My road trip through Utah led me to discover another corner of this country’s amazing nature. I always say you can tell when a state line is approaching because of the changing of the lands. Since the southern half of Utah boarders many states, and is basically one continuous protected park, the landscape is ever-changing.
My sister joined me on my excursion through 13 parks and monuments spanning 5 days and 4 nights. We originally planned for 11 days and 20 parks, but we were on a time crunch and had to skip a few things. If you want to see everything listed, I would suggest 11 days if you are in good physical shape. If you are looking for a leisurely trip, 14 days will be sufficient.
We began our trip in San Francisco. If you’re coming from the Bay Area too, stop at Death Valley National Park on your way to Utah! This is an awesome place to see and a great place to camp on the first night. If you don’t live within a reasonable driving distance of the Utah parks, I would suggest flying into Las Vegas, Nevada and renting a car- Salt Lake City, UT is an additional hour of drive time. The first park we visited was Zion National Park, only 2.5 hours away from Vegas. We were pressed for time to get a campsite, but if you booked your campsites in advance- like a smart person-and have the time, stop at Valley of Fire State Park on the way out of Las Vegas!
Zion National Park is a beautiful place, however, I think it is a teeny bit overrated…. I was a little let down when I arrived. We spent one full day exploring the park, and camped here on the second night. We planned to stay for two full days to hike the Narrows, but unfortunately it was closed due to flash flooding.
Drive time: Death Valley to Zion= 283 miles, 4 hours, 30 minutes
Drive time: Las Vegas to Zion= 168 miles, 2 hours, 30 minutes
Drive Time: Zion to Bryce= 90 miles, 2 hours
Additional Parks worth visiting in the area: Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. Only a 10 minute drive off the highway. The sand dunes are shades of pink, red, and purple! (Allow 1-2 hours to visit) Cedar Breaks National Monument is a about an hour out of the way. This park has similar needle formations to Bryce. (Depending on the trails you decide to take, you could be here for 1 hour or you can camp overnight)
2. Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce was my favorite park. It took us about 4 hours to see the 4 famous view points, and to hike the Navajo Loop Trail.
Drive Time: Bryce to Grand Staircase-Escalantes = 20 miles, 3o minutes
Additional Parks worth visiting in the area: When driving through Southern Utah, if you aren’t in a State or National Park, you’ll probably be in Dixie National Forest. There are amazing roadside marvels when driving through, so keep your eyes peeled.
3. Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument
You could spend a whole month in this park and still not see everything. We viewed its ever-changing beauty by driving through on Highway 12.
Drive Time: Grand Staircase-Escalantes to Calf Creek Falls = 53 miles, 1 hour
Additional Parks worth visiting in the area: Escalante Petrified Forest State Park (Allow 1-2 hours to visit). Long Slot Canyon. The trailhead is a little difficult to find, but the hike is only 15 minutes. (Allow 1 hour to visit)
4. Calf Creek Recreational Area
This is one of the coolest waterfalls I’ve visited. The hike is a total of 6 miles through a canyon, but it was definitely worth it! We spent about 3 hours here.
Drive Time: Calf Creek Falls to Capitol Reef= 53 miles, 1 hour 15 minutes
5. Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef is a beautiful park. We spent about an hour hiking the trails off Route 24, the highway that passes through the park.
Drive Time: Capitol Reef to Goblin Valley= 71 miles, 1 hour 30 minutes
6. Goblin Valley State Park
This was an awesome park and only about 30 minutes off the highway. We hiked down into the valley and spent around an hour exploring the ‘goblins’. We stayed in Moab on the third night.
Drive Time: Goblin Valley to Arches= 97 miles, 1 hour 40 minutes
Arches was a close second on my favorite Utah National Park list. The arches are insanely impressive. We saw all of the major arches, and hiked almost all of the trails before lunch.
Drive Time: Arches to Canyonlands, The Needles= 85 miles, 1 hour 45 minutes
8. Canyonlands National Park-The Needles
This was my sister’s favorite park. There were ancient ruins and old cattle drive camps in the Needles section. And the view of the canyon went on forever.
Drive Time: Canyonlands, The Needles to Newspaper Rock= 29 miles, 40 minutes
Additional Parks worth visiting in the area: Dead Horse Point State Park. This park looks close to Arches on the map, but it actually takes 2.5 hours to get here. The Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park looks like a closer option than the Needles section, but it takes around 3 hours to get to the park entrance. I would definitely visit both of these, if you had an additional night to spend in Moab. If you choose this route, I would still suggest visiting The Needles sections, as it is completely different.
9. Newspaper Rock State Historical Monument
This was one of the coolest stops on our road trip. We weren’t even aware of its existence until I saw a postcard for it in Arches, and then accidentally ran into it on the way to Canyonlands, the Needles sections. And, I am so glad we stopped! We stayed in Monticello the fourth night.
Drive Time: Newspaper Rock to 4 Corners = 118 miles, 2 hours 10 minutes
Additional Parks worth visiting in the area: Hovenweep National Monument. We actually visited here, but found out the trails were many miles long, and a high clearance 4×4 was required to get to most trailheads. You’ll need a long day to see what Hovenweep has to offer.
This park is totally out of the way for a 10 minute stop, but its the only time you’ll ever be close to being in 4 states at once! Just go for it…
Drive Time: 4 Corners to Monument Valley = 106 miles, 1 hours 45 minutes
Additional Parks worth visiting in the area: Goosenecks State Park. This park has beautiful view points overlooking a very curvy, narrow canyon.
12. Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
This was the most anticipated park on my road trip, but we arrived during the worst conditions. We took a few pictures from the car, but didn’t risk being sand blasted in the desert. (Allow 1-2 hours to visit)
Drive Time: Monument Valley to The Grand Canyon (South Rim) = 180 miles, 3 hours 15 minutes
Additional Parks worth visiting in the area: Lower Antelope Canyon, I have visited before so we didn’t stop again since it is quite expensive to book a tour. (Allow 2 hours to visit) Vermillion Cliffs National Monument/ Coyote Buttes ( The Wave). This is a very private park, only 25 people a day are allowed access. And you can only gain entry through winning a lottery style drawing. I have applied 5 times and still haven’t won! But, try your turn in the lottery to see one of the most exclusive parks in America. (Allow 5 hours to visit)
Since we flew through our road trip and ended up having an extra day, we added one of the nation’s best parks: The Grand Canyon. We camped here on our last night before returning to California.
Drive Time: The Grand Canyon (South Rim) to Las Vegas, NV = 276 miles, 4 hours
- The best thing you can do for this trip is to buy the America the Beautiful Pass. It’s the same price as visiting 3 National Park, but it gives you access to all National Parks and Monuments for an entire year. You’ll also receive discounts at gift shops and select campgrounds. Keep in mind, State Parks and Native American owned parks are not included with the pass. See the chart below for entry fees at all of the parks mentioned in this post.
- Cellular service is very poor in southern Utah. Bring a highway map or a GPS device. Do not rely on just your phone. I got my map for free from Utah.gov .
- Bring water- a lot of it. We used seven 1 gallon bottles. The water in the parks were treated with a lot of chemicals, I physically couldn’t drink it. There is almost no shade in these parks to protect you from the sun.
- Book your campsites months in advance. National Parks are becoming extremely popular, especially Utah’s. There are walk-up campsites available at every park, but you’ll have to get there at 7am to beat the crowd, and even then, one isn’t promised.
|Park||Price per Car|
|Death Valley National Park||$20|
|Valley of Fire State Park||$10|
|Zion National Park||$30|
|Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park||$8|
|Cedar Breaks National Monument||$5/ person|
|Bryce Canyon National Park||$30|
|Dixie National Forest||Free|
|Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument||Free|
|Escalante Petrified Forest State Park||$20|
|Long Slot Canyon||Free|
|Calf Creek Recreational Area||$5|
|Capitol Reef National Park||$7/ person|
|Goblin Valley State Park||$10|
|Arches National Park||$10|
|Canyonlands National Park||$25|
|Dead Horse Point State Park||$10|
|Newspaper Rock National Monument||Free|
|Hovenweep National Monument||Free|
|4 Corners Navajo National Monument||$5/ person|
|Goosenecks State Park||Free|
|Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park||$20|
|Upper Antelope Canyon||$6/ person|
|Lower Antelope Canyon||$45-90/ person|
|Vermillion Cliffs National Monument||Free|
|Grand Canyon National Park||$30|
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