Utah’s National Parks: The best highlights for your Utah Road Trip
Join me on an unforgettable road trip through the stunning landscapes of Utah’s National Parks and otherworldly landscapes, where adventures await at every corner. This journey will take you to all five of Utah’s magnificent national parks, each offering its own unique charm and breathtaking vistas but I will also share other hidden gems with you, which can’t be missed during your road trip through Utah.
How Many Days are Ideal for a Road Trip Through Utah?
To fully experience the highlights of Utah, I recommend dedicating at least five to seven days. This timeframe allows you to visit all five national parks – Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion – and also explore some lesser-known hidden gems.
When is the best time for your Road Trip?
The best time for your road trip through Utah depends on your preferences and travel plans. Spring and fall are the most popular choices as the weather is mild, and the landscapes bloom with wildflowers or display vibrant autumn colors. Additionally the national parks will be less crowded compared to the summer months.
What is the best Start and End Point for your Utah road trip?
For your road trip through Utah, the cities of Salt Lake City or Las Vegas serve as ideal start and end points. Both cities offer excellent international flight connections. We personally chose Las Vegas as we combined our road trip with some relaxation in Vegas and additional stops in Arizona.
Is it worth getting the US National Park Annual Pass?
YES! The Annual Pass costs you 80$ and is valid for 12 months and for all US National Parks. It not only covers the buyer but a maximum of three additional adults traveling in the same vehicle as you! Plus you can transfer the pass to another person as it can be signed by two main owners! It definitely saves you a lot of money, especially if you’re planning to visit additional Nations Parks than the ones in Utah. You can purchase the Annual Pass at most Federal Recreation Sites, mostly at the National Park entrance stations or → online.
The best things to see on you Utah Road Trip – Utah’s National Parks & Other Highlights
Coming from Arizona, our first stop on this epic Utah road trip has been Monument Valley, located on the border between Utah and Arizona within the Navajo Nation territory. It is exclusively maintained by the Navajo people. Even today there are still around 100 of them, still living in Monument valley. This iconic park has been the scene for numerous movies, especially classic Westerns. Don’t miss the famous viewpoint named after renowned actor and director John Ford – John Ford’s Point.
A visit of 1,5 – 3 hours gives you enough time to explore Monument valley, as not all parts are open to public and you can go everywhere by car.
Remember that Monument Valley is a desert, so prepare for the heat with temperatures often exceeding 30 or 40 degrees Celsius in the summer. Also keep in mind that Arizona does not observe Daylight Saving Time, so be mindful of the one hour time difference if you’re traveling during the summer months. Your phone will always jump back and forth between both time zones, as the park is located directly on the border of Utah and Arizona.
Since Monument Valley is not a National Park you can’t use your Annual Pass but have to pay an entrance fee of 8$ per person.
For an amazing view, head to the Monument Valley Overlook just outside to take a photo with the backdrop of the world famous ‚Forest Gump‘ scene. If you have time, you should also plan a short stop at the Valley of the Gods. The rock formations reminded me of the ones in Monument Valley. But in the Valley of the Gods it is possible to camp, you don’t have to pay and entrance fee and you can fly your drone.
Monument Valley Overlook
Valley of the Gods
Canyonlands National Park – A rugged Landscape
Canyonlands National Park is a must-visit destination on your road trip through Utah. famous for its rugged landscape created by erosion over thousands and thousands of years. With its vast canyons, towering mesas, and winding rivers, Canyonlands National Park is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers.
This vast park is divided into four different sections. If your time is limited and you only want to experience the highlights, focus on the “Island in the Sky”. This huge mesa sits over 1,000 feet above the surrounding terrain, offering panoramic views that stretch for miles. You can either hike or reach all view points by car. Here are my favorite ones which you simply can’t miss during your visit:
- Mesa Arch: This iconic arch is perched on the edge of a cliff and frames a spectacular view of the surrounding canyons and rock formations. It’s a popular spot for photographers, especially during sunrise when the golden light illuminates the arch and creates a magical atmosphere.
- Grand View Point
- Green River View Point: My favorite view point! If you stand in front of the main view point and hike a few minutes to the right (having the valley on your left side) you will find the most insane spot, overlooking the Green River.
- Shafer Trail Lookout
Green River View Point
The Dead Horse Point State Park is a small but beautiful park at a cliffside offering a stunning view over the Colorado River which formed a spectacular landscape. It is especially magical during sunset!
Arches National Park – Nature’s Masterpiece
Arches National Park, is a true masterpiece of nature with over 2,000 natural stone arches, balancing rocks, and fascinating sandstone formations. Delicate Arch and Landscape Arch are iconic highlights that shouldn’t be missed. If you’re into night photography, Arches National Park is your place to be! During a clear nicht you can capture a million stars with the stunning foreground of the natural arches.
Capitol Reef National Park – a Hidden Gem on your Road Trip through Utah
Capitol Reef National Park may be the least visited of Utah’s national parks, but it is an absolute gem waiting to be discovered. Here, you’ll encounter the Waterpocket Fold, a stunning warp in the Earth’s crust, and colorful slot canyons like Cassidy Arch Trail.
You can explore most of the park by car and drive on sandy roads through the canyons which is only possible in the US if you ask me! Also take a look at the historic petroglyphs which can be found along the road.
Visit the colorful Bentonite Hills, where sediments of various colors have created stunning hills. They are a stunning scene for photos. There are various ‚bentonite hills‘ nearby the Capitol Reef National Park but only one location has low hills which allow you to climb up on them. We had a hard time finding the right ones so I shared the exact coordinates via the map above with you!
The best time to come here is during blue hour (either before sunrise or after sunset) BUT if you had trouble finding this spot (like us ) then an ND Filter for your drone will help you capturing the colors. We shot with ND 256 & it really worked well to filter the heavy midday sun.
If you come here please remember to LEAVE NO TRACE. The Bentonite Hills are located in the middle of nowhere with no trash cans nearby. So PLEASE take everything you brought with you before leaving. Remember to bring plenty of water – especially during a sunny day. Also don’t come here during or shortly after heavy rain falls AND always with a sturdy vehicle which is suitable for off road tracks. You’ll need to drive off road for quite a while.
Bryce Canyon National Park – Castles of the Hoodoos
Our next destination is the fascinating Bryce Canyon National Park, a mesmerizing wonderland of unique rock formations known as hoodoos. These hoodoos resemble intricate sandcastles standing proudly on the canyon floor. Marvel at the stunning orange and red hues of the rock spires and the beautiful interplay of light and shadows. For the best experience, explore the park from various viewpoints along the rim or hike down into the heart of the hoodoos on the Navajo Loop Trail and Queen’s Garden Trail.
During our trip here in April, huge parts of the park were still closed due to (melting) snow masses. Yes you heard that right! During spring visits you may most likely still encounter snow in Bryce Canyon. But white makes a great contrast in photos against the orange of the rocks.
The best view places we were able to visit were:
- Mossy Cave Trail: a short and easy hike with great sights
- Bryce Point & Sunset Point: for stunning views over the hoodoos, both accessible by car
Zion National Park – Nature’s Masterpiece
Even though Zion is considered the most breathtaking National Park in Utah we unfortunately had to skip it during our road trip due to lack of time. But definitely add it on your own Utah road trip itinerary! With soaring red cliffs, lush greenery, and the Virgin River meandering through the canyon, Zion is a paradise for nature lovers alike. Hiking is the best way to immerse yourself in Zion’s splendor, with iconic trails like Angel’s Landing and The Narrows providing unforgettable adventures. For more secluded hiking experience, try the Subway Trail!
We will definitely visit the Zion National Park during our next road trip through Utah!
Our road trip through Utah has been one of my favorite adventures! Each National Park holds its own unique magic and will make you feel like stepping on a different planet – you definitely have to include them all in your Utah Road Trip Itinerary!