Posted on

How to Have 9 Incredible Days in Utah

Hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park, Utah.

With open blue skies, famous red rocks, and even more famous natural arches, Utah is an absolute must-visit for any adventure-minded traveler. Not only is it home to 5 stunning national parks—Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion—but it also has 5 national forests, over 40 state parks, and a whopping 23 million acres of public lands. This American icon and true staple of the Wild West is the perfect getaway for thrill-seekers, while still serving as a meditative place for camping beneath dazzling stars and waking to radiant sunrises.

Here, we’ve pulled together the best of what Utah has to offer in a 9-day itinerary.

Prep Work

First, you’ll need to book a flight. There are two main entries into Utah: Salt Lake and Las Vegas. Although the casinos and flashing lights of Vegas might be unappealing to some, it’s normally a cheaper option.

Once you arrive, you’ll want to have a map and guidebook on hand, both of which can provide you with directions and ideas to the state’s coolest spots. We recommend the National Geographic Atlas, which outlines all state and national parks on a map, allowing you to plan your routes accordingly.

If you hope to see the “Mighty 5”’—a quintuplet of stunning National Parks dotted throughout Utah—you may want to also consider purchasing an $80 Annual Park Pass.

Other than that, strap yourself in for scenic drives, strenuous hikes, and exhilarating experiences.

Day 1: Vegas to Zion National Park

Road tripping through Zion National Park, Utah.
Road tripping through Zion National Park, Utah.
Nate Grigg, mods made

After flying into Vegas, rent a car, and drive 3 hours to Zion National Park . As mentioned, flights are cheaper to Las Vegas than to Salt Lake, and the drive is shorter than the 5-hour drive from SLC to Zion as well. While en route to Zion, after driving through the park tunnel, pull off at the Canyon Overlook Trail. This short, moderate hike will allow you to stretch your legs and get a peek at Utah’s vast beauty. Then, check into Zion Canyon Campground  (right outside the national park) and set up camp. Campsites are affordable and offer hot showers and clean facilities. If you can, get a site by the Virgin River. These sites have shade, and you can take a swim when it gets hot!

Day 2: Angel’s Landing

Switchbacks descent from Angel's Landing in Zion National Park, Utah.
Switchbacks descent from Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, Utah.
Roy Luck

On your second day in Zion, be sure to check out Angel’s Landing Trail, one of the world’s most famous and revered hikes. Dizzying drop-offs on either side of a monolithic rock fin make for an adrenaline-pumping journey. It’s short, but very steep, and arguably one of the hardest day hikes in the country . If you’re scared of heights or don’t have great balance, you may want to reconsider attempting this hike. If this is the case, you can take the hike to Scout Lookout and assess your confidence. The first stretch is a good indicator of whether or not you should go. If you can make it past the first section, you’ll be fine to complete the rest. Atop the trail’s summit, the view is indescribably awesome. It’s around a 4-hour hike, so you might either be done for the day, or you can check out Emerald Pools, too, which takes around 1.5 hours. For post-hike grub, head back into town and eat dinner at Whiptail Grill , an old Texaco gas station, which was converted into a restaurant in 2006. This Mexican hotspot has some of the best drinks and grub around.

Day 3: The Narrows + Bryce Canyon Sunset

Sunset in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.
Sunset in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.
Robbie Shade

For the average adventurer, the Zion Narrows are easily one of the most amazing experiences you could ever have. It’s also the most entry-level canyoneering experience out there, and it shouldn’t be missed. It’s a shaded hike, in the water, surrounded by 1,000-foot canyon walls on either side of the Virgin River, occasionally getting as narrow as 25 feet wide.

Zion Adventure Company (among other outfitters in town) will provide you with special canyoneering shoes, neoprene socks, and a wooden staff. If you have questions about whether this special gear is necessary, rest assured that it will give you a significantly better experience. The sticky rubber on the shoes provides you with great traction and allows you to walk through the river rocks with ease. The neoprene socks keep you perfectly insulated so that your feet won’t get cold. And the wooden staff is the perfect tool for balancing through the river rocks. Trekking poles are too lightweight and can break when lodged between rocks. Most people make it a goal to hike to the junction with Orderville Canyon before turning around, which is around 4 hours total.

Once you get back into town, pack up camp and enjoy the 2 hour drive to Bryce Canyon National Park. Upon arrival, head straight to the park and catch the sunset at Sunset Point. This place is one of the most photographed locations in the National Parks System due to the vibrant colors and the unique hoodoo formations in the park.

At night, check into Ruby’s Campground for hot showers and facilities. They have campsites, RV sites, rustic teepee rentals, and several small log cabins. The one-room cabins are a reasonable rate and have a bunk bed and heater.

Day 4: Bryce Canyon + Escalante

Traversing Navajo Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.
Traversing Navajo Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.
Andrew Smith

Since Bryce Canyon is relatively small, you only need a full day to explore its sites. Wake up early and eat breakfast at Ruby’s Inn. Then head to Bryce and hike the Queen’s Garden and Navajo Trail, ~3 miles of trail that weaves through the world-famous collection of hoodoos—uniquely shaped pillars of rock that form from freeze/thaw erosion. This pathway takes you deep into the canyon, before working its way back up the famous set of switchbacks known as “Wall Street.”

Once you’ve explored the hoodoos and are ready to leave the park, begin the 1-hour drive to Escalante. When you arrive, check into one of Escalante Outfitters’ tiny rental cabins. Escalante Outfitters is a super-quaint cabin rental outpost, outfitter, and restaurant bar, and it’s a great base camp for adventuring in Escalante.

That afternoon, head out to Calf Creek Recreation Area and hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls. This is a moderate hike to a really cool destination that features a 126-foot waterfall cascading into a clear pool seemingly destined for swimming. On your way to the waterfall, you’ll venture past petroglyphs and stunning canyon scenery. It’s a wonderful way to spend the afternoon. (Don’t forget $2 for a parking fee.)

Day 5: Escalante

Squeezing in Spooky Gulch in Escalante, Utah.
Squeezing in Spooky Gulch in Escalante, Utah.
Robbie Shade

Start your day off right, with some coffee and breakfast at Escalante Outfitters. Grab a map or ask the staff for directions on how to reach the Spooky Slot and Peek-a-Boo Canyons. Four-wheel drive isn’t mandatory, but without it you can’t drive all the way to the on-site parking lot. The drive takes about a half an hour in total, winding over well-manicured gravel via Hole in the Rock Road.

Spooky and Peek-a-Boo are non-technical slot canyons, which means that you don’t need ropes, but you do need to be fairly agile to navigate the terrain inside the canyons. Also, if you’re at all claustrophobic, be warned that there are many tight squeezes. There is only one spot entering Peek-a-Boo where it helps to have a short rope and someone with some climbing experience. It’s not difficult, but you could fall if you’re not comfortable navigating steep terrain. Worst case, you enter into the back of Spooky and hike the trip in reverse and just turn around whenever you want.

While driving back up the gravel road, you’ll pass Devil’s Garden, which is located right off a spur road. This is a very interesting park full of unique rock formations and well worth the stop.  Take a break for lunch and some exploration before hitting the road back out of Escalante.

From there, you can take the 1 hour 15 minutes drive over the “Hog’s Back” to Capitol Reef National Park.  Thousand Lakes RV Park has campsites, cabins, and clean facilities. It’s only a mile outside of Torrey, Utah and is really close to the park. You’ll probably be ready for dinner and relaxing, so check out one of the restaurants right down the street. Café Diablo is surprisingly upscale considering the remoteness of Torrey, and there are several other restaurants right down the street if you want to keep it on the cheaper side.

Day 6: Capitol Reef National Park + Moab

Grand Wash Trail in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.
Grand Wash Trail in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.
Roger Hsu

After a classic breakfast at Capitol Reef Inn & Café , head into Capitol Reef and check out the Grand Wash. This out and back hike is reminiscent of the Zion Narrows, but without the water and not as narrow. However, it’s a great option for an easy hike through towering walls and unique geography.  After that, the petroglyph panel along highway 12 is home to famous, must-see petroglyphs. Taking an easy “park and walk” to the cliff line, you can view these iconic rock etchings.  You’ll also want to stop in Fruita and check out the orchard and snap the popular photo of the barn and cliff line backdrop.

Once you’ve had you fill at Capitol Reef, it’s time to head to Moab. This drive is a little bit longer than some of the others at 2 hours 45 minutes, but it will fly by with the knowledge that you’ll be staying in Moab for two nights. Crossing Luna Mesa and San Rafael Desert, this is one of the more desolate parts of Utah, so be sure that you never let your gas tank get past halfway if you can help it. There is no cell phone reception (or even radio reception for that matter) for the majority of this drive, so be prepared.

Arriving in Moab, check into Moab Under Canvas for a really cool glamping experience. Their safari cabins have really comfortable beds and wood burning stoves to keep the chill off at night. You can also upgrade to have your own private teepee bathroom!

If there’s time, take the relatively short drive out to Dead Horse Point State Park to watch the sunset.  You’ll be glad you did!  Note: your National Park Pass will not work at State Parks, so you’ll need to carry some cash to get through the gate.

Day 7: Arches National Park

Sunset at Arches National Park, Utah.
Sunset at Arches National Park, Utah.
Lee Coursey

Known as a “red rock wonderland,” Arches is an iconic Utah destination. The diverse texture and contrasting hues of the park’s 2,000 natural bridges and massive cliffs make for an awe-inspiring setting.

There are several hikes right off the road, which don’t require much commitment, while still allowing small glimpses into the park’s breathtaking features. However, make sure to allot enough time for Delicate Arch, which can’t be missed. Due to its fame and low commitment, there are sure to be several other visitors around. Don’t let the tourists bog you down though; this park could perhaps end up being the most memorable of your trip!

End the night back in Moab for some scrumptious dinner and drinks, before heading back to your home base at Moab Under Canvas.

Days 8-9: Salt Lake City

Garrett

The last two days of your trip should be spent recovering and reminiscing. Head to Salt Lake City—nearly 4 hours. Get a nice hotel. Grab coffee at the Rose Establishment . Eat at the Red Iguana and get a few margaritas. Sleep in. If you still have any energy left, there is no shortage of adventurous things to do in the Cottonwood Canyons and Wasatch Mountains, but there’s real value in taking some time to recover before heading back to “real life,” especially if you’re going to have to hit the ground running when you get back.  Take your time to look back over the photos from your trip and soak in all the things you’ve seen.  After all, you have just covered the entire state of Utah in a week.

Originally written by RootsRated for Rock/Creek.

Featured image provided by Robbie Shade

  • Sounds amazing!

    • Definitely a trip of a life time! Well worth taking some time to do it!

  • Randy Enman

    You can also fly directly into st. George Utah then you’re only about 45 minutes away from Zion National Park. Skip the two-hour drive from Vegas.

    • Good call! A little more pricey, by it’ll provide some valuable time in Zion!

      • James Hoffman

        I agree with you. Fly into Vegas. The two hour drive past the Valley of Fire is a sweet ride, longer if you don’t use the interstate, which I tend to avoid anyway.

        • Jim Buckley

          Except for the 1 1/2 hr delay due to road construction this summer.

          • Neitherredorblue

            Construction in the “gorge” is done. 🙂

  • Monte

    Been blessed to have been able to explore and visit all of these and it has to be one of my favorite areas although if you are in Moab you definitely need to add CanyonLands. Southern Utah is definitely a great place for an adventure.

    • You could spend all 9 days in Moab if you wanted!

      • Monte

        For a fact, great place and area, hope to get back but going to Phantom Ranch next April and Carlsbad plus all things I can work in.

  • Lyle alum

    Did most of this in October last year, and the weather was near perfect. Included the North Rim of Grand Canyon (less crowds), then Zion, Red Canyon, Bryce, Capitol Reef and Arches. Skipped Escalante as it was raining, and continued to Capitol Reef, which was a nice surprise as we hadn’t planned on stopping. Can’t wait to go back!

    • September and October are some of the best times to visit. The Cottonwoods are changing color in Zion and there are less visitors. Capitol Reef is amazing, too. Supposedly one of the least visited National Parks!

  • life_explorer

    Your writer needs to do a lot more research.

    Angels Landing is not “arguably one of the hardest day hikes in the country” –considering that it’s barely over 5 miles r/t, if it takes you all day you should not be tackling it in the first place.

    Navajo Trail is only 1.3 miles.

    Devil’s Garden in Grand Staircase-Escalante is hardly remote, considering it is almost immediately off Hole-in-the-Rock Road, and most certainly is not “arguably one of Utah’s best remote hikes.” There are quite a few more in contention for that title.

    There is no “Devil’s Backbone” from GSENM to Capitol Reef. (The author perhaps confused this with Hell’s Backbone–which is a backcountry dirt road that connects Escalante with Boulder.) The usual way one gets from Hole-in-the-Rock Road to Capitol Reef is via Highway 12, which passes over a brief narrow section locally known as the Hogback. Hwy 12 ends at Hwy 24, which will take you to Capitol Reef.

    Grand Wash has zero water in it. If it does have any water, you’d better be running for your life, because that means there’s a flash flood happening. There are no arches in this wash, aside from Cassidy Arch, which is recessed far away from the wash and not easily visible.

    The national park is called Capitol Reef. Not Capitol Hill. The “park and walk” is more commonly known as the petroglyph panel along Hwy 24.

    The “relatively short drive out to Dead Horse Point State Park” from Moab is 33 miles one way. That makes it 66 miles r/t, which actually is rather long. From Moab Under Canvas, it is still 23.5 miles one way, or 47 miles roundtrip just for a sunset.

    No, with this itinerary you have most certainly not covered the entire state of Utah in one week. You’ve in fact barely scratched the surface of it.

    The photos are, however, pretty.

    • Ruth Thiedke Cummins

      Your comments were so negative, you made me go back to re-read parts of the article.
      Angels Landing – Not hard because of distance but the terrain. There’s a link explaining why it is listed as one of the top 10 most difficult day hikes.
      Devil’s Garden – writer said it was right off the road. Remote here means you have to drive a ways to get there.
      Capitol Reef – writer got the name correct numerous times; you focused on the one time Capitol Hill was in there. The “park and walk” is how the writer conveyed the ease to see the petroglyphs.
      The “relatively short drive out to Dead Horse Point State Park” – 33 miles each way is not that far. (I drive 25 each way to work every day.)
      Agree 9 days usually doesn’t cover a state, but if you map this trip, you have seen a LOT of Utah, especially some incredible national parks. I plan to do this trip, or something really close, in the next couple of years.

      • Correct, Ruth: This is just one way to spend 9 days in Utah, which happens to pass through the southwestern, central, eastern, and northern regions of the state. By no means do we intend to suggest that there will be nothing left to do once you leave. You’ll have a blast out there whenever you decide to go!

    • Shauna

      well said! You cant see Utah in a week. So many hidden treasures.

    • We need to hire you as our Utah fact checker from now on! Thanks for taking the time to do some editorial work for us! You’re right — there were a few statements that needed to be clarified and we made some edits based on your recommendations. Thanks!

      • patricia west

        and still, a good start for exploring this awesomely beautiful area!

  • Gail Kenny

    Skip the trip up to Salt Lake City. You could do a bunch around Cedar City (Shakespeare Festival, for instance), an extra day at Moab, or our favorite, head up around Marysvale for some mountain biking or ATVing on the Piute State Trail.

  • michelle

    Hello. Thank you for the awesome info! WE are headed there mid July. Wanted to ask what the weather will be like. We will mostly be east and southeast…going to Moab area and Canyonlands. Also…where in Utah was the first picture posted of the couple posing with the huge walls around them?

    • Hi Michelle! You’re going to have a blast out there. Take lots of water and sun protective clothing/sunscreen and get a good sun hat — it’s going to be hot! The photo on the cover is in Zion National Park in the southwest corner of Utah. It’s in what they call “The Narrows.” It’s an awesome hike because it’s in the water and much of it is in the shade, which can be very nice in the heat of summer!

  • Atlanta Girl

    I can easily spend 9 days (or weeks) in Moab and still not see it all. Bryce was neat, but beyond a drive thru, I wouldn’t spend more than an afternoon/sunset/sunrise there. Escalante, Zion, Canyonlands are more worthy of precious time.

  • Ilanit Manor

    Skip Capitol Reef & SLC. Spend more time in Arches, and go to Canyonlands instead. Also on the way to Canyonlands go to Dead Horse state park. Views are incredible.

  • Care for a sequel to this article? I spent 5 weeks exploring unpeopled places in the southwest this spring, most of which was in Utah.

  • Steve m

    Ok, best recommendation I could make!!! follow the Utah tourism page and make adaptations. My wife and I flew into Vegas. We hit Zion, Bryce, a horseback ride through red canyon, hiked lower calf creek falls, drove escalate, through Capitol reef, hit canyon lands and dead horse state park before enjoying arches. We proceeded to Mesa verde in Colorado, four corners, monument valley, and north rim of Grand Canyon. 12 days 2000 miles, totally doable and awesome. Things I’d skip were Capitol reef and canyon lands.

  • SourPea

    The “highlight” of Capitol Reef is The Burr Trail.

  • Nessie

    How is arches in november? Would fiery furnace led hikes be available?

  • Nessie

    How come canyonlands wasnt included?

  • Nice to know about your 9 incredible experience.I had some experience as well.Thanks for your great adventure.