Here are some sample itineraries for visiting Utah’s Mighty Five national parks.
If you only have one day, some hard choices have to be made. Although it’s not possible to visit all of the parks in that short time, here are some suggestions for one day in each park
After checking out the exhibits in the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, hop on the free shuttle bus and take it to the end of the line, the Temple of Sinawava. Along the way you’ll be treated to some spectacular canyon views, as well as a short narrated tour. The trailhead for the Riverside Walk — which makes a good introductory hike — is just a short walk from the bus stop. The trail follows the Virgin River and ends at the beginning of the Zion Narrows. After the hike, take the shuttle bus to The Grotto picnic area and enjoy an early lunch. There are plenty of picnic tables in the shaded grove, and you’ll get a great view of Angels Landing. After lunch, take the shuttle bus to Canyon Junction, for a gander at the iconic Watchman; then follow the 1.8-mile Pa’rus Trail back to the visitor center.
Begin you day by viewing the short film, Shadows of Time at the Bryce Canyon Visitor Center. From there, take the free shuttle bus up to Inspiration Point. After you’ve admired the view from the lower viewpoint, take the 2.6-mile Bryce Canyon Shared Use Path back to the visitor center, stopping along the way at The Lodge at Bryce Canyon for lunch. In the afternoon take the 3.5-hour ranger- led bus tour out to Rainbow Point. The tour is free but reservations are required. They can be made by calling (435) 834-5290 up to 24 hours in advance. Plan ahead to avoid disappointment.
Pick up a Canyonlands audio tour in the book store at the Island in the Sky Visitor Center, then head out to explore this “island” mesa that rises 1,000 feet above the surrounding land. Truly you can start this drive in whatever direction you choose, and listen to the tour along the way. You’ll get the best views from Green River Overlook, Orange Cliffs Overlook and Grandview Point Overlook. White Rim Overlook makes a good lunch stop. And don’t forget to take a slow drive through the Upheaval Dome Picnic Area, for a good windshield view of this collapsed salt dome.
Start your day out with a stop at the visitor center to check out the interpretive exhibits and to pick up a park map. After that, drive out to Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint for a look at one of the most photographed formations in the park. Next stop is Wolfe Ranch to see the remains of a historic cabin, and take a short walk out to a rock wall filled with petroglyphs. After that, head out to the windows section of the park and take the trails out to the South Window and Double Arch. Take a lunch break at the Balanced Rock Picnic Area, before taking the short trail out to the precariously perched rock. Finally, work you way back out to the visitor center and stop at Courthouse Towers Viewpoint, Las Sal Mountain Viewpoint and Park Avenue Viewpoint along the way.
After a short stop at the visitor center, continue east along Highway 24 and visit the historic Fruita Schoolhouse, take a stroll along the nearby Petroglyph Boardwalk, and then check out the view at the Hickman Bridge Trailhead. Head back towards the visitor center, and take the eight-mile scenic drive out to Capitol Gorge, stopping for lunch along the way at the Doc Inglesby Picnic Area. Take your time on the drive back, as the views are especially dramatic coming from that direction. Don’t forget to stop at the Blacksmith Shop, which has an wayside exhibit of antique tools, before you exit the park. Top of Page
There are still some choices to be made on the three-day itinerary. You can see Zion and Bryce, or Canyonlands and Arches, but not both.
Zion and Bryce
Do the Zion one-day itinerary and spend the night in nearby Springdale. The next morning head over to the west side of the park and take the Kolob Canyons Scenic Drive. After that, drive over to Bryce Canyon National Park, and stop at Fairyland Point, just before you get to the visitor center. Stop in at the visitor center and check the schedule for the ranger-led Geology Walk and Rim Walk, then plan your afternoon schedule to include them both. It time allows drive out to Paria View and Bryce Point for some good canyon views. Plan to overnight at one of the hotels in Bryce Canyon City, located just outside of the park. The next day, continue with the one-day Bryce itinerary.
Arches and Canyonlands
Start with the Arches one-day itinerary, and spend the night in Moab. On the second day, return to Arches and drive out to the end of the scenic drive and do the first part of the Devils Garden Trail. On your way back to the visitor center stop at Sand Dune Arch, Fiery Furnace Viewpoint, Salt Valley Overlook and Panorama Point along the way. Spend the afternoon exploring the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, located southwest of Moab. Wrap-up your visit with the one-day Canyonlands itinerary. Top of Page
This one week itinerary gives you a good sampling of all five of Utah’s national parks.
Begin with the Zion and Bryce three-day Itinerary, then travel over the scenic Mt. Carmel Highway, and continue on to Capitol Reef National Park. After checking out the interpretive exhibits at the visitor center, take the eight-mile scenic drive out to Capitol Gorge. Enjoy the view, then stop for a lunch break at one of the shaded picnic tables at the end of the road. Spend the night in nearby Torrey, but don’t forget to stop for the view at Panorama Point on your way out of the park. Continue the next day with the three-day Arches and Canyonlands itinerary. Top of Page
This ten day itinerary allows you to visit some scenic areas outside the national park boundaries. Just supplement the one week itinerary with a visit to any three of these nearby sites.
- Snow Canyon State Park, located 50 miles west of Zion
- Coral Pink San Dunes State Park, located 30 miles southeast of Zion
- The Moab Museum of Film and Western Heritage, Castle Valley Winery and scenic Highway 128, located near Arches
- Red Canyon, located along Scenic Byway 12, northwest of Bryce Canyon City
- Anasazi State Park Museum, located in Boulder, 50 miles southwest of Capitol Reef National Park