Southwest Serenity: A Utah National Parks Road Trip

Utah arches rock formation

Written by Corey Hockett on

Corey Hockett is an outdoor photographer, writer, and editor based out of Bozeman, Montana. Buy his prints or read his words on his website.

Utah arches rock formation


A lot of folks know that the Utah desert is a breathtaking destination, but are they going at the right time? Follow this guide for a splendid fall tour of Utah’s standout national parks. 


It’s no secret that southern Utah is home to some of the most amazing landscapes in the world. From the breathtaking geology in the national parks to the vast prairie along the open road, it’s no wonder why it's a standout destination for road trippers and travelers from all over the world. If you’ve got some time (and in this case, time ranges anywhere from a week to six months) take out the map, pack your bags, and start planning a road trip.

Everyone knows that people love stretching their Park City winter’s legs by flocking to Moab for spring break, and we can’t blame them. However, if you want the same weather without everyone and their sister fighting you for a campsite, plan your southern Utah national parks road trip for the fall—shoulder season is often the best time to visit U.S. National Parks.


Plan Your Road Trip

In the desert, travel can be tricky, so don’t skimp on preparing. Yes, you should bring sunscreen and shades but remember that it’ll be autumn and the temps will be getting colder by the day. Pack an abundance of layers that will allow you to suntan during the day, but stay cozy at night. 

A good place to start is the Migrate Duffel—with 90 liters of storage, you’ll have ample room to fit everything you need. Additionally, the ORV Trunk is a great second bag to bring along for day adventures or anytime you’ll want your gear extra protected. Make sure to bring plenty of water, maps of the area, and headlamps for when it gets dark.


Best Route Through Utah’s National Parks

There are five national parks in southern Utah and they align perfectly for an east-west road trip, or vice versa. Commence your trip in America’s desert capital: Moab.

1. Grab gear and a meal in Moab before heading out to Arches National Park. Drive the one road in and take side hikes as you please—don’t miss Delicate Arch about 3/4 of the way through the park.

2. From there, head west. If you’ve got time, take Hwy. 313 into Canyonlands and explore the wonders of Island in the Sky. Your next move should be to head toward Capitol Reef. There are a number of ways to get there, but a tried and true route is Hwy. 24 off I-70. Stop in Hanksville for the night and have a burger at Stan’s and breakfast at Blondies the next morning before taking off.

3. You’ll hit Capitol Reef at Fruita, close to the junction of Hwy. 12. As soon as you turn south on 12 you’ll have options galore. Take your time as needed, allowing your road trip to unfold naturally, but travel south through Boulder into the heart of canyon country in EscalanteGrand Staircase National Monument unfolds to the south—take in the views of this remote and wild wonder. Weave your way along the open road until you hit the Bryce Canyon Plateau. This is your next stop. 

4. Spend a day along the rim of Bryce Canyon admiring the amphitheater of hoodoos and unique geologic formations. This is one of the most rapidly evolving ecosystems in the world—enjoy its exceptional sediment configurations as they could be gone by the time you return.

5. Last, but certainly not least is Zion National Park. To get there, stay west on 12 until the junction of Hwy. 89 and turn south. Follow this remote roadway south to Mt. Carmel Junction, east of the park, and turn right. A few more minutes of driving will land you in an awe-inspiring world of sandstone glory. Due to the amount of visitors each year, the only way to enter the park is via bus, or by bike. The station is just outside of Springdale, along with plenty of camping and restaurants to boot. Popular hikes include the West Rim trail and the ever famous and heart-thumping Angel’s Landing.


Other Road Trip Considerations

The desert is a sandy (and potentially muddy) place. Keeping gear dry and clean can be a hassle, especially footwear. On these big excursions we recommend picking up a Pack-It Specter Tech to ensure your shoes stay well-maintained for life on the road. 

Keep in mind, the route described is a big trip, and you may not be able to road trip it all in one go. Worry not, and remember to prioritize quality over quantity. Each one of these places would take years to fully explore—consider yourself lucky just to visit one.  


Related Links (from the Eagle Creek Blog)

4 Camping Organization Ideas for Packing Perfection

5 Essential Off-the-Beaten Path Routes in the USA

6 Signs You Have the Wanderlust Gene