Dreaming of a road trip across the desert? If you’re currently plotting an escape to the Southwest, there’s no better way to get acquainted with the area than by checking out some of the most alluring sites in the region.
If you’re currently in the planning stages of your road trip, chances are you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed with all the possibilities, so we decided to narrow things down for you and craft a perfect Utah + Arizona itinerary for first-timers.
From Bryce Canyon’s unique hoodoos to the sweeping vistas of Canyonlands National Park, here’s how to rock an Arizona and Utah road trip even if you’re short on time!
The Ultimate Arizona and Utah Road Trip Itinerary for Desert Lovers
Day 1: Zion National Park
Start the day as early as possible by driving to Zion National Park to begin your Arizona and Utah road trip.
Once you arrive, get an introduction to the area by visiting the Zion Human History Museum, where you’ll get to learn about the indigenous Paiute who once inhabited the area. Some of the most famous rock formations of Zion are located right outside the museum (including the Towers of the Virgin and Watchman), so you’ll get to kick two birds with one stone!
Next, put your hiking shoes on and start exploring the park on foot. Many trails here are short, sweet, and exceptionally alluring, so you can tick several hikes off your list in just a few hours.
If you’ve still got energy after hiking, hop on your car and drive to Kolob Canyon, which is the lesser-visited part of the park and just happens to be the ideal place to catch a sunset. For the ultimate spot to watch the sun go down, hike Timber Creek Overlook at Kolob View Point, where you’ll get 360-degree views of the nearby rock formations and even glimpses of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon!
Days 2 and 3: Bryce Canyon National Park
Being one of the smallest national parks in the USA, a day and a half is more than enough to see the highlights of Bryce Canyon National Park. Start the day as early as possible to get the most out of your first day here.
Red rock hoodoos are the highlight of Bryce Canyon, so we’ll start the day by packing a lunch and driving the park’s scenic road (Highway 12). During the drive, stop by at some of the park’s most scenic overlooks to get an insanely picturesque introduction to some of the best vistas Bryce Canyon has to offer.
In the afternoon, choose from one of the many short hiking trails on offer if you’re feeling in the mood to get to know the park a little better. For the most epic sunset ever, head to Sunset Point, where you’ll get to see the sun go down through a bird’s eye view of the amphitheater of hoodoos.
Day 3 is all about getting more close and personal with Bryce Canyon. As mentioned before, hoodoos are what makes Bryce Canyon’s landscape so unique, and there’s no better way to see them than by braving the Queen’s Garden to Navajo Loop and Wall Street trail. As you make your way through otherwordly-looking rock tunnels and pine forests, you’ll get access to the best views of the park’s iconic sandstone hoodoos that will have you feeling as though you’re walking on an entirely different planet!
In the evening, leave Bryce Canyon and drive to Capitol Reef to get a good night’s rest and gear up for another day of desert goodness.
Day 4: Capitol Reef National Park
Once you arrive at Capitol Reef, get the most out of your visit by hiking to Hickman Bridge, which is a classic, 2-mile round trip trail that will have you stumbling across some of the most iconic sights in the park. Once you’re finished hiking, hop back on your car and drive down Highway 24 to check out the park’s famed petroglyph panel, which will give you an insight into the Capitol Reef’s indigenous heritage.
Next, drive along the 8-mile long scenic road, where you’ll get to check off some of the most iconic sights in Capitol Reef. If you’ve still got time and energy after driving, check out the hike to Cassidy Arch, which is one of the most thrilling trails here and probably the most iconic photo spot in the entire park!
Day 5: Arches National Park
Although tiny, Arches National Park isn’t short of incredible things to do, so gear up for another day of desert adventures!
Start the day by checking out Delicate Arch, which is probably the most iconic sight in Utah (that’s the arch you see on their license plates!). Next, gear up for some desert hiking by following the Landscape Arch trail, which is the largest natural arch in the USA and an absolute must-see.
After you’re done exploring on foot, hop on your car and drive down the Arches Scenic Drive, which offers an array of incredible viewpoints where you can soak in the sweeping desert views.
For an epic sunset, hike the Double Arch trail to check out yet another arch before finishing at The Windows to bid goodbye to another awesome day in your Utah road trip!
Days 6 and 7: Canyonlands National Park (Island in the Sky and The Needles)
Canyonlands National Park is so vast that you could keep coming back here and never get to do the same thing twice. As a first-timer, though hitting up the easier-to-explore Island in the Sky section of the park to get an introduction to it is definitely the way to go.
Get an early start to your day and hike up to the iconic Mesa Arch, where you’ll get to experience one of the most epic sunrises of your life. Afterward, you can get sweaty and hit a few of the hikes (recommended ones are Grand View Point Trail, Upheaval Dome, and Gooseberry Canyon).
To finish off the day, catch an epic sunset with sweeping views of the canyons at Green River Viewpoint, where the sun illuminates the walls of the canyon and makes the hues of red on the rocks pop to life.
The following day, you can either choose to explore more of Island in the Sky or venture deeper into Canyonlands by visiting The Needles, which offers extensive vistas of the canyons and lesser-frequented, more challenging hikes.
Days 8 and 9: Grand Canyon National Park
Finish off an epic desert road trip by challenging your desert hiking skills on the Bright Angel Trail, a must on any Arizona bucket list!
The Bright Angel Trail is a 9.5 mile-long trail that goes from the rim of the Grand Canyon all the way down to the Colorado River at the bottom. The trail starts near Bright Angel Lodge and ends at Phantom Ranch, which is the only place other than camping where you can sleep inside the canyon before heading back to the trailhead the following day.
Have you ever been on an Arizona and Utah road trip? What were your favorite stops?