Complete Utah 7 Day Road Trip Guide to the 5 National Parks
Utah has some of the most stunning scenery in the US and the best way to see it all is via road trip. From mountains to amazing rock formations to waterfalls and beautiful lakes, it has so much to offer. We visited in the middle of July with the mission of hiking in the five national parks (Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, Bryce and Capitol Reef). Many suggest avoiding Utah in summer because of the heat but we found it to be fine. We just adjusted our schedule to avoid hiking in the middle of the day and used the middle of the day for downtime or trying a new food spot!
Where to Stay
Each of the national parks except for Bryce had chain hotel lodging nearby. There are also many boutique options in Utah (e.g. B&Bs and glamping) plus Airbnbs popping up so it’s worth exploring Airbnb if you’d like a more customized experience! We stayed at a mix of chain hotels (so we could use points) and B&Bs, which will be noted below. Near Bryce we stayed at a B&B.
- We started and ended our road trip in Salt Lake City, Utah. However, you could also start/end in Las Vegas and making your car rental a one-way rental so you can visit the Grand Canyon. We had already been there so just did a full loop back to SLC.
- We brought daypacks, refillable water bottles and an Osprey backpack with a water bladder so we had plenty of water with us at all times.
- Make sure to keep your skin covered; we wore hats most of the time to keep our faces protected too from the Utah sun.
- The America the Beautiful pass at $80/vehicle is a great value. It can be used for an entire year and typically pays for itself after just two park visits!
- If you’re interested in applying for the lottery to hike at The Wave, check out the lottery website 3-4 months before you want to hike. For example, if you plan to hike anytime in July, you can apply for the lottery on April 1st. More details are here. We applied for the Wave but didn’t win it so instead applied and got tickets for Coyote Buttes South.
- If you’re lucky enough to win tickets for The Wave, just substitute that activity with the Coyote Buttes South hike on Day Four. You can also apply in person for the lottery the day before you’d like to do the hike. We didn’t have the time in our schedule to do this.
- Always check the National Park Service for latest updates on park and trail conditions
Trip Snapshot: Table of Contents by Day
- One: Salt Lake City to Moab; Arches National Park
- Two: Canyonlands and Arches
- Three: Moab to Page via Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend
- Four: Page to Kanab via South Coyote Buttes and Zion
- Five: Zion then drive Kanab to Panguitsch
- Six: Panguitsch to Torrey via Bryce, Boulder and Lower Calf Creek Falls
- Seven: Capitol Reef and drive back to Salt Lake City
First Day: Salt Lake City to Moab; Arches National Park
After touching down at SLC and picking up your rental car, head south towards Moab. En route, consider stopping at In-N-Out burger in American Fork. Not exactly healthy or great hiking fuel but it is delicious, iconic and you’ll be burning lots of calories walking through the national parks anyway! There are also healthier options in American Fork if you prefer.
Arrive in Moab, check in to your hotel which will be your base for two nights to explore both Arches and Canyonlands. We chose to stay at the Fairfield Inn & Suites which was a good choice for us. It was clean, had a breakfast buffet included and a nice swimming pool area. Since we were there in the middle of July, we spent our afternoon lounging in the water to stay cool. Once we were hungry again, we went to the Quesadilla Mobilla for dinner. Highly recommend! If you’re there in a cooler season, you could head straight to Arches to start exploring.
Around 6pm is when we felt the Utah heat had subsided enough to head to Arches National Park. We hiked to the Delicate Arch and Balanced Rock. All gorgeous! The Delicate Arch is a great sunset spot – just make sure to keep an eye on the light so you’re not hiking in the dark.
Day Two: Canyonlands, Arches
Today is an early one! We asked the hotel to pack a breakfast bag for us knowing we’d miss breakfast time at the hotel and also packed some snacks of our own. Bring plenty of water.
We went to Canyonlands for sunrise at Mesa Arch (check the time of sunrise during your visit and backtrack how long it’ll take you to drive there plus walk ~ 15 minutes from the parking lot to the outlook point).
It was a little underwhelming for us because the morning was cloudy, but had it been clear, it would have been stunning! Pack a flashlight to light the way to the trail. It’s a very short walk from the carpark to the actual lookout point.
After sunrise around Mesa Arch, we hiked the Grand View Point Overlook (~1.5 hours) and Whale Rock (~1 hour) and stopped at the Green River Overlook.
At this point, we headed back to Moab for lunch at the Moab Dinner. Super tasty diner food, it was just what we were craving after a morning spent hiking! From here, we went back to the hotel to relax a bit and cool off from he Utah heat in the pool.
In the early evening, head back to Arches. We spent this evening hiking to the Landscape Arch, Sand Dune arch and the Windows Section – Double Arch in particular was a wonderful spot for sunset! From here, head back to Moab for dinner. We enjoyed a Mexican meal at Fiesta Mexicana.
3rd Day: Moab, Page via Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend
Enjoy breakfast at your accommodation before leaving Utah for a Arizona detour. En route to to Monument Valley (~2.5 hours), stop at the iconic place where Forrest Gump decided to stop running. It’s marked on Google Maps and you’ll probably see people stopping off anyway. Look for cars before taking a picture in the middle of the road!
Arrive at Monument Valley, pay the entrance fee (not included in the America the Beautiful pass as it’s on native lands) and grab a map. We had an AWD vehicle and were able to drive the smaller loop at Monument Valley just fine. Smaller vehicles may find it harder in the sand; there are tours you can pay to take if you’re more comfortable leaving your car in the parking lot.
The benefit of the tours is they take you on a wider loop and out further than you’re permitted to go with your vehicle. However, they are expensive so try to negotiate the price. We found the smaller loop just fine for our timetable.
From here, drive to Antelope Canyon (~2 hours). We booked a 2:30pm tour with Antelope Slot Canyon tours so left Monument Valley by noon. Book this tour in advance as spots to fill up. The most popular time of day to do this tour is midday so you can see the sunlight streaming directly into the slot canyon; if you’re able to secure this tour time, you may need to start your day earlier. We left our car in the parking lot of Antelope Slot Canyon tours and they drove us to the actual canyon.
After the tour, drive to check in to your hotel in Page. We chose to stay at the Country Inn and Suites – it was a good option for us but if you’re looking for a more fun option (i.e. not a chain) check out Airbnb.
Check out Horseshoe Bend this evening. You will need to pay a fee to enter and then it’s a short walk to the edge of the canyon. The lighting can make pictures harder in the evening but we did just fine and enjoyed seeing the colors as the sun went lower.
Enjoy dinner at Big John’s Texas BBQ. It’s an awesome local spot for BBQ and I’d recommend an outdoor table, especially if there’s a band playing like we enjoyed!
Day Four: Page, South Coyote Buttes, Kanab and Zion
Start your morning early today (I’d suggest by 6am) and drive approximately 2.5 hours to Coyote Buttes South (you’ll need a permit). While the driving distance may not seem far, you’ll be on a bumpy dirt road for quite some time so will need to go slower.
Depending on your vehicle, you may need to park in a small parking lot just off the dirt road. If you have a 4×4 with high clearance you can drive up a little further to the trailhead. We had a Subaru so parked just off the dirt road which added about 1 mile each way to our hike. Not super ideal in the summer Utah heat but we made it work by starting the hike earlier in the day and taking plenty of water breaks.
Make sure you pack LOTS of water and an emergency kit. You may not see anyone else on your hike.
We spent about 3 hours hiking around Coyote Buttes South. I used the All Trails app to ensure we didn’t get lost since there are no markings. This was one of the most stunning and fun hikes I’ve done. It’s special being away from the crowds in beautiful terrain and getting to explore off trail.
After the hike, drive about 2.25 hours to Kanab, Utah. We stayed in Kanab since accommodation was cheaper than in Springdale. We stayed at La Quinta Inn because we were using hotel points and it was newly built, clean and comfortable. Check Airbnb if you’re looking for a more fun Utah experience. Even if you chose to stay in Springdale, stop in Kabab for a late lunch at Escobars Mexican Kitchen. Highly recommend!
Enjoy an afternoon in Zion National Park for a couple of easy hikes / introduction to the park. We parked in the main lot and took the park shuttle bus to Weeping Rock and Lower Emerald Pool. Both were super quick and easy hikes.
Head back to your accommodation for the evening. We were pretty tired and not very hungry after the big lunch at Escobars so snacked on trail mix and Larabars and then called it a night early!
5th Day: Zion to Panguitsch
Start your day early so you can spend the majority of the day hiking the Narrows Bottom Up. You don’t need a permit for bottoms up but do if you’re hiking the Narrows from the top down. We had breakfast at our accommodation and then drove to Zion around 7am.
After parking in the Zion parking lot, we lined up and were on one of the first shuttles of the day. After departing the bus at the Narrows hiking stop (Temple of Sinawava), we were instantly on the lookout for a walking stick left behind by previous hikers to help us navigate the waters. If you have your own hiking poles that come up near your chest, I’d recommend bringing them. It’ll make walking in the water much easier!
We wore swim suits under fast drying clothing. It was suggested we wear water shoes. I don’t have any so instead wore my Keens with socks (super stylish). However, it worked very well since it kept the pebbles out and my feet were still well protected. If you need to rent gear, there are shops in Springdale – just book in advance!
The hike took us around 6 hours round trip. I’m honestly not sure how far we went – I would just suggest keeping in mind that you’ll need to hike back so budget your time and stamina accordingly!
After hiking the narrows, we were pretty spent and were glad we had explored other parts of the park the day. If you have one more day here, you could hike the famous Angels Landing.
After leaving the park, we grabbed lunch (smoothie bowls!) at the Cave Café and I’d highly recommend. From here, we started our 1.5 hour drive to Panguitch which is near Bryce Canyon. We stayed at the Panguitch House B&B and loved it! After a few chain hotels, it was lovely staying in a place that felt more like a home.
The Panguitch House owners have many suggestions for dinner. We chose local burger joint Henrie’s Drive-in which I would recommend. Not the healthiest you have been hiking a ton! 😉
Day Six: Bryce Canyon, Boulder, Lower Calf Creek Falls and Torrey
After a delicious made to order breakfast at The Panguitch House, drive to Bryce Canyon. There are many stops and hikes you could do. I’d suggest: Inspiration Point, Agua Canyon, and Rainbow Point lookouts plus hiking the Queens Garden/Navajo/Peekaboo Loop Trail. These should take you about 3-4 hours to complete. If you have extra time, I’d also consider hiking The Fairyland Loop Trail (or swapping that out for the hike suggested above).
Drive to Boulder (about 1.5 hours) to have lunch at Magnolia’s Street Food truck. It’s an awesome turquoise blue school bus converted to a food truck serving burritos, fries and delicious agua frescas. Can’t recommend enough!
After lunch, hike Lower Calf Creek Falls. This is slightly backtracking 12 miles/20 minutes but Magnolia’s closes at 4pm.
Hiking Lower Calf Creek Falls takes about 3 hours round trip. You’ll pay via cash in an envelope at the start of the hike (~$5 per car) and then grab a map and you’re on your way! The map has marked some cool interpretative stops to look out for, including an old storage granary and pictographs from early settlers.
Drive to your accommodation near Capitol Reef (~1.5 hours). We stayed at the Capitol Reef Resort and I loved it. They had smores packs you could buy and roast over the fire. They have teepees but we just stayed in the hotel.
For dinner, we ate at Curry Pizza. It’s about a 10 min drive from the hotel. It was featured on Diners, Drive ins and Dives. The pizza with Indian toppings was so delicious and the owners were very kind. They really support their local community and high school students so it was cool to support them.
Day Seven: Capitol Reef and drive back to Salt Lake City
Start your day with breakfast in the Capitol Reef National Park. We first went to the old pioneer Gifford House and ate delicious cinnamon rolls. We also had pie with some ice cream (hey, you’re on vacation!).
From here, head to the U-Pick region. This is one of the coolest features of any of the parks we saw in Utah. The pioneers planted lots of fruit trees in the 1800’s that still produce fruit today. You’re allowed to pick and eat the fruit in the orchards at no cost. If you would like to take some with you, there is a small, very reasonable fee.
We drove the Scenic Drive to the end of the paved road where there’s a lookout point to take pictures. We then drove back to the trailhead of Cassidy Arch and hiked to the arch. It’s about 2 miles but some parts are strenuous. Lastly, we did the easy hike to Hickman Bridge and then stopped to see the Fruita Petroglyphs and Goosenecks Overlook.
There are plenty more hikes you could do if you have more time but unfortunately, we only had one day. However, I think we got a great taste of what the park has to offer!
Drive to Salt Lake City (~3.5 hours). We stopped at In-N-Out in American Fork again, as we did on our way out of Salt Lake City. Perfect end to our Great National Parks Utah road trip!
If you have more time in Utah, spend a day in Salt Lake City. For more US travels, read my other guides here.