The Ultimate Southwest Road Trip: Visiting the Grand Canyon & Utah's Mighty 5

The American Southwest is home to some of America's greatest National Parks, such as the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Arches, to name a few. These natural wonders and endless desert roads are what draw people in and have them eager to return.


Check out this 9-day guide to road tripping through the treasures that Northern Arizona & Southern Utah have to offer. Bonus: you'll only need to take off 1 week of work, since you'll be able to travel on the weekends!

This is a jam-packed itinerary for a road trip that hits the highlights of 6 different National Parks, as well as Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon in Page, AZ. You will experience many early mornings and plenty of beautiful sunsets. Any of the stops on this itinerary can be omitted, but why not try to see as many National Parks as you can?!


2 weeks would be ideal, but vacation days can be hard to come by. For anyone who is only able to take off 1 week of work, this is the perfect road trip guide for you! Ideal travel days are from a Saturday Morning to Sunday of the next week, 9 days.

Contents


I. Road Trip Overview

II. Know Before You Go

III. Grand Canyon National Park

IV. Page, AZ (Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, Lake Powell)

V: Zion National Park

VI. Bryce Canyon National Park

VII: Capitol Reef National Park

VIII. Canyonlands National Park (Moab, Utah)

IX. Arches National Park (Moab, Utah)

I. Road Trip Overview


Grand Canyon ↠ Page, AZ ↠ Zion ↠ Bryce Canyon ↠ Capitol Reef ↠ Canyonlands ↠ Arches


Please note: You will need a car for this road trip. If you plan on flying, fly into Phoenix and fly out of Salt Lake City for optimal driving distances.

Travel Tip: If you can fly into Flagstaff Airport and fly out of Canyonlands Field Airport or Grand Junction, Colorado Airport instead of Phoenix/Salt Lake City, this will save a decent amount of drive time (flights may not be available/may be too expensive). You also have the option of flying into Las Vegas, but it is slightly further to the Grand Canyon than Phoenix is.


If you have an extra day or 2... make a stop at Monument Valley after the Grand Canyon, add another day in Page, AZ to see Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and add one more day in Moab to explore Arches & Canyonlands further


If you want to fly in and out of the same airport and only see the highlights... Fly into the Vegas Airport, then continue on your road trip from Grand Canyon ↠ Page, AZ, ↠ Zion ↠ Back to Vegas Airport. This will be a perfect loop. I also recommend throwing in Bryce Canyon after Page, AZ if you are interested and can make time for at least a half day!


See below for a look on time allotted for each destination:


Driving in from the East?


When I did this road trip, I drove from Houston Texas - this is another doable option if you don't mind driving! The itinerary will stay exactly the same, except you'll make Albuquerque your base point. Ex: Drive to ABQ, then follow the above road trip overview! After Canyonlands, drive back to ABQ for a night before the drive back to Houston.


If you plan your trip for October, you can coordinate your Albuquerque stays to line up with the International Hot Air Balloon festival. Although they postponed this year's event due to COVID, you can still check out my guide here!

II. Know Before You Go


Weather


Depending on when you do this road trip, the weather could either be scorching hot or icy and cold. I suggest avoiding July and August if you plan on hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The temperature at the bottom of the canyon is usually 25° hotter than the normal air temp, so it often reaches well over 100°, and that doesn't sound ideal.


Spring or Fall is the best time for this road trip. I went during the first week of October and it was perfect! The mornings and evenings were cool, and the days were warm and sunny, but never too hot. The foliage in Zion was in full force, too.


Packing


No matter what season you end up visiting, you'll need plenty of layers. Even in the summer, the evenings can still be quite chilly.


Make sure you have your hiking boots, band-aids (in case of blisters!), and a water pack. Check out my guide on What to Pack for a Day Hike!


In addition, have plenty of trail and car snacks that will last you through the week!


Planning

  • Always check driving distances on Google Maps! You may be close to the entrance of a Park, but the trail you wish to do may be 30 minutes inside the Park.

  • The longest wait times I had to enter inside the Parks were at Arches and Canyonlands, however, this highly depends on the day of the week. Any park on the weekend will have a longer wait to enter.

  • Every National Park costs $35 to enter. I highly recommend purchasing the America the Beautiful Pass. This pass will allow you admittance into any National Park for an entire year, and it's only $80. It's good for a whole vehicle, aka the whole family! Trust me, this pass pays for itself. Find it here.

Time Zones


Keep in mind that you'll be in a new time zone once you get to Zion from Page, AZ. Utah will be 1 hour ahead of Arizona.

  • Grand Canyon & Page, AZ operate on Mountain Standard Time

  • Utah Parks operate on Mountain Daylight Time

Another important thing to research is sunrise and sunset times during the season of your visit! I do this for every trip I take to determine the hours of daylight I'll have, when I want to begin hiking, and when I'll need to leave to see the perfect sunset. Just make sure you do your due diligence.


National Park Service Closures


There are a number of closures in place right now due to multiple factors, one of them being COVID. In addition, a few parks require reservations in some form, whether that be to enter the Park or use the shuttle system. Always be sure to check the NPS website before your trip to make sure everything is open and available during your visit.

III. Grand Canyon National Park


When Zach and I walked up to view the Grand Canyon during sunset on our first night, we were speechless. I've only heard of the Grand Canyon's splendor from others, but it really is one of those places you need to see for yourself to understand the magnitude.

Carved by the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon is 1 mile deep and remains one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

Views by Skeleton Point on the South Kaibab Trail

Grand Canyon Overview


The Grand Canyon consists of two main parts: the North and South Rim. The South Rim is open year-round and offers expansive views of the Canyon, with countless viewpoints and lodging options. The North Rim, on the other hand, is much less traveled, offers less in the surrounding area, and is only open from Mid-May to Mid-October.


To drive from the South Rim to the North Rim, it takes around 5 hours. For first timer's with a short amount of time, I recommend visiting South Rim to get the classic Grand Canyon experience you're thinking of.

Map via NPS

Where to Stay


For this itinerary, we will be visiting the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.


The Bright Angel Lodge would be my first choice, along with any of the other hotels located inside South Rim, operated by Xanterra. The views are immaculate, and staying inside the Park can cut back on some driving time. Unfortunately, it can be really tough to get a reservation.


Tusayan, AZ is the closest town with accomodations for the Grand Canyon, and this is where most people end up staying. It's only about a 15 minute drive to the South Rim entrance! Any of the options are good, and there are a few restaurants as well. I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express and I would absolutely stay again!

Friendly Moose in Tusayan

Itinerary: 2.5 Days


Road Trip Day 1 (Arrival Day)

  • Check into Hotel

  • Quick Dinner in Tusayan

  • Head to Mather Point for sunset

Depending when your flight gets in, you may have extra time to explore, but a perfect start to your road trip is witnessing your first Grand Canyon sunset at Mather Point. There is plenty of parking, so bring yourselves and your camera! I recommend venturing out and walking a little past Mather Point to get away from the crowds. You'll have great views anywhere along the paved Rim Trail.

Sunset at Mather Point

Road Trip Day 2

  • Sunrise at Yaki Point

  • Hike South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point (6 miles RT)

  • Rest/Mid-day break for lunch

  • Drive to Desert View Watchtower and viewpoints along the way

  • Dinner in Tusayan

Park at the Visitor Center Parking and take the Kaibab Rim (Orange Route) shuttle bus to South Kaibab Trail & Yaki Point. For info on when the first shuttle leaves by season, check out more info here. Once you make it to Yaki Point and the South Kaibab Trailhead, snap a few sunrise photos and make your way down the trail.

On the South Kaibab Trail, you'll hike past the well-known Ooh-Aah Point and make your way down to Skeleton Point. Once you hit Skeleton Point, you can begin the trek back up.

Take the Shuttle back to the Visitor Center and head back to your hotel for rest and lunch. After lunch, drive along Desert View Road, stopping at various viewpoints such as Pipe Creek Vista, Grandview Point, Lipan Point, and the Desert View Watchtower. Try to catch the sunset at the Desert View Watchtower.

After driving along Desert View Road, head back to Tusayan for a late dinner!


COVID Update: All shuttles are currently shut down for the season. To get to the South Kaibab Trailhead, you'll have to park about a 1/2 mile away on Desert View Road.


Itinerary Option: Looking for more of a challenge? You also have the option of hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up in 1 day, also known as the South Rim to South Rim day hike. This hike is no joke and should not be attempted by beginner hikers. It's a little over 16.5 miles and can take anywhere from 6 to 10 hours, with 9-10 hours being the average. You will descend almost 5,000 feet into the canyon and quickly climb back up. For many people, the change in elevation is the toughest part. To hike the Grand Canyon in 1 day, I recommend hiking down South Kaibab Trail and hiking up Bright Angel Trail. Although the last few miles were brutal, Zach and I loved accomplishing this hike. Since shuttles are down for the rest of 2021, I'd wait on this big hike until things are up and running again so you don't have to tack on extra mileage from parking far from the trailheads.

Views from the bottom of the Grand Canyon, Down South Kaibab Trail and up Bright Angel Trail


Road Trip Day 3

  • Hike Bright Angel Trail to 1.5 Mile Resthouse (3 miles RT)

  • Lunch & Ice Cream at Bright Angel Lodge

  • Rent bikes and bike down Hermit Road to the various viewpoints

  • Dinner at Maswik Food Court or in Tusayan

The Bright Angel Trail is a classic at the Grand Canyon, even if you're only hiking a few miles of it. Since the views are mostly better on the South Kaibab Trail, hiking to the 1.5 Mile Resthouse from the top of Bright Angel will be enough to see what this trail has to offer (and it's incredibly steep, so it will still be a nice workout)!

Park near the Bright Angel Lodge Visitor Parking. After hiking and exploring the areas surround the Bright Angel Trail (the top has so many good viewpoints, too), sit down for lunch at the Bright Angel Lodge and reward yourself with ice cream after!

After lunch, drive over to the Visitor Center Parking just a few miles down the road to Bright Angel Bicycles and rent bikes for the rest of the day.


Bike from the Visitor Center to the many viewpoints on Hermit Road, such as Powell, Hopi, Mohave, and Pima. Once complete, return your bikes and drive to the Maswik Food Court for a quick and easy dinner.


This is your last evening in the Grand Canyon, so feel free to drive around once more and catch another sunset. In the morning, make your way to your next destination in Page, AZ, departing no later than 6am.

Pipe Creek Vista

IV. Page, Arizona


(Including Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, & Lake Powell)


A big regret from my Southwest Road Trip was not spending more time in Page, AZ. We only stopped through and stayed one evening to check out Horseshoe Bend, but I wish we added more to the itinerary.


I really wanted to check out Antelope Canyon, but we passed since you could only view them via tour groups and it seemed a little pricey. Looking back, it would have been worth the $60 per person price tag to see such an incredible slot canyon!

Horseshoe Bend

Where to Stay:


There are many places to stay in Page, Arizona during your short visit here. You'll only need 1 night, so just find something that fits the bill. I stayed at the Clarion Inn in Page. It wasn't anything to write home about, but it was a perfectly comfortable stay.


If you'd like something nice, stay at the Lake Powell Resort & Marina - it's right on the water!


Itinerary: 1 Day


Road Trip Day 4

  • Coffee & pastries at LP Espresso

  • Horseshoe Bend (1.7 miles RT)

  • Antelope Canyon Tour

  • Lunch in Page

  • Kayak on Lake Powell

  • Dinner at Latitude 37


After over a 3 hour drive from the Grand Canyon to Page, AZ, start your morning at LP Espresso in Page for some well-deserved coffee and breakfast pastries. From here, it's just a 10 minute drive to Horseshoe Bend.


It costs $10 per vehicle to enter the Horseshoe Bend parking area (and they don't accept the America the Beautiful pass), but it's worth it. From the parking lot, it's a short hike to the Horseshoe Bend overlook. When I visited, it was pretty crowded, but there are so many places to sit and take photos so I wouldn't worry about not getting the perfect shot - you will!

Travel Tip: This trail is only 3/4 mile each way and is newly paved! Now, it is ADA compliant and much easier to access the views at Horseshoe Bend.


You probably won't need to spend any more than an hour at Horseshoe Bend (heck, I think we stayed for 30 minutes!), so once you've explored and taken your share of photos, you can head back to the parking lot.


In the late morning/early afternoon, you'll want to do Antelope Canyon since lighting is best during these hours. I didn't get a chance to do anything other than Horseshoe Bend, but I'll recommend what I had on my list.


Descending into Antelope Canyon requires a tour that costs around $50-$70 per person. You can choose to see the Upper Canyon, the Lower Canyon, or both. The Upper Canyon is the most popular and arguably better for photos. Plan on spending around 2 hours doing the Upper or Antelope Canyon tour, including drive time.

There are a few companies that offer tours of Antelope Canyon - you can find them listed here.


Planning Tip: Tour reservations for Antelope Canyon book up months in advance. Plan ahead!


COVID Tip: Antelope Canyon is currently closed due to COVID - no tours are operating and it is inaccessible for the time being. Horseshoe Bend and Lake Powell are open for business, so you can skip Antelope Canyon after Horseshoe Bend and head to the Lake.


After your Antelope Canyon tour (if you're able to go!), you can head into the town of Page and grab lunch anywhere you please. There are quite a few different options. Ideally, you'll also be able to check into your hotel room a bit early before you head to Lake Powell for kayaking.


Rent kayaks (or your desired watercraft) from Antelope Point Marina and begin to explore Lake Powell. Even though Antelope Canyon tours are closed due to COVID, many people don't know that a portion of the canyon extends into Lake Powell, and you'll be able to kayak through some of the canyon!


After kayaking on Lake Powell, your room will surely be ready at this point so you can head back and rest. You can either freshen up for a nice sunset dinner at Latitude 37, located on Wahweap Marina at the Lake Powell Resort and Marina, or you can do a quick takeout meal and relax all night. Zach and I went for the latter option, but the restaurant I mentioned looks amazing if you want a nice ambiance or if you're staying in that resort.


After one night in Page, you'll head to Zion in the morning!


V. Zion National Park


Known for thrilling and unique hikes such as Angel's Landing and The Narrows, Zion is a popular destination on any Southwest road trip.

Canyon Junction Bridge

Zion Overview


Zion is home to many mountains and canyons, most notably Zion Canyon, whose reddish tints of Navajo Sandstone were carved from erosion of the Virgin River that flows through the Park and continues to shape the Canyon.


The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is where you'll find most of your bucket-list hikes and things on your to-do list, but if you have time, check out some of the few trails near Kolob Canyons located in the Northern part of the Park.


Please note: All access to Kolob Canyons is currently closed for 2020 due to COVID.

What's nice about Zion is that while it's a huge park, it doesn't require too much driving between different trailheads since most are located along the 8 mile scenic drive.


COVID Tip: Please note that you currently need a reservation to access Zion's shuttle service, which follows the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Private vehicles are not permitted along this road, so be prepared to retrieve reservations for the shuttle, or plan on biking.


Read more about Zion and COVID closures in my First Timer's Guide to Zion.


Where to Stay


The only lodging inside the National Park is at the Zion Lodge. If you're able to get a reservation, staying inside the Park would be a great choice because you're close to all of the trails and scenery.


The most common place to stay when visiting Zion is in the town of Springdale, Utah. Springdale is just minutes from the Zion entrance, and it's full of shops, restaurants, and places to stay. Bonus - it's surrounded by mountains so you'll have great views wherever you decide to stay!


I stayed at the La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham, and I would 100% stay there again. The rooms were clean, the free breakfast was delicious, and most importantly, they had an outdoor hot tub.


Itinerary: 2 Days


Road Trip Day 5:

  • Hike Angel's Landing (5.4 miles RT)

  • Hike Upper Emerald Pools via Kayenta Trail (3 miles RT)

  • Midday break - Lunch at Zion Lodge or by Hotel in Springdale

  • Hike Canyon Overlook Trail, accessible by car via the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway (1 mile RT)

  • Dinner in Springdale

Depart Page, AZ by 6 or 7am to arrive in Zion no later than 9am. The earlier the better, so you can secure parking inside the park! When you leave, be dressed for a full day of hiking.


Start your day with Angel's Landing, Shuttle Stop #6, The Grotto. This is one of the most epic trails in the US, with narrow ridges, steep switchbacks, and sheer drop-offs of hundreds of feet. Definitely not for the faint of heart! Luckily, the mileage isn't too long. The toughest part of this hike is the steep switchbacks that bring you to the top.

During COVID, you are only able to hike to Scout's Lookout, which is the section right before the chains that leads to the end of the trail. I would definitely still recommend this hike. The views at Scout's Lookout are incredible.

After Angel's Landing, you can rest a bit at the bottom and have a snack before hiking the Upper Emerald Pools via the Kayenta Trail. This trailhead is also at Shuttle Stop #6, right next to Angel's Landing, so it makes sense to do these together. Luckily, Kayenta / Upper Emerald Pools Trail is not as strenuous as Angel's Landing - it's only 3 miles RT.


Travel Tip: Late start to the morning? You can omit the Upper Emerald Pools trail and head right to lunch if you wish.

You'll likely want some rest after a long morning, so head back to your hotel in Springdale (if that's where you're staying) to rest and grab a bite to eat! Meme's Cafe has shaded outdoor seating and an extensive, affordable menu. If you'd rather stay inside the Park, Shuttle Stop #5 has grab and go food at the Zion Lodge and a large, shaded, grassy lawn to eat and rest.


When Zach and I visit National Parks, we also try to plan our days into two parts, with a long rest period during lunch, when it's the heat of the day.


After lunch, take a drive along the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway to get to the Canyon Overlook Trail. Take your time on this drive and pull off on lookouts for some incredible photo ops!

The parking for the Canyon Overlook Trail is right after you exit the tunnel on your right. It's an extremely small lot, so if there is no parking, continue down the road a short ways and you'll find overflow parking on the side of the road.


The Canyon Overlook Trail is an easy, 1-mile trail with rewarding views - a must do!

After this trail, it's time to call it a night and head back into town. Enjoy a nice dinner in Springdale, catch the sunset, and get a good night's sleep for a full day tomorrow.


Road Trip Day 6:

  • Hike The Narrows via the Riverside Walk (6 miles RT)

  • Midday break - Lunch in Springdale

  • Hike The Watchman (3.3 miles RT)

  • Dinner in Springdale

  • Pa'rus Trail for Sunset at Canyon Junction Bridge (3.5 miles RT)


When reserving Shuttle Tickets for this day, make sure you reserve the earliest option to get started on the Narrows in the morning! (If you're biking or hiking to the trailhead, start as early as you can). The Narrows can get really crowded, so it's best to start this hike sooner rather than later.


Begin your hike to the Narrows at Shuttle Stop #9, Temple of Sinawava. The trail begins along the Riverside Walk, which is a highly trafficked paved path with scenic views

The Narrows is a unique hike because you must trek through the Virgin River through a slot canyon, with cold temperatures and waist deep water! It's truly an unforgettable experience. This was my favorite hike in Zion.

I highly recommend renting a wooden walking stick from Springdale for this hike. I wouldn't have been able to do this without one! You can rent them for around $10 the day before you plan to hike The Narrows. I rented mine from Zion Guru, right next to my hotel! You can also rent dry pants and water boots.

You're only able to hike in about 5 miles before reaching a point that requires a permit, but after a while, it does begin to look the same so that will be plenty of time on the trail. I suggest hiking in at least 3 miles then heading back, making for a 6 mile RT hike.

After trekking through the Narrows, you're going to want to change into some dry clothes and shoe. This is the perfect opportunity to head back into town for a bit to rest and grab lunch. After a few hours (or whenever you're ready), head back into Zion to hike The Watchman.


The nice part about The Watchman trail is that you won't need a shuttle to hike this. It's located right at the Visitor Center, so if you can find a parking spot, you'll just drive in and begin your hike.

The Watchman was a nice afternoon hike that wasn't very strenuous and I found it a lot less crowded than any other trail.


After the nice 3.3 mile hike, you can do one of two things. You can then walk the Pa'rus trail to Canyon Junction Bridge for my favorite view in Zion, or you can save that easy trail for later in the evening to catch the sunset.


I recommend waiting and doing Pa'rus after dinner, unless you can ensure you'll stop at Canyon Junction Bridge in the morning for the sunrise!


Once you've completed The Watchman, head to the Visitor Center Gift Shop for some souvenirs and head back to the hotel. This is your last night, so try a nicer place to eat in Springdale if you wish! I've heard good things about King's Landing Bistro.


After dinner on your last night, you cannot miss seeing the Canyon Junction Bridge (if you haven't yet)! This itinerary recommends you walk along the Pa'rus Trail from the Visitor Center to reach the bridge for sunset views (3.5 mi RT), but it's also beautiful during sunrise if you can squeeze it in before heading to Bryce Canyon (and you're more likely to find parking in the small lot by the bridge in the morning).

Your choice, but I will say that this view is known for being the best spot for sunsets in Zion. If you can, try to view it during both sunrise and sunset. You'll need to head to Bryce Canyon early in the morning, so drive to the bridge and take a quick photo before you're off!


Stay overnight this evening in Zion, then head to Bryce Canyon at sunrise. This next half of the trip is when you'll really have to focus on seeing the highlights of Utah's Mighty 5.

VI. Bryce Canyon National Park


Bryce Canyon is known for its bright and sprawling hoodoos all around the park, which are columns of weathered rock formations. Zach and I absolutely loved Bryce Canyon! Although we only spent half a day here, we were able to fit in the best hike and most popular viewpoints.

Inspiration Point

Bryce Canyon Overview


During this quick visit, we're going to hit the must-see points and stay within Bryce Amphitheater, which shown in the map below.


Where to Stay


This itinerary does not require staying overnight in Bryce Canyon, but if you must, try to stay inside the Park at the The Lodge at Bryce Canyon.


If you're staying outside of the Park, please note that there are very little lodging and food options. I'd stay at Stone Canyon Inn, or the Best Western. Honestly, whatever you do, just don't stay at the Bryce Canyon Resort. Lol! If you want more info on that, send me an email and I'll go into more detail...


Itinerary: 1/2 Day


Road Trip Day 7 (Morning):

  • Inspiration Point

  • Sunset Point

  • Hike Queen's Garden/Navajo Loop Trail (3 miles RT)

  • Sunrise Point

  • Lunch at The Lodge at Bryce Canyon

Have breakfast in Zion and plan departing for Bryce Canyon around 8am to arrive at 9:30am. I'd arrive to Bryce Canyon no later than 10am. Once you arrive, head straight for Inspiration Point, where you'll find sweeping views of the plentiful hoodoos. This spot is perfect for a photo op and requires minimal effort to get there.


There is a parking lot at Inspiration Point, and once you walk to the overlook, walk uphill to the right for a few minutes to reach the very best views. It's worth it!

After your stop at Inspiration Point, drive a few minutes down the road to Sunset Point and park in the large parking area. There are bathrooms here, too.


Walk over to Sunset Point for some more amazing views and begin the Navajo Loop/Queen's Garden Trail. This trail is around 3 miles, and you'll get a much closer look at the hoodoos as you descend into the Canyon. You'll begin this trail at Sunset Point and end at Sunrise Point.

After descending Navajo Loop, you'll continue onto Queen's Garden Trail which brings you back up the Canyon.

Once you reach the top of Queen's Garden Trail, you can capture the views at Sunrise Point!


From here, walk along the short, paved path towards the direction of Sunset Point (where your car is parked). About halfway back, make a stop at The Lodge at Bryce Canyon for lunch.


After lunch, head back to your car and depart for Capitol Reef National Park 2pm.

VII. Capitol Reef National Park


Capitol Reef is on the way from Bryce Canyon to Moab (Arches & Canyonlands), so it's worth it to make a stop. Luckily, some of the best Park views are located right off of Hwy 24, so you'll be able to stop as you pass through!

Panorama Point

Since the highway runs through the Park, the destinations on this itinerary will be free and you won't need your Park pass.


Itinerary: 1/2 Day


Road Trip Day 7 (Afternoon):

  • Panorama Point & Goosenecks Overlook

  • Gifford House

  • Hickman Bridge Hike (1.8 miles RT)

This itinerary focuses on highlights that are right off of Hwy 24, and should only take a couple of hours, if that. Zach and I breezed through this park and ended up skipping Hickman Bridge because we were ready to see Moab, but if you're up for it, I think you should keep it on the list! It's short, and you'll have time.


Travel Tip: I recall having zero cell service here, so make sure you print directions to Moab if you need them, or just don't close out of your GPS if you're using your phone! Your phone should remember your route if you've already had it on previous to losing reception.


Arrive at Capitol Reef around 4pm, and make your first stop on the right at Panorama Point for incredible views of the Park.

Continue past Panorama down the 1-mile dirt road road until you reach the parking area for Goosenecks Overlook. From here, it's a short walk until you reach even more incredible views of Capitol Reef.

After Panorama and Goosenecks Point, you can head to the Visitor Center if you wish. 1 mile down the road from the Visitor Center is historical house and farm Gifford Homestead, where you can enjoy a cup of coffee, delicious pie, ice cream, and other treats, as well as and other handmade items made from local artisans.


Gifford Homestead is open from mid-March to the end of October. Give them a call prior to your trip to make sure they're open! Even if you don't go inside, this is worth driving by to see the orchards and the small farm.

Images via NPS


Before exiting Capitol Reef and making your way to Moab, hike the short but popular Hickman Bridge Trail. Under 2 miles total, this trail should only take an hour or so, and it features many viewpoints and a natural arch.


Although you've had a short time in Capitol Reef, seeing these viewpoints and hiking the Hickman Bridge Trail gives you a feel for the park.

You can explore more of Capitol Reef if you wish, but if you're ready, depart for Moab, check into your hotel for the evening, then enjoy a nice dinner!


Both Canyonlands and Arches are located in the popular town of Moab, Utah.

VIII. Canyonlands National Park


Canyonlands is just 30 minutes from Arches National Park, but tends to be more overlooked and underrated due to such high popularity of Arches. With over 300,000 acres, this is the largest National Park in Utah, with deep canyons carved by the Colorado River and a flat-topped mesa offering endless views.

Shafer Canyon Overlook

Canyonlands Overview


Canyonlands consists of 3 main parts:

  • Island in the Sky

  • The Needles

  • The Maze

Island in the Sky is the most visited and offers a mecca of viewpoints and trails that can be completed in a day.


Where to Stay


Moab is such an interesting town and the best place to stay for a trip to Canyonlands and Arches. Unfortunately, this itinerary doesn't spend nearly enough time in Moab, so if you can add an extra day, I'd add it here!


I stayed at the Best Western in Downtown Moab and it was great, but really anywhere in Moab will suffice. If you can find a unique Airbnb or Tent Glamping site, this would be the perfect town to splurge on that experience.


Itinerary: 1/2 Day


Road Trip Day 8 (Morning)

  • Grand View Point Hike (1.8 miles RT)

  • Mesa Arch (0.5 miles RT)

  • Shafer Canyon Overlook

Since you've already arrived in Moab last night, you can drive straight to the Canyonlands entrance once you're ready to leave. I recommend starting very early, as there is a long day ahead with some great trails to do in both Canyonlands and Arches! You can grab coffee at Moab Coffee Roasters for the drive to Canyonlands.


From Moab to the Canyonlands Island in the Sky Visitor Center, it's about a 40 minute drive. When you arrive, drive straight to the Grand View Point Trailhead, which will take about an hour in total. The rest of the viewpoints will be for the way back!

At only 1.8 miles RT, the Grand View Point Trail is a pleasant and relatively short hike. If there is one hike to do in Canyonlands, it's this one.


After hiking the Grand View Point Trail, stop at Mesa Arch on your way back towards the Visitor Center and hike the quick 1/2 mile trail to one of the most popular viewpoints in the Park


From Mesa Arch, head to Shafer Canyon Overlook, which will be right before the Visitor Center. You'll have views straight down into the Canyon.

After Shafer Canyon, make a stop at the Visitor Center if you wish, and you can walk across the road to another viewpoint.


Your Canyonlands itinerary only should take a few hours. Head back to Moab around lunchtime to explore the town, eat, and rest before tackling Arches National Park during the second half of the day!

IX. Arches National Park


Arches is filled with over 2,000 natural sandstone arches, most notably the Delicate Arch, which is the tallest free-standing arch in the Park, standing over 50 feet tall. Bonus - it's also featured on the Utah license plate! Hiking in Arches is one of the most popular thing to do in Moab, UT.

Delicate Arch

Itinerary: 1/2 Day


Road Trip Day 8 (Afternoon)

  • Double Arch Trail (0.5 miles RT)

  • Landscape Arch Trail (1.6 miles RT)

  • Sunset hike of Delicate Arch Trail (3 miles RT)

*There will be many points along the Arches Scenic Drive perfect for photos! I recommend stopping at as many as you'd like - just make sure you monitor the time and leave enough daylight to hike the Delicate Arch before sunset.


After lunch in Moab, spend the rest of the day until sunset at Arches. From Moab, the Arches Visitor Center is only a 10 minute drive, but most of the trails are much further than that point.

Head to the Double Arch Trail first, which should take around 30 minutes drive time from Moab (not including wait times to enter the Park). This trail is short and easy, and there is a decent amount of parking along the side of the road by the trail.


This was the first trail I did in Arches and I was in complete awe!

After Double Arch, drive 20 minutes further into the Park to reach the Landscape Arch Trail.


The Landscape Arch is the longest Arch in the park, spanning over 300 feet. This trail is another quick one, only 1.6 miles RT.


After hiking Landscape Arch, you'll drive 15 minutes back towards the Visitor Center to get to the Delicate Arch Trailhead.

This trail is more difficult than many people expect - it gets extremely steep as you hike on solid rock. Luckily, it's still a rather short trail, and the view of the iconic Delicate Arch is absolutely worth the climb!


The hike can take anywhere from 2-3 hours, including photo and rest time at the end. If you know your hiking pace, try to plan on making it to the end of the trail (Delicate Arch) at least 20-30 minutes before sunset. There are so many places to sit and relax once you reach the end.

Sometimes the best light is 5-10 minutes after the sun sets, but it usually gets dark out 30 minutes after the sun set time. Plan on bringing headlamps if you wish to stay longer after the sun sets to photograph. We didn't do this trail at sunset, but next time we will! The colors of the rock in the Park at this time are illuminated in the most breathtaking way.


After hiking Delicate Arch, you can head back to Moab for dinner (and much-needed drinks, probably!) as you've just completed the last major stop on your Southwest Road Trip!

Sunset Views from an Overlook off Arches Scenic Drive

Road Trip Day 9:


Depending on when your flight is, depart Moab for Salt Lake City Airport. If you have a late flight, use the extra time to grab in Moab, or head back to Arches/Canyonlands if there is something else you wanted to explore!

Feel Free to screenshot the below itinerary supplements for your trip: