zion hike

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

 

Emerald Pools, Riverside Walk | Zion National Park, UT

 
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Emerald Pools
3 mi in-and-out, ~2 hr, Easy-Intermediate, Stop #5 Zion Lodge

How to get there: Park in Zion’s Visitor Center lot. Take the complimentary shuttle to The Lodge (5). Walk across the road and across the bridge to Lower Falls Trails.

Because of all the rain, the falls at the Pools  were full and flowing. I’ve heard it is a little less exciting during the summer months. The trail to the Lower Pool is a flat and easy 0.5 mi. Once you reach the falls the trail takes you right under them along an alcove as  they pour down over you into the pools. You can see the falls from multiple angles if you keep walking.

The Middle Pool is an additional 0.5 miles and the trail gets slightly more difficult with little incline but still easy. The Middle Pool are the streams that flows down and turns into the waterfalls that flow into the Lower Pool.  From here you get a great, wide view of the scenery.

The Upper Pool is the most exciting to see, with water falling from 300+ ft. It’s only an additional 0.5 mi of moderate incline, still pretty easy. Towards the end you cross some small streams by jumping from rock to rock, before you face the towering falls.

Overall, highly recommend hiking the Pools. It’s cool seeing a lush oasis of waterfalls and plants in such a dry setting. It generally is pretty crowded so plan accordingly, and bringing a lunch or snacks would be a good idea!


Riverside Walk, The Narrows
1 mi in-and-out, ~1 Hr, Easy, Stop #8 Temple Of Sinawava (Last Stop)

How to get there: Park in Zion’s Visitor Center lot. Take the complimentary shuttle to the last stop, Temple of Sinawava (8).

Unfortunately, with the heavy rain and definite flash flood warnings we were unable to hike The Narrows. Instead, we did the easy Riverside Walk that takes you to the entrance of The Narrows where the riverbank disappears. It was a super easy walk that took maybe 20-30 minutes and was just a nice spot to takes some pictures at. There wasn’t too much to see at the end. We will definitely have to come back to hike through the water to reach the famous “Wall Street” where the walls really come in and around you.

 

Angel’s Landing, Scout Lookout | Zion National Park, UT

 

Scout’s Lookout
2 mi, ~1–2 hr, Intermediate-Hard, Stop #6 The Grotto

How to get there: Park in Zion’s Visitor Center lot. It’s pretty big, but gets crowded during peak season so you have to park outside the park and walk in. Take the complimentary shuttle to The Grotto (6). Walk across the street to the Angel’s Landing trailhead on the right (part of West Rim Trail).

The hike starts on a sandy path along the river before hitting a paved part that begins a mild incline. Soon you hit the first set of longer switchbacks climbing to Refrigerator Canyon where you walk along tall canyon walls. It flattens out for a bit in the canyon until you reach the challenging 21 switchbacks called Walter’s Wiggles. After that you are rewarded with the view atop Scout’s Lookout!

Overall this isn’t an easy hike but also not impossible. It’s just a steep incline but as long as you take breaks when appropriate, it is a great hike! We went on a rainy day so the heat nor crowd was an issue. But many suggest arriving early to avoid both. While many say it took ~2 hours to get up to Scout’s Lookout, it only took us ~1 hour hiking at a moderately quick pace. We stopped maybe 3 or 4 times to catch our breath and take in the view.

Angel’s Landing (cont. from Scout’s Lookout)
0.5 mi, ~1 hr, Intermediate-Hard, Stop #6 The Grotto

How to get there: See directions for Scout’s Lookout. This hike is an additional 0.5 miles from Scout’s Lookout along a rocky ridge with chains.

After taking a photo break at Scout’s Lookout, we continued on to Angels Landing. While it isn’t challenging on the heart, it does require some caution when maneuvering along narrow ledges. The hike itself is fun, climbing up and down rocks and along ledges with the help of the chains. Since it was raining pretty hard, the scariest part was how slippery the rocks and chains were while we held on for dear life. We were expecting it to be a lot harder after reading other’s reviews but found it to be only moderately difficult!

You continue climbing up until you reach the great view. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the view! While it was disappointing, we were proud of ourselves for making the hike through the cold wind and rain. Even without the views, the towering rocks and canyon walls were still captivating to walk amongst. We will definitely be back one day to hike this again and hopefully see the view.