Last Updated on February 27, 2022 by admin
The American southwest is the perfect destination for a long road trip. You’ll find canyons, arches, waterfalls, and unique rock formations. After our trip to Europe was canceled due to covid, we decided to embark on an epic 3-week road trip to Utah and Arizona. We drove 3,590 miles and spent over 50 hours on the road. 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 found ourselves driving through deep sand one day, and watching the sunrise in the desert the next. We even walked backwards in time and found the best pie of our lives. There were some challenges too, like an unexpected heat wave that practically left us trapped in our hotel and a broken car tire at the Grand Canyon. But through it all, we made memories as a family that we will treasure for the rest of our lives.
In this post, we’re sharing our complete 3-week road trip itinerary with you so that hopefully you will feel inspired to plan an epic road trip of your own!
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National Parks in Utah
We recommend visiting the “Mighty 5”, which is a collection of 5 national parks all located within Utah. These are: Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Zion National Park, and Bryce Canyon National Park. We visited all but one of them, so it looks like we have a reason to go back one day!
Overview of the 3 Week Road Trip Itinerary: Washington to 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!)
|Day||Drive Destination||Drive Time Estimate||Activities|
|1||Hermiston, Oregon||4 hours|
|2||Twin Falls, Idaho||5.5 hours||Shoshone Falls (en route)|
|3||Salt Lake City, Utah||3 hours|
|4||Moab, Utah||3.5 hours|
|5||Moab, Utah||Canyonlands National Park|
|6||Moab, Utah||Arches National Park|
|7||Moab, Utah||Moab Giants/Arches National Park|
|8||Springdale, Utah||5.5 hours|
|9||Springdale, Utah||Zion National Park|
|10||Springdale, Utah||Zion National Park|
|11||Springdale, Utah||Zion National Park|
|12||Springdale, Utah||Rest Day|
|13||Page, Arizona||2 hours||Peekaboo Canyon (en route)|
|14||Tusayan, Arizona||2.5 hours||Horseshoe Bend (en route)|
|15||Tusayan, Arizona||Grand Canyon|
|16||Tusayan, Arizona||Grand Canyon|
|17||Page, Arizona||2.5 hours|
|18||Bryce City, Utah||2.5 hours|
|19||Bryce City, Utah||Bryce Canyon|
|20||Salt Lake City, Utah||4.5 hours|
|21||Twin Falls, Idaho||3 hours|
|22||Hermiston, Oregon||5.5 hours|
Highlights of the Road Trip to Utah and Arizona
Next we’re going to share our favorite viewpoints, hikes, and restaurants! We hope this gives you some travel inspo for the American Southwest!
Shoshone Falls (The Niagara Falls of the West!)
Our plan was to drive directly from Washington to Utah, so we didn’t make too many sightseeing stops along the way. Most of our travel days were spent in the car. After we arrived at our hotel each night, we would eat dinner, and then we would put our toddler to bed. The exception to that routine, though, was our stop in Twin Falls, Idaho. We were so glad we stopped there to see Shoshone Falls!
If you are driving along I-84, you absolutely have to stop by Shoshone Falls. (Located only 18 minutes away from the city of Twin Falls.) The falls are known as the “Niagara Falls of the West”, and for good reason! The falls are actually taller than Niagara Falls by 45 feet. It’s one of the tallest natural waterfalls in the United States, so if it wasn’t on your radar before, definitely add it to your bucket list.
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 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. We learned that 5 hours in the car with our toddler was just too much, so we would have broken those travel days into two separate days.
Our Essential Tips for a Road Trip to Utah and Arizona
- 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.
- 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 an extra day or two into your schedule for rest. (You might need to use that extra day for any unforeseen issues!)
- 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.
- 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.
- Be aware of the time change between Utah and Arizona.
Traveling to Utah from California
We traveled to Utah from Washington, but we know a lot of people travel from California! Traveling from Los Angeles to Moab will take about 12 hours, and could easily be accomplished in two days. Zion is only 8 hours away, and could potentially be reached in one day!
Traveling to Utah from Las Vegas
Another popular starting point is flying into Las Vegas and then visiting Utah. There are a number of tour companies that offer day trips to Zion or Bryce, or you could rent a car and be on your own schedule! We wrote a couple of posts on how to get to Zion without a car and how to get to Bryce Canyon without a car. We also wrote a post on how to get to the Grand Canyon without a car.
It’s also super convenient to book a tour from Vegas to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. This tour will allow you to see both parks in just 14 hours.
Finally, this tour provides a guided walking tour of Zion National Park. The tour will pick you up from your Vegas and you’ll get to see many of the most breathtaking sights at Zion.
What to Bring on a Road Trip to Utah and Arizona
After completing our 3-week road trip, these are the things we would definitely recommend bringing:
- Wide-brimmed sun hat
- First aid kit
- Insulated water bottle
- 10 Essentials for hiking
- Portable cell phone charger
- Selfie stick
- Comfortable day pack
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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We’ve posted all of our road trip posts below for further details:
- Shoshone Falls in Idaho (Visit Guide and More!)
- Where to Eat in Moab Utah (Full Review)
- Peekaboo Canyon: The Slot Canyon You Must See
- Best Hikes in Canyonlands National Park You Need to See
- Arches National Park in Utah: How to Spend the Trip of a Lifetime!
- How to Hike to Delicate Arch with a Toddler or a Baby
- 7 Family-Friendly Hikes in Zion National Park (Complete Guide!)
- Looking for the Best Restaurants Near Zion National Park?
- How to Spend a Fun Day in Springdale, Utah (Without Going to Zion)
- Moab Giants: Dinosaurs in the Desert! (Full Review)
- Horseshoe Bend Trail: Complete Guide for Your Visit
- Visiting the Grand Canyon with a Toddler (Everything You Need to Know!)
- How We Handled Car Trouble at the Grand Canyon (And Quickly Got Back to Our Road Trip!)
- Trail of Time: One of the Best Grand Canyon Attractions
- The Grand Canyon Rim Trail: Complete Guide for a Memorable Trip to Hermits Rest
- Hotels Near the Grand Canyon: How to Choose the Best Accommodations for an Epic Trip
- One Epic Day at the Grand Canyon: A Realistic Itinerary
- Grand Canyon on a Budget: How to See the Grand Canyon for Cheap
- How to Visit the Grand Canyon Without a Car
- Which Rim of the Grand Canyon is Best? (Complete Guide!)
- How to Spend One Day at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
- Where to Stay at Bryce Canyon: The Best Hotels and Campgrounds
- Mossy Cave Trail: An Easy Hike at Bryce Canyon That Has It All!
- Sunrise Point to Sunset Point: The Best Trail at Bryce
- Visiting Bryce Canyon with a Toddler or a Baby (Everything You Need to Know!)
- How to Visit Bryce Canyon National Park Without a Car
- 5 Best Places for Photos at Bryce Canyon National Park
- How to Visit Zion National Park Without a Car
- How to Complete a Road Trip With a Toddler (Without Screen Time!)
Disclaimer: We always strive for content accuracy. Since the time of publishing, travel-related information regarding pricing, schedules, and hours may have changed. Please see individual websites embedded in this post for the most current trip-planning information.
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