Discover the Natural Beauty of Utah on a road trip across the state’s most popular National and State parks.
740 miles (1190km) in total
Tags: Travel guide, Drop-off at another location, Scenic Driving
Witness some of the most spectacular landscapes on the planet. Follow the trails along red rocks, squeeze between narrow canyon slots, and hike in a river. This adventure-packed guide will take you on an epic Utah road trip through the best of what this state has to offer, before finishing off in Las Vegas.
This travel guide takes you on a road trip starting in Salt Lake City in the northern part of Utah. Then, head south to Moab and explore Canyonlands, Dead Horse Point, and Arches National Park, where you can make the most out of a 4×4 car.
Drive down the Scenic Byway 12, hike in the spooky canyon slots in Escalante, take in the otherwordly view at Bryce Canyon National Park and continue along the Scenic Drive in Zion National Park, all before a grand finish in Las Vegas over in Nevada.
Planning- Before You Leave
Before setting off on your Utah National Parks road trip, be sure to read through the information below.
Which National Parks are in Utah?
“The Big 5” in Utah refers to the state’s 5 national parks, all of which are covered during this road trip. These are the National Parks in Utah:
- Arches National Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
- Capitol Reef National Park
- Zion National Park
What’s more, the following state parks and monuments are also included in this road trip itinerary in Utah.
- Dead Horse Point State Park
- Goblin Valley State Park
- Escalante Petrified Forest
- Grand Staircase National Monument
All of the parks above are covered in this Utah road trip itinerary!
How long does it take to complete this road trip?
The total distance of this Utah road trip is below 750 miles. Rentalmoose recommends dedicating at least 5 days for this road trip.
Consider that you will be stopping at viewpoints and overlooks a lot, especially on the Scenic Byway 12 and the Scenic Drive in Zion National Park.
In order to be able to see each spot thoroughly, spend a few extra nights in Moab, and add an overnight stop in Zion National Park.
When is the best time to visit Utah?
The best time to visit Utah is between April and May or September and October. That’s when the weather is pleasant, attracting many tourists in the National Parks.
If you choose to visit in winter, keep in mind that some of the parks may be closed and the roads may not be accessible.
On the other hand, the heat does get unbearable in the peak of summer.
Road trip extensions
Your American adventure doesn’t have to end in Las Vegas!
Why not extend the trip to sunny California? Drive down the Big Sur, see the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco and more! Click here for our California road trip itinerary, you don’t want to miss it!
You can also choose to extend the trip to see spectacular natural beauty in Nevada. Visit Death Valley National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Great Basin National Park during our Nevada road trip. Click here for the road trip itinerary to Nevada.
Salt Lake City is just a few hours away from Yellowstone National Park over in Wyoming. Click here for our road trip guide to Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and extend your trip to Wyoming.
Why should I book a rental car in Utah?
Driving through Utah is an absolute dream for any road trip fanatic. The panoramic landscapes along the scenic routes are simply unbeatable. What’s more, if you rent a 4×4 you can explore some of the world’s finest offroading trails that are otherwise inaccessible.
Remote parts of Utah are best accessed with a private vehicle, not to mention the ability to alter your itinerary without any limits that can only be achieved when traveling by car.
For extra peace of mind during your road trip, Rentalmoose recommends adding excess coverage when booking your rental car. Once you’ve picked up the car, don’t forget to take photos of the vehicle to qualify for a 50% discount from the excess coverage fee.
Can tourists drive in Utah?
Tourists are allowed to drive in Utah using a foreign driving license as long as they are at least 16 years old, and the license covers the type of vehicle they are driving. It is recommended to get an International Driving Permit if your driving license is not in English.
Furthermore, some car rental companies may require foreign tourists to obtain an International Driving Permit, it’s best to check the company policy before booking your rental car.
Don’t know how to obtain an International Driving Permit, how much it costs, or what countries require you to have one? Check out this blog post to find out all you need to know about IDPs.
When you begin driving in Utah, you will quickly notice that the locals don’t stick to the speed limit too strictly, mainly around freeways.
Keep in mind that the police can still pull you over, even if you are caught going just a few miles per hour over the limit.
If you do happen to get stopped by the police during your Utah road trip, be sure to stay calm. Put both hands on the steering wheel, avoid sudden movements, and present your license when the officer tells you to do so.
Driving under influence, or DUI in short, is a serious crime in the US. Police enforce drink-driving related rules very strictly. Do not drink and drive, offenders can even land in prison.
The US has right-hand side traffic.
Now that you’re all set, let’s dive into your Utah road trip itinerary!
Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City’s Temple Square. Photography by WikiImages.
Welcome to the largest city in the state! Your Utah road trip begins here, for maximum convenience pick up your rental car directly at the Salt Lake City International Airport when you arrive.
Browse through car rental companies that support airport pick-up via Rentalmoose. Once you’ve got your rental car, it’s time to explore the city.
What can you do in Salt Lake City?
Salt Lake City may not be on every traveler’s bucket list, but the town’s fun attractions scattered around the region’s natural beauty and a unique downtown area might just surprise you.
Be sure to drop by Temple Square, a complex that hosts over 20 attractions related to Christianity right in the heart of the city.
Although the Temple itself is closed for renovation until 2024, the majority of the attractions are still open!
Admire the monumental church, or step inside the Tabernacle where you can attend the weekly choir rehearsals every Thursday night at 7:30 PM.
History fans can visit the Church History Museum, open between 9 AM and 9 PM on weekdays and 10 AM to 6 PM on Saturdays. The museum is closed on Sundays.
The Great Salt Lake
When in Salt Lake City, you can’t skip visiting the Great Salt Lake itself. Drive up to Antelope Island and enter the State Park, where visitors can hike down numerous scenic trails, watch the spectacular lake views or spend the night at one of the secluded campsites.
If you’re looking for a unique way to see the island while getting a bit of exercise, consider renting a bike with Antelope E-Bikes. Apart from bike rentals, the company offers guided cycling tours. Check their website for more information.
Get your skis on and drive up to Park City, a winter getaway just half an hour away from the city. Park City is home to two major ski resorts lined with slopes for both skiers and snowboarders.
If you’re visiting outside of the winter season, head to the Canyons Golf Course.
Pretty Bird Chicken
When you get hungry, head over to Pretty Bird Chicken in downtown Salt Lake City. The eatery, often considered the best places to eat out in the city, is known for its signature fried chicken.
Rentalmoose order tip: Try the juicy Sando fried chicken sandwich.
What are the best hotels in Salt Lake City?
Spend the night at The Grand America Hotel, an elegant property right in the heart of Salt Lake City. The classy rooms feature retro decor and balconies. Guests can relax at the indoor and outdoor pools, work out at the fitness center or dine at the restaurant.
A car park is available at an extra cost.
Traveling on a tighter budget? Consider checking in at The Carlton Hotel. The charming, historic property is located near the heart of the city. The moderately-priced hotel features cozy rooms and free wifi.
Once you’ve explored Salt Lake City, it’s time to start your car and begin your Utah road trip! The first leg is a 4-hour drive to Moab.
Next: Moab, 3 hours 50 minutes
Arches National Park. Photography by Adam Derewecki.
Your Utah National Park road trip begins! Drive southeast from Salt Lake City for roughly 4 hours until you reach Moab, a small town in the south of the state which is home to some of the best national parks in Utah.
What is there to see in Moab?
To be honest, Moab in itself may not be the most interesting town in the world. If you’re very curious about exploring it, drop by the Moab Museum where you can learn about the region’s local history through a variety of fascinating exhibitions.
The recently renovated museum welcomes visitors all week except Mondays.
Arches National Park
The natural beauty around Moab can’t be missed. Be sure to visit the monumental Arches National Park (photographed above), the park should land on any Utah National Park road trip itinerary.
A 7-day admission fee costs only $30 per vehicle and can be paid either when entering the park or online prior to your visit. Current fees can be checked on the official website.
Dead Horse Point State Park
Don’t miss the breathtaking view from the Dead Horse Point State Park, just 40 miles away from the city. Admire the landscapes that truly look out of this world, observe as the Colorado river twists between the canyons all from 2000 feet above.
Visit the viewing point when the sun sets and illuminates the red rocks in magical colors. Capture the incredible landscapes and post your photos online #Rentalmoose for a chance to win a Rentalmoose discount or even a rental car free of charge!
The park is open daily between 6 AM and 10 PM, a 3-day admission pass costs $20 per vehicle as of 2020. Click here to learn more about the fees.
Canyonlands National Park
Another absolute must-see near Moab is the Canyonlands National Park. Inside, make sure to see the Island in the Sky where you can get the best views and hike around scenic trails.
Don’t miss the 100-mile (160km) White Rim Road. This trail is one of the best driving roads in all of the US.
Similarly to the Arches and Dead Horse Point parks, there is a fee to enter the Canyonlands National Park. A 7-day admission pass costs $10 per vehicle and can be paid directly upon entrance.
The White Rim Road in Canyonlands is not for the faint-hearted. Photography by Mike Goad.
Did you rent a 4×4 for this trip?
If you came to Moab in a 4×4 or another kind of off-roader, be sure to explore the backroads and trails around Canyonlands National Park.
Some of the drives are a lot more challenging than others, but spectacular views are guaranteed no matter which trail you pick. You can find more information on offroad driving around Moab right here.
Moab Adventure Center
Adrenaline junkies can explore the area’s fascinating landscapes while getting exercise. You can book a mountain bike tour with Moab Adventure Center and cycle around the Dead Horse Point, Arches National Park or the La Sal Mountains.
Moab Adventure Center also offers river rafting if you would rather get wet. Check their website for details on available activities and pricing information.
The region is a popular glamping (luxury camping) destination. If you’re not familiar with glamping, or you’re not a fan of it for any reason, spend the night at Under Canvas Moab to change your mind.
The property features well-equipped tents within Arches National Park, a spectacular secluded setting and complimentary parking. As the name may suggest, glamping does come at a hefty price tag.
Hotel Moab Downtown
Check-in at Hotel Moab Downtown for traditional, budget-friendly accommodation. The 2-star hotel features a retro interior and a heated outdoor pool. Exceptional service and a convenient location with a view of La Sal Mountains make this property one of the top picks in town.
A car park is available at no extra cost.
Goblin Valley State Park photographed by Steppinstars/Pixabay.com
Drive northwest from Moab, then hop on the I-70 and take the exit 149 to get on route 24. Roughly an hour and a half after departing from Moab, you will reach the Goblin Valley State Park.
What can you see in Goblin Valley?
Goblin Valley is one of the most fascinating parks in the country, perhaps even in the entire world. Afterall, where else can you see crazy rock formations like the one in the photo above? Once you’re inside the Goblin Valley State Park, you’ll feel as if you’ve traveled to another planet. It is truly spectacular!
Thousands of unique-looking rocks (nicknamed the goblins) are waiting for you. Drive till the end of the Goblin Valley Rd, drop off your car by the campground and explore on foot. Hikers can stick to the existing trails, such as the Carmen Canyon Trail or the Curtis Bench Trail.
Are you looking for that extra adventurous touch? Get off the official trails and discover the natural beauty on your own.
Did you know that Goblin Valley is one of the best spots for stargazing on the entire planet?
The dark skies are free from light pollution and provide stunning views at night, as long as there are no clouds. Regular stargazing-related events are hosted within the park, such as full moon hikes or telescope tours guided by the park’s rangers. Click here to check out the upcoming events.
You probably noticed a trend among parks in this part of the United States: none of them can be accessed for free. Goblin Valley State Park is no different, a 2-day admission pass costs $15 per vehicle. You can find detailed fees for other types of vehicles and camping fees on the park’s official website.
Goblin Valley State Park is open all week between 6 AM and 10 PM.
Photography by Sos8_6 via Pixabay.com
As you set off from Goblin Valley, you will begin the most scenic part of the journey. Route 24 will take you between red rocks, across valleys, and through countless twists and turns constantly overlooking the spectacular landscapes.
Is Capitol Reef worth visiting?
The number of parks in Utah might be overwhelming for some travelers, to the point where you might be wondering whether they are worth seeing or not. Trust me, Capitol Reef National Park is most certainly worth a visit!
As you’ve probably guessed by now, travelers visiting Capitol Reef need to pay an admission fee. A 7-day entry fee to Capitol Reef National Park costs $20 per vehicle.
The Scenic Drive
Make sure you drive down the Scenic Drive, a picturesque paved road just below 8 miles in length. Don’t get fooled by the seemingly short length and dedicate around an hour and a half for the entire drive, as there are many spots worth visiting along the way.
Keep in mind the Scenic Drive costs an extra $20 on top of the park’s entry fee.
Offroading in Capitol Reef
If you happen to be in Capitol Reef in a 4×4, you can head to some thrilling offroad trails around the park.
One of the most scenic routes is the 68-mile Burr trail. The first section of the road stretches from the town of Boulder and is paved and smooth for nearly 20 miles. The rest of the trail is a natural surface backroad, though most passenger cars should be able to handle it unless there is rain.
Of course, it is highly recommended to drive down the Burr trail in a 4×4.
Are you more experienced in offroading?
If you’re looking for a slightly more challenging trail, consider driving down the Blue Benches. Although nowhere near as extreme as some of the other trails in the park, this 20-mile loop is perfect for intermediate offroad fanatics. There are a couple of river crossings along this trail, though they are only around 1-2 feet deep.
You can find all trails in Capitol Reef National Park using the online trail finder. Sort trails by difficulty, location, and trail type. Did you find a trail that’s worth mentioning in this travel guide? Comment below and let me know!
Capitol Reef will surely keep you busy all day, that’s why Rentalmoose recommends spending the night here before continuing further.
Consider checking in at the Cougar Ridge, a luxury ranch just minutes south of Torrey. Guests can choose to stay at the prestigious lodge, filled with facilities such as a bowling alley, theater room, a spa, and a hot tub.
You can also choose to stay in the Casitas, equally luxurious buildings lined across the property.
Austin’s Chuckwagon Motel
If you’re traveling on a tighter budget, spend the night at Austin’s Chuckwagon Motel in Torrey. The cozy motel features rooms, cabins, and suites, as well as an outdoor pool and a well-equipped store.
A complimentary car park is available.
Photography by Mike Goad.
Byway 12 Scenic Drive
The most scenic drive of your adventure begins as soon as you get on Byway 12 in Torrey. The route is considered one of the best picturesque drives in the country, perhaps even on the entire planet.
Follow it for less than an hour and a half until you reach the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. There are countless viewpoints along the way that overlook spectacular landscapes, be prepared to spend more time driving down Byway 12.
What can you do in Escalante?
Hiking through canyon slots
The region is best known for the thrilling natural hiking trails through canyon slots.
Whether you’re a hiking fan or not, a walk through the slots is an unforgettable experience. However, it’s not recommended for travelers suffering from claustrophobia.
Grand Staircase National Monument
Don’t miss the Grand Staircase National Monument. Although nowhere near as popular among tourists as the canyon trails, the monument is most certainly worth a quick peek at the very least.
Hike along the routes or explore the landscapes from the comfort of your car while following the offroad trails. Like most natural surface trails in this part of Utah, paths around the Grand Staircase might become inaccessible during heavy rainfall, even in a 4×4.
There is no admission fee for the Grand Staircase National Monument.
Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
When passing Escalante, be sure to drop by the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park.
The park is home to some of the finest petrified wood in the world. Hike along the trails through the petrified forest until you get to the shores of the crystal-clear Wide Hollow Reservoir. Here, you can wander around the campground, go for a refreshing swim, rent a canoe or observe petrified dinosaur bones and shell fossils at the nearby visitor center.
Admission to the park costs below $10 per person for a day pass.
Is this the surface of another planet? Bryce Canyon photographed by Ton W.
Follow the Scenic Byway 12 for almost an hour. Turn left onto Route 63, right before the Bryce Canyon Resort. Continue along Route 63 until you reach Bryce Canyon National Park.
What is there to see in Bryce Canyon?
Main Viewing Points
First, get a good look at the otherworldly landscapes from the four main viewpoints: Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point, and Sunrise Point. Each of the viewing points opens up to breathtaking natural beauty of countless hoodoos (spiral rock formations), valleys, and local flora.
For the absolutely best experience, visit the points when the sun sets or rises. You can also hike the Rim Trail between the Sunset and Sunrise Points.
Keep in mind that you need to purchase a 7-day pass to enter Bryce Canyon National Park. The admission costs $35 per vehicle as of 2020 and includes all occupants in a single vehicle. You can pay directly when entering the park. Find detailed information on current fees here.
Next, follow the 18-mile main road that will take you along further viewpoints and hiking trails. You can find a map of all the trails and walking routes on this website.
Stone Hearth Grille
For dinner, drive over to the Stone Hearth Grille a few miles east of Tropic. The charming restaurant serves juicy local steaks as well as other delicacies, such as scallops or grilled swordfish. Best of all, you can enjoy your meal while admiring a panoramic view of the park from the restaurant’s outdoor terrace.
Open daily between 5 PM and 9 PM.
Best Western Plus
In the evening, check-in at the Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon. The property features luxurious rooms, an outdoor pool, a fitness center, and a bicycle rental.
A complimentary car park is available, too.
Travelers on a slightly tighter budget can stay at the Quality Inn. The Western-themed hotel features mountain view rooms with complimentary WiFi access, a breakfast buffet, and a free car park.
Photography by Egor Shitikov.
Head south on Route 89, leaving behind Bryce Canyon National Park. Don’t worry, as what’s coming up ahead may very well be even more spectacular. Turn onto the Mt Carmel Highway (UT-9 W) and continue along another one of the most spectacular drives in the United States.
What is special about Zion National Park?
Not many tourists know that Zion is the first National Park in Utah! The main attraction is the spectacular Zion Canyon, begin your tour of the park there.
Head down into The Narrows. The narrowest part of the Zion Canyon is home to the popular 16-mile hike in the Virgin River, where travelers can choose to walk either from the bottom up or the other way around.
The most popular starting point of the hike is the Temple of Sinawava, you can get off the shuttle bus essentially next to the river.
The Observation Point
Get the best panoramic view of the spectacular landscape from the Observation Point. You will have to hike for roughly four miles along The Weeping Rock Trailhead to reach the viewing point.
The trail begins at The Weeping Rock, which is the 7th stop for the free shuttle bus. The hike is fairly steep and can be very exhausting, but the rewarding view is absolutely worth the effort.
Before you leave, make sure to drive down the 54-mile Scenic Drive. The drive starts at Mt Carmel Junction (if you’re coming from Bryce Canyon, you most likely entered the park from here) and continues up to the I-15 on the western tip.
The scenic drive is a must, not just for the driving enthusiasts, as the scenery is simply extraordinary. Rentalmoose recommends saving the drive for last, as you can continue to Vegas directly from the western end of the Scenic Drive.
During the high tourist season, private cars are banned from the park’s main roads. In that case, you will need to drop off your car at one of the car parks near the gates and take the complimentary shuttle to Zion’s attractions. Click here for more details on the park’s shuttle system.
Zion National park is open all year long. Opening hours depend on the season, check current operating hours here. A 7-day admission pass to Zion National Park costs $25 per vehicle and can be purchased directly upon entrance.
An American muscle car and a view of the Sin City during sunset. Isn’t this the perfect way to conclude this adventure? Photography by Kevin Schmid.
Depart Zion National Park and head southwest towards Las Vegas, leaving Utah behind. Remember to set your watch an hour back, as Vegas is in a different timezone. After taking in the natural beauty of Utah, it’s time to party your heart out in the city of sin.
What can you do in Las Vegas?
Fremont Street Experience
We have all heard of the Vegas Strip, but did you know the city has another go-to entertainment street right in the center? Don’t miss the Fremont Street Experience, the busy street is lined with flashy casinos, hotels, eateries and is packed with endless entertainment.
Watch the street from above as you zoom past on the Slotzilla zipline, go gambling inside the casinos or step inside one of the restaurants and take in the vibrant vibe.
Red Rock Canyon
The first things that come to your mind when you think of Las Vegas are probably the intense nightlife, gambling, and resorts. If you need to catch a break from all the craziness, consider heading out to the Red Rock Canyon.
Relax and enjoy the natural landscapes of the Mojave Desert as you drive down the 13-mile scenic drive, stopping along to stretch your legs at over 25 different trails that can be explored.
A day pass to the park costs $15 per vehicle. For more information on ticketing, click here.
Speed Vegas Race Track
Adrenaline junkies should visit the Speed Vegas racetrack. Choose from a variety of exciting cars, such as the Lamborghini Huracan, Porsche 991 GT3 RS or even a Baja Truck, and lap the race track!
You can also ride shotgun with a professional instructor instead. Check the Speed Vegas website for available packages, pricing, and terms and conditions.
Las Vegas is packed with so many attractions that it would take forever to list them all. Check out The Ultimate California Road Trip travel guide, where I mention some of the best places to visit in Las Vegas, including the famous Strip.
The Twist by Pierre Gagnaire
The number of restaurants in Las Vegas is quite overwhelming, and picking the best place to eat can be a challenge. If you’re looking for the best fine dining experience in town, book a table at the Twist by Pierre Gagnaire at the Waldorf Astoria. It’s the world-renowned chef’s first and only restaurant in the United States.
Indulge in delicious French cuisine while admiring spectacular views of the Strip from the 23rd floor.
The restaurant is open until 10 PM all week except Sundays and Mondays.
Luxury seekers have plenty of 5-star hotels to splash out on during a trip to Las Vegas. Consider checking in at the Caesars Palace Hotel & Casino along the Strip.
The glamorous hotel, often featured in Hollywood blockbusters, offers prestigious rooms and suites, as well as a wide array of facilities and activities for guests, such as a spa, pools and world-class dining.
The ideal location along the Strip, among with the countless facilities and world-class service all make the Caesars Palace the perfect choice in town.
The Golden Nugget
Naturally, most travelers will want to save their money for the casinos and live shows in Vegas as opposed to splashing out on a hotel. In that case, consider booking a room at the Golden Nugget.
The famous hotel is all you can expect in Vegas: a flashy facade, plenty of onsite activities and a casino, of course. Step outside the hotel and explore the busy Fremont Street, or relax at the pool.
Did I mention the hotel pool has a shark tank? What’s more, guests can ride a waterslide through the shark tank!
Your American adventure doesn’t have to end here! Read the Ultimate California Road Trip travel guide, and continue your journey onwards to the Grand Canyon, San Diego, and the Pacific Coast Highway. Combine the two trips into an epic road trip through the western US.
If you choose to finish your trip here, drop off your car directly at the McCarran International Airport. You can browse through car rental companies that support drop-off at another location and airport drop-off via Rentalmoose.
Don’t have a car you can take on your National Park road trip? No problem!
Don’t forget to book your rental car via Rentalmoose for your next adventure. On our platform, you can find the top rental companies at the best price, along with tens of curated travel guides around the globe. Get your car from Rentalmoose!
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Post your pictures from your National Park road trip online using #Rentalmoose! Our favorite ones will be featured in the upcoming blog posts.