utah guide

Utah National Parks Road Trip Tips & Guide

 

This is my complete guide on how to visit some of Utah’s must visit National Parks in just six days. Utah is really a beautiful state with tons to see and do (despite it being super spread out with little civilization besides Salt Lake City and the national parks.) I loved spending the week camping under the stars (one night in the car while it unexpectedly snowed), hiking up to views we didn’t end up seeing (Angel’s Landing), and photographing to my heart’s content. Even driving for miles and miles between parks was exciting to see! Our road trip through Utah didn’t disappoint and definitely hope to re-visit it one day.

Overview of the logistics of our trip including how to get there (flights + rental cars), what to wear, links for important maps and guides, and where we stayed. I also included a quick rundown of our spending, the rental car, gas/mileage, food, and a packing list!

Zion National Park Pt. 1  + Pt. 2  •  Bryce Canyon National Park •  Arches National Park Pt. 1 Pt. 2


zion national park

Zion National Park
Angel’s Landing/Scout’s Lookout + Emerald Pools | ~2.5 Hr Outside Las Vegas, Airbnb In Hurricane

*Background* We flew from SJC to LAS and landed around 9AM. We got our bags from baggage claim and took the shuttle to pick up our rental car. By the time we were leaving the airport it was around 10AM and we arrived at Zion just before 1:30 PM (~2 h 30 min, 171 mi,  +1 hour for MDT)

We had 1.5 days at Zion in mid-end September: the rest of that day and the majority of the next. Originally, we planned on hiking the Narrows as soon as we arrived the first day and Angel’s Landing the next morning before heat and crowds. But it ended up being a cool and rainy visit. There were flash flood warnings the day it arrived and we hoped it would be lifted the next day so we could hike The Narrows. We hiked Angel’s Landing the first day despite advisory not to.

WHAT TO WEAR: Hiking boots for those rocky and slippery ledges up to Angel’s Landing. Hiking boots have tread that help grip uneven surfaces while being water resistant and providing support. Bring clothing for all weather conditions and dress in layers!

QUICK TRIP TIPS:
•  
Day 1: Scout’s LookoutAngel’s Landing | Day 2: Emerald Pools
•  Use the park’s newspaper for trail information (difficulty, length, elevation, etc.)
•  Plan trip beforehand and talk to rangers at visitor center with any questions
•  Check weather conditions online before arriving and at visitor center

LODGING: We stayed in an AirBnB that night in Hurricane about 35 minutes outside of the park. There was a Walmart nearby where we bought a disposable cooler, food, and ice for the week.


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Bryce Canyon National Park
Queen’s Garden Trail + Inspiration Point | ~1.5 Hr From Zion, Camp At Bryce Canyon Pines, Budget Inn In Green River

We planned on seeing Inspiration Point and Bryce Point the second half of the second day (first half in Zion and driving from Zion). But it ended up raining, hailing, and snowing, so instead we spent the evening figuring out where to stay. The second day in Bryce we hiked Queen’s Garden Trail to Navajo Loop from Sunrise to Sunset Point and visited Inspiration Point. That same day we drove part ways to Arches National Park.

WHAT TO WEAR: Hiking boots recommended, however for the hikes we did, regular tennis shoes would have been fine! Dress in layers, depending on the time of the year, it may be cold but it definitely gets hot.

QUICK TRIP TIPS:
•  
Day 3: Queen’s Garden Trail to Navajo Loop from Sunrise to Sunset PointInspiration Point
•  Use the park’s newspaper for trail information (difficulty, length, elevation, etc.)
•  Check weather conditions online before arriving and at visitor center

LODGING:
★★★★☆ (4) 
Our first night in Bryce we stayed at Bryce Canyon Pines that offers both campsites ($37.50) and motel lodging. We were supposed to camp on their grounds but it ended up snowing. We tried to find another motel or inn, but everything was full so we slept in our compact car. The campground was amongst Pine trees, and the main office, where you check-in doubles as a gas station. The main office was also a convenience store, had clean bathrooms for showering, and laundry machines.

★★☆☆☆ (2) The second night between Bryce and Arches we stayed at Budget Inn in Green River, about 45 min outside Arches National Park and 3.5 hr outside Bryce Canyon. The inn itself is pretty small, rundown, kind of dirty, but still habitable. It was only ~$56/night, way cheaper than everything else near Arches. It comes with free cable/wifi, and complimentary breakfast. We didn’t trust the sheets so opted to sleep in our sleeping bags on the bed, which I recommend. We got dinner at Tacos Las Pasadita right across the street that was open late, delicious and cheap!


delicate Arch

Arches National Park
Devil’s Garden, Double Arch, WindowsDelicate Arch | ~4 Hr From Bryce, ~4 Hr From SLC, Camp At Moab KOA

We checked out of the Budget Inn ~6:45AM to get a head start and arrived in Arches by 7:30 when the visitor’s center opened. Because we read about difficult parking we wanted to get a head start. We visited a ton of arches all over the park. The first day we hiked Devil’s Garden and saw Landscape Arch, Double-O Arch, Partition Arch, Navajo Arch, and Black Arch. That same day we also visited Double Arch and the Windows around sunset. On the second day at Arches we hiked Delicate Arch both during the day and again at night!

QUICK TRIP TIPS:
•  Day 4: Devil’s Garden (Landscape Arch, Double-O Arch), The Windows, and Double Arches | Day 5: Delicate Arch, Sand Dune Arch, Sky Arch | Day 6: Park Avenue
•  Use the park’s newspaper for trail information (difficulty, length, elevation, etc.)
•  Check weather conditions online before arriving and at visitor center.

LODGING: ★★★★★ (5) We stayed at Moab KOA which was $36/night and only 15 min outside the park. It had clean showers/bathrooms, a small convenience store, and wifi. I highly recommend this clean and budget friendly spot for camping!

night photography tent

Other Tips, Packing List, & Budget

FOOD/WATER: $213 for meals and groceries
•  Buy a styrofoam cooler and ice, once you arrive buy convenient sandwich/wrap ingredients. We made chicken wraps (shredded a rotisserie chicken, sliced tomatoes, avocado, spinach, hummus) for most of our meals and only ate out maybe 3 or 4 times during out trip.
•  Pack snacks high in protein and healthy fats to give you energy and keep you full (nuts, seed crackers & hummus, turkey jerky)
•  Buy a small case of water bottles, and BRING YOUR OWN water bottle/hydration pack because all parks had filling stations
•  Make sure to pack aluminum foil and Ziploc bags, cutting board surface, knives

FLIGHT:
Southwest
•  SJC > LAS (~$50)
•  SLC > OAK (~$89)

RENTAL CAR/GAS/MILEAGE:
•  LAS > Zion > Bryce > Arches > SLC ≈  1016 mi
•  Filled 3 times at ~$2.20/gallon
•  Enterprise, 2016 Ford Focus, Compact
•  $406, 6 days, Different drop off location

PARK ENTRY FEES: $80 Annual Pass is highly recommended, each park’s fee varies ranging from $15–$35/vehicle so if you go to multiple parks an annual pass is the best deal. Each pass covers one vehicle but can be shared by two people so I would recommend sharing with another person, not on the same trip with you so it’s only $40/party! Passes can be bought online or at REI.

LODGING: ~$217 for 5 nights camping, AirBnB, Inn (details above)

OTHER SPENDING: 
~$30 for souvenirs, medicine

PACKING LIST:
•  GPS
•  tent + stakes + hammer
•  footprint
•  sleeping pads
•  sleeping bag
•  travel pillows
•  knives
•  backpacks
•  hydration packs
•  gatorade powder
•  hiking shoes/socks
•  styrofoam cooler
•  aloe
•  sunscreen
•  hats/sunglasses
•  swimsuit
•  hammock
•  rope/tools
•  headlamps
•  camera
•  chargers
•  external charger


•  car charger/aux
•  tripod
•  towels
•  toiletries
•  first aid kit
•  medical cards
•  cooling towels
•  dc/ac converter
•  duct tape
•  hand sanitizer
•  shower shoes
•  extension chord
•  toilet paper
•  paper towel
•  garbage/ziploc bags
•  aluminum foil
•  power block
•  bug spray/candle
•  fire starter
•  mirror
•  tupperware/cutlery
•  clothing for all weather conditions

 

Delicate Arch (Day + Night Hike) | Arches National Park, Utah

 

Delicate Arch
~1-2 hr Roundtrip, 3 mi Roundtrip, Intermediate

How to get there: Turn right off the main road onto Delicate Arch Road after 11.5 miles from the park entrance. park in Wolf Ranch parking lot on the left. You can also keep going straight to view the arch from the Upper and Lower Viewpoints.

The entire hike is only about 1.6 mi each way. It only took us 30 min to hike up, but we read it takes most 45 min –1 hr. It isn’t extremely difficult except the middle section which is a consistent incline on the face of open rock. The trail starts pretty flat, you pass a cabin and eventually reach a short incline. This incline turns hilly, but is still pretty easy. Walking up and down a couple times, you reach the base of the previously mentioned incline.

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Once you reach the incline it isn’t super steep but just consistently uphill for quite a distance. Because there is no clearly define path, just follow the crowd up! While it is defined as a ‘difficult’ hike but the park, there were people of all ages making their way up. Just stop and take breaks every once in a while.

At the top, the last stretch is winding through short shrubs/trees and rocks. Finally, you reach a set of stairs that takes you up to a ridgeway along a rock wall. Just above the stairs, if you climb up the wall, there is a hole that gives you a view of the arch from that point. Continuing on, you follow this semi-narrow ridge along the wall before turning the corner and seeing the Delicate Arch.

It really is stunning view and I can’t decide if it looks bigger in person or smaller, but regardless standing underneath it is something to experience. There is a line for pictures underneath the arch, but everyone is polite waiting their turn. People even offer to take help you take your photo. Make sure to fasten hats and other loose articles of clothing. It was very windy at the top! Also if you are afraid of heights, something to note: the whole area is like a huge bowl that funnels down, and you walk along the top edge to reach the arch.


Delicate Arch at Night

Essentially the hike is the exact same but here are some tips and bit from our experience:

FOLLOW THE ROCK STACKS (later learned these are called rock cairns) We have come to the conclusion that these were created to help you find your way and navigate. Let’s just say we got lost twice, and it was scary in the pitch dark. So follow the stacks and footprints in the sand.

Make sure to dress warm and wear head lamps. We started our hike around 11PM in hopes of seeing the Milky Way at it’s highest point. Do some research beforehand to find out what time is best. National Parks are ideal for stargazing and night photography because they are so isolated from civilization and light pollution. We used the free app Sky Guide which we found pretty useful. If you are going up for photography, allow yourself enough time to hike up and set up your equipment. You might want to go at a time where the Milky Way is right above or through the arch.

While hiking up, we did pass by a couple groups but not may were around. We also heard coyotes in the distance but not close to where we were. The hike was pretty scary with getting lost and it being completely dark. At the same time it was thrilling and not sure if I would want to do it again, but I definitely don’t regret it. Overall go in a group, be careful and follow the rock stacks!

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Devil’s Garden, Double Arch, Windows | Arches National Park, UT

 

Devil’s Garden
4.2 mi roundtrip, ~2–3 hr, Easy-Intermediate, Landscape, Partition, Double-O Arch

How to get there: Devil’s Garden is at the very end of Arches National Park which is a one way park and not a loop. It’s about 18 miles into the park. There are lots of parking spots, but also lots of people, so make sure you get there early. We arrived around 8AM and parking was no problem.

Start at the trailhead in the center of the parking lot, next to the bathrooms. Within the first 0.3 mi you will come to the first major arch: Tunnel Arch, and a little farther along at is Pine Tree Arch. Both are exciting to see but nothing compared what is to come.

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At about 0.8 mi is Landscape Arch, the first iconic arch in Devil’s Garden. Landscape Arch is the longest arch in Arches National Park at ~290 feet wide. Up until this point, the trail is relatively even and mellow. Some turn around at this point, but you can continue on to the Primitive Trail to reach Double-O Arch.

While the trail becomes more challenging and is classified as a ‘difficult’ trail by the Arches NP Visitor’s Guide, we found it to intermediate at most if not still easy. You leave the ground’s sandy path and climb onto an inclining ramp-like sandstone fin, elevating 250 ft with drop offs on each side, but is by no means extremely narrow. After you reach the top of this section, there’s another fin you can climb onto, to get a cool overlook of what you just climbed.

After you finish this fin, you hike for about half a mile on the dirt path before climbing onto another fin. This fin is wider and flat the whole way with a great view of Devil’s Garden on the right.  On the way there is also a sign that points you to and overlook where you can see Black Arch. Just past Black Arch maybe less than half a mile is Double-O Arch

Towards the end you climb down another narrow fin before the last little walk to the base of the Double-O Arch. Climbing down the last fin can be a little intimidating but is by no means impossible. It is recommended to walk through the arch to get a view from the other side.

On our way back we stopped at Partition Arch and Navajo Arch. Partition Arch was pretty cool but a little sketchy once you climbed through, but sitting underneath such a large arch was a cool experience. We didn’t find Navajo Arch particularly exciting but is really close by so worth checking out!


Double Arch
0.25 mi, ~5 min, Easy-Intermediate

How to get there: The drive from the entrance of the park is about 9.5 mi. You turn right towards “Windows Trailhead” just past Balanced Rock. Park in the lot connecting Double Arch and the Windows. You might have to drive around a couple times to find parking, but there is always someone leaving. I would suggest parking and walking between the two instead of re-parking to go to the other, which is only about a mile.

There’s a short, easy, half mile walk down the trail to the base of the Double Arch. You can see it from the parking lot and just follow the trail. However if you want to climb and sit in one of the arches this part could be considered ‘intermediate.’ The view through the arch isn’t that exciting but sitting in the arch is pretty cool. Coming down from the arch is probably the hardest part, as it is a little steep.


The Windows: North + South, Turret Arch
0.5 mi to N Window from trailhead, 1 mi Between all three, 10-20 min total, Easy

The North Window is the one you immediately see from the trailhead. From the North Window you continue on towards Turret Arch and if you turn left instead of going straight to Turret Arch you will turn a corner and see the South Window. From these windows you can also see the Elephant’s Parade.

 

Queen’s Garden, Inspiration Point | Bryce Canyon, UT

 

Queen’s Garden Trail, Navajo Loop
3 mi, ~2-3 hr, Easy-Intermediate, Sunrise to Sunset Point

How to get there: You can drive around Bryce but they also offer a complimentary shuttle. I would suggest parking at Sunset and starting the hike there. You can either walk to or take the shuttle to Sunrise Point, we walked since it was only 0.5 mi.

Starting at Sunrise point there is a lookout with an amazing view, but trust me, it only gets better. The trailhead is clearly marked by wooden signs as you venture down into the canyon, surrounded by hoodoos. Queen’s Garden Trail is ~1.6 mi downhill until you reach the bottom of the canyon and come to a fork. At the fork you can either continue to Sunset Point or take the Navajo Loop back to Sunset Point.

Take the Navajo Loop Trail until you reach a fork where you can either take Wall Street on the left or go right past Thor’s Hammer. We originally wanted to take Wall Street, as we heard it was amazing. However it was closed off so we had no choice but to take the other way, which was still amazing. Either way, both hikes up are quite steep switchbacks, so just take those breaks! It was really cool looking down from the top of the switchbacks.

Finally, the last stretch is really short, maybe a 0.2 mi at most where you see Thor’s Hammer and get a great view of the Amphitheater. At the end there is a viewpoint right next to the parking lot that many go to for a quick picture.

Overall, the most popular hike in Bryce because of how beautiful and doable it is. We chose to go from Sunrise to Sunset because Sunrise is a much longer incline than starting at Sunset. While Sunset is much steeper, chances are you will stop every few switchbacks to enjoy the view. So we preferred the long ‘milder’ downhill and quick ‘steeper’ uphill versus the opposite.


Inspiration Point
3 mi, ~0.5 hr, Easy

You park in the lot at Inspiration Point and can see the amphitheater from three levels. You can also actually reach Inspiration Point by walking 0.75 mi south of Sunset Point. It’s quite a steep walk up to each of the levels but they’re all short and definitely worth it!

Jordan and I both agree that Bryce was probably one of our favorite parts of our trip, while short lived, we thoroughly enjoyed our day there. It was just awe-inspiring seeing the thousands of hoodoos and the scale of mother nature’s formations. Even if you are only driving through, I would highly recommend checking out Inspiration Point!