The beauty of a scenic drive is the ability to add spontaneity to your vacation and travel to places that are off the beaten path. While many people tend to fly over the middle of the USA when making their way to either coast, a midwest and southwest road trip lets you explore the natural beauty and wonders in the middle.
Although a multi-state road trip has its perks, there are some states that have enough attractions to take up more than enough time that fills one vacation.
If Utah is not at the top of your list for an extensive, multi-day road trip, we are here to show you why it should become a priority. For all weekend warriors out there, Utah is home to every kind of outdoor adventure you could ever ask for. Traveling through Utah gives you access to trails, ski resorts, national parks, monuments, exciting cities, and more.
If you are ready to tackle one of the most naturally gorgeous states in the country, keep reading to get a list of all the bucket-list-worthy stops.
Cities To Add to Your Utah Road Trip Itinerary
Although your Utah road trip adventure will most likely be focused on outdoor activities like hiking, skiing, and swimming, the cities are definitely worth exploring too.
Salt Lake City
The capital and most populated city of Utah has plenty of attractions for road trippers. If you usually have trouble spotting wildlife on your hikes, you can guarantee some animal sightings at Utah's Hogle Zoo. Spreading out across 42 acres, this zoo is home to several exhibits that feature an Asian highlands exhibit, a Rocky Shores exhibit, and an African Savannah exhibit.
Lastly, if you are looking to start your road trip with a relaxing stroll rather than a strenuous all-day hike, head to Sugar House Park. This park provides 1.8 miles of trail for walking and will take you past the park’s fountain pond, lush green grass, local foliage, and soccer and baseball fields.
One of the most popular RV parks in the Salt Lake City area is Pony Express RV Resort. When parking your RV here, you can stay on one of 155 full hook-up sites and take advantage of their plentiful amenities. Some of the highlights include basketball courts. Cable TV, a games area, a general store, showers, horseshoes, a laundromat, movies, a swimming pool, and so much more.
Moab is more remote than Salt Lake City but extremely popular with outdoor enthusiasts. Besides being home to world-class mountain biking, and famous state parks, Moab offers plenty of potential for adventure. If you love to be in or around water, head to Red River Adventures. If you are looking for an exciting trip down the rushing water, book a rafting tour.
You won’t need to drive your van more than 25 minutes out of the city before you get to a RedRock Astronomy site. This tour company specializes in guiding visitors on a tour of the night sky through telescopes. The lack of light pollution will give you a clear view of the stars. The Astronomy experts will walk you through the various galaxies, nebulae, planets, star clusters, and more.
Park City is home to one of the best ski resorts in the state, but the city itself is a charming ski town with its own unique attractions. You can’t come to Park City without making a trip to Utah Olympic Park.
This park was used for the 2002 Winter Olympics and hosted many events, including bobsledding, luge, skeleton, ski jumping, and Nordic combined events. Athletes still use this facility to train, and you can explore the history of the park at the two on-site museums.
For a unique, year-round outdoor adventure, make a trip to Red Pine Adventures. If you visit during the summer, you can explore the nearby alpine lakes, wildflower-covered meadows, rugged cliffs, and mountain views from five feet off of the ground.
These horseback ride tours last about an hour and a half and show you the classic Utah beauty from a unique perspective. During the winter, you can zip across smoothed-out trails on a snowmobile.
The Best Hikes To Try in Utah
There is no shortage of exciting hikes in the state of Utah, but here are a few of our favorites.
Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop Trailhead
The Queen’s Garden and Navajo Loop Trail is located in Bryce Canyon National Park and stretches out over 3.1 miles. Bryce Canyon National Park is well known for its hoodoos and spires, and this trial will give you unparalleled views of these unique rock formations. This trail also takes you right by Queen Victoria and Thor’s Hammer, the two biggest attractions in the park.
You’ll pass by points that give you a front-row seat to admire this colorful canyon and through red and orange sand structures that are natural wonders.
If you are wondering what causes these remarkable formations, the answer is erosion. Rain seeps into the cracks of the rocks, but when the water freezes due to cold temperatures, the expansion causes larger cracks in the formations. Over time, this process builds something incredible.
Dead Horse Point Rim Trail
Located in Dead Horse Point State Park, this five-mile trail offers unparalleled views of the Moab area. The entirety of this path takes you along the rim of the Colorado River Canyon, which makes for impressive views. Additionally, the terrain is generally easy to tackle, so this hike should be suitable for any level of hiker.
For a luxurious stay after exploring Dead Horse Point State Park, drive over to Portal RV Resort. Located in Moab, just off the Colorado River, this park has plenty of full electric hook-up sites to choose from. Additionally, you can take advantage of their dump station and enjoy the free Wi-Fi and cable TV provided to guests.
Angel’s Landing Trail
Located in Zion National Park, the Angel’s Landing Trail is a serious hike that will bring you to an unbelievable lookout. While hiking this 4.4-mile out-and-back trail, you will have to get by steep drop-offs and through very narrow sections.
While the first two miles are along a well-paved path, the last half of a mile is along a steep and narrow path featuring metal chains attached to the cliff. You can hold onto these to help you finish out the hike.
However, although this hike may be strenuous, you will have to pinch yourself at the top when you are looking out over the main canyon. Pack a lunch for yourself so that you can sit, refuel, and stare down at the expansive and exceptional view.
Delicate Arch Trail
If you are looking for the perfect picture to show people how naturally beautiful Utah is, you will be able to snap it during this hike. This 3.2-mile out-and-back trail is located in Arches National Park and brings you right to Utah’s most recognizable arch. The hike is relatively level until the last third, where you will walk up a moderately steep incline.
While making your way to the lookout point, you’ll pass a collection of smaller arches and tall sandstones. However, you won’t be able to miss the iconic arch at the lookout point. In fact, this arch may look incredibly familiar, as it’s depicted on the Utah state license plate!
Acres National Park features beloved points of interest, including Landscape Arch, Devil’s Garden, and Double Arch.
Lake Blanche Trail
This trail is for hikers ready for a challenge. Spanning over 6.5 miles, this demanding hike is located in the Twin Peaks Wilderness Area.
You will begin walking through a forested area where wildlife can easily be spotted, so keep your eyes peeled. As you begin to climb more steeply, you will have an incredibly gorgeous view of Sundial Peak and the Great Salt Lake Valley. Once you make it to the top, you’ll be rewarded with mesmerizing views of three different lakes: Lake Blanche, Lake Florence, and Lake Lilian.
After patting yourself on the back for completing a strenuous, but worthwhile hike, hop in your adventure van and head over to Spruces Campground. Pull into one of their 83 sites and end the night buying firewood and enjoying a camp cocktail by a warm campfire. They also have restrooms, showers, a trash station, water hook-ups, and picnic tables available for use.
Donut Falls Trail
If your muscles are feeling sore from a strenuous hike, head over to the Donut Falls Trail for a more relaxing, restorative hike. Located just outside of Salt Lake City, this 3.3-mile out-and-back trail is fairly easy to complete but still offers impressive views.
Passing by forested areas, through a wooden bridge, and along wildflower meadows, you will finally reach the end of the trail and be met with a steep boulder. If you are content with your leisurely stroll, turn around here.
However, if you are feeling adventurous and want an up-close view of a waterfall, you can climb up the rock; just be sure it is not too slippery before beginning to climb. Once you reach the top, you can look upward through a “donut hole” and watch the water pour down into a small pool inside of a cave. It’s a one-of-a-kind view that is a must-see if you are willing to make the climb.
Utah National Parks
Utah has no shortage of some of the best national parks in the country, offering a range of stunning views and exciting adventures.
Here’s what to put on your national parks itinerary:
Zion National Park
The plethora of beautiful sites to see and endless paths to explore makes Zion National Park Utah’s most popular park. The centerpiece of this park is the jaw-dropping canyon carved by the Virgin River. On the North Fork of the Virgin River, you’ll come across The Narrows, which are so stunning you’ll want to spend a full day relaxing there.
This park sits at a lower elevation than most of the other major parks in Utah, giving it a more temperate climate. Although it can still get extremely hot during the summer months, the winters are milder, and the spring and fall are usually comfortable. Considering this, it can be a great stop to fit into your road trip no matter what time of the year you are traveling!
You’ll have many amazing hikes to choose from, ranging from easy in difficulty to quite challenging — there’s really a good option for any adventurer.
Not to mention, Zion National Park is only two hours north of the Grand Canyon and a 2.5-hour drive time from Las Vegas. Head to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for a short hike or a world-famous helicopter tour. Just keep the time of year in mind — April is the windiest month, which can sometimes lead to helicopter tours being canceled.
Canyonlands National Park
Many consider Canyonlands to be the most underrated and overlooked park within the borders of Utah. Arches and Zion get most of the public’s attention overall, but this park has a ton to offer (it also happens to be the largest of the bunch). It’s a bit off the beaten path, so you shouldn't expect to encounter a lot of crowds here, even during peak season.
Canyonlands has been divided into four sections due to its massive size — Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and The Rivers. Island in the Sky is by far the easiest to access for travelers — you’ll need special equipment and time to prepare for the other sections due to their remoteness. A few of the best sites to see in Island in the Sky are Grand Viewpoint, Green River Overlook, and Mesa Arch.
Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef, near Torrey, is another lesser-known park in Utah that’s filled with pleasant surprises. The unique name comes from the white sandstone domes that look like the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. This park also has a unique shape, running 60 miles from north to south and averaging only six miles in width from east to west the whole way.
Taking your adventure van along Highway 24, the main road that cuts through the park, is a great activity to add to your road trip. Many people drive this route for the multitude of amazing sites — the Fremont River, massive domes, towering cliffs, orchards, historic buildings, and big red sandstone mountains.
Other points of interest in Capitol Reef National Park include Sunset Point, Panorama Point, Cathedral Valley, and Goosenecks Overlook. Nearby is the Cassidy Arch Trail, which can prove a challenge due to the numerous switchbacks, drop-offs, and steep inclines.
Head to the nearby town of Fruita, Utah — right by the visitor center is the Fruita Orchard, where you can pick your own fruit, berries, and nuts — perfect for a family-friendly day trip.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Of all the national parks in Utah, Bryce Canyon is best known for its incredible sunrises and one-of-a-kind geological features. The most famous feature (and the main reason why many visit this park) are the “hoodoos,” which are giant rocks that seem to defy the logic of physics. The base of the formation tapers to a really skinny section with a big bulge balancing on top — this is caused by millions of years of erosion.
You can either drive through the park to see these natural wonders or hike into the main park canyon to get an up-close look. The hike from Sunset Point to Sunrise Point is 1.1 miles round trip and mostly flat but still offers stellar views.
The main reason why we think this is such a fantastic stop for a road trip is that it’s really close to other popular spots in Utah. It’s easy to combine a trip through Bryce Canyon with a trip to Zion National Park: The Zion Canyon Overlook Trail is not to be missed!
The capital city of Utah is named after a lake, so you can be sure there will be some awesome road trip stops at lakes in the beehive state:
Great Salt Lake
Located just outside Salt Lake City, Great Salt Lake is a no-brainer stop if you’re traveling through the state. It’s the largest saltwater lake in the entire Western hemisphere, offering tons of fun activities and amazing sites.
Salt Lake State Park and Antelope Island State Park are the best access points to the lake, where you will find activities like boating, swimming, hiking, and camping. The area is also noted for its wildlife spotting — you can see bison and many species of shorebirds.
Another site worth seeing here is “The Spiral Jetty.” Everyone will appreciate this extraordinary earth sculpture, designed by Robert Smithson in 1970. He used thousands of tons of black basalt rocks, limestone, and mud to construct this coil-shaped masterpiece.
Located right on Utah’s southern border with Arizona, Lake Powell lies within the greater Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. This oddly shaped “stringy” lake (that’s truly a reservoir) is a top destination in the state for all things water activities — swimming, boating, waterskiing, wakeboarding, fishing, kayaking, etc.
Around Lake Powell on land, you’ll find a lot of the same activities that other areas of Utah have to offer — incredible hiking trails and camping sites. Another noteworthy sight to see here is the Glen Canyon Dam, a breathtaking feat of engineering that holds the second place spot for the highest concrete-arch dam in the United States.
The other site to visit is the Rainbow Bridge National Monument, a jaw-dropping natural marvel. It’s one of the highest known natural bridges in the world.
Utah is world-renowned for its winter sports offerings; here are the best stops if you’re looking to shred some fresh powder.
Park City Resort
Park City Resort is just outside of Salt Lake City. Definitely add this spot to your road trip checklist if you love to hit the slopes. It’s the largest resort in the United States, boasting 330 trails, 43 lifts, and six terrain parks on 7,300 acres of land.
Other noteworthy activities in and around the resort include a toboggan-style mountain coaster, Flying Eagle zipline, ski and snowboard schools, historic mountain tours, historic Main Street, The Viking Yurt, and snowmobile tours.
After a day of hitting the slopes, you hop in your van and be at the Park City RV Resort in minutes. Not only are their RV sites roomy and packed with amenities, but they also come with a view of the Olympic Sports Park and stunning snow-capped mountains.
To soothe your muscles from a day of exertion, relax in their on-site heated pool and spa. You can also take advantage of their full electric hook-ups, dump station, Wi-Fi, laundry, bathrooms, and general store.
If you’re into skateboarding, snowboarding, or biking, then you’re going to want to check out Woodward Resort. It’s located in Park City and offers a huge campus complete with slopes, tubing, a state-of-the-art indoor skate park, rock climbing, an outdoor action sports park, and more.
Because Woodward Resort is also located in Park City, you can drive over to Park City RV Resort for the night.
Nordic Valley Resort
North of Salt Lake City, outside the city of Ogden, you’ll find Nordic Valley Resort tucked away in the Wasatch Mountains. It’s known throughout the state as being one of the most accessible, family-friendly, and budget-friendly places to ski and snowboard.
It offers a well-regarded ski school, along with an array of intermediate and advanced slopes. People really love the atmosphere here — be sure to make a stop here during the winter season and bring your skis.
Luckily, Anderson Cove Campground is a short drive away from Nordic Valley Resort and offers 111 sites. Located next to Pineview Reservoir, many weekend warriors flock to this campground for the amenities and water activities.
Although there aren’t any hook-ups available, you will have access to drinking water, vault toilets, trash collection, and a dump station. During downtime, you can play volleyball on their courts, use their horseshoe pits, and go for a swim.
If the national parks, winter sport resorts, cities, and hikes aren't enough to fill your time, there are plenty of other attractions to check out when you visit Utah:
Monument Valley is home to giant sandstone formations that have become some of the most iconic images of The West. You might even recognize the background from the iconic scene in Forrest Gump, where he is running down Route 163, followed by a group of supporters.
These tall sand structures are unique and worth a visit. You can drive along the Valley Drive and admire the sights from your van, with the option to hop out at any viewpoint.
Here are some of the highlights of the valley:
- Elephant Butte. A butte is a type of sand structure that has steep vertical sides and a flat top. They are scattered all over the valley, but this specific structure resembles an elephant and is the perfect photo op.
- Three Sisters. These three sand structures are tall, narrow, and situated close together in a row on the edge of the plateau. It will be easy to spot from your car and worth a closer look.
- Artist’s Point. This is a must-see viewpoint for sweeping views of the entire park. The picturesque landscape will leave you speechless and give you the opportunity to get a view of a majority of the formations at the same time.
Natural Bridges National Monument
Located in Southeast Utah, the Natural Bridges Monument features three naturally-forming brides that are sure to wow you. Formed by water and wind putting pressure on sand dunes over millions of years, you can see the sweeping line patterns on the bridges, displaying the points of pressure.
The three bridges are named the Sipapu Bridge, Kachina Bridge, and the Owachomo Bridge. Luckily, there is a collection of hiking trails and overlook points, as well as the main driving loop, for you to get a good look at each one.
Visit the Sipapu Bridge Viewpoint for an up-close look at the second-largest natural bridge in the country. The Kachina Bridge Viewpoint trail will not only give you a panoramic view of the entire park, but it will also bring you directly to the Kachina Bridge.
Drive or walk over to Owachomo Bridge Viewpoint, the last stop on the loop road, for a beautiful look at the oldest bridge in the park.
An hour East of Salt Lake City, you’ll find one of Utah’s most unique road trip destinations in the city of Midway. The Homestead Crater is a subterranean cave with a 55-foot dome made of limestone rock.
In the center is a geothermal hot spring that stays to hot-tub temperatures year round. The 65-foot depth and 400-foot width of the spring, along with the warm temperatures, make it a popular spot.
Here are some of the adventurous activities you can do at the Homestead Crater: scuba diving, SUP (stand-up paddling), yoga, mineral soaking, swimming, snorkeling, and taking crater tours.
Natural History Museum of Utah
Many entries on this checklist focus on the remarkable geological features of Utah. If you’d like to dive deeper into the science and history of the land, make a stop at the state’s natural history museum located in Salt Lake City.
You’ll find all sorts of interesting stuff here. The exhibits feature mind-blowing paleontology discoveries, fascinating minerals and gems, artifacts that have been preserved from prehistoric peoples who lived in the area, intriguing stories told by members of Utah’s current-day Indigenous population, and much more.
You’ll also be able to catch incredible views of the Salt Lake Valley from the museum’s observatory deck. Fitting a half day at the Natural History Museum of Utah into your road trip should be a breeze; it’s in close proximity to so many other destinations featured here.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
This national monument sometimes gets overlooked by visitors, but we can promise that you won’t regret carving out time to admire this natural wonder. Whether you are driving along Scenic Byway 12 or Highway 89, you won’t be able to miss this stretch of backcountry that features colorful sandstone cliffs and narrow slot canyons.
This area is so expansive and picturesque you might even feel like you are on the set for an old Western movie. (If you want to visit a real-life movie set, check out Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park, where the 1999 movie Galaxy Quest was filmed.)
The park is divided into three different sections: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante. If you want a quick tour of all three areas from the comfort of your own van, make the drive from Cannoville to Boulder. However, there are also plenty of ways to explore the national monument on foot.
The Escalante River Trail is one of the most popular due to its comfortable paved path and impressive views. While on this hike, you’ll have an up-close view of the Escalante Natural Arch and the Escalante Natural Bridge.
If you’re traveling along Highway 89, you can stop off near Kanab to check out this famous landmark site. It’s essentially a natural history museum where you can explore Native American artifacts, fluorescent rocks and minerals from all over the world, artifacts from pre-Columbian Mexico, a vast collection of arrowheads, remnants of the Anasazi and Navajo Tribes, and much more.
This is especially an easy stop for anyone with an adventure van because their huge parking area can easily accommodate RVs, vans, and buses.
This area of Southern Utah is known for petroglyphs and artifacts that belonged to the Hopi Tribe, who originally inhabited parts of Utah, Arizona, and Nevada.
Located just three miles from Kanab, Utah, where Moqui Cave is located, sits Dark Sky RV Park. The name is derived from the lack of light pollution and the dark sky that envelops the camp every night. It’s the camp’s mission to provide guests with a relaxing atmosphere that allows for nighttime exploration and wonder.
During your stay, you can enjoy their Wi-Fi, cell coverage, tank refill station, bathhouses, laundry facilities, and on-site restaurants. If you are looking for a luxurious stay that still preserves the best parts of a camping trip, look no further than Dark Sky RV.
Utah, Here You Come
Having an adventure van is like having access to endless opportunities, even just within a single state. Before you hit the road, be sure to check the weather and make a list of activities you are planning on tackling during your Utah road trip.
First, to really get the most out of your Utah national parks road trip (or any road trip), purchase an America the Beautiful Pass from the NPS that covers entrance, standard amenities, and day use fees.
Throw in a pair of good hiking shoes, your sports equipment, a bathing suit, and a nice camera. Because of the variety of activities, you might want to invest in some storage space for your van to keep all of your belongings organized.
And if you need any other equipment or accessories, browse our collection of adventure van must-haves here.