History & Hoodoos
Just the national parks, ma'am. We get it. You're a bucket-lister with a checklist and a pen. We hope it has a lot of ink.
Start: Las Vegas
In the option shown below, you'll travel west to east from Zion to Arches. Consider adding an extra day or two for a more leisurely return drive and departure from Salt Lake City.
Alternate Route: Reverse the days, land in Salt Lake and start in Arches for a Zion finish and a departure from Las Vegas.
The legend is true: five national parks on one road trip. History and Hoodoos is all about hitting the best of the best quickly and efficiently. Log the best adventures across five national parks, take pictures of your accomplishments, post them, proceed.
This variation starts in Zion National Park by way of Las Vegas. The hikes at Zion include Angels Landing, a perennial top hike by any measure and 5.4 miles you’ll never forget.
After a dip (or extended walk) in the Virgin River that carved The Narrows, you’ll have the option to stay overnight in or near Zion or make way for Bryce Canyon via the historic Zion-Mt. Carmel Scenic Drive. Both parks offer very good reason to stay up for the pristine dark skies. During the day, tackle the Queens Garden/Navajo trail, easily one of the best 3-mile hikes around.
The All-American Highway Scenic Byway 12 fills your windshield with a splashy desert palette while you drive straight through to Capitol Reef National Park. There is a lot to see and do along the way, but you’ll have to save it for another trip. In Capitol Reef, cruise the scenic byway behind the visitor center to spot ancient petroglyphs or grab a short front country hike along S.R. 24.
Next up: Moab. To your west: Canyonlands. To your east: Arches. All around you: a landscape made for outdoor recreation. Reserve a tour of the labyrinthine Fiery Furnace, tour the 36-mile scenic drive and, yes, see the iconic Delicate Arch in person after a 1.5-mile slickrock hike (3 miles, round-trip).
Canyonlands and Dead Horse Point State Park combine for some of the finest panoramas in the west. There are mild hikes like Grand View Point and Mesa Arch (a photographer’s choice at sunrise) or more strenuous options if you have time before the return trip home. It's seven hours back to Las Vegas or four hours to Salt Lake City. (See map, below.)
Las Vegas to Zion National Park
To reach Zion, you'll follow the Zion Park Scenic Byway state Route 9 through the towns of Hurricane, LaVerkin, Virgin, Rockdale and Springdale. Zion translates to "The Promised Land," and that means for you some of the most spectacular hiking of your lifetime and impossible landscapes you will never forget. Carved by water and time beyond the stretch of the imagination, Zion National Park is a canyon that invites you to participate in the very forces that created it. Start with Emerald Pools (easy to moderate 3+ miles), iconic Angels Landing (strenuous 5.4 miles) and Riverside Walk (easy 2.2 miles). Time permitting, hike deeper into The Narrows of Zion National Park or hire a guide to experience the park's legendary canyoneering.
The campgrounds are popular so make reservations as early as possible, try for a spot at the first-come, first-served South Campground or book a room in nearby Springdale.
Zion to Bryce Canyon National Park
We call it Hoodoo Country. It sounds like "voodoo" for reasons you'll have to see to believe. It all translates into a newfound respect for Mother Nature. Bryce Canyon's view from 9,000 feet (2,743 meters) is unlike any else in the world. 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 including the must-hike Queens Garden/Navajo Loop (3.1 miles) and a 37-mile scenic drive overlooking incredible vistas.
For closest access to the park's incredible dark skies and the longest active astronomy program in the National park Service, reserve a campsite or stay at Bryce Canyon Lodge, a National Historic Landmark, typically open April through November. Look for additional lodging in nearby Bryce Canyon City.
Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park splashes color for 100 miles from its northern to southern boundaries. The central geologic feature, the Waterpocket Fold, is a bulging uplift of rainbow-hued sandstone "reefs" and canyons. Though Capitol Reef has some stunning backcountry, this quick trip stays closer the main roads. Explore rock art petroglyphs in the midst of Capitol Reef's red rocks and tell the story of the early indigenous people, the Fremont culture. Visit the large orchards of Fruita, an early pioneer settlement, and now headquarters for the park, where a variety of fruit may be picked in season. See the old Fruita Schoolhouse and enjoy a fresh-baked pie at Historic Gifford Homestead or tackle the short hikes to Hickman Bridge or Cohab Canyon.
You could camp in the park or overnight in Torrey if you've lingered longer than expected in the park, otherwise continue on to Moab.
Capitol Reef to Arches National Park
Adventure in Arches National Park picks up where 300 million years of patient erosion has resulted in unbelievably dramatic landscapes that look more sculpted by giant mythological beings than the processes of time. Arches National Park contains about 2,000 windowed arches, towering spires, harrowing hoodoos, and precarious pinnacles on display (Read: "How to Visit Arches"). A paved 36-mile scenic drive from the park entrance provides numerous parking areas for trail access and scenic overlooks. The 3-mile, round-trip hike to Delicate Arch is beautiful, with the end reward of viewing Utah's famous landmark. Or hike some of the easy short trails in the park, such as the Park Avenue Trail and trails in the Windows Section of the park, or some of the longer trails in the park, such as Double O Arch, Tower Arch, and Landscape Arch. For bigger adventure, reserve a tour through the twisting labyrinth of the intricate Fiery Furnace.
Book early to camp in the park or overnight in Moab.
Arches to Canyonlands National Park
Imagine wave after wave of deep canyons, formed by the currents and tributaries of Utah's Green and Colorado rivers, divided with towering mesas, pinnacles, cliffs and spires, and spread out over tens of thousands of acres of some of the world's most breathtaking red rock country. This itinerary focuses on the Island in the Sky, which offers the most accessible hiking options and is the closest of the park's three land districts to Moab. 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. 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. For views that rival the Grand Canyon and excellent mountain bike trails, stop at Dead Horse Point State Park.
We'll understand if you linger in the Moab area. We have whole itineraries dedicated to this corner of Utah. In that case, continue lodging in Moab or book ahead for a site at Dead Horse Point State Park or within the national parks.
It's 6.5–7 hours back to Las Vegas or you could opt for the 4.5-hour drive to Salt Lake City and see our recommendations below for extending your stay.
Welcome to Salt Lake City
Below are a few stories and ideas to introduce you to Utah's capital city and flesh out your itinerary. We're particularly partial to the video The Salt of Sound, which visits some of the city's best music venues.
First-time visitors might also include a trip to Temple Square. The spiritual center for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Temple Square offers free walking tours of the Temple grounds available in forty languages. The area also provides access to one of the most extensive collections of genealogical records in the world and frequent performances by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Oh, and here's a pro tip: As you're navigating the city (walking, bike share, taxi, Uber, Lyft, public transit or car), if you know that part of Temple Square is essentially (0,0) on the grid, each street heading north or south adds 100 and each street heading east or west adds 100. Thus, nine blocks south and nine blocks east you'll be at 900 South and 900 East, locally known as 9th and 9th. (Read about more Salt Lake City neighborhoods here.)
Dining and Drinks
So you've chosen to add some time in Salt Lake City to your trip! You'll love the extra time in Utah and the chance to get to know this vibrant destination city. Since you've covered the roughly 4.5 hours to Salt Lake from the Moab area, a whole city of dining, culture and backyard Wasatch Mountains await.
While these experiences aren't intended to occupy an itinerary day, visitors to Salt Lake could certainly spend a day exploring the best in craft coffee, cuisine and cocktails alongside a chocolate and cheese tasting or a trip to one of multiple local breweries or brewpubs.
Start your day getting to know the city's caffeinated brew scene in More Than Coffee then take a fantasy journey through a day's worth of indulgence in The Perfect Meal, a story that might help you narrow down your choices — in 2014, Wine Enthusiast Magazine named Salt Lake City one of America's 5 New Foodie Cities and things have only gotten bigger and better!
Finish things up with a distillery tour for a behind-the-scenes look at craft distillation in Utah or drop into one of downtown Salt Lake's popular cocktail bars to see these libations put to work.
Salt Lake City
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