Great Utah Itineraries


Great Utah Itineraries

Zion and Bryce Canyon

Days 1 and 2

From Las Vegas, head up I–15 and take the Route 9 exit to Zion National Park. Spend your afternoon in the park—if it's April to October, the National Park Service bus system does the driving for you on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive (in fact, when the bus is "in season," cars are not allowed in the canyon). Overnight at Zion Lodge inside the park (book well in advance or call for last-minute cancellations), but venture into the bustling gateway town of Springdale for dinner and a peak into an art gallery or boutique. Try the Switchback Grille or Bit & Spur for tasty Southwestern food.

Spend the next morning in Zion. For a nice hike, try the short and easy (read: family-friendly) Weeping Rock Trail. It won't take very long, even if you linger with your camera, so follow it with a stroll along the Emerald Pools Trail in Zion Canyon itself, where you might come across wild turkeys and ravens looking for handouts.

Leave the area via Route 9, the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. Canyon Overlook is a great stopping point, providing views of the massive rock formations such as East and West Temples. You'll pass through a 1.1-mi-long tunnel that is so narrow that RVs and towed vehicles must pay for an escort through. When you emerge, you are in slickrock country, where huge, petrified sandstone dunes are etched by ancient waters. Stay on Route 9 for 23 mi and then turn north onto U.S. 89. After 42 mi, you will reach Route 12, where you should turn east and drive 14 mi to the entrance of Bryce Canyon National Park. The overall trip from Zion to Bryce Canyon is about 90 minutes to 2 hours.

Central to your tour of Bryce Canyon is the 18-mi main park road, from which numerous scenic turnouts provide vistas of bright red-orange rock (we recommend starting with the view at Sunrise Point). You'll notice that the air is a little cooler here than it was at Zion, so get out and enjoy it. Trails most worth checking out include the Bristlecone Loop Trail and the Navajo Loop Trail, both of which you can easily fit into a day trip and will get you into the heart of the park with minimum effort. Listen for peregrine falcons deep in the side canyons, and keep an eye out for a species of prairie dog that only lives in these parts. If you can't stay in the park (camping or Bryce Lodge are your options), overnight at Ruby's Inn, near the junction of Routes 12 and 63.

Capitol Reef

Day 3

If you can, get up early to see sunrise paint Bryce's hoodoos, then head out on the spectacular Utah Scenic Byway–Route 12. If the views don't take your breath away, the narrow, winding road with little margin for error will. Route 12 winds over and through Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument. The views from the narrow hogback are nothing short of incredible. About 14 mi past the town of Escalante on Route 12 you can stop at Calf Creek Recreation Area to stretch your legs or make a 5½-mi round-trip hike to a gorgeous backcountry waterfall. Route 12 continues to gain elevation as you pass over Boulder Mountain.

At the intersection of Routes 12 and 24, turn east onto Route 24. You have traveled 112 mi from Bryce Canyon to reach Capitol Reef National Park. The crowds are smaller here than at other national parks in the state, and the scenery is stunning. Orchards in the small enclave of Fruita produce fruit—peaches, pears, and apples—in the late summer and early fall, and are close to ancient Indian rock art. If it's still daylight when you arrive, hike the 1-mi Hickman Bridge Trail if you want to explore a little, or stop in at the visitor center until 4:30 pm (later in the summer) and view pioneer and Native American exhibits, talk with rangers about geography or geology, or watch a film. Nearby Torrey is your best bet for lodging, and be sure to eat at the seasonal Cafe Diablo, serving some of Utah's finest Southwest cuisine from mid-April to mid-October.

Arches and Canyonlands

Days 4–6

Explore Capitol Reef more the next morning. When you leave, travel east and north for 75 mi on Route 24. If you want a break after about an hour, stop at the small Goblin Valley State Park, 12 mi west off Route 24 on Goblin Valley Road. Youngsters love to run around the sandstone formations known as "goblins." Return to Route 24 and take it to I-70, turn east and continue your journey.

Take Exit 182 south onto U.S. 191, proceeding about 27 mi toward Arches National Park, which holds the world's largest concentration of natural rock windows or "arches." Plan on spending three nights in Moab while you explore the area. Adventurous types, note that you can raft the Colorado River here or bike the Slick Rock Trail. Either is well worth a half-day or daylong excursion. Otherwise, dedicate Day 5 to Arches, perhaps including a guided hike in the Fiery Furnace, a maze of sandstone canyons and fins that is considered one of the most spectacular hikes in the park. Then on Day 6, launch your Canyonlands National Park experience with the Island in the Sky District—but first take a detour to the mesa top at Dead Horse Point State Park (road trippers Thelma and Louise shot movie scenes here) for magnificent views of the Colorado River as it goosenecks through the canyons below. To reach the state park, go 10 mi north of Moab on U.S. 191 to Route 313. Drive west for 15 mi, then turn right onto the unnamed road; continue for 6 mi to the Dead Horse fee station. To get from Dead Horse to Islands in the Sky, return to Route 313 and drive 7 mi past the Dead Horse turnoff to reach the park visitor center.

On your way back to Moab, enjoy the natural scenery on the Colorado River Scenic Byway (Route 128), which runs for about 44 mi along the river, or view man-made art by traveling down Route 279 (Potash Road), where ancient Native American rock-art panels pop up after 4.8 mi from the U.S. 191 turnoff.

Salt Lake City and Northern Utah

Day 7

On Day 7, you have a choice to make. You can explore the Canyonlands' Needles District (follow Route 211 for 34 mi), head south to Bluff and the Four Corners district, or head north to Route 6 and Salt Lake City and northern Utah. Assuming you've had enough of the backcountry, we'll consider the urban detour. First, if you're a dinosaur buff (or your kids are), follow the small sign for Cleveland-Lloyd National Monument off Route 6 about 30 mi north of Green River. This active dinosaur excavation is one of the richest troves of prehistoric fossils in the country. Continue north through mining country to I-15, then head into Salt Lake City for some adventure of an entirely different sort. Pamper yourself at Grand American Hotel (or Little America Hotel depending on your budget) and fill up on America's best Mexican food at Red Iguana.

Day 8

Grab the TRAX light rail (free within downtown) to Temple Square and begin a walking tour of the city that Brigham Young put on the map in 1847. The Temple is off limits unless you belong to the LDS Church, but its grounds, visitor center, Family Research Library, Young's home, and world-famous Tabernacle make for interesting wandering. Then head west to Gateway Mall and entertainment district, fueling up with lunch in one of the outdoor plazas. The Discovery Children's Museum and Clark Planetarium are best bets here, as well as the Olympic Tribute Plaza. Complete your walk by crossing Pioneer Park, heading east through Gallivan Plaza (you may catch live music midday or evenings) as far as Salt Lake's Main Library—a modern architectural gem that includes a soaring roof that you can ascend for one of the best views of the city. Salt Lake Roasting Company is in the library promenade for a drink or snack.

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