Home to five national parks and some of the wildest landscapes in the world, Southern Utah is a paradise for hiking and outdoor adventures. The relatively mild climate compared to some areas in the Rocky Mountains makes it conducive as a year-round destination, though some seasons are better than others.
I love exploring Southern Utah and through my own experiences, along with discovering new bucket list items during my travels, I’ve come up with a 10-day Southern Utah itinerary that is geared toward adventurous travelers who want to explore the highlights while also enjoying some epic hikes.
When to travel to Southern Utah
You complete this itinerary at any time of year, though certain seasons have their advantages and disadvantages. To get the best out of your trip, I would recommend spring (late March-May) or fall (late September-November).
Elevations on this trip range from 4,000-10,000 feet, so the seasons and weather patterns can vary significantly across portions of your trip.
Honestly, summer is the one season I would choose to avoid if possible. Southern Utah summers are very hot and hiking during the heat of the day can be downright dangerous in some areas. Thunderstorms and flash flooding are also a higher concern in July and August compared to the rest of the year.
Further, Southern Utah is no less crowded in the summer than in other seasons, so you won’t be catching any bargains or solitudes by dealing with the heat.
The winter can actually be a fun time to complete this trip if you don’t mind dealing with some cold and snow. Some areas will not be as accessible, but you’ll have fewer crowds and better rates.
Bryce Canyon and upper portions of Zion can be quite snowy in the winter, while snow and ice can occasionally make for treacherous hiking conditions around Escalante, Moab and lower elevation areas as well..
If you take this trip in the winter, be prepared to adjust your travels based on current weather conditions, and plan on taking microspikes, poles, and plenty of layers for hiking.
Day 1 – Fly into Salt Lake City and drive to Moab
Time your flight to arrive early in the day if possible, so that you can get a jump start on your trip. If you’re flying from the Eastern U.S. time zone, you’ll be at an advantage as you’ll gain 2 extra hours when flying west to Salt Lake City.
Once you arrive in Salt Lake City and pick up your vehicle, plan on hitting the grocery store to stock up on food items before your trip. Smith’s and Lucky are the closest grocery stores to the Salt Lake City airport. If you’re looking for more health food options, then there is a Whole Foods located on the east side of downtown Salt Lake City that is convenient as well.
Distance from Salt Lake City to Moab: 234 miles
Driving Time: 3 hours and 50 minutes
I realize this might seem like a long drive for the first day, but if you are flying domestically and your flight arrives early in the day, then it is worth it in my opinion.
If your flight arrives later in the day or you just don’t have the energy for a long drive after flying, then the town of Price would be a good alternative for your first night’s stay, which is located roughly halfway between Salt Lake City and Moab.
If you do end up staying the first night in Salt Lake City due to a late flight or otherwise, then I would recommend adding an additional day to this itinerary if possible.
Where to Stay in Moab
There are numerous hotels in Moab, but they tend to be quite pricey unless you’re traveling between November and February when better rates are available.
If you’re looking for budget stays, then AirBnb has more affordable options. Just make sure to book in advance, as Moab is very popular during the spring and fall in particular.
Camping is a great option around Moab and there are tons of free places to camp. During the busy spring and fall seasons, camping zones near town tend to fill up quickly (especially on weekends), but if you don’t mind staying a little ways outside of town, then you’ll have more options.
Day 2 – Arches and Canyonlands National Parks
The first full day is admittedly a big one, because you’ll be hitting two national parks in one day before heading west the following day. Hopefully after a good night’s rest following your travel day, you’ll be excited to hit the ground running on Day 2.
Arches is the smaller of the two national parks, and also extremely busy most of the year. As a result, plan on saving Arches for late afternoon/early evening and start your morning by heading to less-crowded but equally beautiful Canyonlands National Park.
Canyonlands National Park: Island in the Sky District
To fit in a Canyonlands hike with time leftover later in the day, head to the Island in the Sky District closest to Moab.
The Syncline Loop is an outstanding 8.6-mile half-day (or more) hike that takes you through fun, challenging terrain with no shortage of spectacular canyon country scenery.
After your hike, explore the remainder of the Island in the Sky District, checking out the numerous scenic overlooks. Grand View Point at the southern terminus of the Island in the Sky Drive is not to be missed as you’ll have expansive views looking out toward the remainder of the park.
Arches National Park
Arches gets very congested with traffic backups and filled parking lots common during the middle of the day. You are better off visiting either early in the morning or late in the afternoon/evening.
For this trip, plan on heading to Arches sometime after 4pm to avoid the worst crowding issues. Arches is a beautiful park, but small enough you can see the highlights in just a few hours.
A trip to Arches wouldn’t be complete without a hike to Delicate Arch. This is a short 3.4-mile out-and-back hike that can easily be completed in less than 2 hours, and late afternoon/evening is the best time to do this hike because the sun will be to your back when you reach the famous view of the arch at the end of the trail.
You certainly won’t have the trail to yourself, but Delicate Arch is one of the most iconic scenes in the U.S. National Park system and it is definitely worth it to check it out in person.
National Park Alternatives
There is so much to do around Moab it’s hard to pack it all into a small time frame. One option if you want to explore other activities is to save Arches for the early morning on Day 3 and go mountain biking or rafting on the afternoon of Day 2.
Mountain Biking near Moab
Moab is a paradise for mountain biking, though it is better known for its challenging and technical trails. However, the Bar M Trail Network offers a fun variety of intermediate trails that offer a good and relatively mellow introduction to riding on slickrock and desert terrain.
If you’re a more advanced rider looking to challenge yourself, then check out Moab’s famous Slickrock Trail. This on top of hiking in Canyonlands earlier in the day would make for a big day, but you can always ride just a portion of the Slickrock Trail rather than the entire 11-mile loop.
The caveat is that this ride is exposed and can be brutal in hot weather, so I would only recommend it during the spring and fall rather than mid-summer.
There are many places where you can rent bikes in Moab, but Poison Spider Bicycles is a great shop that can give you further recommendations.
White Water Rafting on the Colorado River
The mighty Colorado River runs through Moab and white water rafting through this section of canyon and red rock scenery is magnificent.
Red River Adventures offers half-day whitewater trips through the Fisher Towers section of the Colorado River leaving at 1:30 p.m., so you can enjoy a river trip on a warm afternoon after your morning hike.
Alternatively, you could book a morning trip (leaving at 8:30 a.m.) and save your hike for the afternoon.
Day 3 – Drive from Moab to Escalante
The trip from Moab to Escalante takes about 4 hours without stops. However, this is an incredibly scenic drive with a couple of worthy stops (and hiking options), so plan on allowing the better part of a day for this drive.
Distance from Moab to Escalante: 219 miles
Driving Time: 4 hours and 2 minutes
Goblin Valley State Park
Goblin Valley is known for its interesting, hoodoo rock formations that resemble “goblins”. This park is located only 15 minutes off of your route, and is an easy and worthwhile side trip. Entry to the park is $20 per vehicle.
There are a number of short but scenic hikes in this park that will offer you a chance to stretch your legs and take in the sights. For a quick leg-stretcher, check out the Valley of the Goblins. While there isn’t a well-defined path, with easy route-finding you can make about a 1 to 1.5 mile loop through and around the unique terrain.
For a slightly longer alternative, The Goblins Lair is 2.4 miles roundtrip and takes you to the entrance of a cave (or “lair”), which you can also explore and scramble around without any technical skills necessary.
Capitol Reef National Park
The route to Escalante takes you through the middle section of Capitol Reef National Park, and this is the second “must-do” stop on your drive. The Capitol Reef Scenic Drive is an 8-mile one-way paved road that provides a good overview of the park with plenty of viewpoints along the way.
As for hiking, this park offers another opportunity to stretch your legs and get some exercise on your road trip.
The Cassidy Arch Trail is a great “bang-for-your-buck hike” at only 3 miles roundtrip, but there is a decent amount of elevation gain along with rocky, varied terrain to make you feel like you get a workout.
The Rest of the Drive
The drive from Capitol Reef to Escalante is absolutely stunning and takes you through a great variety of terrain, from desert slickrock to forested mountain terrain as a high elevation pass.
Whatever you do, make sure you still have plenty of daylight for this final 1 hour and 45 minute stretch of driving, and allow more time than this for scenic overlooks along the way.
Where to Stay in Escalante
Hotels and AirBnb’s are both good value options in Escalante. While the range of options is less compared to Moab or the Zion region, lodging prices are typically more affordable, though you don’t want to wait until the last minute to book during high season.
Alternatively, the town of Boulder – located about 40 minutes prior to reaching Escalante – is a also has lodging and AirBnb options, and places to dine.
There are no shortage of free camping options between Escalante and Boulder, not far from the main highway.
Day 4 – Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Hiking, slot canyons, and driving on a dirt road through exceptional terrain await you on Day 4. Hole-in-the-Rock Road will be the gateway to most of your adventures.
Hole-in-the-Rock Road is a dirt road that is typically passable by 2WD vehicles for 50 of its 57 miles. However, the last 7 miles are recommended for 4WD only.
Driving to the 50-mile mark takes about two hours one way, which would make for a long day by itself when adding up hiking/adventures, but even driving to the rough halfway point near Peak-a-boo and Spooky Gulch hike (details below) is worthwhile.
The exception to this road being passable by 2WD vehicles is during or recently after rain or snow, when the road can become messy and impassable.
Be sure to check with the Escalante Visitor Center to get the latest road conditions before heading out, and pay attention to the weather forecast as sudden heavy downpours could quickly deem the road impassable.
Slot Canyon Hiking
The hike to Peak-a-boo and Spooky Gulches is one of the most popular slot canyon hikes in the region, since the distance is moderate and the slot canyons do not require technical skills or equipment. The hike is located just off of the Hole-in-the-Rock Road near the 26-mile mark.
These two slot canyons (or “gulches”) or a great introduction to canyon country. Peak-a-boo is the wider of the two and is a good place to “get your feet met” (literally if there happen to be any puddles of water in the canyon), while Spooky Gulch is narrower and more challenging.
If one slot canyon hike isn’t enough for you, then check out Zebra Canyon later in the day. This is another easy 5-mile hike that takes you to a non-technical, beautiful slot canyon that is fun to explore.
Heads Up: Slot canyons are susceptible to sudden flash floods and can be deadly, so only attempt hiking through these canyons if there is no rain in the forecast. Even just a slight chance of showers is reason for concern.
Escalante State Park
Another great way to spend an afternoon is to check out Escalante State Park. Wide Hollow Reservoir is located in this park and you can’t rent paddleboards or kayaks from Paddle Out Rentals to enjoy the water – a great option during warmer weather.
There are some short hikes in this state park as well, including the Petrified Forest Nature Trail.
Hiking through non-technical slot canyons on your own is one thing, but if you were going to splurge and hire a canyoneering guide to get a taste of more technical slot canyons on this trip, then Escalante would be the place to do it.
Excursions of Escalante offers full canyoneering trips including rappelling for $205-265 per person depending on your level of experience.
Day 5 – Drive from Escalante to Bryce Canyon
The drive to Bryce Canyon is short, which gives you plenty of opportunities for adventure for Day 5. Did you not get your full fix of activities in Escalante? No worries, you can easily do so in the morning on Day 5 before proceeding to Bryce Canyon later in the day.
Once you head to Bryce, there is a worthwhile side trip plus opportunities for adventure once you arrive in Bryce.
Distance from Escalante to Bryce Canyon City: 51 miles
Driving Time: 1 hour and 2 minutes
Kodachrome State Park
A short detour off of the main route takes you to Kodachrome Basin State Park – another beautiful spot with impressive rock formations. There are several short and scenic hikes in the park. For an easy leg stretcher, check out the 3-mile Panorama Trail.
If you’re looking to do some more exploring after this hike, drive a graded dirt road another 10 miles south of Kodachrome to visit the Grosvenor Arch.
The arch itself is great but the drive there is half the fun as it takes you through rugged Utah canyon country, but the road never gets too crazy or difficult as long as you have dry weather.
Hiking or Mountain Biking in Red Canyon
Bryce Canyon is obviously the big attraction in this area, but if you head just a little bit farther down the road from the national park entrance, you can explore Bryce’s scenic neighbor, Red Canyon.
There is a great trail network through Red Canyon with beautiful scenery and a lack of national park crowds.
The trail network is also outstanding for mountain biking if you’re looking for a change of pace. Ruby’s Inn near the entrance to Bryce Canyon rents mountain bikes and their prices are reasonable at $40 for a full-day or $25 for a half-day.
The core network of trails in Red Canyon are great for intermediate level mountain biking. However, if you’re looking for a more challenging trail that’s still not super technical, the Thunder Mountain Trail just across the highway from the main Red Canyon Trail Network is an absolute classic and one of the premier rides in Utah.
This is a point-to-point trail itself, but you can easily make a loop by utilizing the Bryce Canyon paved bike path.
Where to Stay in Bryce Canyon
The small gateway community of Bryce Canyon City has several hotels that are moderately priced. The nearby towns of Tropic and Panguitch also have moderate and affordable lodging options and AirBnb rentals are available in these towns as well.
The Lodge at Bryce Canyon inside the national park offers a rustic/cozy national park lodging experience with a short walk to views overlooking the canyon, but it’s also quite expensive.
As is the case in much of Utah, there are tons of options for free dispersed camping near Bryce Canyon, especially between Bryce and Panguitch. I would scout out one of these quieter (and free!) camping zones rather than bother with the more crowded campsites inside the national park.
Day 6 – Explore Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon might be small in size compared to most national parks, but I think it’s one of the most spectacular and unique parks around and I’m always really drawn to this place every time I visit.
Many people will just drive up and down the road once before moving on, but the hiking trails through this unique land of hoodoos are outstanding.
The elevation of Bryce Canyon lies close to 8,000 feet, so temperatures are noticeably cooler here compared to most other areas on this trip.
Catch the Sunrise
Watching the sunrise from Bryce Canyon is a must-do. Aptly named Sunrise Point and Inspiration Point are both great spots to set up, though anywhere along the rim trail near Sunrise Point will offer good views.
Hike the Navajo, Peak-a-boo, and Queen’s Garden Loop
After watching the sunrise and eating a quick breakfast, head down into the canyon and hike the Navajo, Peak-a-boo, and Queen’s Garden Loop. There are several variations to this loop, but if you do the whole thing it’s about 6 miles with 1,500 feet of elevation gain (most of which you gain as you climb back out of the canyon).
This trek will take you through some of the most famous sections of Bryce as you pass underneath towering hoodoos, and it’s absolutely spectacular. By starting this trail early in the morning, you should be able to avoid the biggest crowds as these trails are popular.
Hike the Fairyland Loop
The Fairyland Loop is a wonderful trail that is relatively quiet and takes you through a less popular section of the park. The scenery on this hike is endless and you really feel like you are hiking on a different planet.
The hike is about 8 miles long with 1,500 feet of elevation gain with plenty of ups and downs. Combined with the Navajo, etc. hike, this gives you a full day of hiking, but is totally worth it.
Drive to Rainbow Point
The paved Bryce Canyon Road takes you 16 miles to Rainbow Point at its terminus, which lies just above 9,000 feet. There are plenty of viewpoints along the way and this is a nice relaxing way to end your day after hiking – or a nice break during the middle of the day in between hikes.
Day 7 – Drive from Bryce Canyon to Zion
There are a couple of routes with similar driving times to get from Bryce to Zion, but I recommend taking the northern route so that you can stop at Cedar Breaks National Monument on the way.
Distance from Bryce Canyon to LaVerkin (outside of Zion): 130 miles
Driving Time: 2 hours and 8 minutes
Cedar Breaks National Monument
Cedar Breaks features a unique combination of high-elevation subalpine terrain and vegetation along with striking desert-like red rock features. Most of this national monument lies above 10,000 feet and surrounds a large amphitheater full of jagged, towering hoodoos.
The weather up here can be much colder and harsher compared to surrounding lands. The first time I visited this place, I ended up hiking during a snowstorm in the third week of May.
The Rampart Point hike takes you along the rim above the Cedar Breaks feature with spectacular views the entire way. It’s about 1.5 miles to reach Rampart Point (3 miles roundtrip) with moderate elevation gain, but if you’re feeling adventurous, you can continue on an unofficial path to check out the Bartizan Arch.
Note: Due to its high elevation, Cedar Breaks is closed during the winter. Typically, it doesn’t open until sometime in May depending on the winter’s snowpack, and usually closes in October or November depending on when consistent snows arrive for the winter.
Kolob Canyon Region of Zion
If you have time or energy, you can also check out the northwest portion of Zion located between Cedar City and St. George. The Taylor Creek Trail is a nice short hike in this area (about 4 miles roundtrip) that gives you a taste of what’s ahead as you explore Zion.
Admittedly, you might be ready for a break by this point in the day before your last two days in Zion, in which case you can either skip this section or just take a quick drive through to explore.
Where to Stay Near Zion
Zion National Park itself along with the gateway town of Springdale are both crowded and congested, so I recommend staying farther outside of the park for camping or lodging.
Lodging and AirBnb options tend to get more affordable the farther west of Zion you stay, initially in LaVerkin or Hurricane and even more so farther west in St. George, the latter of which is about an hour from Zion.
There are plenty of free camping zones on BLM land near LaVerkin, which is what I would recommend if you are camping.
Day 8 – Explore Zion National Park (Day 1 of 2)
Zion National Park is something else, featuring large granite towers and deep water-filled canyons. It’s one of the more popular national parks in the United States, but it’s worth dealing with the crowds because it’s that awesome.
The Zion Canyon Road is not open to personal vehicles for most of the year, so you’ll have to catch the free shuttle instead. Stop by the Zion Visitor Center when you arrive to purchase a shuttle ticket (don’t worry, it’s only $1).
Be sure to check the Zion website beforehand for updates on the ticket system policies, as they are changing during the COVID-19 era.
Also, it’s a good idea to arrive at the visitor center early as parking tends to fill up later in the morning.
Hike to Angel’s Landing
Angel’s Landing is one of the most famous hikes in the United States, and it does get crowded, but it’s an absolute must-do so long as you are ok with heights and exposure.
The hike climbs out of the canyon and soon turns into a scramble over good-quality granite to reach the top, where you’ll have the most incredible views of Zion Canyon around you.
It’s a relatively short (but very steep) hike that can easily be completed in half a day. Go in the morning when it’s cooler and relatively less crowded.
Extend your hike to Zion’s West Rim
Before heading to the narrow ridge that ascends to Angel’s Landing, you’ll reach a trail junction where if you head left, you’ll keep climbing up the canyon to the West Rim above the Zion Canyon.
After reaching the top of Angel’s Landing, instead of heading back down to the bottom, hop onto the West Rim Trail and turn your hike into a full-day epic.
Once you reach the top of the rim, you can go for an additional 5-mile loop up top before heading back down the way you came – turning this into a 15.5 mile trek (including Anglel’s Landing) with over 4,000 feet of elevation gain.
Plan Ahead for the Zion Narrows
The famous Zion Narrows are worth checking on the following day if conditions allow. Typically early summer and fall are the best times to hike the narrows when water levels are lower, water is relatively warm, and flash flood potential is lower.
During mid/late summer, flash flooding potential is higher due to thunderstorms, and during the spring snowmelt season, water levels may reach levels that force the park to close The Narrows.
At any rate, since you’ll be hiking through water the entire time, it’s necessary to rent proper footwear and wet/dry suits. Zion Adventure Company is your best bet and rents you the necessary gear based on current conditions.
Day 9 – Explore Zion National Park (Day 2 of 2)
There are a number of viable options for your second day in Zion depending on the season and current conditions.
Hike The Zion Narrows
This is the other famous hike (in addition to Angel’s Landing) in Zion, and it’s also unique in that you’re hiking through a stream for nearly the entire time. The true extent of the Narrows extends for 15 miles, but that is much too ambitious for a dayhike here unless you’re starting at the top and hiking down.
Instead, take a day trip into The Narrows and turn around at Big Springs (4.5 miles one way), as this will still give you the full Narrows experience while also being manageable as a day hike where you can take your time and enjoy the journey.
As I mentioned before, be sure to rent equipment from the Zion Adventure Company and to check in with them about current conditions and rain/flash flood potential.
Alternatives to Hiking The Narrows
If conditions are not right for The Narrows, there are plenty of outstanding “dry” hiking alternatives. Observation Point is another challenging and scenic hike that ascends from the valley bottom to Zion’s East Rim, climbing about 2,000 feet in 4 miles (8 miles roundtrip).
Looking for a less strenuous alternative after yesterday’s big hike? Good news, you can head to East Zion and hike to Observation Point via the flat 3.3-mile East Mesa Trail (6.6 miles roundtrip) that starts atop the East Rim plateau.
This is another beautiful hike that takes you through a different ecosystem of Zion, and is also a more “chill” hike compared to Angel’s Landing/West Rim from the day before.
Check out Zion Mountain Ranch
For purposes of suggested itineraries, I usually steer clear of restaurant recommendations as that goes beyond the scope of adventure itineraries, but in this case, I will recommend checking out Zion Mountain Ranch just east of the national park boundary.
If you happen to hike the East Mesa Trail to Observation Point, this makes for a great stop on the way back.
Zion Mountain Ranch is a nice, quiet location that is home to horses and a herd of bison, along with delicious farm-to-table dining.
If you’re looking for a relaxing afternoon activity, book a 1-2 hour horseback trip and then eat at their delicious restaurant where they serve you home-grown and locally-source food.
Day 10 – Drive to the Salt Lake City Airport
It’s a bit of a drive from Zion to Salt Lake City, so book your flight out during the afternoon if possible.
Distance from LaVerkin to SLC Airport: 292 miles
Driving Time: 4 hours and 9 minutes
If you are stuck with booking an earlier flight, then you’ll have to at least start your drive back to Salt Lake City after Day 9’s adventures.
Unfortunately there aren’t many towns along the way in this remote section of Utah – the town of Beaver (2 hours 50 minutes from SLC Airport) is an option, otherwise Spanish Fork (50 minutes from SLC Airport) is probably your next best option without driving all the way there.
Extending Your Trip to 14 Days
Good idea! With an extra four days, I would do the following:
1 extra day in Moab, explore the Canyonlands Needles District
2 extra days in Escalante (or 1 day in Escalante, 1 day in Bryce)
1 extra day in Zion
Condense Your Trip into 7 Days
This is a much harder trip to pull off with only 7 days. If you must, then I would recommend cutting out the Moab portion and turning this into a Southwest Utah trip instead.
Instead, here is how I would fit in a 7-day trip:
Day 1 – Arrive in SLC, drive to Bryce Canyon
Day 2 – Explore Bryce Canyon
Day 3 – Day trip to explore Escalante
Day 4 – Drive from Bryce Canyon to Zion
Day 5 – Explore Zion
Day 6 – Explore Zion
Day 7 – Drive from Zion to SLC to fly out