There are two things I think everyone should do. Work in retail and go on a Utah road trip, or at least include it in a Great American Southwest Road Trip.
I went on my first road trip, to the southwest, two summers ago and fell in love with Utah. So much that I moved out there to work for a summer on Lake Powell. I explored my fair share of Southern Utah and will be back for another summer of more work and exploring.
Here are some of the things I think should be on your Utah road trip itinerary. Of course, there is so much more to see, but these are some of the highlights.
1. Arches National Park
First off is Arches National Park in Moab, which was my first Southwest and Utah experience. This is a fantastic park with so much hiking. It’s hard to just spend one day here, but it’s possible. If that’s the case make sure to hike to Delicate Arch, morning or evening would be better than afternoon because of the heat. The hike is 3 miles round trip and more towards the moderate to tough side.
Devils Garden is another great hike, but is quite a bit longer coming in at roughly 7 miles round trip. There are a couple cool arches towards the beginning of the trail that are easy to hike to. Some others not to miss are Skyline Arch, Double Arch, and Park Avenue.
2. Butler Wash Ruins
Heading out of Moab, away from the Interstate, towards Lake Powell, you’ll drive down Highway 95, which I think you should drive anyways because it’s awesome, and Come across the Butler Wash Ruins. The ruins are just south of Blanding. It’s like a mini Mesa Verde.
The hike to the overlook isn’t too far, about a mile, but you can hike down and up the other side to the ruins themselves. It can be a bit slippery, but it’s totally worth it, just be respectful and leave it as is. Two hours would be plenty for this stop. It’s a good place to take a break from so much time in the car.
Bonus: Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley, Horseshoe Bend, and South Lake Powell (Arizona)
We’ve got a super bonus here! If you happen to be going to the Grand Canyon or near the Arizona border, make a stop at one or all four of these. Monument Valley is on the way to Page, where Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and South Lake Powell are. There is so much to do in this area; it could be worth the detour.
Monument Valley requires a permit or tour and Antelope Canyon can only be seen as part of a tour, which is totally fine. It can get busy, but it’s still worth the visit. It’s one of the most famous slot canyons in the world. While you’re in the area, make a stop at Horseshoe Bend and spend an hour or two making the hike there and watching the sunset.
This is also right by the south end of Lake Powell. Rent paddleboards or kayaks and explore the area. If you have more time and a bigger budget, rent a powerboat to explore some canyons further away, or Rainbow Bridge.
3. North Lake Powell
Lake Powell is huge, and this stop would be on the north end in Bullfrog. I may be biased because this is where I was working, but it’s so pretty and the whole area is awesome with so much exploring to do, on land or on the water.
Take a day or two to rent a powerboat and maybe some kayaks to explore the lake. It has so much to offer it can be hard to know where to start. If you go south, make sure to see Iceberg Canyon, Bowns canyon, Llewellyn Gulch, and the Escalante River Arm.
Highlights of North Lake would be Smith Fork, Forgotten Canyon, Moqui Canyon, Annies Crack (ask at your hotel about this, it can be tough to find), Cedar Canyon, Knowles Canyon, and Four Mile Canyon. All of the canyons are worth exploring, though.
4. Goblin Valley State Park
Goblin Valley is one of the coolest parks I’ve been to. It’s like a playground for grown ups. You can climb everything, there are caves, and it’s just an awesome place to run around. If you’re into canyoneering, check out the Goblins Lair. That’s something I haven’t done, but would love to. Goblin Valley is great for people of all ages.
This is the perfect place to go in the evening for sunset because it gets so hot during the day. As a bonus, this can be combined in a day with Little Wild Horse Canyon below. Both are in the San Rafael Swell and highly underrated.
5. Little Wild Horse Canyon
This is a great place to get a taste of slot canyons without needing lots of canyoneering skills or experience. The whole loop is 8 miles, but you can just do some of it and turn around. The trail goes between open areas and sections of slot canyon before opening up again. It’s a really cool trail, one of my favorites.
Like I mentioned, it can be done in the same day as Goblin Valley. This would be good to do in the morning or early afternoon since portions of it are shaded. One thing, if the weather is rainy anywhere nearby, skip it or save it for another day. You don’t want to get caught in a flash flood.
6. Capitol Reef National Park
I think Capitol Reef is one of the more underrated National Parks, especially with how popular Utah is for road trips. I know I skipped it until I was living close enough to make a visit easier. It has so much to offer, it’s ridiculous.
I probably went five or six times over the summer and these are some of my favorite things there: hiking to Hickman Bridge, spotting petroglyphs, picking fruit, watching wildlife, driving Capitol Gorge, overlooking the Goosenecks, climbing the reef, and that’s not even half of what they have to offer.
I would definitely make sure to visit Capitol Reef, even if it’s just driving through, and not down the scenic road.
7. Escalante Slot Canyons
Escalante has a ton to offer, but the slot canyons are awesome and there are tons of them. For this, I would recommend 4-wheel drive, but it’s not necessary. They are all down Hole in the Rock Road, which is extremely rough and washboard-y, so be prepared. My Smart Car was all right on it, but we had to go pretty slow.
The trailheads can be a little tough to find, so find good directions and descriptions before going. Some of the more notable ones to hike are Peekaboo, Zebra, Brimstone, and Spooky. If you’re in the area hike to Upper and Lower Calf Creek Falls or Coyote Gulch.
8. Zion National Park
Zion is crazy, scenery and people wise. It’s extremely busy in the summer, so I would make it in an early spring, fall, or winter trip to avoid crowds. However, if summer is your only chance, don’t pass it up.
There are the well known must do hikes like Angels Landing and The Narrows, even The Subway if you can snag a permit, but there are plenty of other noteworthy hikes. The Emerald Pools Trail and Virgin River Trail (leading to The Narrows), are great options for short hikes or people that don’t want to do the big ones.
Kolob Terrace Road is another option. This is outside of the main area, past Springdale. It’s totally worth a visit, even if you don’t do any hikes. Wildcat Canyon is a cool hike with great views over the canyon and The Subway Trail. This is also where The Subway is. Lava Point has awesome views and the road ends at Kolob Reservoir. It’s all worth a visit and I would spend two days here if possible.Hiking guide: See amazing landscapes by hiking Zion National Park
Bonus: Valley of Fire State Park (Nevada)
Well, you have to get to Utah, and Vegas is a great, usually cheap, place to fly into. Even if you don’t this is still a possible day trip from St. George or Hurricane, both good bases for Zion. It’s a couple hour drive to get to Valley of Fire, but it’s pretty cool.
The main sight of the park is the Fire Wave, which is like a mini version of The Wave in the Vermillion Cliffs of Arizona, which is another awesome option for this road trip, but you need a permit for The Wave and that can be a process. Anyways, Pastel Canyon is another famed sight around the Internet for having pastel colored sandstone canyon walls.
Closer to the visitors center, you can hike through a canyon searching for petroglyphs. This was my favorite hike, but they are all worth doing.
As I wrote this I just kept thinking of more and more things to do and places to see in Utah. It has so much to offer, no matter where you are. After spending six months there I’ve barely scratched the surface and can’t wait to see and share more experiences.Road trip guide: 6 day western national parks road trip
Author: Hi, I’m Megan. I’m a Wisconsin native currently working my way around the US, exploring the world any chance I get. You can usually find me reading, drinking coffee, or wandering around. You can follow along on my adventures at Red Around The World.