Utah Road Trip: 9-day Itinerary to the Mighty 5 National Parks

Known as “The Mighty 5,” Utah’s National Parks have some of the most breathtaking views in the U.S., and with this 9-day Utah road trip, you get to visit all of them!

From the most beautiful red rock formations of Arches to the jaw-dropping hoodoos in Bryce Canyon and the slot canyons of Zion, these parks will give you one-of-a-kind landscapes and the most adventurous hikes.

utah road trip landscape
Utah Landscape

And whether you’re an avid hiker or just looking for a scenic drive, this 9-day Utah road trip itinerary is suitable for everyone willing to have one of the most unforgettable experiences.

So pack your bags and get ready to explore Utah’s Mighty 5!

utah road trip 9 day itinerary
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What Are The Mighty 5 in Utah?

The Mighty 5 refers to the five National Parks in Utah which are Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion.

Each one of these stunning parks showcases the natural beauty of Utah in its own special way and if you’re up for it, you can visit all of them in just one trip!

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When Is The Best Time To Visit Utah’s National Parks?

There’s no doubt that Utah’s National Parks are more than spectacular year-round, but they do have a certain “best” or preferred times to visit.

In general, the best times to visit the Mighty 5 in Utah is the spring and fall seasons. These are great because you’ll experience the nicest weather and avoid harsh winter conditions which are bad for road trips or extremely hot summer weather that’s not ideal for hiking.

utah road trip scenery

Although I went on this Utah road trip during the heated month of June when temperatures were over 100 degrees each day, I loved every minute of it! (except for the hiker’s rash, not fun at all)

Additionally, summer is the most popular time to visit and some parks like Zion, will get extremely crowded.

Wintertime is quiet with fewer visitors, but can also be the most restricted time to visit. Roads and trails will close due to heavy snowfall and other winter conditions.

utah road trip scenery

Therefore, you might not get to do much scenic driving or complete your hiking bucket list if you’re visiting during the winter.

The heat of the desert, snow, and cold weather is not for everyone, especially if you’re new to hiking. Therefore, the time I recommend the most as the best time to visit Utah’s National Parks is the fall season, September through November.

Regardless, with enough planning, you can visit Utah’s National Parks any time of the year!

arches national park
Arches National Park

Why is Moab so Popular?

I personally think of Moab as the outdoor capital of the U.S.! This city serves as a base and must-visit since it’s home to both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, as well as Dead Horse Point State Park.

The town is cut and it’s surrounded by a wide range of activities like hiking, river rafting, off-roading, rock climbing, mountain biking…phew!

There are just so many things to do in Moab, Utah that does make it seem like nature’s theme park and the perfect place for adventure-seekers.

moab postcard mural utah road trip

Apart from all the fun, there are great dining options and accommodations in Moab. Shopping-wise, you’ll pretty much find the same things as in any other small town.

But the scenery and stunning sunsets in Moab are out of this world! All of these things combined make Moab an unforgettable experience for any outdoor enthusiast.

9-day Utah Road Trip Itinerary

In this unforgettable Utah road trip itinerary, we’ll go from city views in Salt Lake City to the most stunning scenery featuring sandstone arches, vast canyons, and unique rock formations that will take your breath away!

utah road trip through national parks

But before taking off on your Utah road trip adventure, I recommend you purchase the America the Beautiful National Parks Annual Pass which will save you a lot of money along the way!

The annual fee for the pass is $80 while the entrance fee for each of the national parks in Utah varies from $20 to $35. However, if you are military, veteran, or disabled, you can get the annual or lifetime pass for free.

As for the first day of your Utah road trip itinerary, I recommend an early flight/arrival to Salt Lake City. This will give you enough time to pick up your car rental, walk around the city and maximize rest on your first day.

making stops on utah road trip
Utah Road Trip

As a traveler, I don’t take many breaks and I’m always all out until I can’t anymore! However, not everyone is the same.

Therefore, you might find this 9-day Utah Itinerary a bit tough, especially the hiking. However, you can make adjustments that fit your style of travel and extend it to 12 days which will give you more breaks and resting time.

As a reference, for most of these days, I was already out the door by 6 am (except for the first day at Arches which was earlier).

Quick Overview Of The Utah Road Trip Itinerary πŸš—

National Parks you can visit in 1 day: 

🏜 Capitol Reef National Park
🏜 Canyonlands National Park (Island in the Sky Disrict only)
🏜 Bryce Canyon National Park (if excluding the Fairyland Loop Trail)

National Parks that need at least 2-3 days:

🏜 Arches National Park
🏜 Zion National Park
green river sunset in utah road trip
Sunset in Green River, Utah

Day 1: Arrival at Salt Lake City (SLC)

Upon your early arrival in Salt Lake City, go out for lunch in the downtown area. After exploring a bit, it’s time to check in at your hotel and prepare for a night stroll after dinner.

Day 2: Antelope Island State Park and Arrive at Moab

As you depart on your road trip journey, your first stop will be Antelope Island State Parkβ€”just 1 hr and 40 min drive from SLC, where you’ll be spending at least 2.5 hours.

buffalo point trail in antelope island state park
Buffalo Point Trail, Antelope Island State Park

This is an amazing place to visit with a completely different landscape in Utah and it’s also the largest of 10 islands located within the Great Salt Lake.

Antelope Island State Park is also well-known for the free-roaming Bison and its unique 7-mile causeway entrance to the island.

πŸŽ’ What Not to Miss on Antelope Island: Hike the easy, 1-mile Buffalo Point Trail for stunning views of Antelope Island and the Great Salt Lake, and do the scenic drive around the island. Antelope Island State Park entrance fee is $15 per vehicle and it opens at 6 am.

antelope island state park utah road trip
Antelope Island State Park

Arriving at Moab

During the second half of day 2, you’ll be arriving in Moab. The drive to Moab from Antelope Island State Park is 5 hrs and 15 min, so you’ll be getting here in the afternoon.

As mentioned before, Moab is like ‘Disney’ for outdoor enthusiasts and it’s the most exciting and adventurous place you’ll visit on this road trip. Although I must warn you, Zion lovers will disagree with this 😜.

Upon your arrival, check in at the hotel with mountain views in Moab where you’ll be staying for 3 nights, and explore the town when you’re out for dinner.

arches national park
Arches National Park

Day 3: Arches National Park

The third day of this road trip itinerary through Utah’s National Parks is one of the most exciting of all! And I may be biased, being that Arches is my top favorite national park in Utah, but just being in Moab is an overall EPIC experience!

I also feel like this Utah itinerary will be a love/hate relationship between you and me because you’ll probably hate me for my suggestions for your first day in Arches National Park.

While I recommend taking 2 full days to visit Arches, I did more than 8 hikes in just one day starting at 3 am, and it was brutal.

delicate arch sunrise hike
Delicate Arch Sunrise Hike

Therefore, if you’re planning to hike moderate to difficult trails, this might be one of the days you want to split into two. This will allow you to fully enjoy this amazing national park without exhausting yourself too early on.

The wake-up call for your visit to Arches 3 is 2 am. Get ready, eat your breakfast, and head out to Arches National Park (a 10-minute drive from Moab) for the Delicate Arch sunrise hike. You’ll arrive at the trailhead parking and start getting ready.

But first, be sure to look up and marvel at the stars! Arches National Park is a certified Dark Sky Park which means you’re at the most perfect place for stargazing. You can then start hiking the Delicate Arch Trail at 3 am.

delicate arch trail in arches national park
Part of the Delicate Arch Trail

🏜 Is this hike for you?: Although it’s a relatively short trail, Delicate Arch is a moderate-strenuous hike that might not be suitable for everyone. Length: 3 miles | Time: 2-3 hours

For the sunrise, the timing needs to be perfect! This is why starting this hike on time is imperative to see the sunrise peeking in through the arch and the iconic red rocks surrounding it.

Visiting Arches National Park and not doing the Delicate Arch sunrise hike is like missing out on one of the most breathtaking views you’ll ever see.

sunrise at delicate arch
Delicate Arch at Sunrise

But even if you decide to skip the sunrise, Delicate Arch is the most iconic arch in the park and it’s definitely a must-see in this park!

Other Must-see Arches in Arches National Park

🏜 Broken Arch
🏜 Landscape Arch
🏜 Pine Tree Arch
🏜 Turret Arch
🏜 Sand Dune Arch

Day 4: Canyonlands National Park (Island in the Sky District) and Dead Horse Point State Park

From Moab, it’s just a 35-40 minute drive to the Island in the Sky district in Canyonlands National Park. You see in this park, you’ll have different ways to explore. Canyonlands is divided into four districts which are Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and The Rivers.

Each district provides different adventure options, with The Maze being the most remote one of all. In this itinerary, we are only including a visit to the Island in the Sky district, being that it’s the most accessible one.

canyonlands utah road trip
Canyonlands National Park

And let me just continue by saying that on this Utah road trip, Canyonlands will give you the most extraordinary views, unlike any other national park in Utah!

Furthermore, the great thing about this district is that there are plenty of overlooks with breathtaking scenery that requires little to no hiking, making this the perfect place to be after all the hikes in Arches.

Of course, I recommend stopping at the Visitor’s Center of all national parks. But for Canyonlands, in particular, I consider it a must.

grand view point overlook canyonlands national park
Grand View Point Overlook, Canyonlands

Being that there are so many different overlooks and hikes, you’ll want to grab a map to trace your driving route with the stops you’re going to make.

You can start your day in Canyonlands National Park by hiking the Mesa Arch Trailβ€”one of the most photographed and iconic views of this park.

Mesa Arch is a great hike any time of the day but it’s most beautiful at either sunrise or sunset. This is an easy 0.5-mile loop trail that’s perfect for beginners and for the whole family!

mesa arch canyonlands utah road trip
Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park

Another easy hike with stunning vistas in Canyonlands is the Grand View Point Trail. This is a 2-mile out-and-back trail with interpretive signs along the way that include cool facts about the features of this unique landscape.

Don't Miss These Overlooks and Hikes in Canyonlands National Park

🏜 Shafer Canyon Overlook
🏜 Orange Cliffs Overlook
🏜 Green River Overlook
🏜 Aztec Butte Trail
🏜 Whale Rock Trail

For the late afternoon, after spending your day surrounded by the most epic landscapes, I recommend you add the 12-minute drive to Dead Horse Point State Park to this Utah itinerary for more desert views.

colorado river dead horse point overlook
Dead Horse Point State Park

While here, definitely do the Dead Horse Point Overlook Trail and the Visitor’s Center Nature Trial which are very short and super easy. Nonetheless, they do offer the best views! The entrance fee for Dead Horse Point State Park is $20 per vehicle.

After your day in Canyonlands and Dead Horse Point, you’ll head back to your hotel for the last night in Moab, UT.

dead horse point state park in utah
Dead Horse Point State Park

Day 5: Capitol Reef National Park

Halfway along this road trip through Utah and we arrive at Capitol Reef! This is such a special place and quite honestly, it doesn’t get all the attention and love it deserves.

From its historic Petroglyphs to its sandstone canyons and painting-like colors, this one national park you’ll surely love.

Start your day in Capitol Reef National Park by hiking to Hickman Bridgeβ€”one of the most known sites in the park. Make sure to continue this hike clockwise (to the left) once you reach the fork for the most stunning views of the arch!

capitol reef national park utah road trip
Hickman Bridge, Capitol Reef National Park

Hickman Bridge Trail is an easy hike that’s just about 2 miles round trip. You will pass through a mini arch along the trail but the main arch is at the very end.

Another one of the must-do hikes in Capitol Reef is the Rim Overlook Trail which is a moderate 4.6-mile hike that’s perfect to do on the same day as Hickman Bridge. It offers the most unique views of Capitol Reef and its beautiful colors.

For non-hikers and for after your hikes, the 7.9-mile Scenic Drive with 11 stops is another great way to enjoy Capitol Reef National Park along with the Petroglyph Boardwalk which I consider a must-see!

utah road trip
Rim Overlook Trail, Capitol Reef National Park

After your Capitol Reef adventures, begin your drive to Bryce Canyon City where you will stay the night.

Must-do Hikes in Captiol Reef National Park

🏜 Cassidy Arch Trail
🏜 Navajo Knobs Trail
🏜 Chimney Rock Trail

Day 6: Bryce Canyon National Park

Along with Arches, Bryce National Park is my second favorite and the scenery here is unlike anything you will ever see!

Depending on which time of the year you decide to do this Utah road trip, you might arrive just in time to see the sunset in Bryce Canyon since the drive from Capitol Reef is just 2.5 hours.

If this is the case, you will have time to see the sunset from Sunrise Point in Bryce Canyon National Park. And yes, if you want the best views, you will see it from the opposite of what the name suggests.

sunrise in bryce canyon
Bryce Canyon Sunrise

On the contrary, if you missed the sunset, get ready to wake up early on day 6 and catch the awe-inspiring sunrise in Bryce Canyon, which you will see from Sunset Point.

After sunrise, you’ll be at the starting point of your Queen’s Graden/Navajo Loop Trail hike, which you’ll start in a clockwise direction.

queen's garden and navajo loop trail in bryce canyon utah road trip
Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park

If you only decide to do one hike in Bryce, make sure that this is it! On this trail, you’ll see the most gorgeous scenery with pinnacles and pine trees, unique hoodoos, and switchbacks. You will also see the popular Thor’s Hammer, Wall Street, and Two Bridges.

Additionally, on an entrance near the highway, you will find the Mossy Cave Trail that leads to a waterfall.

After your day in Bryce Canyon, drive to Springdale, UT, and check in at your hotel near Zion where you’ll spend the next two nights of your Utah road trip.

fairyland lopp trail in bryce canyon national park
Bryce Canyon National Park
Other Must-do Hikes in Bryce Canyon National Park

🏜 Mossy Cave Trail
🏜 Fairyland Loop Trail
🏜 Amphitheater Rim Trail
🏜 Don't miss: Natural Bridge Overlook

Day 7: Zion National Park (part 1)

Listen, after visiting The Mighty 5 National Parks in Utah, I have to admit that while Zion is in fact the most visited and popular of them all, it’s not at all my favorite.

Don’t get me wrong, Zion National Park is impressive and gorgeous in every way, but there’s a lot more hype to it than what meets the eye. Additionally, planning a trip to Zion can be quite challenging at times.

zion national park shuttle
Zion National Park Shuttle

For starters, get ready for the crowds, especially if you visit during the summer. Most of the hikes in Zion have rocky trails and drop-offs which can make it quite harder when there are a lot of people on the same trail.

Secondly, during its busiest seasons, even finding a place to eat in the town right outside the park can be a hassle. Therefore, please take my word on this and plan and prepare accordingly before going to Zion.

zion national park crowds utah road trip
Crowds in line for the shuttle at Zion National Park

And now for the fun stuff! Zion National Park is one heck of an outdoor destination!

Everything here is huge and it’s without a doubt an incredible experience to be surrounded by Zion Canyon. Furthermore, it’s also a great destination if you want to hike a slot canyon in Utah since there are a few nearby.

You’ll start your day with the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel Scenic Drive. Entering the tunnel is cool but exiting and being greeted with the Zion Canyon views is something I can’t put into words. This will be one of the most incredible experiences and an unforgettable moment of your whole Utah road trip!

zion-mount carmel tunnel
Exiting Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel

For thrill-seekers, you can hike Angel’s Landingβ€”one of the world’s most dangerous hikes that leads you to a summit where you’ll see Zion National Park in all its dimensions. Everyone interested in doing this hike will need a permit.

There are various ways to get one, including day-before permits when available. You can apply for your Angel’s Landing permit at any stage of your trip planning.

zion national park utah road trip
Zion National Park

If you’re not doing the Ange’s Landing hike, then your first day will include The Narrowsβ€”my favorite hike in Zion National Park.

The Narrows is an awesome out-and-back river hike through the canyons that allows you to go as far as you’d like. Also, you will get wet on this hike. Check out our guide for what to wear for The Narrows.

The best starting point for hiking The Narrows is the Temple of Sinawava, which is also a great access point when the park shuttle is in service.

the narrows hike utah road trip
The Narrows, Zion National Park

If you decide to hike the full 10 miles round trip on The Narrows, or even if you decide to do just 5 miles, I would advise not to include another hike on the same day.

πŸ‘‰πŸΌ Advice: The Narrows is a strenuous hike with water levels that can go up to chest-deep and will require plenty of energy. Don’t push yourself and only go as far as you can go.

Day 8: Zion National Park (part 2)

One of the main reasons for visiting Zion National Park in two days is that there are too many adventurous trails and you’ll want to do most of them. The other reason is that quite frankly, you won’t want to leave!

emerald pools zion national park
Emerald Pools Trailhead, Zion National Park

On your second day in Zion, you’ll start with the Kayenta Trail (2 miles) which will then connect you to the Upper (1 mile), Middle (2.2 miles), and Lower (1.2 miles) Emerald Pool Trails. If you’re lucky to be here after rainy days, the Emerald Pool will be in full splendor!

Then, finish your day with the 1-mile Canyon Overlook Trail on the east side of the tunnel that leads to views of the lower Zion Canyon.

zion national park canyon overlook trail
Zion National Park

Day 9: Parowan Gap Petroglyphs and Drive Back to Salt Lake City

It’s the last day of this adventurous Utah road trip and we’re ending it with a very cool historic site. Parowan Gap Petroglyphs is recognized nationwide for the immense collection of Native American art it holds.

Although I don’t have pictures of Parowan Gap, I totally recommend it. This incredible site is also placed on the National Register of Historic Places as it’s considered to be a national treasure.

utah scenic drive
Utah Scenic Drive

Final Thoughts

Visiting The Mighty 5 National Parks in Utah is an unparalleled adventure and experience that will have you falling in love with the desert landscape.

Even if you’re not into hiking, these parks offer a great variety of ways to explore and enjoy your visit.

Please be mindful when you visit these natural wonders and follow the Leave No Trace principles at all times. Most importantly, pick up your trash, respect wildlife, and stay on marked trails!

🏜 Which of The Mighty 5 are you most excited to visit? Let us know in the comments!


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9 day utah road trip itinerary
Yanitza Ninett
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Yanitza is an avid adventurer with 15+ years of hiking experience and outdoor travel. As a PADI-certified scuba diver, she's also passionate about ocean conservation. When she's not exploring the great outdoors, Yanitza obsesses over The Vampire Diaries and dreams of traveling to Mallorca, Spain.

5 thoughts on “Utah Road Trip: 9-day Itinerary to the Mighty 5 National Parks”

  1. Your 9-day Utah road trip itinerary to the Mighty 5 National Parks is absolutely epic! The way you’ve mapped out the adventure, complete with stunning photos and helpful tips, made me want to go myself. Saving it for future travels!

    Reply
  2. Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Zion and Arches – I have heard about these but never had the chance to visit. Thanks to your post I will be equipped with the information to visit. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply

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