The 10 most spectacular road trips in Utah

Tick off iconic national parks, discover the red-rock majesty of Utah’s All-American Road or wind your way between petroglyphs, hoodoos and dinosaur bones. These are 10 of Utah’s most impressive drives…

Georgia Stephens
17 April 2019

Towering mesas, looming monoliths and fiery sandstone canyons: Utah’s desert landscapes are vast, making them best explored from the road. Tick off its iconic national parks, discover the red-rock majesty of the All-American Road or wind your way between petroglyphs, hoodoos and dinosaur bones with ten of the state’s most spectacular drives…

1. Iconic classics

Drive into the iconic Capitol Reef National Park (Steve Greenwood)

Surreal rock arches and jaw-dropping sculpted canyons are among the classic images of the American West, and you’ll find them all in Utah’s Mighty 5® national parks. On this week-long road trip you’ll begin exploring the domes and dunes of Snow Canyon State Park, before cruising beneath the rock tunnels of the All-American Road on your way to stargaze in Bryce Canyon National Park. Then it’s on to Kodachrome Basin for panoramic views and petroglyphs, before hikes in Capitol Reef and a sunset wander to the iconic Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. Over your last few days, you’ll tick off visits to Canyonlands, Monument Valley and Lake Powell, before finishing in Zion National Park with two of its most renowned hikes.

Start and finish: St George & Zion National Park
Distance: 930 miles
Duration: 7+ days
Full road trip route

2. Utah’s All-American Road

Driving through a red canyon tunnel on Utah’s All-American Road (Steve Greenwood)

If there’s one road that epitomises the rust-red beauty of the Southwest, it’s Utah’s All-American Road (Scenic Byway 12). This truly is one of the states great drives, beginning in historic Panguitch and unfurling to Bryce Canyon’s curious terracotta hoodoos and the vermillion Escalante Mountains. From there it’s a short drive to the fossil-filled Escalante Petrified Forest and the vivid orange slot canyon Spooky Gulch, before you’re whisked up to the Hogsback’s undulating sliver of elevated road. Then it’s on to the mountain town of Boulder and the Dixie National Forest, before you finish amid Capitol Reef’s cliffs, canyons and domes.

Start and finish: Panguitch & Capitol Reef
Distance: 150 miles
Duration: 4 days
Full road trip route

3. Iconic Classics Southwest

Drive the scenic Zion-Mount Carmel Highway in Zion National Park

Try this short itinerary if you only plan on spending a couple of days in Utah, which covers two of the state’s best-loved parks and finishes on the iconic All-American Road. Start in Zion National Park, where you can climb vertiginous Angels Landing at sunrise and cool off with a wade along The Narrows – these are Zion’s two most popular hikes. From there, head to Bryce Canyon for a spot of stargazing amid otherworldly hoodoos, and wake up the next morning with the cracking three-mile hike from Queens Garden to Navajo. You’ll finish in the supremely photogenic Kodachrome Basin State Park.

Start and finish: Zion National Park and Kodachrome Basin State Park
Distance: 210 miles
Duration: 2+ days
Full road trip route

4. Red Rock & Dark Skies

Gaze at the stars over the Temple of the Moon in Capitol Reef National Park (Royce Bair)

For a route that’ll leave you starry-eyed, look no further than this four-day trip taking in the best of the state’s dark skies – including two certified International Dark Sky Parks. From Salt Lake City, hit the road to Capitol Reef National Park to explore its red-rock canyons until the stars twinkle into life, and follow Scenic Byway 12 the next morning to spend an evening in Kodachrome Basin, a favourite spot for astrophotography. The journey continues to Bryce Canyon National Park, where you can watch night fall from Sunset Point and take part in a ranger-led astronomy program, and Cedar Breaks National Monument’s breathtakingly beautiful views of the Milky Way.

Start and finish: Salt Lake City and Cedar Breaks National Monument
Distance: 459 miles
Duration: 4 days
Full road trip route

5. Native Spirit

Take a guided tour past the Mittens in Monument Valley (Matt Morgan)

Native Americans have a storied history in Utah, and this road trip will give you a fascinating insight into their history. You’ll start in Arches National Park where you can view Ute petroglyphs, before pulling into Canyonlands to peer at the astounding Newspaper Rock, which Native Americans engraved with tales for over 2,000 years. Next make the trip to the Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings around Bluff, and take a tour of Monument Valley with a Navajo guide. On your final day, you can rumble through Cedar Mesa and Capitol Reef to view ancient ruins and rock art, and pull up in Fremont Indian State Park to see the remains of the largest known Fremont Indian village.

Start and finish: Arches National Park and Fremont Indian State Park
Distance: 515 miles
Duration: 4 days
Full road trip route

6. Southwest Silver Screen

Visit the alien landscape of Goblin Valley State Park which was used as a backdrop to the film Galaxy Quest

Utah’s archetypal desert landscapes have formed the backdrop for countless tales of the American West over the years, whether it’s “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” or quintessential road trip flick “Easy Rider”. This itinerary will lead you to some of the silver screen’s most iconic locations, starting with a photo op in Monument Valley, where Forrest Gump ended his cross-country run. You’ll next find the setting for “127 Hours” in Canyonlands, and the alien backdrop to “Galaxy Quest” in Goblin Valley State Park. On your final day visit Snow Canyon State Park, where the timeless western classic “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” was filmed – the infamous outlaw was actually born in Beaver, Utah.

Start and finish: Moab & Cedar City
Distance: 1,005 miles
Duration: 5 days
Full road trip route

7. Powder Dreams

The snowy peaks behind Salt Lake City (Jay Dash)

For a speedy ski-focused road trip, look no further than the resorts surrounding Salt Lake City, which are world-renowned for their deep powder snow. This itinerary will lead you to a choice of seven of them. Start by leaving the city in your rear-view mirror and heading southeast to Big Cottonwood Canyon, where you can choose between hitting the slopes at crowd-free Solitude or laid-back Brighton, which is known for its night-skiing. Then it’s on to the ski resorts of Snowbird or rustic Alta, which receives some of the heaviest snowfall, before you spend your final day on the pistes around Ogden – choose from Snowbasin, Powder Mountain and Nordic Valley.

Start and finish: Salt Lake City
Distance: 113 miles
Duration: 3 days
Full road trip route

8. Hidden Secrets

Try paddleboarding on stunning Lake Powell (KCOT)

It’s easy to escape the crowds in southern Utah if you know where to go. First, hit the road to Arches National Park, where you can hike the little-known and rather primitive Devil’s Garden Loop – you’ll probably have it all to yourself. After a night’s glamping at Moab Under Canvas, cruise over to the 700-year-old Ancestral Puebloan ruins at Hovenweep National Monument, and grab a permit for some backcountry hiking in Cedar Mesa. Next spend time paddleboarding at Lake Powell, and check out Singing Canyon near the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which has incredible natural acoustics. On your final few days, you can climb the rudimentary ladders up Kanarraville Falls or view the impressive petroglyphs at Parowan Gap.

Start and finish: Moab & Eagle Point
Distance: 1,005 miles
Duration: 6 days
Full road trip route

9. Lakes, Stones and Desert Bones

Utah’s dino sites (Cleveland Lloyd/ Mark Olser)

Well off the beaten track, this road trip will give you a fascinating glimpse into small-town Utah life. From Huntington, take an immediate detour to the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, home to the greatest concentration of Jurassic dinosaur bones ever found. From here you’ll head northwest to Electric Lake and the Skyline Drive, which traces a lofty route along the wildflower-strewn Wasatch Plateau with spectacular views of the towns below. The way down to Fairview passes into classic Mormon country, and the town’s museum still holds the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint’s pioneer artefacts. Finish with a tour of one of the picturesque communities – Manti has one of the state’s most beautiful temples.

Start and finish: Huntington & Scofield
Distance: 75 miles
Duration: 1 day
Full road trip route

10. The Fishlake Loop

Walking by Fish Lake, along the scenic byway (Austen Diamond)

If you’re eager for a change from Utah’s desert terrain, this pretty loop will whisk you through lush mountain scenery to a picturesque alpine lake. First you’ll need to make your way to the intersection of Highways 24 and 25, where the Fishlake Scenic Byway begins. Keep going and the lake will eventually come into view against the rolling Mytoge mountain range, its grassy banks clad with groves of spruce and aspen. This is Utah’s largest natural mountain lake and, as the name suggests, its most popular fishing resort. Spend some time picnicking on its shore, or visit the rustic Fish Lake Lodge for lunch in its 1930s dining room. Beyond the lake’s unspoiled northern end, the road loops back to Loa via meadows and sagebrush flats – keep an eye out for moose.

Start and finish: Loa
Distance: 40 miles
Duration: 4 hours
Full road trip route

There’s still more of Utah left to discover…

Explore More

More Articles