The Mighty Five are just a flight away. With Las Vegas as your base, road trippers can see all five of Utah’s national parks. It’s hard to believe that just a few hours north of the Strip, travelers can be splashing their feet down Zion’s legendary trail, the Narrows. Drive a few hours more and then its the pink-hued spires of Bryce Canyon. Then there’s Arches and the fruit trees of Capitol Reef. Pick up a rental car then load it full of road trip snacks to see the majestic beauty of Utah’s National Parks. Here is the Best Utah National Park Itinerary from Las Vegas.
A word about reservations, lodging and camping reservations are essential at all times of the year. Most of Utah is sparcely populated and the towns are generally small with limited rooms. Packing food for your road trip is aslo a good idea, especially for lunch and snacks. Las Vegas offers the most selecion. St. George along Interstate 15 is another option.
Timed Entry Information
For Arches National Park, a timed entry reservation is required from April 1 to October 31 ($2). It is not available at the park so visitors must secure one in advance. Each month’s timed entry tickets are released three months in advance though additional tickets are released the day before. For visitors that didn’t secure a ticket, they can enter the park before 7 a.m. or after 4 p.m. Arches National Park isn’t a national park that you can walk park outside the park and walk into. It doesn’t offer a shuttle system either (like Zion National Park).
Since this trip enters several national parks, an America the Beautiful annual NPS pass is a good idea. It is available online for purchase at parks or online.
Utah National Park Itinerary from Las Vegas
Day 1 Las Vegas
Start your Utah national park itinerary from Las Vegas, especially if you are flying. With a large number of flights from across the world, find a dizzying number of hotel rooms along with dining and entertainment galore. Additionally, if you can’t buy it in Vegas, it’s not made.
After arriving, pack up your rental car with supplies for your road trip. It gets a little sparse across southern Utah so plan on buying road trip snacks along with basic picnic supplies.
Depending on interest, arrange for a show and sample a new restaurant in Las Vegas. Definitely walk down a portion of The Strip. Find lots of free entertainment outside of the casinos like the Bellagio’s Dancing Waters and the Freemont Street Experience.
For the first leg of the trip, drive to Moab, Utah, to Arches National Park. It’s 450 miles (750 km) away from Las Vegas and will take six or seven hours. This will be the longest day of driving so do it the first day and not the last day of your trip. Do yourself a favor, and take Interstate 15 and Interstate 70 for the fastest drive.
Day 2 Arches National Park
Time has carved Utah’s red rocks into at least 2,000 natural stone arches. Arches National Park is routinely considered one of the top national parks in the U.S. Though the arches are center stage, see pinnacles, fins and balance rocks as well.
What to do in Arches National Park
To see the best of Arches National Park, use a combination of driving and hiking, according to your ability.
Park Avenue and Courthouse Towers Area—Features high rock walls and pinnacles with an accessible viewpoint.
Balanced Rock—At 128 feet tall, it glows in the afternoon sun. Find an accessible viewpoint at this popular spot.
The Windows Section—See North Window, Turret Arch and the Double Arch and it’s the best area to see if limited on time.
Delicate Arch—The most famous arch and it offers an accessible viewpoint. The hike to Delicate Arch is a difficult 3-mile (4.8 km) trail.
Devils Garden—Find Landscape Arch in this area. It’s a 1.6-mile (2.5 km) easy hike.
Getting to Arches National Park
Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park are located close together. It’s five miles north of Moab. Arches National Park is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. A seven-day pass for Arches National Park is $30. It also requires a timed entry reservation, purchased in advance through Recreation.gov ($2).
With limited services, remember to carry enough water and food for the day. Visitor centers offer hydration stations though bottled water is not for sale in the national parks.
Day 3 Canyonlands National Park
See the buttes carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries. It’s divided into four distinct districts. The Island in the Sky district is the most accessible for first-time visitors.
What to do in Canyonlands National Park
The Island in the Sky features a visitor center and easy to explore in a few hours. See the Utah landscape unfold from the top of 100-foot sandstone cliffs. Take the 34-mile (54 km) round trip scenic drive to the viewpoints. Hike to the Mesa Arch, an easy .5-mile (.8 km) hike for a popular photo opportunity.
Getting to Canyonlands National Park
The Islands in the Sky entrance is 10 miles (16 km) north of Moab. Canyonlands National Park is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. A seven-day pass for Canyonlands National Park is $30.
Canyonlands National Park is located about 115 miles (185 km) from Natural Bridges National Monument. Take Utah Route 95 and U.S. Highway 191, part of the Trail of the Ancient National Scenic Byway.
Where to Stay near Canyonlands and Arches National Parks
Since the national park sites in eastern Utah don’t offer lodging, head to Moab. Find a full range of lodging, along with restaurants, outdoor outfitters and tours.
Natural Bridges National Monument
See three natural bridges in Utah’s first national monument. With a nine-mile scenic loop drive, see Sipapu Bridge, Kachina Bridge and Owachomo Bridge.
Where’s Natural Bridges National Monument
Natural Bridges National Monument is located in-between Canyonlands National Park andCapitol Reef National Park, east of Blanding, Utah. It’s about 115 miles (185 km) from Moab along Utah Route 95.
Natural Bridges National Monument is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. A seven-day Natural Bridges National Monument is $20.
Day 4 Capitol Reef National Park
Located between Canyonlands and Bryce Canyon national parks, find the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic monocline at Capital Reef National Park. It’s a wrinkle in the earth’s surface. In the 1800s, Mormon pioneers came and planted over 2,700 fruit trees.
What to do in Capitol Reef National Park
Take the Scenic Drive, a 7.9-mile (12.7 km) one-way drive to the Fruita Historic Area. Explore the original orchards where you can pick seasonal fruit.
Find the blacksmith shop then check out the Fruita Schoolhouse. The Gifford House Store and Museum sells fresh baked pies, bread and cinnamon rolls.
Hike the Sunset Point Trail, a .4-mile (.6 km) easy trail. Find it off Utah Route 24.
Where to stay near Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park doesn’t offer lodging inside of the park. Find a 3-star lodging in the nearby town of Grover.
Getting to Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park is located about 130 miles (209 km) from Natural Bridge National Monument. Take Utah Route 95, a Utah Scenic Byway.
Capitol Reef National Park is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. A seven-day Capitol Reef National Park is $20.
Day 5 Bryce Canyon National Park
See the pink spires of Bryce Canyon National Park from its canyon rim. Or take a hike down to walk among them. And don’t forget to stare at the stars if you visit near nightfall.
What to do in Bryce Canyon National Park
Hike from the Sunrise Point to Sunset Point, an easy 1.0-mile (1.6 km) hike, along the edge of Bryce Canyon. The Navajo Trail offers an up-close look at Bryce’s rock formations as the trail takes hikers down into the Bryce Amphitheater slot canyon, a 1.3-mile (2 km) moderate trail.
Explore Bryce Canyon on horseback with a one-and-half hour guided tour that takes small groups to Fairy Castle and back. A three-hour tour explores the Peek-a-Boo Loop by horseback.
Where to Stay in Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon Lodge is a 1925 historic lodge listed on the Register of Historic Places. Find a restaurant, a pizzeria along with lodge rooms and a few suites. Western cabins offer rustic elegance, located steps from the canyon edge and the lodge.
Getting to Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is located 130 miles (209 km) from Capitol Reef National Park along Utah Route 12. It offers a free seasonal shuttle bus departing from the visitor center every 15 minutes. It stops at the lodge, the campgrounds and Sunset, Bryce, Inspiration and Sunset Points.
Bryce Canyon National Park is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. A seven-day pass for Bryce Canyon National Park is $35.
Day 6 Zion National Park
What began as a windswept desert 180-million-years ago, time slowly compressed the sand into the Navajo Sandstone that rises up 2000 feet today. The sandstone dominates Zion National Park with its bold rock formations craved by a mostly tame Virgin River. With reoccurring floods, water sculpted the canyon with the eye of an artist.
It’s a part of the Grand Staircase of southern Utah and northern Arizona. As a geologic survey, 500 million years of history can be studied in the rock layers. Grand Canyon represents the bottom layer and Bryce Canyon National Park represents the most recent layer. Zion is sandwiched in the middle.
What to do in Zion National Park
The Lower Emerald Pool Trail offers 1.2-mile (1.9 km) paved round-trip hike to a 100-foot water fall, right across from the Zion Lodge. Or try the Riverside Walk at the Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop. I found a wheelchair accessible 2.2-mile (3.5 km) roundtrip trail from the Virgin River to the Narrows.
Zion National Park offers guided one-hour and three-hour horseback rides. Or take a guided scenic tour aboard a bus to see all the photo-worthy sights.
Note: The popular Angels Landing Trail requires timed entry tickets available via lottery. This is for the chain section only.
Where to Stay in Zion National Park
Inside of the park, Zion Lodge offers a main building that sits on the spot of the original lodge that burned in the 1960s. Modern hotel rooms and historic western cabins from the 1930s flank the lodge building that houses a restaurant, a café, a coffee bar, a gift shop and an outdoor patio.
Getting to Zion National Park
Take U.S Route 89, also known as the National Park Highway, and Utah’s Route 9, Zion National Park Scenic Byway, to get to Zion National Park.
Zion National Park is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. A seven-day pass for Zion National Park is $35.
Zion National Park uses shuttles to get visitors around the park. Find two different routes, the Zion Canyon Shuttle and the Springdale Shuttle, from the nearby town of Springdale. Parking is limited in the park especially during the summer and popular weekends.
If a week is all you have, head back to Las Vegas. Or if time allows, head to the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.
Kids in National Parks
Earn a free souvenir at each of Utah’s national park sites with the Junior Ranger Program. Grab a booklet at the visitor center and explore the park.
After completing the required activities, turn the Junior Ranger booklet into a park ranger. After a short review of what’s important in the park, kids raise their hands and recite the Junior Ranger Oath.
National Park Road Trip Tips
- Arrive early for parking at Utah’s Mighty 5.
- Purchases an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) if visiting more than two national park sites during your trip. It’s available for all visitors and covers everyone in the vehicle.
- Wear appropriate clothing and shoes. Hats, sunglasses, long shirts, even in summer, along with hiking boots or sandals are necessary.
- Pack snacks and picnic supplies for your Utah National Park Road trip.
- Carry water and water containers. Find water fountains at visitor center and restrooms throughout the national parks.
- Carry a paper map, data service is spotty in the park and mountainous areas.
- Give wild animals at least 25 yards of space and don’t feed them.