Three years ago I was in Powell’s looking at hiking guide books when I came across one about Utah’s National Parks. Being from the Pacific Northwest, I was fascinated by the desert landscape and the fact that there were so many unique national parks in one state! I bought the book and put the road trip idea on my bucket list for later. I can’t tell you how exciting it felt to be reading through my book for the 100th time but this time I was actually on a plane going to Utah!
Kelsey and I can road trip like nobody’s business. We saw a lot in five short days. When I found out she was moving to Utah for work, I knew we had to plan on visiting the national parks together. For a year, we would do a new hike almost every other week. Both of us not being from Northern Oregon, it was so addicting to find different places to see and cross off all these hikes. Hiking and trail talk became our thing.
If you want to plan a road trip throughout Utah, you first need to think about your main goal. Is it to see as many National Parks as possible? Is it a site seeing trip or a hiking trip? Do you want to get to know just one park really well?
Our priority for the trip was to see several parks while crossing off some bucket list things. Which is really the way I like to travel. I like to be on my own time with a loose itinerary but making sure to get in those “must’s”.
tip: the entrance fee for each national park is anywhere from $10-$30. Or $80 for an annual pass that you can pretty much use at any national park, national forest, monuments etc. If you’re seeing more than a couple parks, go for the annual.
Day 1: Driving from Salt Lake City to Zion National Park, with a pit stop in Bryce Canyon
Drive time: 4 hours to Bryce
Bryce Canyon National Park is specifically known for its abundance of Hoodoos (unique rock formations). We didn’t do any hiking here since it was just an addition to our drive down to Zion, but there is an 18-mile scenic road where you can pull over along the way and see many highlight viewpoints. Seeing this park at sunrise/sunset would be ideal with all the orange and red tones but, it was worth driving through in the middle of our day.
+2 hours drive to Zion
Entering Zion National Park was otherworldly. It’s so grand.. it makes you feel tiny and EXCITED! Like walking into Disneyland or something. You just know it’s gonna be good.
How we do:
Lodging, Price & Location: Cable Mountain Lodge http://cablemountainlodge.com. Average $175 per night in peak season. It is steps from ZNP and couldn’t be more convenient!
Would I stay here again? Yes!!! The Virgin River runs right behind the property, you have views of Zion, the rooms have a rustic style but feel new and clean and also have a cute little porch, the pool is beautiful and the property itself just says “vacation.” It was the splurge of our trip and so worth it.
Where did you eat? Springdale is the town right outside of ZNP. There are over 20 restaurants and cafe’s in a mile’s length! My top recommendations are Cafe Soleil (which we frequented), and Whiptail Grill. At Cafe Soleil the menu options are endless and they cook with local, organic ingredients. I loved the food and espresso here. Another good find was the eclectic, gas station turned Mexican restaurant, Whiptail Grill. The menu looks like spaghetti squash enchiladas, fish tacos and chips and guac bigger than you can imagine. Pretty dreamy. And we had the best service at both!
Getting around in ZNP: There is a mandatory, free shuttle bus from April-October and it runs every 10 minutes starting at 7 AM. This is the only way to get to your hiking! Start your hike early!! Just a friendly reminder that not only can it get very hot midday but some of the popular hikes can get very crowded.
Day 2: Work hard, play hard!
Angels Landing is Zion’s most popular and thrilling hike.
Length: Approx. 5 miles
Time required: 3-6 hours
It’s a strenuous and steep hike. Segments of the trail are only a few feet wide, with sharp thousand foot drop off’s on both sides. Once you are a half mile from the very top, you have a 500 ft incline and there are support chains to help you make your way. The 360 views are worthy and unforgettable.
Angels Landing was challenging mentally and physically, but we finished it in about 3 hours. Let’s just say we got fresh fruit smoothies and laid by the pool the rest of the day.. after all, we had to take advantage of it and my feet were blistered as heck.
Day 3: Making the trek to Moab!
Drive time: 5 hours
How we do:
Lodging, Price & Location: Archview RV Resort & Campground. Average $70 per night for a basic cabin and located a few miles from Canyonlands and Arches National Park.
Would I stay here again? Yes!! It was almost like camping but with a comfortable bed and the basics plus a few, like a mini fridge and flat screen ha! There is a shared bathroom with a shower but just lock the door, throw on some flip flops and you’re good. Everything was really clean and kept nice, I was pleasantly surprised.
Where did you eat? Downtown Moab is about 10 miles up the road. The cutest town with lots of eateries and shops. The favorites here are:
The Spoke on Center- They have a really good happy hour, full bar and a walk up ice cream counter!
Moab Diner- I’m a sucker for Diners. I love the classic 50’s diner feel and I can get down on a burger and milkshake.
Jailhouse Cafe- “Moab’s breakfast place.” You somewhat feel like you’re eating breakfast at grandma’s house. All the plaid table cloths, tight seating and ginger pancakes with apple butter.
Moab Coffee Roasters- Coffee flavored gelato from this little gem!
We ended up at Shafer Canyon Overlook for the sunset. A storm was rolling in that evening and we got to witness lightning in the canyon…and then got poured on. It’s these moments for me. The “less than perfect” situations that end up being the most memorable and fun!! This was one of my favorite views that really just blew my mind.
Day 4: Sunrise at Dead Horse Point and site seeing at Canyonlands & Arches
This was a really good choice. We googled what time sunrise would be and got there a half hour before that. There is no hiking involved, just a 45 minutes drive. Do yourself a favor, wake up early and go!!
For the most part, this was a site seeing day. We spent our day seeing part of Canyonlands with a plan to end up at Arches for sunset. Sadly, Arches didn’t really happen. When we got to Arches we were informed that they would be closing at 7 PM because of construction. We had about an hour to do some driving through the park and decided to come back the next day at open for hiking.
Day 5: Hiking to Delicate Arch and back to SLC we go!
Delicate Arch is iconic and known as Utah’s most recognizable arch.
Length: Approx. 3 miles
Time Required: 1-2 hours
It’s a moderate hike with an interesting trail that curves and bends which I found enjoyable. Just before you see Delicate Arch, the trail goes along an inclined rock ledge. It’s like the perfect curtain before rounding the corner and being exposed to Delicate Arch.
The week I spent in Utah was refreshing. As any trip is. You get to break routine, take a step away and enjoy something different. It’s good for the soul to switch things up for a few days. It’s 100% worth saving $ for a few months, taking some extra days off work, and making lifetime memories. I couldn’t have imagined a better person to road trip and hike with!
If you are planning a trip or have any questions about the parks, recommendations, hikes etc. feel free to ask 🙂