Julia Jennings of Well Planned Journey is contributing an epic+ adventurous USA road trip itinerary through some of Utah’s most incredible places.
Utah is home to some of the United States’ most scenic national parks. These 5 popular national parks — Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands — are commonly referred to as the “Mighty 5”.
I spent a week exploring Utah’s national parks, from the famous hoodoos to the rust-colored arches. By far, the best way to see the most scenic spots is on a week-long road trip.
This 7-day journey to the “Mighty 5” is perfect for hikers, photographers, and adventure lovers.
Ready to see the best of Utah’s national parks? Here’s the ultimate one-week “Mighty 5” Utah road trip.
The Best Time to Visit
Southern Utah is beautiful all year. In the winter, snow blankets the red rocks. In the summer, crowds flock to hike in the Utah desert.
The best time to road trip Utah is April to May or September to October. Visiting in the spring or fall provides beautiful weather and long enough days to explore the parks. Plus, you’ll avoid the summer crowds in busier destinations like Zion National Park.
My One-Week Itinerary
- Day 1: Drive from Salt Lake City to Zion National Park
- Day 2: Explore Zion National Park
- Day 3: Half-Day at Zion and Drive to Bryce Canyon National Park
- Day 4: Half-Day at Bryce Canyon and Drive to Capitol Reef National Park
- Day 5: Half-Day at Capitol Reef and Drive to Arches National Park
- Day 6: Explore Arches National Park
- Day 7: Half-Day at Canyonlands National Park and Return to Salt Lake City
Day 1: Drive from Salt Lake City to Zion
Start your national park adventure by flying into Salt Lake City International Airport. I recommend arriving in the morning to allow plenty of time to drive to your first destination, Zion National Park!
Break up the 4.5-hour drive to Zion National Park with a quick bite and 50’s nostalgia at Cluff’s Carhop in Fillmore. Or stop for authentic woodfired pizza at Centro Woodfired Pizzeria in Cedar City.
Springdale is a small town bordering Zion National Park. Here you’ll find plenty of hotels, ranging from major chains like Marriott to boutique spots like Cliffrose Springdale.
If you’re looking to camp, I recommend reserving a spot in Zion National Park’s Watchman Campground.
Celebrate the start of your Utah road trip with a local brew from Zion Canyon Brew Pub.
Day 2: Explore Zion National Park
Spend your first day in Zion National Park exploring one of Utah’s most unique hikes: The Narrows. You’ll spend your hike wading up the Virgin River between the looming canyon walls.
If you’re hiking The Narrows before June, the water will be cold. I recommend renting cold water wading gear from the local gear shop, Zion Outfitter.
After a long day of exploring Zion National Park, stop for sunset at Canyon Junction Bridge. Facing south, you’ll see The Watchman, a tall rock formation.
Bask in the sunset’s pinks and purples!
Day 3: Half-Day at Zion + Drive to Bryce Canyon
On your last day in Zion National Park, hike the famous Angel’s Landing. This hike was made for thrill-seekers, with 1,200-foot drop-offs and chains bolted into the rock. But after a strenuous trek, you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views of Zion Canyon.
If crowds and heights aren’t your thing, consider hiking Observation Point. This strenuous hike is less nerve-wracking and provides equally stunning views of the park.
Finish your time in Zion National Park with a drive along the scenic Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway. As you follow the scenic highway, stop at Thunderbird Restaurant for homemade apple pie.
Stay the night at Best Western Ruby’s Inn just outside Bryce Canyon National Park, book a room in the popular The Lodge at Bryce Canyon, or pitch a tent at the in-park Sunset Campground.
Day 4: Half-Day at Bryce Canyon and Drive to Capitol Reef
Set an early alarm because you won’t want to miss the night sky and sunrise at Bryce Canyon National Park. Bryce is a certified dark sky park — I’ve never seen so many stars! Head to Sunrise Point a few hours before dawn to catch a glimpse of the Milky Way and settle in for the sunrise.
A trip to Bryce Canyon National Park isn’t complete without exploring the park’s famous hoodoos up close. Hike the Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop starting at Sunrise Point for views of famous hoodoos, like Thor’s Hammer.
Finish your half-day in Bryce Canyon National Park by driving the park’s only scenic drive. Make sure to stop at Rainbow Point and Bryce Point on the 36-mile round trip drive.
The scenic drives don’t end in Bryce Canyon!
Take the top-rated scenic route along Highway 12 to Capitol Reef National Park. Stop at the breathtaking viewpoints, like Calf Creek Viewpoint and Larb Hollow Overlook, along the way.
Don’t miss the family-owned Nemo’s Drive-Thru for a road trip milkshake.
Spend the night glamping at Capitol Reef Resort or camp at the park’s Fruita campground.
Day 5: Half-Day at Capitol Reef and Drive to Arches
Start your adventure in Capitol Reef National Park by exploring the Capitol Gorge Trail. As you hike through the gorge, you’ll find the names of early pioneers carved into the rock.
If you’re visiting in the late summer or fall, stop at the 200-year-old Fruita Orchard to handpick your own cherries, peaches, and apples.
If you’re looking for mesmerizing desert photos, make the drive out to the Temple of the Sun and Moon. These unique rock formations erupt from the ground in Cathedral Valley, only accessible by a long dirt road.
After a half-day in Capitol Reef National Park, drive on to Moab, the largest town you’ll see on your road trip.
Moab is filled with cool Airbnbs. If you’re interested in camping, stay at Arches National Park’s Devils Garden Campground. Settle into your home for the next two nights before grabbing a local brew or homemade root beer at Moab Brewery.
Day 6: Explore Arches National Park
With at least 2,000 arches in Arches National Park, you don’t have to venture far off the main road to find stunning scenery.
Take the scenic drive through the park, stopping for short hikes to popular arches like Double Arch, The Windows, and Landscape Arch. If you want to escape the crowds and explore hidden parts of Arches National Park, book a ticket on the ranger-led Fiery Furnace tour.
Save the park’s iconic Delicate Arch for sunset. The hike is strenuous but worth every bit of energy. The colorful evening sky makes the perfect backdrop for Delicate Arch.
If you didn’t get your fill of night skies in Bryce Canyon National Park, stick around after sunset to see the stars.
(Pictured is the Landscape Arch)
Save the park’s iconic Delicate Arch for sunset. The hike is strenuous but worth every bit of energy. The colorful evening sky makes the perfect backdrop for Delicate Arch. If you didn’t get your fill of night skies in Bryce Canyon National Park, stick around after sunset to see the stars.
Day 7: Half-Day at Canyonlands and Return to Salt Lake City
Mesa Arch is the most recognizable spot in Canyonlands National Park. While beautiful all day, I recommend seeing the arch at sunrise.
As the sun rises behind Mesa Arch, the bottom of the arch will illuminate, as if on fire.
After sunrise, head to Grand View Point for an easy morning hike. Look out over the vast canyons for which Canyonlands National Park gets its name. Many say the canyons here are just as impressive as the famous Grand Canyon in Arizona.
Finish your half-day in Canyonlands National Park with a scenic drive along Grand View Point Road. Don’t miss stops at Green River Overlook and Shafer Canyon Overlook.
Say your final goodbyes to the “Mighty 5” and head back to Salt Lake City. I highly recommend spending an extra night in Salt Lake City.
Stay to check out the city’s budding brewery scene at Red Rock Brewing Co. and visit the popular Temple Square.
There’s so much to see in the Southwest beyond the “Mighty 5” national parks. If you have extra time, explore the Slot Canyons in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument or journey to Arizona’s most popular marvel: The Grand Canyon (which also happens to be a national park!).
Monument Valley, Horseshoe Bend, and Antelope Canyon also make great additions to a “Mighty 5” Utah road trip.
If you’re in the mood for a weekend in Sin City, start this road trip from Las Vegas instead of Salt Lake City.
Utah’s “Mighty 5” national parks are some of the best national parks in the United States, and they make for the perfect road trip! From hikes to scenic drives, 7 days in these national parks highlights the best that southern Utah has to offer.
You can find detailed posts on Zion’s best hikes, exploring Bryce Canyon, the best road trip planning tools, and essential hiking gear on my blog.
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I love visiting Utah, so many incredible parks to see. Thanks so much for sharing!
You’re most welcome!