Last Updated on January 15, 2024 by Kelly
The American southwest is the perfect destination for a long road trip. You’ll find canyons, arches, waterfalls, and unique rock formations. We recently completed an epic 3-week road trip to Utah and Arizona. We drove 3,590 miles and spent over 50 hours on the road. In this post, we’re sharing our complete itinerary for Utah and Arizona!
The trip was everything we hoped for more and more. During our trip, we visited 5 national parks. Some of our favorite experiences were actually off the beaten path, like our excursion to a remote slot canyon and our hike to a desert waterfall. We even walked backwards in time and found the best pie of our lives. We hope you will feel inspired to plan an epic road trip of your own through the American Southwest!
3 Week Itinerary for Utah and Arizona
Before we share our impressions of each destination, what we would have changed about our road trip, and our essential travel tips, here’s an overview of our itinerary. (Keep in mind we were traveling with a toddler so we took it slow. You might be able to combine driving days!)
|Drive Time Estimate
|Salt Lake City, Utah
|Canyonlands National Park
|Arches National Park
|Moab Giants/Arches National Park
|Zion National Park
|Zion National Park
|Zion National Park
|Peekaboo Canyon (en route)
|Horseshoe Bend (en route)
|Bryce City, Utah
|Bryce City, Utah
|Salt Lake City, Utah
Canyonlands National Park
Once we reached Utah, we made the city of Moab our home base for several nights. Moab is conveniently located by both Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park, so it’s an ideal place to stay during a road trip to Utah. (And since we were traveling with our toddler, staying in the same hotel for both parks kept us from having to pack everything up multiple times.) From Moab, it was approximately a 35 minute drive to Canyonlands National Park and a 9 minute drive to Arches National Park.
We planned on spending one day at Canyonlands National Park. We woke up early to beat the crowds and the heat. It was Memorial Day Weekend, so we expected it to be very busy. We arrived to the park around 8am and we were able to breeze through the entrance gate. By the time we were leaving in the early afternoon, the entrance line stretched for miles! Our biggest tip is to just make yourself get there early. No one wants to spend their vacation sitting in their car for half the day!
Canyonlands is actually much bigger than Arches, so there is a lot to see! There are several distinct districts, and we chose to visit the most popular: Island in the Sky. Most of the major attractions are located closely together, so it made it an ideal place to visit for a one-day visit.
We thought the hike to Mesa Arch was beautiful. This was the first arch we had ever seen in person, so we were already impressed, but the view behind the arch was equally spectacular. Mesa Arch made the perfect window frame to see the canyon below and the La Sal mountains in the distance.
We also really enjoyed the Green River Overlook, which we weren’t really expecting. We hadn’t seen too many travel blogs mention this viewpoint, but the view was incredible. It was one of the most expansive views we have seen, and it was super cool being able to see the river and canyon from above. This was also a very easy scenic point to reach, as the walk was only 1/10th of a mile long.
Arches National Park
We spent the next day at Arches National Park. Our neighbor’s alarm woke us up at 4am, so we decided to get up too because we knew Arches was going to be busy.
We drove in the dark and arrived to the Delicate Arch parking lot by 6am. The lot was full by 6:20am. We couldn’t believe it! Thankfully we secured a parking space in time. We recommend that you also go to the park early, especially if you are visiting during peak season. The park was so busy that it was closed to visitors for several hours each day. You can speak with a park ranger or your hotel front desk staff to see what time you should plan on arriving to beat the crowds.
The hike up to Delicate Arch was a dream. We got to watch the sunrise over the rocks and it was totally worth the early wake-up time.
There was a very long line to take photos by the arch, even though we arrived early. We decided it wasn’t worth it to us to wait for an hour to take a photo.
We also really enjoyed Balanced Rock. Balanced Rock is 128 feet tall and you can see it easily from the road. There’s a small trail that loops around it, and the parking lot had lots of open spaces when we went.
If you have children in your group, you’ll definitely want to add a stop at Moab Giants. It’s located on the way to Canyonlands from Moab, so it’s conveniently on the way to the park. You might not know this, but Utah is famous for its dinosaur discoveries. The Moab Giants is an attraction that covers all things dinosaurs. There’s a museum, a virtual aquarium, a dinosaur walk, a 3D theater, and more!
For our toddler, this was probably one of the highlights of our entire trip! She loved “digging for fossils” and seeing the life-like dinosaurs along the trail.
Zion National Park
This is the park that started the whole road trip for me. I have always wanted to visit Zion National Park, so we booked our stay there first and then built our road trip to Utah around our time in Zion. We planned for three days at the park which I think was the perfect amount of time to spend there.
One of our favorite trails was the Pa’rus Trail. You don’t need to use the park shuttle to access it, as the entrance is located right by the Visitor Center. The trail went directly through the canyon and along a stream.
The Lower Emerald Pool was also a very cool hike. It’s not often that you can say that you hiked behind a waterfall!
We also completed the Riverside Walk, which is the gateway to the famous Narrows hike. Even though it was a hot day, it was nice and cool following the river through the canyon.
Because we were traveling with our toddler, we didn’t complete the famous Angel’s Landing or The Narrows hikes. It’s always good to have a reason to go back!
On our way from Zion to Page, Arizona, we stopped in Kanab for one of our favorite decisions from the trip: An excursion to Peekaboo Canyon with Dreamland Safari Tours! Peekaboo Canyon is a slot canyon that is only accessible by driving through deep sand. (Or hiking I suppose, although I would not recommend it unless you are familiar with the area because the sand trails can be difficult to navigate!)
The canyon was much less crowded than some of the more well-known slot canyons (like Antelope Canyon), and we could explore it at our own pace.
Our guide offered to take lots of photos of us, which was a nice treat since there is usually one of us behind the lens.
If you are going to be anywhere near Kanab, we highly recommend that you reach out to Dreamland Safari Tours to visit this gem!
After visiting Peekaboo Canyon, we stayed the night in Page, Arizona. If you have time, check out Antelope Canyon or Lake Powell. (Both of which are located near Page.) We visited another popular landmark near Page: Horseshoe Bend.
This was easily one of my favorite scenic views of the entire trip!
Tip: When traveling from Utah to Arizona, please be aware that Arizona does not practice daylight savings time. Any reservations or sunset times will shift when you cross state lines.
Grand Canyon National Park
We planned to spend two full days at Grand Canyon National Park, but because of car trouble, we really only had one day there. That was okay, though, because we saw so many things in just one day!
One of the main highlights for us was walking the Rim Trail. The park shuttle has nine different stops along the route, and we enjoyed hopping off the shuttle to see a new viewpoint. (Or walking the trail between viewpoints!) We were able to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time, plus we were able to see the canyon and its features from multiple angles.
In the late afternoon we completed the Trail of Time, which was one of the most unique trails we have ever been on! The entire trail is along the canyon rim, so you have stunning views of the Grand Canyon every step of the way. The cool thing about this trail, though, is that it takes you “back in time” as you walk along it. Each meter represents one million years of geological history, and there are bronze markers along the trail telling you how far back in time you have gone. It really helped us to wrap our heads around how long it took for the Grand Canyon to be formed!
Bryce Canyon National Park
My husband’s favorite park of the entire trip was Bryce Canyon National Park. Nothing can prepare you for your first look at the canyon – your breath will be taken from you when you first see it! Tourists are drawn to Bryce Canyon to see the hoodoos, which are tall columns of weathered rocks. The entire canyon is filled with them! Bryce Canyon actually has the largest concentration of hoodoos in the entire world.
We recommend that you walk along the Rim Trail from Sunrise Point to Sunset Point. If you have some time and want to walk through the Hoodoos, we recommend you complete either the Queens Garden Trail or the Navajo Loop Trail.
We also highly recommend that you make time for the Mossy Cave Trail. The entire trail is less than a mile long (so it’s an easy one to complete), and you’ll be rewarded with hoodoos, a stream, a waterfall, a turret arch, two bridges, and a grotto.
And definitely stop by Bryce Canyon Pines for the best pie of your life. (Seriously try the banana blueberry cream pie!) It was the best way to complete our road trip to Utah!
What We Would Do Differently On Our Road Trip to Utah and Arizona
- We would include Capitol Reef National Park. Seriously why didn’t we do that? We completed 4 of the “Mighty 5” parks, so we definitely have to go back! We had planned to stop by on one of our travel days, but we were scheduled to drive over 5 hours that day and just did not have time with our toddler’s schedule. Next time!
- We would add in a couple of extra rest days just in case we needed to use them to see the national parks. We had an unexpected car problem that took one day away from the Grand Canyon, and we had an injury that took a day away from Arches. More than anything, we are grateful for what we got to see no matter what, but it would have been easier for us if we had a bit more downtime scheduled into our trip.
- Even though we “traveled slow” and broke up the drive time, in hindsight we wish we would have broken it down even further.
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Our Essential Tips for a Road Trip to Utah and Arizona
- Pack a cooler: Bring a cooler and have a lot of extra water in your car. If your car breaks down or if you are stranded, you’ll be stuck in the heat. We loved using our Yeti cooler because it kept food and beverages cold for several days without the need to constantly re-stock on ice.
- Buy a pass: If you’re visiting more than one national park, you should consider buying an America the Beautiful annual parks pass. You’ll save money instead of paying for separate entrance fees.
- Build in some free days: Build in an extra day or two into your schedule for rest. (You might need to use that extra day for any unforeseen issues!)
- Keep a full tank of gas: Make sure you are starting your day with a full tank of gas. There are some stretches of highway where there are no services for at least 100 miles.
- Plan out your meals: Research the best restaurants ahead of time! Eating out is one of our favorite parts of travel, so we like to make each meal count. We wrote specific posts about where to eat in Moab and Springdale. It’s helpful to make reservations in advance for some restaurants, especially during peak season.
- Time zone changes: Be aware of the time change when you drive between Utah and Arizona.
Summary: Planning a Road Trip to Utah and Arizona
We were so grateful for the opportunity to take a road trip through Utah and Arizona. Although we spent 3 weeks traveling through both states, we feel like we barely scratched the surface. We would love to return to spend more time in Utah and Arizona. We hope this post was helpful as you plan your own road trip!
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