271A0868 Bryce

1 Week, 5 Utah National Parks: A Curated Road Trip Itinerary

In just one eye-popping, mind-blowing, camera-clicking week, experience all of Utah’s Mighty 5.

By Kathleen Clove
May 15, 2024

You may have heard, Utah is home to some pretty amazing national parks. And by amazing we mean jaw-dropping, breathtaking, heart-racing stuff. Cliffs, hoodoos and pillars made of candy colored rock; slot canyons, natural arches and verdant valleys. The scenery goes on and on and on. 

So obviously you’d like to see for yourself, did nature really design a valley of castle turrets? Can a bridge of rock be held up by sheer willpower? Yes and yes, and we have a customizable Utah national parks itinerary to prove it. Use our free PDF map download to navigate your road trip through Utah’s Mighty 5 in one fell swoop. Well, a 1,000-mile scenic drive, gallons of drinking water and miles of hiking swoop. Tuh-MAY-toe, tuh-MAH-toe.

What's so great about that arch on Utah license plates? See for yourself in Arches National Park.

Travel tips

Before throwing your hiking shoes and sunhat into your carry-on, take care of a few details.

  • Buy an America the Beautiful park pass; the $80 fee covers entrance to all the national parks, saving you some cash for souvenir T-shirts. Get your pass through the National Park Service.
  • Make park reservations. Arches requires a timed-entry ticket from April through October; visit Recreation.gov to make your vehicle reservation. Some hikes in Zion have a permit lottery; sign up at Recreation.gov
  • April to October is peak season: Make camping or hotel reservations well in advance.
  • Check the weather. It gets HOT during the summer months; pack appropriate clothing, sturdy footwear, reusable water bottles and plenty of sunscreen.
  • Plan to start your days early. Most people visit the park between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.; go during the off hours for cooler temps and fewer crowds. Plus, the lighting is better for your Insta pics.
  • Remember, you can come back! It’s impossible to hike every trail in one park in just a day or two, let alone all five. So plan what you can reasonably do this time around. And don’t worry, the scenery has been around for thousands of years, it’ll be here for you next time.


You can experience the outdoor wonders in three ways: fully immersive, semi-immersive and I-need-a-good-night’s-sleep immersive. If you want the deep dive experience — dirt in your shoes, campfire smell in your clothes — you can set up a tent in or near the national parks.

If you want to dip your toes in the wilderness but still want a mattress, consider renting an RV, campervan or camper trailer. But, if you’re more of a hot shower, hot tub kind of traveler, there are hotels and cabins, either inside the parks or in nearby towns. Can’t decide? Try glamping, camping-like lodging with some luxury hotel amenities.

Arrivals and Departures

The national parks are located in the southern half of Utah, so the two closest international airports are in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. Plan your travel as a round trip, or fly into one city and leave from the other. Pick up your rental vehicle and let your Utah national parks road trip begin.

Introduce yourself to Zion along the Riverside Walk.

Day One: Airport to Zion National Park


We suggest starting your Utah national parks road trip at Zion, when your legs are the freshest; there are some serious hikes here. In fact, there are so many swoon-worthy hikes at this park, it’s hard to choose just one. Or two. Or three. There’s a reason Zion sees some 5 million visitors every year. Plan on spending at least two days, if you can, to soak up all the scenery. And hey, if you decide to stay even longer, we totally get it.

Temple of Sinawava

After checking into your accommodations, head over to the park to stretch your legs on a warmup hike. Catch a free shuttle at the Visitor Center; it travels the length of Canyon Scenic Drive, with stops at the Zion Lodge and the trailheads.

Stay on until the last stop, Temple of Sinawava, and take the Riverside Walk for the perfect introduction to the park. The paved, 2-mile (round trip) walk takes you along the Virgin River and into a canyon. You’ll see hanging gardens, weeping walls and maybe some wildlife.

This trail ends where the Narrows hike begins. If it’s open and you have sturdy shoes, step into the river and walk the first portion of the hike. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to catch the shuttle back or you’ll be walking an extra nine miles. Fuel up for tomorrow at one of Springdale’s many eateries.

  • Grilled grub: Camp Outpost, Whiptail Grill
  • Fancy fixin’s: Spotted Dog, King’s Landing Bistro
  • Family fare: Zion Pizza & Noodle, Porter’s

Get the best view in Zion National Park from Angels Landing.

Day Two: Zion

If you can get a permit, hike Angels Landing. It has a lot of uphill, steep switchbacks and some sheer drop-offs, but the view of the canyon from way up there? Matchless. Plan on taking several hours for the 5-mile hike. Pack a lunch to enjoy at the top; it’s definitely a better view than any rooftop restaurant can offer. Be sure to pack out all your trash. Register for permits with the National Park Service.

If you didn’t get a permit, there are plenty of other (and easier) hikes. We recommend Emerald Pools. You’ll see three natural ponds and some waterfalls, separated by a short climb through desert vegetation. The lower pool is a fairly easy hike; it’s a bit more work to get to the other two, but the trail is easy to follow. At the upper pool, cool off in the grotto surrounded by enormous, weeping rock walls.

If you still have some energy, you may want to try another short but noteworthy hike. When you're properly worn out for the day, head back to Springdale for dinner, then maybe catch a show at the Bumbleberry Inn.

Day Three: Zion to Bryce Canyon


  • Zion to Bryce: 2 hours, 84 miles
  • Lodging: Campgrounds, cabins, B&Bs, glamping

Next stop, Bryce Canyon. Drive back into Zion, heading east on scenic Highway 9 toward Mt. Carmel. You’ll drive through the mile-long Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel. In addition to gaining a mad respect for 1920s sandstone blasters, you may catch a glimpse of some bighorn sheep through the built-in windows.

Make one last stop before you leave the area: Checkerboard Mesa. Imagine a giant sat down to do his math homework and got a bit carried away drawing lines. Then, on to Bryce.

Note: Oversize vehicles, such as RVs, are only allowed through the tunnel during limited hours and must pay an additional fee. Read more about restrictions at the National Park Service.

Walk among sandstone towers in Bryce Canyon.

Bryce is Nice

Remember when you tried to make an epic sandcastle? Well, Bryce Canyon did it first. See an entire valley of the tallest, coolest, colorfulest hoodoos on a walk from Sunset Point to Sunrise Point. 

If your legs are still a bit wobbly from Zion, take the Mossy Cave Trail, an easy 1-mile round trip among the spires. Another option is the Bristlecone Loop Trail, which will give you a bird’s-eye view. A little more challenging, the Navajo Loop is the most popular trail in the park; you’ll descend 800 feet into the heart of the hoodoos.

Got more stamina than that bighorn sheep you saw on the drive over? Try the 8.3-mile Fairyland Loop. You’ll hike down into the pink and white canyons, see natural amphitheaters and be surrounded by hoodoos. No need for wings, but you may wish you had some.

Park your tired puppies back in the car and head over to the tiny town of Tropic for some tasty respite. Steaks, house specials, lavender sponge cake and a wine menu await you at Stone Hearth Grille. For more casual fare, stay in Bryce Canyon City for Ruby’s Inn Cowboy’s Buffet and Steak Room.

The vistas are wide and grand in Canyonlands. Photo by Chad Hurst

Day Four: Canyonlands


  • Bryce to Canyonlands: 4 hours 20 minutes, 256 miles
  • Lodging: camping, hotels, cabins, glamping

Are you ready to mumble? Under your breath in awe, that is. Definitely not because your quads and hammies are jiggly; they can rest on the drive. Pull out our map of Utah national parks and head toward Moab. It’s the home base for Canyonlands and Arches.

Where Bryce seems like fine handiwork, Canyonlands was made with broader strokes. Get an overview of Utah’s largest national park from the Grand View Overlook. The easy hike takes you up a 1-mile sandstone stairway — to heaven? Just about. It ends at a mesa with an unobstructed view of Monument Basin. Be aware, while the path is wide, there are sheer cliffs.

Catch a perfectly framed sunrise at Mesa Arch.

Mesa Arch is another sweet spot for sweeping vistas, evident by the dozens of photographers shooting here at sunrise. The 27-foot long arch is so obliging, it perfectly frames your photos of the La Sal mountains. It’s worth squeezing into your day no matter the hour, since the trail is only 0.6 miles round trip. Hint: Walk to the arch clockwise, then retrace your steps back to avoid some of the stone steps.

If you’re visiting Canyonlands in the spring or winter, consider hiking the Confluence Overlook Trail, a moderate, 11-mile round trip. You’ll do some scrabbling up and down rocky slopes but it’s mostly flat. The payoff is the vista, 1,000 feet above the spot where the Green River and Colorado River come together. We don’t recommend it for a summer’s day; the trail is fully exposed — no shade — and the heat can be brutal.

The Confluence Overlook Trail is long, but the views are unparalleled. Photo by Chad Hurst

Even if you’re camping, head to Moab for some dinner and a casual walk down its charming Main Street. For a small town, there’s a surprisingly large assortment of dining options, from traditional kebabs at Sultan Mediterranean Grill to curry from Thai Bella Moab.

Day Five: Arches


  • Canyonlands to Arches: 29 minutes, 26 miles
  • Lodging: camping, hotels, cabins, glamping

Just half an hour away from Canyonlands, Arches has mesas, buttes and some wiiiide, gravity defying arches. The most popular — so popular it can be seen on one-third of Utah’s license plates — is Delicate Arch. It’s not an easy hike to see it; there are some steep stretches on the 3-mile trip. But you’ll be rewarded by a magnificent, solitary arch standing in a bowl of sandstone. Wax as poetic as you like, it’ll be fitting.

Visit one of the world's longest natural bridge in Arches.

Actually, rare beauties are a thing for Arches. You’ll understand what we mean when you head over to Landscape Arch; it’s the fifth longest natural bridge in the world. The slab of rock spans 290 feet, but it is only 18 feet wide. How does it stay up? No idea.

Day Six: Canyonlands or Arches

Have time to stick around for another day? You could take another hike in Arches, or head back to Canyonlands. Or consider some activities nearby such as white-water rafting, kayaking and off-roading

Drive on to the town of Torrey, just outside Capitol Reef, for the night so you can get an early start in the morning.

Day Seven: Capitol Reef and Home

Park Logistics

Arches to Capitol Reef: 2 hours, 133 miles

Lodging: camping, glamping, hotels

The final stop on our Utah national park itinerary is Capitol Reef National Park. This compact park is no slouch in rock sculptures, either. 

Reach for the stars at Cassidy Arch, named for a local outlaw.

First hike: A moderate 3.5 mile climb to Cassidy Arch. It’s a big one — standing 400 feet tall. It’s pretty photogenic, too, much like the movie star who played the arch’s namesake, Butch Cassidy. 

Next up, a moderately easy jaunt up to the Hickman Bridge. The 2-mile round trip trek includes fantastic scenery along the way, culminating in not just one, but TWO arches.

Grab a late lunch outside the park at Capitol Burger, a food truck serving gourmet burgers (find its exact location for the day on its Facebook page). Then settle your trail-worn body into your vehicle, crank up the air, choose your playlist and head back to the airport.

Home Logistics

Capitol Reef to Salt Lake City: 3 hours 23 minutes, 218 miles

Capitol Reef to Las Vegas: 5 hours, 327 miles

On the long drive back, make your case for which national park deserves a second, longer look. Utah.com will be here to help you plan your next trip and all your other excursions around our state.