The Beauty of the Utah National Parks
Adventurer & Photographer
Utah National Parks
Start / End
Salt Lake City, Utah
Arches, Canyonlands, Grand Canyon, Zion, Capital Reef
At least 14
This route will take you in a lopsided figure eight, as you visit everything that Utah National Parks have to offer, with a quick dip into Colorado to see the amazing Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, and few overnight stays in Arizona. The American Southwest is a land of extremes, from towering desert monoliths, to vast expanses and forested sandstone cliffs, the natural wonder of this landscape is like no other on Earth. But this isn’t just a trip of natural beauty, it is also an exploration of the people and culture that have lived in this area for thousands of years. The culmination of this trip will take you into one of the United States native people’s reservations, where you will get to experience firsthand the dynamic culture of the Ute Nation. The majority of this trip will be short drives between stops, but this is to allow you the most time at all the amazing Utah national parks and monuments that you have traveled so far to see. Though this itinerary is a day to day guide, it is only a guide and you should feel free to adapt it however you want, taking as much time as you need to fully experience this wonderful part of the world.
We recommend approximately 14 days for this trip in order to experience each town and activity without feeling too rushed. You have a lot of miles to cover, so we suggest spending at minimum a day at each stop. This itinerary is full of suggestions of some of the best places to fully experience the area, with overnight stops in the towns along the way. Plan your trip accordingly so that you experience the places that spark your interest the most. These areas can be crowded in the summertime, and for good reason. There are multiple events and the weather is beautiful. If you want to avoid crowds we suggest traveling at the end of spring or the beginning of fall. If you can’t make that happen then we suggest visiting the smaller towns on the weekends and the Utah National Parks, Monuments and bigger towns on the weekdays. Wintertime is still beautiful in these places, however, many roads are closed and you cannot drive into some of the parks. On the other hand, summertime temps in these places can often exceed 100 degrees, so take that into account as you decide your travel dates.
ARRIVAL IN SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH
2 HOURS/120 MILES
Salt Lake City is a great town, and one that we would recommend spending some time in, but not today. That will come at the end of the trip. For the start of your trip, we would recommend landing in SLC, gathering your bags and getting your car. From this point you head south on Interstate 15 to Spanish Fork where you will head east on Highway 6 and officially begin your road trip as you wind your way along the Wasatch Range and your destination for the night, Price.
PRICE TO MOAB, ARCHES AND THE CANYONLANDS
4.5 HOURS/274 MILES
As you begin to Start your day early and head over to Moab, Utah experiencing the dramatic red colors of the Colorado Plateau. Known as the outdoor town of Utah’s National Parks, Moab is home to Arches National Park, featuring the iconic Delicate Arch, an astounding natural arch that has been carved from the surrounding rock. We definitely recommend taking a hike to see it. Then, try a mountain bike adventure on Moab’s famous Slick Rock Trail, or a boat tour on the Colorado River. Canyonlands National Park is one of the best places to ride a mountain bike, so if you are interested in this, we recommend an extra day there. Another must-see in Moab is the Dead Horse Point State Park, an ideal place to stop and take some incredible pictures of the Colorado Plateau.
CANYON OF THE ANCIENTS
3 HOURS/163 MILES
Today you are dipping into Colorado to see the amazing Canyon of the Ancients. This Colorado national monument contains the highest known archaeological site density in the United States, with rich, well-preserved evidence of native cultures. But before you head here, we would recommend finding a place to stay in Monticello for the night. There are a number of great options, but the Grist Mill Inn is a quaint little B&B and worth a stay. From Monticello, its a short drive to the monument, and you should plan to spend most of your day here, for there is a number of things to see. This cultural landscape contains more than 6,355 recorded sites reflect all the physical components of past human life: villages, field houses, check dams, reservoirs, great kivas, cliff dwellings, shrines, sacred springs, agricultural fields, petroglyphs and sweat lodges. Some areas have more than 100 sites per square mile. The number of sites is estimated to be up to 30,000, so don’t forget your camera.
TO BLUFF AND THE SUPREME MONUMENT VALLEY
2.5 HOURS/166 MILES
From Monticello it is just a short drive to Bluff and the surrounding splendor that is Monument Valley. Bluff will be your headquarters for this portion of the trip, and when you get to town, we recommend getting a room at the hip Willow Street Cottages. After dropping off your bags, head to Duke’s for thier world-famous breakfast. Try the Blue Corn Pancakes. Trust us. Then it’s off to the valley. Monument Valley is world famous for movie scenes, red rocks, and the endless highway that runs through the desert. The best viewpoints here come just before you enter Monument Valley from the north, looking toward the road and the horizon. When you enter the tribal park, enjoy the view points and connect with Native American history, as you are now in the Navajo Nation. Buy local arts and crafts and join an interpretive tour. This is also a great place to go on a horseback ride; ask Goulding Tours for their schedules.
TO PAGE AND LAKE POWELL NATIONAL RECREATION AREA
2 HOURS 46 MINUTES/160 MILES
From Bluff, you will be heading down into Arizona and the spectacular Grand Canyon Country. From Page, it is a short drive north into Lake Powell and all the spectacular sites there are to see there. Though Page is a great town, we would recommend staying at least one night in Lake Powell itself at the Lake Powell Resort and Marinas. This is a great resort, and will give you access to everything the lake has to offer, including Airstream trailers, boat rentals, tours and a relaxing atmosphere for you take in the scenery.
THE GRAND CANYON OF THE UNITED STATES
3 HOURS 16 MINUTES/130 MILES
Today your trip will take you back through Page and into the Painted Desert of Arizona before entering Grand Canyon National Park and the Grand Canyon Village. Our recommendation would be to check in to the Grand Canyon Plaza Hotel, drop off your gear and head right out to explore this fascinating piece of American geography. It is up to you to decide how many days you want to spend here, but more than one would certainly be understandable. For early risers, we recommend experiencing the sunrise from one of the park’s view points (Mather Point is a fantastic one, though you really can’t go wrong if you choose another!) If you plan to be there an extra day, we recommend doing a couple of hikes, such as the Hermit Trail and the Grandview Trail. The most iconic backpacking trip is the “Rim To Rim” trail, a full two-day backpacking trip that requires a tent and an overnight stay at the bottom of the Colorado River.
TO ST. GEORGE
From the Grand Canyon, your trip will take you back up into Utah and the wonder of St. George. Located in the far Southwestern portion of the state, St. George is a really fun outdoorsy town with all the beauty of Utah located in both the front and backyard. One not-to-be-missed experience is the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. The sprawling 60,000-acre Red Cliffs Desert Reserve (which includes the designated Red Cliffs National Conservation Area) contains a one-of-a-kind convergence of multiple different desert ecosystems, jaw-dropping scenery, and protected species seldom seen elsewhere. St. George itself is a bustling city of around 100,000, and there are a number of great thing to do within the city limits as well. Though, as always, there are plenty of places to stay here, we would recommend the Crescent Moon Inn, if for nothing else than the pool and beach on the property.
ZION NATIONAL PARK
1 HOUR/52 MILES
This is a short drive, and for good reason. Today you will travel to Zion National Park and explore one of the most naturally stunning parks in the Lower 48 for the day before reaching your destination in Cedar City. Take exit Hwy 9 to Hurricane and follow the directions toward Zion National Park. If you prefer a leisurely hike, you can try the Emerald Pools, but if you are not scared of heights, we recommend the iconic Angels Landing hike, with incredible views into the canyon. Zion is the first of Utah’s national parks, and it is full of stunning scenery. Plan on taking a picnic with you for a one-of-a-kind- view while you eat. After getting your fill of Zion, (Is there really such a thing?) it’s off to Cedar City and your stop for the night. Read more about Cedar City here
CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK
2 HOURS 45 MINUTES/157 MILES
Capitol Reef National Park may not be the biggest national park in the United States, but it is certainly one of the most beautiful. Capitol Reef National Park is a hidden treasure filled with cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges in the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic monocline (a wrinkle on the earth) extending almost 100 miles. Capitol Reef is a hiker’s paradise, so lace up your boots and get ready to explore this lesser-known park. Your first stop should be to the Visitor’s Center. The rangers there will be able to help you on your way. Your entrance and the exit to Capitol Reef will be through the charming little border town of Torrey. Grab a cup of coffee at Castlerock Coffee on your way in to the park and stay overnight in a Teepee at Capitol Reef Resort on your way back out.
DUCHESNE AND THE UINTAH & OURAY INDIAN RESERVATION
3 HOURS 45 MINUTES/244 MILES
While your destination for the night is going to be the town of Duchesne, the majority of your day is going to be visiting the Ute Nation and the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation. Located in Northeastern Utah, the reservation is located within a three-county area known as the “Uintah Basin”. It is the second largest Indian Reservation in the United States and covers over 4.5 million acres. The main hub for the reservation is the Roosevelt and Fort Duchesne area, and we would recommend heading first to the town of Roosevelt and Ft. Duchesne to visit the Ute Crossing Trading Post. This is a great place to find out info and where to visit on the reservation. Spend as much time as you want here, and then head back to Duchesne for the night.
TO PARK CITY
1.5 HOURS/85 MILES
Park City is a fun place. That’s just the truth of it. There is so much to do in this little town, but the best thing about Park City is its dedication to the outdoor world. This was the place of the 2002 Winter Olympics after all, and the outdoor activities are extensive. But Park City has a great city-centric activity level too. In Park City it is realistic to be browsing through one of the numerous art or history museums in the morning and be lacing up your boots to hike one of the numerous trails just outside the town in the afternoon. The best place to start any time in Park City, though, is the Park City Visitor’s Center. Not only will it have all the information you need, but its also a really cool place, with some of the best coffee in town accompanied by a nice little breakfast and lunch cafe.
SALT LAKE CITY
34 MINUTES/30 MILES
IN 1847, WHEN MORMON PIONEERS ARRIVED IN THE SALT LAKE VALLEY, LDS CHURCH PRESIDENT BRIGHAM YOUNG SELECTED A PLOT OF THE DESERT GROUND AND PROCLAIMED, “HERE WE WILL BUILD A TEMPLE TO OUR GOD.” ATTRACTING 3 MILLION TO 5 MILLION VISITORS A YEAR, TEMPLE SQUARE IS THE MOST POPULAR TOURIST ATTRACTION IN UTAH, BRINGING IN MORE VISITORS THAN THE GRAND CANYON OR YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK. CONTAINED WITHIN TEMPLE SQUARE ARE THE SALT LAKE TEMPLE, SALT LAKE TABERNACLE, SALT LAKE ASSEMBLY HALL, THE SEAGULL MONUMENT, AND TWO VISITORS’ CENTERS. THE SQUARE WAS DESIGNATED A NATIONAL HISTORIC LANDMARK DISTRICT IN 1964. LOCATED IN THE HEART OF DOWNTOWN SALT LAKE CITY, TEMPLE SQUARE HAS A RICH HISTORY, GORGEOUS GARDENS AND ARCHITECTURE, VIVID ART AND CULTURE THAT PULLS YOU IN, YOU’LL BE SURE TO HAVE AN UNFORGETTABLE EXPERIENCE.
Get ready for some city life. But first, you need to get there. There are two ways to get to SLC from Park City, but the one we recommend is taking Hwy 224 to Hwy 190 over Guardsman Pass. Total drive time (one way) is about one hour, but you’ll probably want to take longer, to stop for photos and perhaps a picnic along the route. On top of the mountains the country opens up and you’ll have majestic views in all directions. At the pass the elevation is about 9,700 feet above sea level. However, this road is not open in the winter. Upon arrival in Salt Lake City, the first thing you are going to want to do is find a pace to stay. There are plenty of options, but our suggestion is to head downtown and stay at one of the great hotels. From there, Salt Lake City is your oyster. SLC is a great town, and there are thousands of things to do here, so after getting your hotel, you should head to the Salt Lake Visitors Center in the Salt Center. The people there are friendly and eager to make your visit the best it can be.