The Best Week of Your Life
The approach to Moab from Highway 191 becomes gradually — then rapidly — visually dramatic. This is red rock country. Each new road reveals new natural phenomena: the distant monoliths of Monument Valley, the rising walls of Capitol Reef, the hoodoos of Red Canyon or the sudden appearance of Zion’s deep canyon from high on the east rim. A week long road trip through Utah's national parks is the best way to stop and take it all in. Enjoy each moment of rest. There’s so much more yet to see.
What makes up The Best Week of Your Life? Let’s run the numbers for this one: five national parks, two national monuments, five scenic drives including one All-American Road, two national forests and up to six state parks, including the photogenic Dead Horse Point and Kodachrome Basin.
From the starting point in Moab you’ll explore Arches and Canyonlands national parks before a journey through prehistory south to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. You’ll have the option to see Natural Bridges National Monument or save extra time for the Land of the Sleeping Rainbow: Capitol Reef National Park.
Then, things get really, really interesting. It’s Utah’s All-American Road Scenic Byway 12 from Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon. More than 100 miles of unique landscapes over Boulder Mountain through Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument and up the high plateau to the amphitheaters of Bryce Canyon.
The journey ends in the desert southwest of Utah, where the slickrock plateau meets the Mojave Desert and the Virgin River continues to create a landscape of fascinating adventure in Zion National Park.
- Arches Scenic Drive
- Fiery Furnace
- Delicate Arch Hike
Linger for breakfast or brunch in Utah's vibrant capital city or get right to this adventure through The Mighty 5® national parks. 300 million years of erosion carved unbelievably dramatic landscapes that look like they were sculpted by giant mythological beings rather than the processes of time. Arches 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 36-mile scenic drive from the park entrance provides numerous parking areas for trail access and scenic overlooks. Overnight in Devils Garden Campground or 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.
This incredibly demanding hike is best experienced with a ranger. In fact, you can’t even enter the trail without reserving tickets in advance. This labyrinth of sun-baked ledges, canyons and sandstone outgrowths will challenge your agility and resolve, and more than earn you an extra helping at dinner afterward.
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.
- Mesa Arch
- Grand View Point
- Filmed in Utah: Dead Horse 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. Though Canyonlands National Park is made up of three distinct land districts, today focuses on the photogenic Island in the Sky and neighboring Dead Horse Point State Park. Camp in the parks or return to Moab.
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.
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.
- Newspaper Rock
- Goulding's Lodge
- Monument Valley Jeep Tour
The large petroglyph panel of Newspaper Rock is on the scenic road to the the Needles District of Canyonlands. It’s worth an early start to sneak in a hike here, but be warned: You may not want to leave so soon. Except what awaits is Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, an iconic symbol of the American West and the sacred heart of the Navajo Nation. The rugged landscapes are infused with ancestral spirits, yet they are hauntingly familiar thanks to Hollywood's long love affair with this land. Tour Edge of the Cedars State Park and Bluff Fort along the way. Overnight in Monument Valley.
Native American Indians have been engraving and drawing on Newspaper Rock for more than 2,000 years. Their markings tell stories, hunting patterns, crop cycles, and the mythologies of their lives. It’s a great stop on its own or as part of the Indian Creek Scenic Byway to the Needles District of Canyonlands.
Goulding’s features a lodge, campground, stores, a restaurant and a museum. It’s one part adventure base camp and one part fascinating destination. The large gift shop specializing in Navajo art, jewelry and pottery and there is a small, on-site movie theater, that plays historical features and classic Westerns nightly.
Book a tour of Valley Drive (which you can also drive on your own if you have the right vehicle) or a longer trek such as Mystery Valley, accessible only with a licensed guide. A Jeep tour visits the iconic sites, but is accompanied by a Navajo narrative.
- Natural Bridges National Monument
- Gifford Homestead
- Hickman Bridge + Navajo Knobs
Head north on S.R. 261 up the switchbacks of the Moki Dugway (restrictions on trailers or large RVs) and across Cedar Mesa for a stop at Natural Bridges National Monument, time permitting. Even if you only stop at the scenic overlooks, the three massive bridges are a wonder to behold. Next up, 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 the large fruit orchards of Fruita, an early pioneer settlement. There are miles of unique trails in the front country along S.R. 24 and the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive. With a high-clearance vehicle and a permit, you can explore the backcountry. Overnight in Torrey.
The amazing force of water has cut three spectacular natural bridges in White Canyon. Choose from the 9-mile scenic drive with overlooks to the bridges or moderate to difficult trails, some with metal stairs leading down to each bridge. A longer trail follows the stream bed beneath all three.
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.
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 (one-way), respectively, for an elevated 360º panoramic view of Capitol Reef’s tilted landscapes.
- The All-American Road Scenic Byway 12
- Lower Calf Creek Falls
- Dark Skies of Bryce Canyon
On the All-American Road: Scenic Byway 12, travel over the high-alpine Boulder Mountain and traverse the Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument. Introduce yourself to the unique communities of adventurous and welcoming folks who call it home. Uncover a sense of prehistory that strengthens the fabric of this memorable road trip. While the destination of this itinerary is Bryce Canyon, to drive straight through would miss must-see outdoor experiences like Calf Creek Falls and Kodachrome Basin State Park, dining destinations like Kiva Koffeehouse, Hell's Backbone Grill and the Burr Trail Outpost, and geologic history and heritage hotspots like Anasazi State Park Museum and Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. In short, if you can, slow down today — even give yourself an extra day or more. And for the best lodging or campsites, book well in advance.
Discover two national parks, the vast Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and the tranquil beauty of Boulder Mountain along with national forest lands and state parks unlike anywhere else. While you can complete the whole drive on one scenic three-hour tour, even a four-day itinerary only cracks the surface.
At the lower falls of Calf Creek, a clear stream descends 126 feet into a pool, where happy folks take a swim after a 3-mile hike that is relatively flat, but frequently very sandy. It’s 6 miles total, and a great introduction to the Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument.
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
- Queens Garden to Navajo Trail
- Zion-Mt. Carmel Drive and Hikes
- Emerald Pools Trail
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 and hiking trails and a 37-mile scenic drive overlooking incredible vistas (with a summer shuttle option to avoid driving in traffic). Historic Bryce Canyon Lodge’s location within the park means great access to the sites, hikes and starry skies of the park. Overnight in the lodge or Bryce Canyon City.
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.
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.
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.
- Observation Point
- Orderville Canyon
- Kolob Canyons
Zion translates to "The Promised Land." For you that means some of the most spectacular hiking of your lifetime and impossibly beautiful landscapes you will never forget. Carved by water and time beyond the stretch of the imagination, Zion National Park is a sanctuary of the highest natural order. While many visitors opt for the popular Angels Landing or Riverside Walk/Gateway to the Narrows, hikers looking for a little less traffic will seek out Hidden Canyon, the longer and more strenuous Observation Point, or even a visit to the Kolob Canyons section of the park. If you're looking for a little more adventure, consider hiring a local outfitter and guide well in advance and plan for an unforgettable canyoneering experience in the moderately technical Orderville Canyon.
This trail offers a long and steep climb from the floor of Zion Canyon to the rimrock that soars high above it. Observation Point itself is perched high above Zion Canyon and is the most accessible of the rimrock overlooks that line the canyon wall. This hike is 8 miles round-trip.
Canyoneers love this technical day hike through a desert slot canyon that takes you into the heart of Zion. Often called The Narrow’s little sister, Orderville Canyon is just as beautiful, but with an additional technical aspect. It’s one of the easiest technical canyons in the Zion area, but it still demands respect. Photo courtesy Chris M Morris.
The Kolob Fingers Road Scenic Byway (5 miles one way) in the northwestern corner of Zion National Park accesses the dramatic desert landscape associated with the main section of the park: towering colored cliffs, narrow winding canyons, forested plateaus and great trails, but fewer visitors.