want to really soak it up and enjoy it – this is my absolute favorite hike and viewpoint there. Next is Double Arch, Sand Dune Arch, and the Windows.

Arches National Park - National Parks in Utah
Arches National Park Delicate Arch – Photograph by Coralie Seright

Things to do in Arches National Park

  • Balanced Rock (0.3 miles round trip) – A loop trail at the base of a fragile, picturesque rock formation. 
  • The Windows (1-mile round trip) – A gentle climb up a gravel trail leads to the massive North Window, South Window, and Turret Arch.
  • Double Arch (0.5-mile round trip) – A relatively flat, gravel-surfaced leads to the base of two giant arch spans which are joined at one end. 
  • Delicate Arch (3 miles round trip) – Open slickrock with no shade. The first half mile is a well-defined trail. Follow the rock cairns. The trail climbs steadily and levels out toward the top of this rock face. Just before you get to Delicate Arch, the trail traverses a narrow rock ledge for about 200 yards.
  • Sand Dune Arch (0.3 miles round trip) – Cross deep sand to secluded arch among fins of rock. 
  • Broken Arch Loop (2 miles round trip) – From the trailhead at the Sand Dune Arch parking area, the trail crosses a large meadow to the arch and continues to the campground. Trail leads through fins with sand dunes and slickrock. The northern part of the loop includes some moderate scrambling.
  • Skyline Arch (0.4 miles round trip) – Park at the Skyline Arch parking area. A short hike on a flat, well-defined trail. On a cold night in November 1940, a large chunk fell out of the arch, instantly doubling the size of its opening.
  • Park Avenue (1 mile 1-way or hike back for a 2-mile round trip. We had my husband drop us off and then he drove to the other end and met us in the middle – he had done the hike before though.) – From Park Avenue parking area, the trail descends steeply into a spectacular canyon and continues down the wash to Courthouse Towers.

Here are more trail and things to do in Arches National Park.


Here is a Google map of the 5 National Parks in Utah so you can see where they are at. I hope this helps you plan your Utah National Parks road trip so you can see a part of the beautiful state as you have never seen it before.

Be sure to save this National Parks in Utah Road Trip Guide for later so you can reference it when you need it again! We have made a fun pin below to share to Pinterest. Happy Travels!

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