History & Hoodoos
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.)
- Emerald Pools Trail
- Angels Landing
- Gateway to the Narrows
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.
Outside of Angels Landing, it doesn't get much more classic than the Emerald Pools. There are three Emerald Pools — Upper, Middle and Lower — and visitors may choose from as many trails. For families with young children, stick to the 1.2-mile round-trip loop to the Lower Pool.
This classic Utah trail provides a spectacular half-day trip for well-conditioned hikers who have no fear of heights. A series of 21 switchbacks ascend to aerial views of Scout Lookout. Stop here or take on the final hair-raising pitch to the top of Angels Landing. 5.4 miles, round-trip.
Before the Narrows, there’s the gateway to the Narrows on the Riverside Walk. You’ll enjoy glimpses at the Temple of Sinawava as you stroll the wheelchair accessible, paved trail along the Virgin River. Travelers from around the world gather to splash in the waters at the mouth of Zion’s Narrows.
- Zion-Mt. Carmel Drive and Hikes
- Queens Garden to Navajo Trail
- Dark Skies of Bryce Canyon
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.
The Zion-Mount Carmel stretch of S.R. 9 mixes one part stunning scenic byway and one part feat of engineering. The great state of Utah doesn’t want to brag, but this is one of the most spectacular dives in the world, plain and simple. Zion National Park fees apply.
This must-hike trail descends from the rim at Sunrise Point down to the floor of Bryce Canyon past Gulliver’s Castle and Queen Elizabeth herself. Close the loop on Navajo and visit favorite hoodoo formations such as Wall Street and Twin Bridges. One of the best 3-mile hikes anywhere.
As an accredited International Dark Sky Park, Bryce Canyon is the ultimate place to experience the splendor of the night sky. Protected by a special force of park rangers and volunteer Utah astronomy enthusiasts, Bryce Canyon is known as the last grand sanctuary of natural darkness and has one of the nation's oldest astronomy programs.
Photo: Prajit Ravindran
- Gifford Homestead
- Fruita and U-Pick Orchards
- Hickman Bridge + Navajo Knobs
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.
Take a walk back in time and learn about Capitol Reef’s early pioneer life at the Gifford Homestead Museum and store. Don’t forget to treat yourself to a freshly-baked piece of pie — your taste buds will thank you. Open March through November.
In the spring, the blooming historic orchards of Capitol Reef splash mesmerizing colors against the sandstone backdrops. Come harvest, happy visitors wander unlocked orchards and sample ripe fruit in season. There’s a self-pay and bagging station to carry out ripe fruit for a nominal fee.
These front country hikes in Capitol Reef National Park lead to amazing rock formations and panoramic views of Southeastern Utah. Hickman Bridge is a short out-and-back (about 2 miles). The Rim Overlook and/or Navajo Knobs add 2.3 and 4.7 miles, respectively, for an elevated view of Capitol Reef’s tilted landscapes.
- Arches Scenic Drive
- Delicate Arch Hike
- Fiery Furnace
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. 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.
The 36-mile round-trip Arches Scenic Drive can take about 2.5 hours. Be sure to visit the Windows Section, which contains some of the area's largest arches. In a half day, you can drive all the paved roads and spend a few quality minutes at each inspiring viewpoint.
When you come around the corner and see the full breadth of Delicate Arch, you’ll know why this is such a classic hike. At 3 miles round-trip, the hike is no simple stroll, but it’s worth every step. Carry water, hike early to race the sunrise, or stay late for the sunset. Be sure to bring a headlamp.
Reserve a tour through the Fiery Furnace. This twisting labyrinth of brilliant red rock fissures and spines is so intricate it is highly recommended to find your way through with a guide. With a permit from the visitor center, experienced explorers can enter without a guide.
- Dead Horse Point State Park
- Mesa Arch
- Grand View Point
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.
Many visitors find Dead Horse Point State Park to be even more captivating than the views at the Grand Canyon. A visitor center and art gallery provide a wonderful introduction to the park’s geology and key features visible from the overlooks. There are also mountain biking trails and reservable yurts.
This is a perfect trail for newbies to slickrock desert hiking, and one of Canyonlands National Park's most iconic and photogenic vistas. It’s easy and short, and a detailed display at the trailhead explains how to hike the trail. The payoff is huge, especially at sunrise.
Simply spectacular. Like Mesa Arch, Grand View Point is a short, rewarding hike with excellent interpretive signage. Grand View Point’s vantage is over the distant confluence of the Colorado and Green rivers. It’s perfectly clear from here why it’s called Canyonlands.
- Shaping Temple Square
- Musical Tour of SLC
- An Afternoon at the Natural History Museum
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.)
Temple Square in Salt Lake City is Utah's most popular tourist attraction. The 35-acre area contains more than 15 attractions related to Mormon heritage and beliefs. Whether it’s the rich history, the gorgeous gardens and architecture, or the vivid culture, you’ll be sure to have an unforgettable experience.
Follow "Bad" Brad Wheeler in the video The Salt of Sound where he tours some of his favorite music venues in downtown Salt Lake City, and plays some blues along the way.
Spanning five floors and tucked along the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains, the museum is adjacent to Red Butte Garden, the Intermountain West’s largest botanical garden and part of the University of Utah campus. Follow the author on an afternoon at the Natural History Museum of Utah.
- The Caffeinators of Salt Lake
- The Perfect Meal
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
Follow author and former barista Austin Wright as he explores the emergent coffee scene along the path of some of its most dedicated baristas.
Wine Enthusiast Magazine recently named Salt Lake City one of America's 5 New Foodie Cities. Settle in for comfort food at historic dives or get gussied up for multi-course wine-pairing dinners over white tablecloth. Relax with award-winning beers or be amazed with cutting-edge modern gastronomic fare.
The business and craft of distilling is booming in the Beehive state. Visitors can experience a growing variety of unique spirits from local fruit brandies to “Valley Tan” whiskey made using best guesses of historic pioneer-era recipes. There’s a diverse and ever-growing spectrum of spirits to suit any palate.