Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Parks
The Best Week of Your Life Itinerary
An unbelievable 7 days from Salt Lake City through Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks.
Day 1: Salt Lake City to Arches National Park
Distance: 231 miles/approximately 4 hours
Arches National Park contains about 2,000 windowed arches, towering spires, harrowing hoodoos, and precarious pinnacles on display, including Delicate Arch, perhaps Utah's most iconic feature, which is a must-hike destination in the park. A paved 40-mile scenic drive from the park entrance provides numerous parking areas for trail access and scenic overlooks. The visitor center is located five miles north of Moab via US 191.
Guided Tour: Sign up for a tour through the Fiery Furnace. This twisting labyrinth of brilliant redrock fissures and spines is so intricate it is highly recommended to find your way through with a guide. Hikes: The 1.5-mile hike to Delicate Arch is beautiful, with the end reward of viewing Utah's famous landmark - a famed standing on Utah's bucket list. Or hike some of the longer trails in the park, such as Double O Arch, Tower Arch, and Landscape Arch.
Drive: The scenic drive in the Windows Section of the park contains some of the area's largest arches.
Additional park activities: backpacking, biking, camping, canyoneering, ranger-led programs, and rock climbing.
DAY 2: Arches National Park to Canyonlands National Park
Distance: Moab to Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky district - 35 miles/approximately 46 minutes
Photography: Early morning and late afternoon bring the best photographic light to the park during the "magic hours." The park website recommends areas, formations, and times for peak photography opportunities.
Along the way: Travel Dead Horse Mesa Scenic Byway to Dead Horse Point State Park for a dizzying view some 2,000 feet above the Colorado River as it winds its way into Canyonlands National Park. You're sure to treasure this panoramic perspective of the river that carved out the canyons. This is a locals' favorite. Distance: Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky district to Dead Horse Point State Park- 12 miles/approximately 20 minutes.
Canyonlands National Park is Utah's largest national park with views thousands of feet down to the Green and Colorado Rivers and thousands of feet up to red rock pinnacles, cliffs, and spires. Rivers have sliced the parks into three districts: Island in the Sky is the northern section where visitors can look down to the Colorado River on the east and the Green River on the west; The Needles District is named for its profusion of red rock spires and sandstone fins; and the Maze District is a remote and jumbled stone playground and requires backcountry use permits year-round. Major entrances to the park are accessible from US 191. Access to Island in the Sky is 35 miles northwest of Moab and access to the Needles District is 22 miles north of Monticello.
Walk: Mesa Arch is a relatively easy 30-minute jaunt that leads to an arch perched right on the edge of towering sandstone cliffs and is especially beautiful at sunrise.
Hikes:Island in the Sky, the park's most accessible and visited district of the park, allows for a bird's eye view of this vast and awesome landscape. The "Island" sits atop a mesa over 1,000 feet above the surrounding terrain, the source of its aptly given name. The Grand View Point Trail is a mild two-mile round trip hike to the southernmost edge of the "Island" with expansive views of the complex canyon system formed by the convergence of the Colorado and Green Rivers. This is a must-see!
Star gazing: Visitors appreciate the dark night sky of the park that can reveal 2,500 stars to the naked eye, along with a clear view of the Milky Way.
Additional park activities: drives, backpacking, camping, climbing, horseback riding, and ranger-led programs.
Visit:Newspaper Rock National Historic Site - Wonder at the connection you'll find at one of Utah's large petroglyph panels to North America's prehistoric human past. The Dinosaur Museum in Blanding contains stunning dinosaur exhibits, movies, slide shows and more. Bluff Fort Historic Site in Bluff preserves and displays the legacy of the settlers who blazed the remote and rugged Hole-in-the-Rock Trail and, ultimately, founded Bluff.
State Parks:Edge of the Cedars State Park in Blanding contains an Anasazi village inhabited between AD 825 to 1125, with fragile and amazing artifacts on display, Goosenecks State Park offers spectacular views of an "entrenched meander" where the San Juan River carved 1,000-feet deep twists. Unbelievable geology with night sky stargazing.
Drive: Monument Valley was made famous in the classic John Ford westerns, including Stagecoach and The Searchers, and inspires awe with its dramatic, arid landscape, and nostalgia with its connection to classic American cinema.
Guided Tour: Monument Valley Tribal Park has stunning vistas of the Navajo Nation lands in the most photographed region.
Visit: Hogs Spring Ranch, a lovely historic interpretive site, along the way on the northern section of SR 95.
Capitol Reef National Park splashes color for 100 miles through an inviting wilderness of sandstone formations, rock art petroglyphs-telling the story of the early indigenous people of the Fremont Culture, and large fruit orchards of Fruita, an early pioneer settlement. The central geologic feature, the Waterpocket Fold, is a bulging uplift of rainbow-hued sandstone "reefs" and canyons. Several easy hiking trails and a 25-mile scenic drive are found in this area. The park is 11 miles east of Torrey or 37 miles west of Hanksville on Hwy 24.
Drive:The Capitol Reef Scenic Drive is a 90-minute round trip and travels the park's natural wonderland where mysterious petroglyphs tease the imagination and dramatic slot canyons lure intrepid explorers, with pristine natural beauty and solitude.
Visit: The old Fruita Schoolhouse and Historic Gifford Homestead provide a glimpse of 19th-century Utah pioneer farm life.
Walk: Take a stroll among the historic fruit orchards in the Historic Fruita District and take some with you, when in season.
Hikes: The park rangers can inform you on the hike to Hickman Bridge to the longer hike to Cohab Canyon. These hikes give an up-close look at the desert region with a natural bridge spanning the landscape.
Additional park activities: astronomy programs, backpacking, bicycling, family-oriented park-educational games, fishing, picnicking, and ranger-guided walks.
DAY 5: Capitol Reef National Park to Bryce Canyon National Park
Distance:142 miles/approximately 3 hours
Along the way:Scenic Byway 12-Utah's only All-American Road is a spectacular experience itself. Here are some stops along the way: Calf Creek waterfall is a 3-mile hike; Anasazi State Park; Escalante and Boulder town shops, outfitters and more; ATV's at Ruby's Inn, right outside of the national park; and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Cannonville Visitor Center.
Bryce Canyon National Park is a series of natural amphitheaters sunk into pink cliffs and filled with delicate red rock "hoodoos." The most brilliant hues of the park come alive with the rising and setting of the sun. Summertime offers a myriad of walking/hiking trails and a 37-mile scenic drive overlooking incredible vistas. Bryce Canyon Lodge, a National Historic Landmark, is open April through November.
Drive: Easy drives within the park have spectacular views with various scenery. Stop along the way at the Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration, and Bryce view points.
Hikes: There are many trails within Bryce Canyon National Park, from easy to strenuous, with varying scenery. You can pick a hike to a waterfall, redrock hoodoos, spruce tree forests, the Bryce Amphitheater, and other famous landscapes. The Rim Trail is paved and fairly level with outstanding views of hoodoos. Navajo Loop Trail is a 1.3-mile hiking path that wanders through the rock formations and draw you into the mystical hoodoos' perspective.
Ranger Program: Park rangers will share interesting facts and activities about the park, including wildlife stories, geologic history, kids interests, full moon hikes, astronomy, and snowshoeing.
Additional park activities: camping, ranger & astronomy programs, and winter-time cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
DAY 6: Bryce Canyon National Park to Zion National Park
Distance: 76 miles/approximately 2.5 hours
Ride: Book a guided mule or horse trip in the morning to the floor of the park, passing a stunning series of rock formations along the way.
Along the way: Travel from Bryce Canyon National Park on Mount Carmel Scenic Byway through amazing scenery and Long Canyon to SR9 and into Zion National Park.
Zion National Park's soaring towers and massive monoliths, offer a spectacular grandeur. Over 100 years old, it is also Utah's most visited park, welcoming nearly 2.6 million visitors in 2010. There are numerous easy, self-guided trails and more adventurous or strenuous hikes found in the park. Two entrances to Zion are 33 miles east of I-15 or 12 miles west of US 89, both on Utah Hwy 9. The northern Kolob Canyons section is accessible off I-15, 18 miles south of Cedar City.
Hike: The Emerald Pools in the park is a relatively easy three-mile, round-trip, signature hike and is fun for the whole family.
Canyoneering: Zion National Park has become a favorite in this exciting sport. Dozens of canyons offer route finding, rappelling, swimming and hike challenges for beginners to advanced. Permit required.
Camping: All three campgrounds are popular, so make your reservations early. There are also several campgrounds a short drive outside the park.
Additional park activities: backpacking, bicycling, birding, horse-back riding, rafting, and ranger-led programs.
Hike: The Narrows is hailed as one of the world's best canyon hikes. This shady walk up the shallow Virgin River can be adapted for any ability level or timeframe. Redrock canyon walls reach into the sky above as you splash and stroll through the river's cool waters. Check the park website for conditions, suggested hiking equipment and guides & outfitters.
Hike: A classic park hike, Angels Landing should not be taken lightly. It rises nearly 1,500 feet from the canyon floor to its final viewpoint. Many people consider the views here to be some of the most spectacular in the world. Only those who are physically fit and not afraid of heights should attempt this hike. On average, it takes between three and six hours to complete this five-mile round-trip hike. Be prepared to walk across a narrow land bridge with steep, shear drop offs on either side. Chains are provided for security and peace of mind. Please check the park website before you plan this hike for trail conditions and closures.
Shop: Stop in Springdale for gifts, souvenirs and a great breakfast or brunch.