American West Road Trip Itinerary: Southern Utah, 6 National Parks

This is the ultimate American west road trip. Utah has five national parks in just the southern half of the state, so you could easily cover ground without covering an overwhelming amount of distance. Add a sixth N.P. to the trip by hitting up the less traveled north rim of the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona!


#thisismyroute

Prepared by:
Tobey

State: 
Utah, Arizona, NEvada

Start/End: 
Las Vegas, Nevada

Total miles:
1,200 (1,900 km)

Suggested days: 
At least 12 – 16

Suggested season: 
All seasons, but spring and fall are best

Overview

The route that we have chosen for this American west road trip is a loop that leaves from and arrives back in Las Vegas, Nevada. It takes you to six national parks and multiple national monuments. This trip is ideal for people visiting the US for the first time, families with children, hardcore adventurers or honeymooners. There’s really no perfect itinerary–just follow the general route and make it your own! It can be adjusted to fit any need that your group is looking for.

Preparation

While you could technically take this American West road trip at any time of the year, spring and fall seasons have the most moderate weather, but larger crowds. If you choose to visit in the quieter summer or winter, just be prepared to deal with the heat or possibly the snow, and make sure you’ve brought appropriate clothing and gear. That being said, the desert looks incredibly beautiful when it snows!

Ideally, you would give yourself at least 14 days for this trip. There’s not a ton of driving, so it could be done in less than 14, but you might regret quickly passing through many of the stops. 

#1 las vegas, nevada

Las Vegas, Nevada sign

Unless you’re looking to win some money in Vegas and hit up a famous buffet in the morning–which is never a bad idea–it’d be best to arrive early, get your rental car and start driving to St. George, Utah. Flights to Las Vegas are usually fairly affordable from other major airports. Try to book your rental car as early as you book the flights, because those rates can be quite high. Now it’s time to hop on the I-15 North and get stoked!


#2 St. george

St. George, Utah

2 hours – 118 miles/303 km

St. George isn’t just known for its close proximity to Zion National Park. In fact, we suggest that you save Zion for the end of the trip when you stay in Springdale. St. George is a beautiful city nestled between red rocks in the heart of Greater Zion and there’s plenty of outdoor activities to burn your energy from that your flight and drive. There are over 668 mountain biking trails and the annual Red Bull Rampage, which is basically the Super Bowl of mountain biking. If you didn’t bring your bike, there are plenty of bike shops in town that rent them for a day rate.

Best short hike:

Red Reef Trail

Most unique hike:

Elephant Arch

Best experience for the whole family:

Horseback Riding at Snow Canyon State Park

Most unique advnture:

Spelunking at Bloomington Cave

#3 cedar city

Mountain biker on Lichen It trail in Cedar City, Utah.
1 hour – 53 miles/85 km

Cedar City is a beautiful stop for photographers, hikers, mountain bikers and skiers. It’s only a 30 minute drive from Cedar Breaks National Monument, a vibrantly red natural colosseum. Cedar City is also home to Utah’s two highest ski resorts–Brian Head and Eagle Point. 

For history buffs and Shakespeare fans, Cedar City is a good place to take a break from the outdoor adventures and experience some indoor culture, such as the annual Utah Shakespeare Festival.

Best short hike in Cedar Break NM: 

The Ramparts Overlook

Best long hike in Cedar Breaks NM: 

Rattlesnake Creek Trail

Coolest slot canyon:

Kanarra Creek Canyon

Best mountain biking trail:

Lichen It Trail

#4 panguitch & bryce canyon

Bryce Canyon National Park
1 hour – 66 MILES/106 KM

Finally, here’s where you’ll visit your first national park on the trip: Bryce Canyon. A 3-day itinerary for Bryce Canyon Country might be enough for you, but check out all the activities to decide how many days you’d like to stay. For an authentic western adventure, go horseback riding and then go out for a chuckwagon dinner.

Don’t miss this place:

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

Most popular hike in Bryce Canyon:

Queen’s/Navajo Combination Loop

Best place to ride a horse:

 Panguitch Lake Horseback Trail

Point of interest: 

Rockin R’ Cowboy & Dude Ranch

#5 capitol reef

Capitol Reef, Utah
2 hours – 118 miles/190 km

Next, you’ll drive to Fruita and visit Capitol Reef National Park. This park is unique because of its rich history, one-of-a-kind geology, and the Fremont River, which supports plant and animal life that aren’t often seen in the desert. If you’re in Capitol Reef Country between April and October, definitely go fruit picking in the orchards that were planted by early Mormon settlers: cherries, peaches, pears, apples, and more. Also be sure to stop in Caineville and Hanksville on your way to Moab to get a taste of what an authentic western small town is like.

Best place to go fruit picking:

The Fruita Orchards

Point of interest:

Hickman Bridge in Capitol Reef

Most scenic drive: 

Cathedral Valley

For the adventurers:

 Canyoneer Pandora’s Box

#6 moab

Arches National Park, Utah.
2.5 hours – 144 miles/232 km

Ready to knock two more national parks off your list? Great, because you’ll want to spend a few days here in order to visit Arches NP and Canyonlands NP. Arches is known as being the park with more than 2,000 delicate, red-sandstone natural arches, while Canyonlands is known for its dramatic, expansive landscape that was carved by the Colorado River and includes rock pinnacles, remote canyons, and Native American rock paintings.

Best photo op:

Dead Horse Point State Park

Notable place to visit:

The Needles

Best place to see indigenous rock paintings:

Horseshoe Canyon

Most popular activity:

Mountain biking

#7 San juan county

Cliff dwellings "house on fire" in Bears Ears National Monument
1 hour – 55 miles/88 km

As you drive through the Four Corners area, you might be wondering what you can do next that isn’t hiking or mountain biking, as there’s a lot of that in Utah. The answer is rafting! Take a family-friendly three-day rafting trip on the San Juan River. There are three wonderful towns on along your route: Monticello, Blanding and Bluff, where you can grab food and set up base camp to explore the surrounding parks like Bears Ears National Monument. If you’re a climber, or someone who just loves desert towers, you won’t want to miss Indian Creek!

Best place for photographs:

 Goosenecks State Park

Well-known rafting outfitters:

Oars Rafting Guides

Best activity for all ages:

Edge of the Cedars State Park

Most classic spot to grab a bite to eat:

Shake Shack in Monticello

#8 Monument Valley

Monument Valley
1.75 hours – 93 miles/150 km

You can’t do an American west road trip without visiting Monument Valley–it’s iconic. Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is quite possibly one of the most iconic destinations of the American wild West, located on the Navajo Nation and the border of Utah and Arizona. We recommend staying at least one night here to experience stars above the towers at night and hopefully wake up to wild horses roaming in the morning. There’s a lot of history to learn about this area of the country and much more to explore in Monument Valley than just what you’ve seen from Hollywood.

#9 kanab

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
3.25 hours – 197 miles/317 km

The drive to Kanab will be your longest yet, but it also has some amazing stops along the way to break it up. About an hour outside of Kanab you’ll drive through Page, Arizona, where you can access Lake Powell, a large reservoir with slot canyons on the Colorado River. Although Kanab is a small town, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, it’s been featured in hundreds of Western movies and was given the title “Little Hollywood” in the 1940s. You can visit the museum, attend their chuckwagon dinner, and view old movie sets. Another state park to check off your list: Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. Sounds amazing, right? It is.

Must-see landmark along the way:

Horseshoe Bend

Don’t want to miss:

Take a guided tour of Glen Canyon Dam

A worthy hiking/backpacking stop: 

Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area

Family-friendly roadside attraction:

Toadstools hoodoos

#10 Grand canyon national park

Grand Canyon National Park
1.5 hours – 80 MILES/130 KM

Want to visit the Grand Canyon National Park without all of the crowds or the heat of the summer? Drive to the north rim of the canyon and back, which is doable in a day if you’re staying in Kanab. There’s a visitor’s center, a scenic drive, and many hikes available to you. This entry point is closed during the winter months due to snow. 

Activity for everyone:

Mule rides through the canyon

Best hike into the canyon:

Bright Angel Point Trail

#11 springdale & zion national park

Zion National Park landscape.
2.5 hours – 121 miles/195 km

It’s your last and final stop before you head back to Las Vegas. Springdale, which is just outside the entrance to Zion National Park, is the perfect basecamp if you’re planning on spending a few days exploring Zion. The park is one of the busier ones, so be prepared with an itinerary before you become overwhelmed with options and people. 

Most popular hikes:

Angels Landing Hike and The Narrows

Too many people?

Hidden Canyon

Best place to learn about history: 

Zion Human History Museum

For the hardcore adventurers:

Guided Canyoneering in Zion National Park
From Springdale, Utah, it’s about a 2 hour and 45 minute drive back to Las Vegas, where you’ll catch your flight home after a long and adventurous road trip through the desert. Make sure you shake off all that red dirt before hopping on the plane!    
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