This post may contain affiliate links.
If you’re an outdoors person and love hiking, biking, climbing and exploring then this Utah road trip is for you. This Utah road trip will focus on the Big Five Utah National Parks as well as an epic state park.
Table of Contents
- Map Of The Ultimate Utah Road Trip
- Goblin Valley State Park
- Capitol Reef National Park
- Bryce National Park
- Zion National Park
Map Of The Ultimate Utah Road Trip
We’ll begin the ultimate Utah road trip in Moab. This is a great place to have all the outdoor adventure you could possibly ask for as well as being a great home base to visit 2 of the Big Five Utah National Parks: Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. There are more things to do in Moab than you would have time for, so do some research an plan your epic trip.
Moab is essentially an oasis in the middle of the desert. The scenery is gorgeous and could be a destination just to take amazing scenic drives. You can also drive right in the scenery by renting an OHV or dirt bike at one of the many rental places on the main road in Moab. The OHV’s (Off Highway Vehicles) can also be driven on the streets of Moab as long as you follow some local laws. Check out http://www.discovermoab.com/atv.htm for more information.
If biking is more your thing, bring your own, or again you can borrow from one of the many Moab bike rentals along main road. There are some of the best bike trails in the entire country in Moab and have different levels of difficulty for all abilities. Definitely a great spot to bike.
Moab also offers rock climbing and rafting. You’re free to do it on your own, or hook up with one of the many guide companies in the area. You can even climb inside Arches National Park as long as you pay attention to the rocks you are climbing. For the details on that check out https://www.nps.gov/arch/planyourvisit/rockclimbing.htm.
As for rafting in Moab, the Colorado River offers pretty much all you could ask for. From slow river floats to Class IV rapids, you’ll see it all. You can also kayak and SUP the river. Check out http://www.discovermoab.com/colorado_river.htm for more info on rafting.
Arches National Park
Arches National Park is just a few miles north of Moab. Being one of the Big 5 National Parks, it’s a must visit when in Moab. We really liked the park for the hiking as well as climbing near the arches.
There’s a single road that goes through the park that is 18 miles long, so you could see the whole thing in a day if that is all you had. I’d recommend giving yourself 2 or 3 days to see more of the park and to do some hiking while there.
Best Hikes in Arches National Park
There are several hikes that we really enjoyed in Arches. The most iconic being Delicate Arch. This hike is about 3 miles roundtrip and felt like it was uphill the whole way. It culminates at Delicate Arch which is just an amazing structure. You can get right under the Arch for a great picture even though you’ll be the size of an ant in the picture. This is a must-do on the Utah road trip.
Another fun hike is the Windows section. It’s really a short hike that gets you up close and personal with several fantastic arches. We were able to do some climbing and rock scrambling here, which the kids loved.
To hike Fiery Furnace, you either need a special permit or do the Ranger-led hike. This is because several people have gotten lost on the trail and that’s no good in the desert. We opted for the Ranger-led hike since we were first timers.
It was about $15 per adult and $8 per child (there are age restrictions as well), so it wasn’t cheap, but it was worth it. For one, we all made it out alive and secondly, we got some great information about the geology we were seeing. Check out https://www.nps.gov/arch/planyourvisit/programs.htm for more info on the Ranger-led hike.
Canyonlands National Park
Stop #2 on the Utah road trip and another one of Utah’s Big Five National Parks close to Moab is Canyonlands National Park. There are 2 ways to get into Canyonlands from Moab. You can head north and visit the Island In The Sky which is an amazing place to drive through and check out all the amazing overlooks during the drive.
You can also head south from Moab and drive about an hour and a half to the southern section of Canyonlands National Park. Here you’ll find The Needles district. We did a couple of hikes in The Needles including Cave Spring and Slickrock.
Cave Spring was a fun, short hike that had a few ladders to scale throughout the hike. Slickrock was a bit more strenuous as it was 2.5 miles and very hot when we visited in October.
Where Stay In Moab
The main road in Moab has several hotels, motels and resorts to choose from. We stayed at the OK RV Park at the southern end of the city during our Utah road trip. This was a nice place to stay and had full hook-ups and also has a deal through Passport America. I’d stay there again.
There is also a ton of BLM land on the outskirts of Moab that offer free or very cheap dry camping (no hookups at all). This is a great way to stay on the cheap for a few nights while you explore. Here’s more information on where you can find the BLM land http://www.discovermoab.com/campgrounds_blm.htm.
Where To Eat In Moab
Along with many of your usual restaurants, Moab has a few unique ones as well. We really liked The Moab Brewery. They had a good selection of their own brews (despite Utah’s strange liquor laws), as well as many vegetarian options and a decent kids menu. Definitely worth a stop.
Other Things To Do In Moab
Another great hike in Moab is Corona Arch. This is about a mile and a half roundtrip that includes ladders and some steep rock scrambles. You’ll end up under Corona Arch which is just amazing. This is the same place some crazy dudes on YouTube did some pretty rad rope swinging through the arch.
Highway 128 Scenic Drive
Another great thing to do in Moab is to take the scenic drive on Highway 128. You can drive for a few minutes or a few hours on this beautiful road. We stopped a few times where the road was near the Colorado River to check it out and toss some stones in the river.
Goblin Valley State Park
Continuing on the Utah road trip, the next stop will be Goblin Valley State Park. This is a super cool state park that is a perfect place for kids. The park has several hikes, a small campground, a disc golf course, and the best part is the valley itself.
The parking lot for the valley sets the scene as you get out of your car and look down over the valley you see thousands of hoodoo structures below that are all in the form of little trolls, hence the name Goblin Valley.
The park is very relaxed in that they allow climbing on all the structures, which was a welcome treat for the kids. We played hide-and-seek and explored for hours.
The other thing we really liked about Goblin Valley was the dried up riverbed that runs through the park. It was about 5 feet deep and zig zagged it’s way through the valley. We hiked it for quite a way and it seemed we were in a giant maze.
The valley also has rock climbing along some of the cliffs at the back of the valley. Again, you can hook up with a guide group to get you set up properly.
For more information on Goblin Valley, check out their website http://stateparks.utah.gov/parks/goblin-valley/.
Where to Stay
As for where to stay or where to eat when visiting Goblin Valley, your options are pretty limited. There is the campground in the park which has tent sites and a few RV sites, but all of those are without water or electricity at the sites, but there are flush toilets, showers and communal water available for campers. They also have 2 really cool Yurts available for rent. These have heat and a/c as well as beds, furniture and a great porch to relax on. They looked really cool.
We stayed just outside the park on BLM land which was free and provided a great place to stay while only being minutes from the park. The BLM land had fire pits and was situated near some mountains that we hiked and explored. The night sky was amazing here since there weren’t any city lights for miles around.
Where to Eat
You’ll have to bring what you want to eat as there aren’t any restaurants or stores in the park or anywhere close. The closest town is Hanksville which is about a half hour away and has a few small restaurants and even a couple motels. This would be your closest option for food and other accomodations.
Capitol Reef National Park
After visiting Goblin Valley State Park, head towards Capitol Reef National Park. This was our favorite out of all the Utah National Parks on our Utah road trip. Between the hikes, off-road driving, fruit picking and scenery, it is hard to beat. We actually almost didn’t go since it is a little bit off the main road but we are so glad we did and wish we would have stayed longer!
Best Hikes in Capitol Reef National Park
This is a longer hike but worth it since you can actually walk out on the Arch! The trail takes you up to the arch and it is a difficult hike with a few spots that had me gripping the kids hands to make sure they stayed close to us.
You’ll climb almost 700 feet up as you make your way 1.7 miles to the Arch. And then 1.7 miles back down – which is easier but you still hit a few spots that are nerve wracking with kids. All that aside, we still recommend going! When you get to the arch there is a nice area where you can sit and have a snack and the kids can safely run around and explore (not on the arch but overlooking it).
Capitol Gorge Trail
We had heard this was a good trail to do but we weren’t prepared for the amazing views and drive to get there! It is in the park but you actually leave the main road and drive on a dirt road to get back to the trailhead. It is tight drive but popular so the road is well defined. Just keep an eye on the weather since you DON’T want to be driving on here if it is raining since it can get flooded.
Once you come to the trailhead you walk on a dried up riverbed with huge gorges on each side of you. It is so cool! Once you get to the end of the trail (about 1 mile in) you can choose to walk up the mountain to see the Tanks – these are water pools at the top of the cliff. Honestly it isn’t worth it to climb up there to see the tanks but it is worth it just to have the fun of climbing up the mountain.
You will also see historic inscriptions on the canyon walls that are over a hundred years old and if you are walking back around sunset you may end up with bats flying around your hat as you walk back to your car through the canyon walls. It was one of those cool yet scary situations – I didn’t want a bat to get caught in my hair!
This is a very popular hike and for good reason. The views are amazing as you are hiking to the bridge. It is about a 1.8 mile hike roundtrip with an elevation gain of 400 feet.
Once you reach the bridge you can walk up and behind it or view it from the bottom. It is a very cool natural structure and you just hope when you are there isn’t the day it crumbles and falls!
Where to Stay
We found an amazing BLM location that meant we were 6 miles from the park entrance and a short distance from the main road (This is important to us with our big rig since we don’t want to get a situation we can’t get out of) and it was FREE! We even ended up having good enough 3G Verizon coverage that we could work from the RV. This allowed us to stay longer then we thought we were going to. Getting in was a little stressful since there were a lot of rocks and divots – but as long as we took it slow we were OK.
We would recommend it for a place to stay on your Utah road trip. The location was great and the views were beautiful too! This is the exact location: https://goo.gl/maps/ogXJQ6mWkc82.
Camping Near Capitol Reef National Park
Next to the Gifford House is the Fruita Campground. They have 64 RV/tent sites along with 7 walk-up tent sites. There are no hookups at this campground but they do have a potable water fill as well as a dump station in the campground. Plus you are in the park which would be awesome!
Hotels Near Capitol Reef National Park
If you’re looking for a hotel stay when visiting Capitol Reef, there are several resorts just up the road. Capitol Reef Resort is just a few more miles up the road and offers nice rooms, pools and other amenities. Check out their website at http://capitolreefresort.com/.
Town of Torrey
About 10 miles up the road and 4 miles from the boondocking site is the small town of Torrey. They do offer more hotels, RV parks, resturants and shopping but just know it is a very small town.
Where to Eat Near Capitol Reef National Park
We stopped for ice cream at Slackers in Torrey and also had dinner at the pizza place: Red Cliff Restaurant. It is a small dining room but the pizza and service was great and if it is warm outside they had a nice patio area!
You can also get ice cream cups for $1 in the the National Park at the Gifford House and yummy apple pie!!
Capital Reef and Goblin Valley were definitely our favorite places to visit on our Utah road trip. I don’t know if it was because they were less busy, the openness, the amazing views, the fun hikes, or all of the above!
Bryce National Park
The cool thing about the Utah National Parks is that they are all unique in their own way. None of the park feel like each other and they all have their own unique flair. When you come into Bryce your first stop is the Visitor Center. We like to make that our first stop so we can ask the rangers what they recommend. They know the park the best and we have always been happy with the suggestions they have made.
Also note when you are in Bryce they highly recommend you take the shuttle service vs. driving your car. There is very limited parking throughout the park and the shuttle runs consistently. We don’t normally like to go this route since with kids we like having immediate access to our car if we need it. But the first day there we did do the shuttle and it worked out great. The next time there we drove our car and had no problem finding parking. We were there in October which is off season – so my guess is parking is out of control during the busy season and the shuttle would make sense.
Best Hikes in Bryce National Park
This was definitely our favorite hike in Bryce and the one the ranger recommended. She actually recommend that we do “Wall Street” first and walk down there vs. walking up. This was a great suggestion and made the hike that much better for our family. The people walking up looked exhausted!! Wall Street is a combination of switch backs that takes you down into the canyon. It was such a fun trail. We started at Sunset Point (you can start from either end of the trail).
Once in the canyon you are walking among the beautiful hoo doo’s that are such crazy and cool looking rock formations they almost don’t seem real. You also walk through holes in the formations and gradually make your way back up. I say gradually but it is definitely a tiring hike on the way up. Luckily the views are great and there are multiple places you can stop to take a breather or grab a quick picture.
For more information on this combo hike, check out https://www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/qgnavajocombo.htm.
Mossy Cave Waterfall
This is a short hike at less then 1 mile roundtrip and is actually located at a location where you have to leave the main national park and go a few miles to get to the trailhead. For that reason it is less busy but totally worth the trip. You hike to a fork where you can either go view the waterfall or the cave. You can easily do both and we definitely recommend that. The waterfall is beautiful and the cave was really cool!
You can drive the whole road of the park and make spots at the pullouts along the way for a variety of different views. Even though we did start to feel like they all were really similar and we didn’t really need to stop at every pull out. The one we do recommend is: Inspiration Point.
It is a short hike straight up the hill to get to the point but the views are worth it and it is also a great place to catch a sunset! The other place is Sunset Point which gives you another amazing view of the hoodoos. They really are a sight to see.
Where to Stay
Camping Near Bryce National Park
Bryce Canyon has 2 campgrounds right in the park. The North Campground has 99 sites in a mix of RV and tent sites with no hookups. There is a General Store in the area that offers laundry, showers, snacks and supplies.
There is also Sunset Campground, which is a mile and a half further into the park and consists of 100 sites. Again, no hookups at this campground either.
For more information on camping in Bryce Canyon, check out https://www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/campgrounds.htm.
We did not stay at one of these but instead stayed in Panguitch which was about a 30 minute drive from Bryce on Hwy 89: Paradise RV Park. We stayed for 2 reasons. 1 there were full hookups and after boondocking with no hook ups for over a week we were ready for hookups and 2 it was only $100 for the whole week! That is really cheap for an RV park. To get this price we did use our Passport America card again.
The town of Panguitch has a few restaurants, grocery stores, etc. It is by no means large but had what we needed.
Hotels Near Bryce National Park
The town of Bryce is located right outside the entrance and there are plenty of hotels and restaurants to chose from. The one that stuck out to us was Ruby’s Inn which is a hotel, RV resort, and campground. It looked like they also offered activites like horseback riding, mountain biking and ATVing. I’m not sure who Ruby is, but she pretty much has the town of Bryce locked down: http://www.rubysinn.com/.
Where to Eat Near Bryce National Park
We stopped for a quick dinner at the Canyon Diner (which is also part of Ruby’s conglomerate), which is a cafeteria style fast food joint. The food was OK but it offered a quick dinner for a reasonable price, so that worked for us!
Our top recommendation and where you can get great pizza at an amazing price is The Pizza Place in Tropic. One of the lady’s who worked at a gift shop in Bryce told us about it and we were so glad she did. The pizza was yummy and the price was right (more like normal small town prices vs. National Park town prices).
We did have to drive about 15 minutes from the park on Hwy 12 and if you blink you will drive right through the town. But we would definitely go back and highly recommend it.
Next time we come through Bryce I really want to stay in the National Park. The park has a great walking/biking trail and we liked the vibe inside the park. It would be fun to stay at the campground and be able to ride our bikes to the trail, visitor center, restaurants, etc. in the park.
Zion National Park
The last stop on the Utah road trip is Zion National Park. We actually visited from the same campground that we stayed at for Bryce – because like I mentioned it was $100 for a week for full hookups! That meant we had to drive an hour to get there but it was a pretty easy drive and the campgrounds we found around Zion were expensive! And everything we found looked like there weren’t really many boondocking options especially for a large rig like ours (39 feet).
This meant when we got there we entered through the tunnel. This tunnel is no joke! It is about a mile long and feels like it goes on forever as you drive through the mountain. Quite an entrance! We have heard it can get really back up since they only let one way go at a time. Luckily we only had to wait about 15 minutes.
For more information on the tunnel including vehicle restrictions and specifics on the special permit, please visit https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/the-zion-mount-carmel-tunnel.htm.
Once in we kind of got the feel that we were at Disney World. There were signs all over the place, LOTS of people, and only a shuttle service – so you didn’t even have the option to drive your car in the park. I have mixed feelings about the setup. I am glad so many people are visiting but we were definitely missing the more relaxed feel of Capitol Reef!
Best Hikes in Zion National Park
The first thing we did was meet up with Arika from Zion Adventure Photog! They have a photography company where they will take your family pictures as you explore part of the park. How cool is that?! We met Arika and took the shuttle to the famous Narrows hike that takes you in the water as you walk through the gorge with super high walls on each side.
It was cold but so fun to do this hike and have Arika capture it for us. She took amazing pictures and we love having family pictures that show us out doing what we love to do! Arika was great with the kids and I think the pictures do an amazing job of telling how great she was and how much fun we had.
If you are in Zion you should definitely plan on doing the Narrows. We love unique hikes and this is one of them. If you want you can rent water shoes and wet suits from a location outside of the park. Here is one we found online: http://www.zionadventures.com/zion-narrows/rental-equipment/196-the-narrows/narrows-specific-equipment/1869-rental-packages/
The nice thing about the Narrows is you can go in and hike as far as you want and turn around. You don’t have to hike the whole thing – which is 16 miles and you need a permit to do it. You walk on the Riverside Walk for one mile from the Temple of Sinawava before you get to the Virginia River and start to walk in the water. As you can see this hike is going to take some preparing but it is worth it.
We did it in our Keens with nice picture clothes on 🙂 and brought a backpack with a change of clothes for when we were done. Being that we went in October it was COLD but I have heard no matter when you go the water is cold but it would obviously be warmer if the temperate was in the 90’s and not the 60’s. I have also of people going in the winter and loving it (with wet suits on).
Learn more about the Narrows hike: https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/thenarrows.htm
Book your own sessions with Arika from Zion Adventure Photog!
The second hike we did – on a different day was the Emerald Pools hike. This hike was OK we didn’t like that the views weren’t that good on the hike. There are 3 pools, Lower Emerald Pool, Middle Emerald Pool and Upper Emerald Pool. These are 3 separate hikes, but can be done all at the same time. It is about 3 miles round trip.
It was fun when we got up to the top pool and we really liked the part where you walk under the wall that has water falling down from it! Before this hike we had fun walking around the grounds by the Zion Lodge. It had a large grassy area, a cafe on the porch (that sold beer) and other things :). It was really cool that they had a place like this in the middle of the park!
For more information on hiking in Zion, including maps, check out their website at https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/hiking-in-zion.htm.
Where to Stay
Camping Near Zion National Park
Like I mentioned we stayed at the Paraside RV Park which was about 1 hour away. If you are looking for camping/RVing closer to the park there were a few options but like I had mentioned they are more on expensive side. There is also camping at the campgrounds inside the National Park.
Learn more about lodging options here: https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/eatingsleeping.htm
Hotels Near Zion National Park
If you are looking for a hotel you would want to look into the city of Springdale. It is literally right outside of the park – like you could walk into the park from the city. The main road has a variety of hotels where you could stay.
Learn more here: https://www.visitutah.com/places-to-go/cities-and-towns/springdale.
Where To Eat Zion National Park
The city of Springdale had a lot of really cool restaurants but was also very busy. Instead of waiting for 30 minutes for a table we opted for the Subway. Which worked out great for us! If you want more of a restaurant experience Springdale will have you covered.
We had an amazing time visiting Utah and all of the National Parks. My sister and her family enjoyed driving down the east side of the state and didn’t see as many of the National Parks but really enjoyed the remoteness of that part of Utah too.
The most challenging part for us while being in Utah was getting beer and wine! Utah has a law that they can only sell beer that has a 3.5% alcohol content. But still costs the same . . . Plus you can’t buy it at the grocery store so you have to find a liquor store. If you like to have your beer and wine be sure you stock up before you head into the state!
If you haven’t yet we highly recommend taking a roadtrip through Utah you could literally spend months exploring this park. But even if you only have a 2 weeks you could still see a lot of this amazing state! Here is our recommendation on how to do that:
Any other stops you’d recommend for a Utah road trip? What is your favorite part?
To learn more about us, Start Here!
Pin It For Later!