Utah National Parks Road Trip From Las Vegas, NV
Las Vegas to Mesquite
When starting from Las Vegas, you'll be approaching Utah from the southwest. The beginning of your drive will probably be the most uneventful part of your trip. The stretch of highway from Vegas to St. George, UT is some of the most god-forsaken land in the United States :). The only place you may want to consider stopping at along the way is Mesquite, NV. Mesquite isn't too exciting though, so don't plan on more than a quick pit stop there (unless you like to golf).
Mesquite to St. George
Once you pass mesquite, your next milestone will be St. George, UT. On the way, you'll pass through the gorge carved by the Virgin River. Driving through this canyon is kind of enjoyable. Its twists and turns will definitely keep you awake! It can get a bit dicey though - there's ALWAYS road construction on this part of I-15, and there are a lot of big trucks driving through all the time.
After the gorge, you'll reach St. George. This city has quite a lot of character, and sports plenty of activities. If you want to check it out, you won't be disappointed. On the other hand, if you don't have a lot of time, don't waste too much of your trip here - you'll want to spend most of your time in the parks.
Once you hit St. George, it's decision time. Do you head north and hit Zion National Park first, or go south towards Kanab and save Zion for last? Personally, I'd visit Zion first (because it's my favorite) and since you've just begun your trip, you'll have fresh legs for all of the great hikes in Zion, like Angels Landing. If you decide you love Zion, you can even alter your route so you pass trough Zion a second time on your way home!
St. George to Zion
The drive from St. George to Zion is quite scenic. Enjoy the drive as you wind through the desert and take in the views. You'll pass through a few small towns along the way, and there are even a few smaller Parks you may want to check out as well - like Red Cliffs National Conservation Area.
Just before you reach Zion National Park, you'll enter the town of Springdale, UT. Depending on the time of year (Summer is VERY busy), you may want to park in Springdale and catch the free shuttle into the park. Odds are you will not find a parking spot if you drive into the park. During winter months when things slow down a bit, try your luck driving in.
Once you enter Zion, you will not be allowed to drive your vehicle. Most of the park is only accessible via the Zion shuttle system. So, get everything you need out of your car and head for the shuttle stops at the visitor center. (Note that there are a few weeks during the off-season when you can drive your vehicle inside the park because the shuttles are not operating. Check the park's website for shuttle schedules.)
Zion National Park
Zion National Park has something for everyone. If you're looking for a scenic drive, easy hikes, or canyoneering adventures, you'll find it at Zion.
If you don't want to hike at all and just want to enjoy the scenery, here are our recommendations:
- Hop on the shuttle bus and ride it all the way to the end of Zion Canyon. The last stop is at the Temple of Sinawava. Along the drive, you'll see all of the iconic beauty of the park. The Zion Narrows ends at Temple of Sinawava, so you'll get to see the ending location of that world-famous hike.
- On the way back, stop at the Zion Lodge. They have some great food and a unique gift shop.
- Ride the shuttle back to the Visitor Center and hop in your car. The next part of your journey will be to drive the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. This highway leads you through the rest of the park and offers some spectacular views. It will also take you through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, which is pretty amazing. It's 1.1 miles long and takes you through the inside of the mountain and pops you out on the Easy side of Zion, which as far less busy, and pretty spectacular.
If you want to stop for some easy hikes, try these:
- Weeping Rock
- Emerald Pools
- Canyon Overlook (not for those afraid of heights!)
If you're ready for some big adventure, these are our favorite hikes:
- Angels Landing
- Pine Creek (Technical Slot Canyon - requires equipment and a permit)
- Hidden Canyon
- The Narrows
Zion to Bryce
Once you've had your fill of Zion, it's time to head to Bryce Canyon. To get there, you'll follow the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway to the east side of Zion, and exit the park. From there, it's about an hour and a half drive to Bryce. There's not a lot to see along the way, but if you are into rock shops, many of the small towns you pass through will have one. They are worth a stop.
Bryce Canyon is amazing. If at all possible, try to stay inside the park at the Lodge or the cabins.
Bryce to Capitol Reef
Another scenic drive, but not a lot to stop and see. Just enjoy the views and you continue on your journey.
Capitol Reef is kind of a unique park. Unlike the others in Utah, it has an operating orchard and historic farm.
Capitol Reef to Arches
This drive can be a bit long. No worthwhile stops to speak off, so just drive on through.
You've all seen Delicate Arch on the Utah license plate, now it's time to see it in person.
Arches to Canyonlands
Between Arches and Canyonlands, there are myriad of hikes, trails, and rock formations to check out. If you see something that piques your interest, stop and check it out - but if you're beginning to get a little worn out, it's fine to just continue on to Canyonlands.
To be honest, the popular overlooks at Island in the Sky in Canyonlands are about all you need to see here. Unless you are renting a Jeep and taking an excursion, visiting the overlooks and snapping a few photos is going to give you the Canyonlands experience. Don't plan on spending a lot of time in this part of the park. If you want to do a short hike, the Mesa Arch hike is a great one. It's quite short and easy, and you can snap of photo of the iconic arch that graces the cover of most Canyonlands brochures.
Canyonlands Needles District
This is the often-overlooked section of the park. Many people stop to see the Canyonlands overlooks, and never bother to make the trek to The Needles. DON'T SKIP THIS. The Needles District offers some of the most enjoyable hikes in any of the National Parks.
Canyonlands to Monticello
When you've had your fill of Canyonlands, head south to Monticello, UT. Monticello is an often-overlooked town because most people stop at Moab instead. If you want to avoid the crowds in Moab, stop here for lunch or visit the Canyon Country Discovery Center.
Monticello to Monument Valley
Though it's not a National Park, Monument Valley is well worth the stop. Head here next. as you're driving into the valley, you'll probably recognize the often photographed landscape. The road into the valley is featured in countless films, like Forest Gump.
Monument Valley is an awesome sight at sunset or sunrise. If possible, try to time your trip so you'll be there during one of these times. Most of the Valley is part of the Navajo Nation's tribal lands. The View Hotel is a pretty amazing place to experience the Valley if you want to spend the night.
Monument Valley to Page, AZ
The next stop on your road trip will be Page, AZ. Page is the closest town to Lake Powell that offers full services. While you are there, you can check Lake Powell, or maybe even take a detour to see Rainbow Bridge National Monument. To see the bridge, you'll have to hop on a boat or obtain a hiking permit. Be are though - it's a 14-mile hike to the arch if you don't take a boat, so if you don't have a lot of time, your best bet is to take a boat tour to the arch.
Lake Powell is full of amazing scenery. Unless you are planning to spend a few days here though, the best thing to see is the Glenn Canyon Dam. Most other sites will require a boat.
Page to Kanab
The drive from Page to Kanab is pretty barren, but there's at least one good stop along the way - Toadstools. Toadstools recreation area consists of some unique rock formations that are a short hike from the main highway. If your are looking for some more adventure, make a stop here.
Kanab is a great little town. There are many places to eat, and a lot to explore around the outskirts. Check out Moqui Cave and Peekaboo Canyon if you have a few hours to spare.
Kanab to St. George
You are approaching the end of your journey. If you want more, head back up to Zion National Park on your way home. If you are just ready to be done, take the route to St. George.
St. George to Vegas
You've driven this part before. Again, not much to see, so just head back to Vegas.