Camping smack dab in the middle of the great outdoors? Use this five-day, budget-friendly itinerary to explore wild places around Capitol Reef National Park and the San Rafael Swell.
Start: Salt Lake City | Driving to first destination: about 3 hours
Required: High-clearance, 4WD vehicle, wayfinding skills and self-sufficiency
Extras: Plan an urban day in Salt Lake and shower days or overnights along the way
Willing to bring a sleeping bag and leave the pavement behind every once in a while? If you can handle getting your car a little dusty (oh, and have a well-maintained, high-clearance vehicle), this five- or six-day itinerary will put you smack dab in the middle of the great outdoors. And with 300 days of sunshine a year, Southern Utah offers a pretty dang good chance of perfect camping weather. And the best part? This itinerary is designed for budget-conscious travelers.
Just make sure you come prepared because some of the stops along the way are backcountry in the truest sense of the word.
We like spending a day in Salt Lake City to kick off this trip — the Natural History Museum of Utah to learn the geological ropes followed by a night out on the town. Then, start your road trip in the canyons and mountains around Capitol Reef National Park. You’ll see everything from towering monoliths and stark desert landscapes to alpine meadows and panoramic vistas. You can scramble to the top of cliffs, hike through the river in a slot canyon, or explore the many lakes of a high plateau. You’ll even find some of the most scenic and popular fishing spots in the state.
The second half of your trip unfolds around Goblin Valley and the San Rafael Swell in some of the most ruggedly beautiful terrain in the world — a jumble of incredible buttes, pinnacles, canyons and mesas. You’ll have opportunities to tackle more slot canyons, off-road to hidden arches, climb 500-foot slabs of slickrock, or just enjoy a lifetime’s worth of views from the comfort of your car.
What was originally developed as a cattle trail blazed by stockman John Atlantic Burr, the Burr Trail Scenic Backway is now one of the most picturesque drives in Utah.
Burr Trail's Singing Canyon
Of all the stops on Burr, there’s really nothing like the little slot canyon at an inconspicuous turnoff 11.5 miles down from the starting point. Some locals of Boulder, Utah, call this slot canyon on the Burr Trail, “Singing Canyon.” When you go, you know exactly why.
Capitol Reef Petroglyphs
Capitol Reef is home to towering sandstone structures and impressive canyons, but it also holds many ancient petroglyphs, which are engraved etchings into rock walls.
The Devils Garden Outstanding Natural Area is a miniature wonderland of Navajo Sandstone hoodoos, domes, narrow passages, and small arches, hidden from the view of drivers along Hole-in-the-Rock Road.
Goblin Valley State Park
Goblin Valley State Park could almost be mistaken for a martian landscape with intricate and bizarre geologic formations. Bring the family and experience this amazing place by hiking, camping, mountain biking and exploring the surrounding canyons.
The approach to Canyonlands National Park’s Gooseberry Trail is a short stroll across pock-marked slickrock dotted with various shades of desert brush and gnarled juniper. The distant La Sal Mountains peek through the atmosphere.
Like a BOSS (Boulder Outdoor Survival School)
Have a couple of weeks? Learn to survive in the wild. Hard work? Most definitely. Sign up for challenging survival education Utah's great outdoors.