Plan An Epic 7 Day Southern Utah Road Trip
Updated October 2022, Plan An Epic 7 Day Southern Utah Road Trip was originally published in November 2020
After several trips, I can honestly say that taking a Utah road trip to hit up its national and state parks is the best way to explore the state. Despite not having blogged hardly at all about Utah on here, I’ve actually spent quite a bit of time there. My parents lived in the little town of Hurricane for a few years before they moved back to Alaska.
A 7 day Southern Utah road trip is not enough time to really dig into all the highlights and hidden gems that Utah’s south has to offer, but if that’s all the time you have, you can make it work. So, after numerous visits to Utah and beyond in the desert southwest, here is an epic 7 day southern Utah road trip itinerary that hits all 5 of Utah’s national parks to help you plan your own visit.
Have a bit more time? Check out the two week American Southwest road trip itinerary
7 Day Southern Utah Road Trip Itinerary
Day 1: Salt Lake to Moab
Distance: 235 miles
Drive Time: 4 hours
Kick-off day one of your 7 day Utah national parks road trip from SLC! If you haven’t already, pick up your rental car and begin the journey south to Moab. Drive time today should be about roughly 4 hours.
Alternatively, some of you may want to do this road trip as a loop that starts and ends in Vegas. If that’s the case, plan for a 7 hour drive today from Vegas to Moab.
Dead Horse Point
Since the drive will only talk half a day, I recommend using the afternoon to explore Dead Horse Point State Park. Dead Horse Point harbors numerous stunning viewpoints and even a couple of hiking trails. If you’re a night sky junkie, try to stay into the evening for epic stargazing (the park stays open until 10 pm).
There is a campground at Dead Horse Point that offers both RV and tent camping, or you can rent a yurt for the night. If you’re not planning to camp on the road trip, head back to Moab for the evening.
When I visited this area a few years back all the campgrounds were fully booked (Labor Day weekend), so we booked a room in advance at the Apache Motel, though there are plenty of other highly rated accommodations in Moab.
Day 2-3: Arches National Park & Canyonlands National Park
Distance: 125 miles
Drive Time: 3 hours
On days two and three of your southern Utah road trip, take your time to explore Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. Both parks are located near Moab, making Moab a perfect base for further exploring into the parks, though there are campsites available at both national parks.
Arches National Park
In the early morning, I recommend making way to Arches National Park and purchase an ‘America the Beautiful Pass‘ for $80 that will give you entrance to all of Utah’s 5 national parks (as well as many other national parks and monuments throughout the United States, for one year). Arches is home to the famed Delicate Arch that adorns the Utah license plate.
There are numerous rock formations and arches to see within Arches National Park, including countless trails and viewpoints. In addition to the Delicate Arch, I recommend visiting the Double Arch, Balanced Rock, hitting the Windows Trail, Sand Dune Arch, and Skyline Arch.
Canyonlands is comprised of three areas, Islands in the Sky, the Needles, and The Maze. Each of these areas is worthy of a day each on their own, but due to the time restraints of only one day, I’d recommend only trying to explore the Islands in the Sky.
Unfortunately, after having done all this research prior to my visit to the Moab area, I never actually was able to visit Canyonlands. After spending a day hiking around in Arches National Park, our plan was to move onto Canyonlands for a couple of days, but heavy rains hit for those two days causing flash flooding and forcing us to change our itinerary.
There was a flash flood on my way to Moab the day prior to entering Arches, and after hiking to the Delicate Arch there was a raging river blocking the road to the Delicate Arch Parking lot after we finished our hike, grounding us for a bit of time, so these clearly are no joke.
Since I was unable to visit Canyonlands National Park as I had intended, please head over to my friend Valerie’s guide to visiting Canyonlands and Arches on her blog, Valerie & Valise.
There are campgrounds in both Arches and Canyonlands, but I do recommend booking them well in advance. If you aren’t camping, you can of course stay back in Moab for both of these nights.
Day 4: Moab To Escalante Via Goblin Valley & Capitol Reef
Distance: 245 miles
Drive Time: 4 hours 45 minutes
Day three of your 7 day Utah national parks road trip is a longer one, taking you from Moab to Escalante, so plan to get an early start. Your first stop is Goblin Valley State Park, about 100 miles away from Moab.
While you could dedicate an entire day to Goblin Valley, you can easily visit the park in 1-2 hours. From the main parking lot and viewpoint, you can hike down to the hoodoo rock stacks, meandering between the beguiling and strange rust-orange rock formations.
Check out my quick guide to Goblin Valley State Park to plan your visit. Entrance to the state park is $15 per vehicle. There are a campground and yurts for rent at Goblin Valley, for those with more time that opt to break up the journey and spend the night here.
Continuing along Highway 24 from Goblin Valley you’ll pass through Capitol Reed National Park, about 75 miles away.
Once to Capitol Reef, I recommend taking a bit of time to check out scenic viewpoints along this stretch of road. If you want to avoid the national park fee, you can just drive Highway 24, make the hike to Hickman Bridge, visit Panorama and Sunset Viewpoints, and stop to view some petroglyphs.
I do recommend taking Scenic Drive south through the national park down to Highway 12, which brings you to Grand Staircase Escalate, stopping for various viewpoints along the way.
Check out this post by What do you Sea on how to spend a day at Capitol Reef National Park to help you plan out some of your adventures in the park.
Grand Staircase Escalante
Your endpoint tonight is Escalante, which is a short drive away from Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. There is no entry fee to Grand Staircase Escalante, so I recommend spending your remaining hours of the day exploring the area.
There are two BLM campgrounds within Grand Staircase, Calf Creek and Deer Creek, which are both conveniently located right off of Highway 12. If you plan to stay in Escalante, the Prospector Inn (shop booking.com and agoda.com) is recommended for budget travelers, and the Escalante Yurts are top-rated (check rates on booking.com and hotels.com).
Day 5: Explore Bryce Canyon
Distance: 50 miles
Drive Time: 1 hour
Get an early rise and make the one hour drive to Bryce Canyon National Park. Of course, Bryce Canyon needs more than one day for thorough exploration, but if you’re on limited time, it’s entirely possible to hit the highlights in Bryce Canyon National Park in one day.
Highlights at Bryce include Sunset Point, Sunrise Point, Inspiration Point, Bryce Point, Rainbow Point, and the Natural Bridge. Great day hikes to try in Bryce Canyon are the Navajo Loop, Queen’s Garden, and the Bryce to Inspiration Point Rim Hike.
There are two campgrounds available at Bryce Canyon but do book early. If you’re looking for a hotel near the entrance check out the Bryce View Lodge (check prices on booking.com and hotels.com) for those on a mid-range budget, and the Bryce Canyon Grand Best Western (see rates on booking.com and hotels.com) for those looking to splurge a bit.
Day 6: Zion National Park
Distance: 75 miles
Drive Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Get another early start to make the drive down to Zion National Park. Much like all of Utah’s other 5 national parks, one day in Zion doesn’t do it justice, but it’s not impossible to see the best of the park in only one day.
With only one day in Zion I’d recommend visiting Canyon Overlook, Checkerboard Mesa, Kolob Canyon, Canyon Junction Bridge, and cruise the Zion-Caramel Highway.
I definitely would try to squeeze in at least one day hike on your day in Zion too, good short options are Emerald Pools, Weeping Rock, Canyon Overlook, Watchman Trail, Riverside Walk, and Hidden Canyon.
If you have more time for Zion or just want a full-day adventure, try the Narrows, Angel’s Landing, Observation Point, or the West Rim Trail.
For a nice Zion day trip itinerary check out Valerie’s post, How to Make the Most of One Day in Zion National Park. She also includes info about the free shuttles that operate and how to use them, as you cannot self-drive in Zion during peak months (March to September). I’ve been to Zion numerous times, but I’ve only gone in the off-season!
Day 7: Zion To Las Vegas
Distance: 165 miles
Drive Time: 2 hours 45 minutes
To wrap up your 7 day southern Utah road trip, you’ll wave goodbye to Utah, driving through the northwest corner of Arizona before crossing into Nevada and finishing up in Vegas.
If time allows, just past the town of Moapa, Nevada, take the Valley of Fire exit off of Interstate 15 to explore Valley of Fire State Park.
If you have a bit more time to explore in and around Vegas and don’t want to spend it on the strip, check out my post, 5 things to do in Vegas off the Las Vegas Strip. Want to tack on a little Arizona to your trip? Don’t miss the Grand Canyon North Rim.
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