The Beauty of the Utah National Parks

Utah and the deserts of the American Southwest is some of the most striking geography found anywhere in the world. With this Itinerary, your trip will take you through the best this area has to offer, from Arches National Park to the Painted Desert of Arizona, The Grand Canyon and more, you will visit 6 utah national parks, two national monuments and a sojourn to the culture and people of the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation. Get ready for the trip of a lifetime.

#thisismyroute

Prepared by:
James

States: 
Utah, Colorado, and Arizona

Start/End: 
Salt Lake City, Utah

Total miles:
1,400

Suggested days: 
At least 14

Type: 
scenic road trip

Recommended for: 
First-timers to the United States, honeymooners, photographers, road trippers

Suggested season: 
Year round

Overview

This route will take you in a lopsided figure eight, as you visit everything that Utah has 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.

How to Prepare

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.

DAY 1: 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.

Best musuem:

Utah State University Prehistoric Musuem

Best place to stretch your legs:

Desert Wave Pool

Cool off desert style:

The Hive Winery

Best place for dinner:

Groggs Pinnacle Brewing

Best place for night time fun:

The Vault

Best place for coffee in the morning:

Happiness Within

DAY 2: 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.

Best day hike-Arches National Park:

Delicate Arch

Can’t miss it:

Hovenweep National Monument

Best photo op:

Dead Horse State Park

Best taco:

Quesedilla Mobilia

Best kept secret:

Hummer Tour of Moab

Best local brew:

Moab Brewery

DAY 3: Canyon of the Ancients

3 hours/163 miles

Today you are dipping into Colorado to see the amazing Canyon of The Ancients. The 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.

Must stop:

Canyon of the Ancients Visitor Center and Museum

Can’t miss it: 

Lowry Pueblo

Archaeological Wonder:

The Great Kiva

Best place to stretch your legs:

Sand Canyon Trail

Best place for photography:

Sand Canyon Pueblo

Best place for dinner:

Pancho Villa’s Grill

DAY 4: 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 its 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. 

DAY 5: 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.

Best place to grab some BBQ:

Big John’s BBQ

Can’t miss It:

Antelope Canyon Tour

Best photography tour:

Rainbow Bridge Boat Tour

Best short hike:

Navajo Canyon

Best long hike:

West Canyon Trail

Best way to eat dinner on the lake:

Canyon Princess Dinner Cruise

DAY 6: 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.

Best day hike:

Bright Angel Trail

Best photo op:

Hopi Point

Experience of a lifetime:

Havasupi Indian Reservation

Grab a bite to eat:

Yavapai Tavern

Can’t miss it:

Horseshoe Bend

Best way to re-align your transformational energy:

Sedona Vortexes

DAY 7: 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 ReserveThe 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.

Best place for wildlife:

Tonaquint Nature Center

Best place for a stroll:

Red Hills Desert Garden

Best place for a glimpse into the past:

Mountain Meadows Massacre Site

Best point of interest:

Coyote Gulch Art Village

Best shopping:

Historic Downtown St. George

Best place for dinner:

Cliffside

DAY 8: Zion National Park

zion, zion national park, road trip
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 Angeles 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

Best scenic drive:

Zion-Mt.Carmel Scenic Highway

Can’t miss it:

Weeping Rock

Best way to see the park:

Take a Ranger led tour

Best hike:

The Narrows

Best photo op:

Court of the Patriarchs

Best place for dinner:

La Casa Don Miguel

DAY 9: Capital Reef National Park

2 hours 45 minutes/157 miles

Capital 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. Capital 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 Capital 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 Capital Reef Resort on your way back out.

Unique Experience:

Gifford Homestead

Cant’s Miss it:

Fremont Petroglyphs

Best hike:

Cassidy Arch Trail

Best point of interest:

Sunset Point

Best kept secret:

The Orchards at Fruita

Best place for dinner:

The Rimrock Patio

DAY 10: 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.

Best Scenic Drive:

Indian Canyon Scenic Drive

Best outdoor recreation:

Starvation Reservoir

Great place to eat:

Marion’s Variety

Craziest place to shop:

Junk in the Trunk

Where the locals go:

Wells Club

Best morning coffee:

Cowans Cafe

DAY 11: 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.

Best way to get up the mountain:

Park City Mountain Resort

Best way to get down the mountain:

Park City Alpine Ride

Best place to burn some calories:

Utah Olympic Park

Best way to see the town and get fed:

Park City Food Tour

Best local shopping:

Tanger Outlet

Best place to people watch:

Park City Historic Downtown

DAY 12 through 14: Salt Lake City

Temple Square

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.
34 minutes/30 miles

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.

Best place to shop:

City Creek Center

Best way to see the city:

Trolley Tours of Salt Lake

Best nightlife:

Downtown District

Best cultural experience for families:

Foothill Cultural District

Best place to shop local:

The Downtown Salt Lake City Farmer’s Market

Can’t miss restaurant:

Valter’s Osteria

Best Mexican food in Utah:

The Red Iguana

Can’t miss outdoor experience:

Great Salt Lake State Park or Big Cottonwood Canyon