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The Ultimate Utah National Park Road Trip Itinerary | Exploring the Big 5


EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW TO HELP YOU PLAN THE ULTIMATE ADVENTURE-FILLED ROAD TRIP THROUGH SOUTHERN UTAH - INCLUDING VISITING ALL 5 NATIONAL PARKS (THE BIG 5).

 



If you are hoping to plan the perfect road trip through southern Utah - including stopping at each of the states five national parks: Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion National Parks, then you have come to the right spot. This in-depth travel guide outlines everything you need to know about road tripping across the wild and rugged Utah desert; including, just how many days you actually need, the type of vehicle to use, where to start and end your trip, and even where to camp. Plus, we have also added a couple of can't-miss destinations that give even the national parks a run for their money in terms of beauty and adventure.


If you are reading to start planning the perfect southern Utah road trip, then keep reading!





UTAH BIG 5 ROAD TRIP MAP








 

THE ULTIMATE SOUTHERN UTAH

ROAD TRIP GUIDE

 






\\ How Many Days Do You Need for the Road Trip


Southern Utah is jam-packed with lots of amazing adventures, so the more time you have the better. We highly suggest putting aside at least 7 days for the road trip - though if you can double that and put aside 14 days that would be better.


One thing to know about road tripping across southern Utah is that, while places might look close on a map, in fact, because of the state’s rugged terrain, there are very few roads that connect the national parks so instead you often have to circumnavigate your way to each destination.


Another thing to note is that the road trip route you take between the five national parks will depend heavily on where you start and where you end (see more below). If you are heading in from the west (the Las Vegas or California area) you will likely start your trip at Zion National Park and end near Arches National Park on the other side of the state. While this would be fine if you were doing the route as part of a larger road trip itinerary, if you are planning to do a loop then you would then have to make the loooong drive back to where you started.




Lone tree in starry night sky in Canyonlands





\\ Where to Start and End Your Road Trip


Due to southern Utah's relatively central location in the western half of the USA, you can (somewhat) easily reach the five national parks from four major cities: Las Vegas, Nevada; Phoenix, Arizona; Salt Lake City, Utah and Denver, Colorado.


All four cities are within driving distance of one of the five national parks, with Denver being the farthest away (just over 5 hours). Also, each of the four cities have large enough airports to easily find flights year-round and on any time of the week. The only things to keep in mind when planning where you want to start and end is whether you want to start/end from the same city (cheaper rental car service, but more driving) or if you want to start/end from two different cities (more expensive rental car but likely less driving).


❔ GOOD TO KNOW: the basic driving distance listed is a rough estimate of what the total driving distance for the road trip loop would be. It is likely that the distance will be longer after taking in various stops within the parks or any scenic detours.




LAS VEGAS


Likely the closest big city to southern Utah, Las Vegas, Nevada is a great spot to start your adventure. Plus, there are usually a lot of cheap flights into the city since it is such a popular tourist destination. From Las Vegas, your first stop will likely be Zion National Park which is just over 2.5 hours away.


BASIC DRIVING DISTANCE: 995 miles



Google map of road trip through Utah

EXPLORE MORE | THE BEST LAS VEGAS OUTDOOR ADVENTURES






PHOENIX, ARIZONA


Another option to start and end from is Phoenix, Arizona, which is located a couple of hours south of the Utah border. One great thing about starting and ending in Phoenix is the ability to add a couple of other interesting places to the route. This includes the town of Flagstaff, Grand Canyon National Park and stunning Monument Valley.


BASIC DRIVING DISTANCE: 1,236 miles




Google map of road trip through Utah

READ MORE | THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO EXPLORING MONUMENT VALLEY






SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH


If you are looking to head down from the north then your best bet is to start and end in Salt Lake City (SLC), the largest town in the state of Utah. From SLC your first stop will likely be Arches National Park or Canyonlands National Park, both of which are only about 3.5 hours from the city.


BASIC DRIVING DISTANCE: 908 miles




Google map of road trip through Utah





DENVER, COLORADO


The final option when planning your route through southern Utah is to start and end in Denver, Colorado. This is a great option if you are also looking to explore parts of Colorado or can find cheap flights into Denver International Airport (one of the busiest airports in the USA). From Denver, it is just over 5 hours to Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park.


BASIC DRIVING DISTANCE: 1,326 miles




Google map of road trip through Utah






\\ The Best Season to Explore the Big 5 Utah National Parks



SUMMER (JUNE-AUGUST)


Hot, hot, hot. Think 100°+ Fahrenheit (38° C) temperatures during the day and maybe mid-80s (27° C) at night. Visiting in the summer is really only smart if you are planning to do a lot of water sports down in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area or Lake Powell. Otherwise, it can be downright miserable (and even unsafe) to explore most of southern Utah during the hot summer months.


💬 INSIDER TIP: if you are looking to go canyoneering in some wetter canyons (so most of the canyons in Zion) then the summer heat can actually be pretty nice.




FALL (SEPTEMBER - NOVEMBER)


One of the best times to explore and adventure in southern Utah is during the fall (sometimes called the “shoulder season”). This is often one of the quietest times to visit the national parks, which is especially nice in parks like Zion and Arches - both of which can be super busy during other times of the year.