Are you dreaming of an incredible road trip stretching far into the desert? If you’re planning a trip to the Southwest, there’s no better way to get comfortable with the area than by exploring some of the most beautiful desert sites in the region.
Suppose you’re currently in the planning stages of your road trip. In that case, chances are you’re feeling slightly overwhelmed by all the possibilities. Don’t worry! We decided to make things easier for you and create a perfect Utah Arizona road trip itinerary for first-timers. (Or any traveler really!)
From Bryce Canyon’s fascinating red hoodoos to the sweeping views of Canyonlands National Park, to large unnatural sandstone arches and so much more, here’s how to rock and roll a Utah + Arizona road trip!
Hidden Treasures To Visit In Utah
- Ashley National Forest
- Salt Lake City
- Green River
- St. George
Begin with exploring Ashley National Forest in the North Eastern corner of Utah. The forest is a terrific place to see various wildlife, such as mountain lions, bears, and elk. If you’re not up for hiking and getting dirty in nature exploring, then enjoy the scenic drive through the forest.
After exploring Ashley National Forest, head to Salt Lake City, less than 300 miles from the forest. While in Salt Lake City, plan a stop at Bingham Canyon Copper Mine. The mine is more than three-quarters of a mile deep and still produces tons of gold yearly! After the mine, tie up your hiking boots, visit the Fifth Water Hot Springs, and soak in naturally heated pools. Finish off your tour with a picnic at Liberty Park. The 80-acre park offers ample green space and picnic shelters.
After exploring Salt Lake City, hop into your car for about 45 minutes until you arrive in Provo. While in Provo, you can admire the gorgeous landscapes, learn about the history, bask in the beautiful outdoors, and float down the Provo River for unique sights! After exploring Provo, make the approximately four-hour drive to Zion National Park, where you’ll be able to spot some seriously epic sights and experience the extraordinary desert in an entirely new way!
Zion National Park
Begin the morning early by driving to Zion National Park, starting the road trip of a lifetime. A visit to Zion National Park promises astonishing sights, fantastic photo opportunities, adventure, and much more. Make sure your camera is fully charged to snap some of the most epic shots you’ll ever see!
Once you arrive, get a solid intro to the region by visiting the Zion Human History Museum. Here you’ll get to learn about the indigenous Paiute who once inhabited the area. Some of the most famous rock formations in the park are located right outside the museum (including the Towers of the Virgin and Watchman), so you can tick that off your list too.
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. (Remember to pack plenty of water!)
After you’ve completed your desired hikes, drive the Zion Canyon Scenic drive. The road is nestled between towering granite cliffs, giving drivers a unique perspective. Suppose you’re up for one or two more hikes? In that case, try The Riverside Walk and The Weeping Rock Trail. Both trails promise unique and spectacular sights!
If you’ve still got energy after hiking, hop in your car and drive to Kolob Canyon, which is the lesser-visited part of the park and is the perfect place to catch a spectacular sunset. For the ultimate spot to watch the sun go down, hike Timber Creek Overlook at Kolob View Point. Here you’ll get 360-degree views of the nearby rock formations and even glimpses of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon!
Bryce Canyon National Park
Being one of the smallest parks in the United States, a day and a half is definitely enough to see the highlights of Bryce Canyon National Park. Begin the day as early as possible to get the most out of your first day here.
Red rock hoodoos take center stage in Bryce Canyon, so we’ll start the day by packing a picnic lunch and driving the park’s beautifully scenic road (Highway 12). While driving, stop by some of the park’s most beautiful overlooks to get a picturesque introduction to some of the best views Bryce Canyon offers.
In the afternoon, choose from one of the many short hiking trails and finish the evening with the most epic sunset ever at Sunset Point, where you’ll watch the sunset through a unique view of the amphitheater of hoodoos.
The next day is about getting closer and more personal with Bryce Canyon. As mentioned before, hoodoos make 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 walk through otherworldly-looking rock tunnels and pine forests, you’ll see some of the best views of the park’s iconic sandstone hoodoos. We bet they’ll make you feel like you’re walking on an entirely different planet! Finally, leave Bryce Canyon in the evening, drive to Capitol Reef to get a good night’s rest, and prepare for another day of exploration and adventure!
Capitol Reef National Park
Once you arrive at Capitol Reef, make the most of your visit by hiking to Hickman Bridge, an iconic 2-mile round-trip trail that will have you come across some of the most famous sights in the park. After you’re finished hiking, hop back in your car and drive down Highway 24 to see the park’s famous petroglyph panel, which will give you insight into the local 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 the park. Let’s say you’ve still got time and energy after your drive. Check out the hike to Cassidy Arch, one of the most thrilling trails there and probably the most iconic photo spot in the park!
If you’re not crunched for time, a stop at Bluebell Knoll, Torrey, and Caineville all promise gorgeous desert views. Then, when you’re done, hit the road to venture to one of the most gorgeous national parks.
Arches National Park.
Arches National Park
Although small, Arches National Park isn’t short of amazing things to do, so gear up for another day of spectacular desert adventures!
Start your day by checking out Delicate Arch, which is likely the most iconic sight in Utah (the arch you see on their license plates!). Delicate Arch is a 52-foot free-standing natural landmark. It was formed from Entrada Sandstone, wind, and rain and is unlike anything else you’ll ever see. In fact, its size alone is magnificent, never mind the interesting shape. Afterward, admire the pretty rock formations while standing under the Double Arch, and if you’re lucky, take in a sunset here! Next, follow the Landscape Arch trail for some desert hiking.
After you’re done exploring on foot, hop in your car and drive the Arches Scenic Drive, which offers an array of incredible viewpoints where you can soak in the sweeping desert views. Make sure to stop at Park Avenue Viewpoint to ooh and ahh over the epic rock formations! The way the sun touches them, and they almost seem to change color as the day passes.
Before you finish exploring the national park, plan a stop at The Windows and take in the short hike to Balanced Rock to bid goodbye to another fabulous day on your Utah road trip!
Canyonlands National Park (Island in the Sky and The Needles)
Canyonlands National Park is gigantic t that you could keep coming back here and never 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 ideal way to go.
Get an early start to your day and hike up to the iconic Mesa Arch, where you’ll get to see one of the most epic sunrises of your life. Afterward, you can get sweaty and hit a few of the hikes. We recommend hiking White Rim Overlook and Grand View Point Trail.
To finish off the day, catch an epic sunset with sweeping views of the canyons at Green River Viewpoint, where the sun illuminates the canyon’s walls and makes the hues of red on the rocks come to life.
The following day, you can either explore more of Island in the Sky or venture deeper into Canyonlands by visiting The Needles, which offers extensive canyons and lesser-traveled, more challenging hikes.
Grand Canyon National Park
Finish off an epic desert road trip by challenging your desert hiking skills on the Bright Angel Trail at Grand Canyon National Park. The Bright Angel Trail is a 9.5-mile-long trail that follows the rim of the Grand Canyon 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.
While you’re visiting Grand Canyon National Park, explore the magical Grand Canyon Village. It is packed with history and gorgeous souvenir shops. Afterward, check out the South Rim, where you can ride a mule down the canyon. Finally, spend some time at Yaki Point and Mather Point for some very memorable viewpoints.
More Arizona Utah Travel Tips
When you’ve finished exploring Grand Canyon National Park, you can turn around and explore your way back. Or spend a few minutes feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and maybe even inspired. Taking a road trip through Arizona and Utah promises epic sights, gorgeous terrain, and breathtaking scenery. Have you ever visited these places? Would you add anything to our itinerary? Let us know in the comments below.