With 10 days to explore Utah, one of the most amazing places in the United States, how would you spend it? If you’re anything like us, the best way to spend that time is out exploring the 5 incredible National Parks in the Beehive State. Arches mesmerized us with impossible rock formations. Canyonlands made us feel like we were on an Island in the Sky. Capitol Reef amazed us on our drive through the valley of rock walls towering above. Bryce Canyon dazzled us with something we had never seen before. Adding in a trip a few hours south to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in Northern Arizona, made our trip unforgettable. Finishing off our trip, Zion provided views so incredible, we swore we were in heaven. So book your flight to Salt Lake City and your return trip via Las Vegas and follow our trip itinerary for maximum amazing-ness!
You’ll find our tips will take you to the best these incredible parks have to offer. The biggest tip during the busy Summer season is to wake up early and I mean really early. We woke up before or around sunrise almost every day. It helped us beat not only the heat but the other park visitors as well. The other big tip is always, always, always carry more than enough water. I highly recommend using a hydration pack so you can more easily carry your water while having two free hands to rock scramble with.
Get out to the Delicate Arch trailhead while it’s still dark out, chase the sunrise. This 3 mile round trip hike to see the the most iconic arch in the park is well worth your early morning wake-up call. After you’ve admired one of the most beautiful and interesting rock formations you’ll ever see, head to Sand Dune Arch while it’s still cool out. This short hike takes you through the middle of a large rock formation. The breeze blowing makes this one of the more pleasant morning hikes.
If you’re looking for a little adventure and don’t mind rock scrambling, make your way to the Devil’s Garden trail. You start out on an easy path but after you pass Landscape Arch, you’ll begin to have to climb up large boulders. Unless you’re deathly afraid of heights, this shouldn’t be a difficult climb if you are reasonably in shape. We made our trek the out and back via the path to Double O Arch. There is another path that takes you into the canyon but with the heat what it was and with the water we had we thought it best to not venture into the canyon.
As the heat of the day sets in, avoid long hikes. Instead, take drives along the scenic highway stopping at the overlooks and short hikes. Our favorite short hikes/overlooks were Double Arch, the Windows, and Balanced Rock.
Days at Park: Your first day driving from Salt Lake City (Day 1) & Day 2
Best Place To Stay: Moab, UT
Best Place To Eat Dinner: Antica Forma, La Sal House, or La Charro Loco
Canyonlands – Island in the Sky District
Canyonlands has a lot less visitors than it’s nearby neighbor, Arches. This is not because it’s any less beautiful, in my opinion it’s more breathtaking. Expect to see an incredibly vast, multi-level canyon here. Start your day hiking the Murphy Hogback Trail. This 4-mile out and back trail has very little elevation changes. You’ll get some of the best views in the park at the end of the out, and you won’t have anywhere near the crowds that you’ll see at the Grandview Point Trail. Take time to explore the end of the trail. After you’ve had your fill of the Murphy Hogback Trail, head right up the road to the aforementioned Grandview Point Trail. Even with the crowds, this one is well worth your time.
Most visitors will stop at the overlook portion and that’s it. However, as with almost any trail, it’s always better to go further than the crowds. We’ve done that everywhere we’ve gone and always been handsomely rewarded for it. The end of this short trail certainly falls into that category. You are taken to the furthest point out into the canyon from this fork of the Park. You’ll experience near 360 degree views.
From Grandview Point, I recommend heading to Upheaval Dome, which is at the end of the other point of the fork in this district of the Park. This trail, just as so many others in Arches and Canyonlands, can be quite hot in the heat of the day, so try to avoid that if possible. On your way out of the park is when you should stop at the oft photographed Mesa Arch.
If you are looking for a different type of adventure, then book a Jeep 4×4 half-day trip through the canyon. You’ll get to drive along the cliffs above the river but below what’s described here. We didn’t get the chance to do so due to time constraints but we have friends who have and they loved it.
Days at Park: Day 3
Best Place To Stay: Moab, UT
Best Place To Eat Dinner: Antica Forma, La Sal House, or La Charro Loco
Capitol Reef & Grand Staircase-Escalante
The best hike we experienced in Capitol Reef was the Natural Bridge. This trail has a little bit of elevation at the beginning but isn’t difficult. When you come to the fork in the lollipop trail, go right, you’ll want to view the bridge from this angle. From there, depending on the time you can either stop for lunch in the oasis Fruita area of the park or head to the scenic highway for a beautiful drive. If you take the scenic drive, you’ll reach a point where the paved road ends. If you have rented a car with clearance (a truck, Jeep, or SUV) then you’ll be able to continue this drive into the narrow part of the canyon. This road was the main state highway through the area for 80 years. In 1962, Highway 24 was opened to bypass driving through this road which is prone to flash floods and rocks falling so be careful.
As you make your way from Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon, I highly recommend driving along scenic Highway 12 through the Dixie National Forest and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The scenery will change dramatically from the desert in Capitol Reef to the tall trees and cool air of Dixie National Forest before taking you back through more desert in Grand Staircase. If you have the time, have a vehicle with clearance, and there is no chance of flash floods, then take a left at BLM 200 off Highway 12 down a dirt road for 28 miles. You’ll arrive at the trail for taking Peek-a-boo slot canyon out and Spooky Gulch slot canyon back. We unfortunately, had storms threatening so we were unable to do so.
Days at Park: Day 4, driving to Bryce Canyon from Moab
Best Place To Stay: No need to stay the night here, you can see all you need to while making the drive from Moab to Bryce Canyon
Get ready for something you’ve likely never seen before, the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon. Waking up early is a must at Bryce. You’ll want to get out to one of the four observation points before sunrise to see that golden Sun on the rock formations below. The best place to grab a picture that doesn’t have the Sun directly in your shot is at the furthest point out, Bryce Point. Just make sure to grab a jacket before getting out of your car here. Even in July, this point can get chilly in the morning due to the wind that kicks up.
From here, make your way to Sunset Point and begin the Navajo Loop Trail down into the canyon. You’ll be hiking right alongside the hoodoos here. The popular loop is Sunset Point to Sunrise Point via the Navajo Loop & Queen’s Garden Trails. I highly recommend this combo trail. However, if you are able to, add the Peek-a-boo Trail before you do the Queen’s Garden portion. The Peek-a-boo Trail will take you through the canyon and provide stunning views. This is quite possibly the our favorite trail we’ve ever done, anywhere. It will add a few miles to your trip but trust me, it is completely worth it.
After you’ve trekked through all of the canyon, make the drive out to Rainbow Point on the other side of the park. The drive is beautiful and even in Summer the weather should be cooler due to the elevation and shade from the trees. What struck us most about Bryce Canyon is that even though it has orange rock hoodoo canyons below, there are large trees through the top of the park. Before leaving the park for the day, stop at the last of the four observation points, Inspiration Point. Here you can experience a beautiful Utah sunset over orange rock hoodoos. Bryce Canyon National Park was my favorite Park on this whole trip, I hope you enjoy it as well!
Days at Park: Day 4-5
Best Place To Stay: Tropic, UT or at the Bryce Canyon Lodge in the Park.
Best Place To Eat: Pizza Place
Grand Canyon – North Rim
It is time to dip down into Northern Arizona for a bit to experience the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Unlike it’s South Rim brother which is open year round, the North Rim is only open when the snow stops in May and closes when the snow starts in October. This secluded area is an amazing place to spend a few days.
You don’t have to walk far to see incredible views here, just walk from the parking lot to the back of the lodge. There are a few small viewpoints directly behind the lodge and the deservedly popular Bright Angel Point is only a short walk away.
If you’re looking to view more of the canyon, I highly recommend the Widforss Trail. This 10-mile out and back trail won’t tax you much as you walk through shaded woods with very little elevation changes. The view from the end of the trail is astounding though. You get to see more of the canyon that is hidden from view at the lodge. If you’re feeling adventurous and want more of a challenge, hike down into the canyon as far as you can on the North Kaibab Trail. Just remember whatever you climb down, you have to climb back up. This is the same trail that you can take if you are hiking from the North Rim to the South Rim.
Don’t forget to take the scenic drive out to Point Imperial and Cape Royal on the other side of the Park from the lodge. Both offer short walks to exquisite views that will provide different vantage points to the world-famous canyon.
Days at Park: Days 6 through the morning of the 8th
Best Place To Stay: The Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge, the closest other option is an hour away.
Best Place To Eat: Grand Canyon Lodge Dining Room, the sunset views alone are worth it.
Your trip is coming to an end but not before you see one of the most famous National Parks, Zion. With a name synonymous with Heaven, you know it will be a beautiful park. You’ll be entering the park from the side entrance, which means far less of a line than entering from Springdale. That being said, Zion is one of the busiest Parks in the National Parks system during the Summer, so if you can avoid getting there on a weekend, I highly recommend you do so. The other key thing is to stay at the Zion Lodge if you can. This will save you an incredible amount of time as you won’t have to ride what many described as an hour ride to the visitor center on a crowded tram before boarding another tram to any of the hikes in the Park.
For a truly once in a lifetime experience, wake up early and hike as far as you can in the Narrows. The Narrows is a slot canyon with a river running through it that you can hike. Just like anything in these Parks, make sure to check the chance of rain before as you don’t want to be in the Narrows when a flash flood hits. Also, I highly recommend renting the water boots, neoprene socks, and a walking stick. You can get these from a number of outfitters in Springdale. You can pick them up the evening before your trek through the Narrows so you don’t have to fight the crowds on your way into the Park.
A flash flood destroyed a few trails in the days leading up to our trip so we weren’t able to do the famous Angel’s Landing, unfortunately. However, Observation Point, which offers arguably a better view of the same vantage point from a few hundred feet higher elevation was one of the highlights of the trip. Wake up early to avoid the crowds and the heat. There are two ways to get to Observation Point. The traditional way is to start at the Weeping Rock Trailhead and climb 2,000 feet in elevation over the course of around 4 miles. However, if you need an easier route there is also the East Mesa Trailhead which you actually get to via outside the Park.
Make sure to soak up every last moment of this final day, your trip is finished and all that’s left is for you to do is make the trek to Vegas to catch your flight.
Days at Park: The afternoon of the 8th through the afternoon of the 10th day
Best Place To Stay: Hands down the Zion Lodge. You can stay in Springdale to save money but you’ll wish you were staying in the park after your first hour ride to the visitor center on a crowded tram.
Best Place To Eat: The Spotted Dog Cafe, Meme’s Cafe, or the Barefoot Taqueria