5 Utah National Parks in 5 Days

Apr 12, 2017
By: Chad Taylor & Jake Wilhelmsen

They’re so tightly packed you could sleep till noon and still drive through all Utah’s national parks before sunset.

(You could, but you shouldn’t. That’d be like sprinting through the Louvre.)

Here’s a more reasonable itinerary to get you from Salt Lake to (/through) each park and back again in five days. Along the way, there’s about two months’ worth of things that need seeing, food that needs eating and places that need staying, but here’s a rundown of the highlights for those of us who don’t have that kind of time.

Day One: Salt Lake → Zion

308 miles (4:25)1. Take I-15 south to Toquerville (280 miles)2. Take exit 27 for UT-17 toward Toquerville/Hurricane3. Turn left onto UT-17 S (6.1 miles)4. Turn left onto UT-9 E (20.2 miles) toward Springdale until you reach the park entrance.

Zion - Canyon Overlook

Must-stops along the way

Rowley’s Red Barn in Santaquin: fresh produce (the apples and cherries are magnificent) and ice cream (try Brownies on the Moon).

Beaver: The best tasting water in the United States (according to the National Rural Water Association's Great American Water Taste Test), fresh cheese curds and a service station that has both a Dairy Queen and one of the largest rocking chairs you’ll ever see.

Kolob Canyon: Less crowded section of Zion National Park with great hikes and spectacular views.

If you only have time for one thing at the park

Canyon Overlook: Drive through the park and its famous tunnel to the east side. Just after the tunnel you’ll find a parking lot and the trailhead. Short but sweet, with a view.

Recommended hotel

Quality Inn Springdale at Zion Park: Located right on Zion Park Blvd. within walking distance of shops and restaurants. Comfy rooms, swimming pool and free breakfast.

Day Two: Zion → Bryce

84 miles (1:47)1. Take UT-9 east through the park to US-89 (24.4 miles)2. Turn left onto US-89 North (43.1 miles)3. Turn right onto UT-12 East (13.6 miles)4. Turn right onto UT-63 South and follow it to the park entrance (2.7 miles).

Bryce Canyon - Navajo Loop

Must-stops along the way

Mount Carmel Junction: Grab a slice of Ho-made pie (that’s their spelling, not ours) at Thunderbird Restaurant. Try the strawberry rhubarb.

Orderville Mine Rock Shop: Right off US-89 in Orderville. Great selection of indigenous minerals, stones and gems.

Red Canyon: Get out, stretch your legs and explore the pre-Bryce hoodoos.

If you only have time for one thing at the park

Navajo Loop: One of the most iconic hikes in Bryce. Five trails for one. Bring a park map and get un-irretrievably lost.

Recommended hotel

Rodeway Inn Bryce Canyon: Just off US-89, a short drive to the park entrance. Great rooms with even greater amenities.

Day Three: Bryce → Capitol Reef

116 miles (2:26)1. Head north on UT-63 (2.6 miles)2. Turn right onto UT-12 East (110 miles)3. Turn right onto UT-24 East (3.7 miles) until you reach the park entrance

Capitol Reef - Cassidy Arch

Must-stops along the way

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park: Petrified wood, petrified dinosaur bones, ammonite and shell fossils.

Calf Creek Falls: Gorgeous and refreshing hike. Six miles to the lower falls, another two to the upper falls.

If you only have time for one thing at the park

Cassidy Arch: Come for the towering arch, stay for the bricks of buried outlaw gold. (Just kidding.) (Or are we?!) (No but seriously, don’t go digging around the arch or you’ll go to prison.) A moderately difficult 3.4-mile hike.

Recommended hotel

Rodeway Inn Capitol Reef: Located just outside Torrey. Awesome pool to wash off the hiking dust and it’s pet friendly.

Day Four: Capitol Reef → Canyonlands (Island in the Sky)

144 miles (2:16)1. Head east on UT-24 E (28.3 miles)2. Turn left to stay on UT-24 E (43.3 miles)3. Merge onto I-70 E (32.2 miles)4. Take exit 182 for US-191 S5. Turn right onto US-191 S (20.4 miles)6. Turn right onto UT-313 W (14.6 miles)7. Continue straight onto Grand View Point Rd/Island in the Sky Rd (4.5 miles)

Canyonlands - Mesa Arch

Must-stops along the way

Goblin Valley: An otherworldly playground of hoodoos. Worth the short 12-mile detour off UT-24.

Ray’s Tavern: Green River’s signature burger joint.

If you only have time for one thing at the park

Mesa Arch: Early morning grandeur for sleepy, happy photo geeks. Only a half-mile to Instagram glory.

Recommended hotel

Comfort Suites: Located right on Main St. with a free hot breakfast. Super-close to both of Moab’s national parks.

Day Five: Canyonlands → Arches

26 miles (:30)1. Head north on Grand View Point Rd/Island in the Sky Rd (4.5 miles)2. Continue on 313-E (14.6 miles)3. Turn right on US-191 S (6.5 miles)4. Turn left onto Arches Entrance Rd (0.6 miles)

Arches - Landscape Arch

Must stops along the way

Dead Horse Point: Did a horse really die there? Find out at the visitor center, then take some sweet pics.

Love Muffin Cafe: Paninis, burritos and homemade muffins right on the main drag in Moab.

If you only have time for one thing at the park

Landscape Arch: More delicate than Delicate Arch and is the longest arch on the continent.

Recommended hotel

Sleep Inn: Located on the south end of town. Great rates, comfy beds, a pool and free breakfast.

Phew...now just complete the loop back to Salt Lake with a 3.5-hour drive. If you can stand to drag yourself away from Moab, that is…

Arches → Salt Lake City

229 miles (3:37)1. Take US-191 north to Crescent Junction (26.9 miles)2. Turn left to merge onto I-70 W3. Take I-70 W to exit 157 in Green River (23.8 miles)4. Take US-6 W to Spanish Fork (126.9 miles)5. Merge onto I-15 N and follow it to Salt Lake City (49.7)

Wherever your Utah exploration takes you, with Choice Hotels you have plenty of… uhh… choices for lodging. Plan your sleeps.


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