Towering rock formations, dramatic landscapes, and picture-perfect hiking trails. Utah is one of the most amazing places in the United States to feast your eyes on mind-blowing scenery. If you’re a nature lover, start your engine and indulge yourself on a National Parks road trip through The Beehive State! While the most traditional way to embark on a Utah adventure is a week-long trip to hike “The Mighty Five,” you may only have a short amount of time to experience the midwestern natural beauty. Although it’s definitely a tight trip with lots of hours in the car, it’s fully possible to experience at least a bit of Utah’s beauty on a mini-cation. Here’s your Utah National Parks 3 Day Itinerary!
Be sure to also check out these 15 free apps that every traveler should have in their back pocket!
Day 1: Arches National Park
On our first day in Utah, we flew into Salt Lake City Airport and drove about 4 hours out to Arches National Park. It sounds long, but it’s definitely doable! It was a perfect first day park due to the amazing sunset and short 2-3 hour hike.
Although Arches National Park is home to over 2,000 arches, Delicate Arch is one of the most widely recognized geological features in the world. It’s even on the standard-issue license plate for the state of Utah! The freestanding structure’s opening is almost 50 feet high and 32 inches wide, and seems to defy gravity. The hike up to the arch is a short, yet strenuous 3 miles – but the payoff is totally worth it. Bring twice as much water as you think you’ll need. The steep slickrock slope is not only the hardest part of the hike, but also has no shade at all. Push and pace yourself up to the top. You can do it!
Afterwards, settle in for the evening at a local campsite or hotel near Bryce Canyon for a bright and early morning at another amazing park!
Hot Tip: Visit Arches during sunset – the way the orange rocks light up under the golden sun is amazing!
Day 2: Bryce Canyon National Park
On day two, head 4 hours southwest to the otherworldly scene that is Bryce Canyon National Park. Did you know that Bryce Canyon, despite its name, isn’t actually a canyon at all? Instead, it’s a series of more than a dozen natural amphitheaters, each of them carved at least 1,000 feet into the limestone of the plateau which it sits. The park’s surreal landscape is most famously known for its hoodoos – the towering rock formations that you see pictured above. Hundreds of years of erosion from water, wind, and snow, have formed this natural wonderland that draws flocks of over 1.5 MILLION people each year.
The top scenic trail in Bryce is the Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden connector trail. It carries you down through the most breathtaking sections of the park for the best views. We opted to hike from Sunrise Point to Sunset Point, but you can hike from Sunset to Sunrise if you’d like as well. Either direction offers the same views! Although the trail is only 2.9 miles, the 550 foot elevation change is killer. Be prepared to sweat!
After your day at Bryce Canyon, you could either stay close to Bryce for the evening or drive 1.5 hours to Zion National Park and stay in Springdale to be close to the park in the morning. I’d recommend deciding this before you embark on your trip, because accommodations near the parks can fill up quickly.
Day 3: Zion National Park
On your third day, save the best for last and visit Zion National Park. Did you know it’s the fourth most visited National Park in the United States? That’s out of a whopping 423 parks, and with good reason. From the moment you drive into the park, you’re overwhelmed by a feeling of amazement. Winding roads take you through, between, and under sky-scraping sandstone cliffs. Coupled with turquoise lagoons, beautiful campsites, and tons of history – it’s one of the most amazing places to add to your bucket list. Here are a few ways to enjoy Zion National Park.
The cool thing about Zion is that there are SO many hikes of various lengths, difficulty, and elevation. If you have time to spend the entire day in the park, the two most popular strenuous hikes are Angel’s Landing (5-6 hours) and The Narrows (2-6 hours). Since we didn’t arrive at the park quite as early as we’d hoped, we opted for the quick and scenic Canyon Overlook Trail (1 Mile, Moderate) pictured above. It was still stunning!
Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel
The 5,613-foot-long Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel was literally blasted through the sandstone cliffs at Pine Creek Canyon in the 1930s. Since then, it’s been hailed as an engineering marvel and is one of the most popular landmarks in the park. Take a moment out of your day to drive through and be astounded by its architectural greatness.
Small Town Charm in Springdale
Sitting just outside the entrance to Zion National Park is the charming, yet small, town of Springdale. Lining the main thoroughfare of Zion Park Boulevard are a variety of souvenir shops, boutiques, galleries, and restaurants. If you have time, be sure to make a stop by Casa de Amigos for tacos, margaritas, and fresh guacamole!
As you can see, a 3-day trip to Utah is a bit tight – but still doable with some will power and coffee. Although our trip was very exhausting, it was completely worth the drive to see these stunning natural wonders. I’ll leave you with a few things to know before you go below! Happy trekking, discoverers!
A Few Things to Know Before You Go:
- Utah has been an incredibly popular destination lately, and it shows. Be sure to plan ahead for EVERYTHING – accommodations, rental cars, attraction tickets, and more.
- Be prepared to drive – a lot. The National Parks are quite spread apart, with the exception of Bryce & Zion (1.5 hours) and Canyonlands & Arches (32 minutes). Majority of the other parks are 4-5 hours away from one another, so plan accordingly!
- Due to the ongoing health concerns surrounding large crowds, temporary entrance delays are possible. Parking lots at trailheads are often full before 8:30 am, causing the park to temporarily restrict access until congestion lessens. You can always find out whether a park has temporarily restricted access by keeping an eye on the park’s listing at NPS.gov. There will be a banner at the top of the webpage letting you know the status of entrance.
Be sure to subscribe for more itineraries, trip guides, travel hacks, and more!