The Best 8-Day Utah Road Trip Adventure Itinerary

One of the most iconic road-trips in America is the drive through Utah’s desert! With bright red rocks, orange sand, massive canyons and mountains we learned that Utah really has it all. This road-trip takes you through epic desert landscapes in the USA, to the best National Parks in America and on incredible desert trails. This is the most popular road-trip routes in the USA for a reason!

We drove all the way from Vancouver, BC, Canada to see explore Utah and will never forget this trip of a lifetime. Our itinerary included 4/5 of Utah’s National Parks as well as some exclusive permit-only hikes and hidden gems off the regular path! We had the most epic road-trip through Utah and I’m here to share our 8-day adventure itinerary with you!

What you need to know before your Utah road-trip

Before you start your trip, plan ahead! Utah has 5 incredibly famous National Parks and most people try to see them all in one road-trip. Know that you will need to have an America The Great Parks Pass before entering the parks or purchase at park gates. Also, make sure to map out your route and download offline maps! Some of the places we visited were remote and did not have cell service. Make note of any off-roading and make sure your vehicle is prepared.

The best time of the year to visit Utah would be in early Spring. It gets very hot in Utah during the summer and most people try to avoid the months of June, July and August for extreme temperatures. We planned our visit for April and it was perfect! Try to plan for March, April or May, but know that early Spring could have cold temperatures and even snow. Utah has some incredible hikes with permit systems in place (The Wave, Angels Landing, The Narrow) so try to plan permits and campgrounds ahead of time!

Where to start your Utah road-trip

We drove all the way from Vancouver, BC so our travel route might look a little bit different from yours. Whether you flew in and are renting a vehicle to road trip, or road-tripping from home, there are a few different ways to approach this trip. If you’re looking to fly in, I would recommend flying into either Salt Lake City, Utah or Vegas, Nevada to start your trip. If you add Vegas to your trip you can stop at The Valley of Fire on your way.

We decided to start our trip by driving to Twin Falls, Idaho and then to Salt Lake City and begin our Utah adventures in Zion National Park. Starting in Zion National Park meant we were going to be travelling in a loop from the Southwest across Southern Utah stopping in Kanab, through Arizona to Monument Valley, up to Moab and looping back through Hanksville and back to Salt Lake. You can do our route in reverse by starting in Hanksville and ending in Zion.

Some of our plans changed last minute (when we won permits to The Wave) and we visited 4/5 of Utah’s Mighty Five National Parks. We also travelled with our dog so that meant most of the hikes we wanted to do were not accessible in the National Parks with a dog. We drive a capable 4×4 vehicle, however, Utah’s off-roading is completely different and some off-roading spots weren’t possible for us! There is so much more for us to see in Utah!

Our Actual 8-day Utah road-trip Itinerary

I’m sharing the itinerary we used for an 8-day trip around Utah all the way from Vancouver, BC! It took us an entire day of driving to get to Twin Falls, Idaho and the next morning we started at Meadow Hot Springs near Meadow, Utah. On our way home we stopped in Salt Lake City and the Salt Flats before sleeping in Twin Falls and driving all the way back to Vancouver, BC. This was an 18 hour drive and we didn’t make any other notable stops along the way! Our actual trip including travel was 10-days.

You might also notice that our itinerary doesn’t visit all of the National Parks in Utah (we missed Bryce Canyon National Park and didn’t get to hike in Zion) this is because we were travelling with our dog! Dogs are not allowed in National Parks in the USA and we had to get creative with hotel stays in order to see 4/5 of Utah’s National Parks. Our itinerary includes hidden gems, stops that most people don’t visit, and a special hike that requires you to win permits. If you have a 4X4 vehicle you can reach even more epic spots in Utah, but start here for our ultimate adventure itinerary!

Day One: Hot springs & Zion National Park

We started our day at a free campsite near Meadow, Utah. This was at Meadow Hot Springs, a beautiful property with 3 natural hot spring pools. The person who owns the land permits public use and asks that you clean up after yourselves and no dogs/pets in the pools. This is a free camping spot if your vehicle can make it down the bumpy road. We enjoyed a sunrise dip in the third hot spring and had coffee and breakfast before driving to Zion National Park!

We drove into Zion National Park to spend the rest of our day. This was definitely our favourite park and its beauty is something you need to see in person once in your life. Zion National Park is home to some of the most exclusive hikes in the USA (Angels Landing, The Narrows) but since we had our dog with us we only had one option to hike. The Pa’rus Trail is found at Zion Canyon Visitors Centre and is a 5KM out and back trail. We stopped at Feel Love Cafe for iced coffees!

During our visit in April, most of the road through Zion was closed so we opted to drive the Mt Camel Scenic Drive on Scenic Byway-9. We explored this incredibly beautiful drive of Zion by our car and stopped many times for photos alongside the highway. We found free camping for the night and slept right outside of Zion National Park.

Day Two: Kanab, Utah

We woke up and drove through Zion National Park again for sunrise, this time heading all the way out to Kanab, Utah! This charming town is full of activities and we spent the entire day outside. The first stop was to hike Buckskin Gulch, one of the only slot canyon hikes that you can bring a dog with you. This slot canyon is the longest in the world, so although the trail is 15KM long you do not have to hike the entire trail to see the epic slot canyons. It’s an easy hike and one of the coolest things to be surrounded by the orange rock walls towering above you.

Our next stop in Kanab was to hike the Sand Caves. These sand caves are found right off the highway and involve a quick, uphill hike to see them. Once you’re at the top, there are about 3-5 different cave areas and plenty of space to take photos. The unique sand cave openings were really cool to see and require little effort!

Our final stop of the day was a quick drive off of Highway 89 to Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness area for sunset, dinner and a free camping spot. We had a tiny bit of cell service and found out that we won permits to The Wave this night. We watched the sun go down over the Rainbow Mountains and couldn’t sleep because we were so excited.

Day Three: Monument Valley & Valley of the Gods

Day Three was a long day of driving but ended up being one of our favourite parts of the trip. We had to come back to Kanab to hike The Wave the next day, so we decided to do a 4 hour drive to Monument Valley. This was a total of 8 hours of driving and was a last minute decision that was so worth it! The beautiful drive brought us past the iconic Utah sign when we drove into Arizona, past Glen Canyon Dam, through Page, past Antelope Canyon, Lake Powell and through Navajo Valley.

Driving through Monument Valley was incredible and nothing like I’ve ever seen before. That’s why I HIGHLY recommend adding this scenic route to your Utah road trip. The large, sandstone structures are truly iconic and the landscape was truly like a different planet. We drove to the famous “Forrest Gump Road” on Highway 163 and took a photo in the exact same spot as the movie!

From there, we continued to the Valley of the Gods to have dinner until sunset. This off-road trail doesn’t require 4X4 and the free camping spots are the best I’ve seen in the USA. You don’t have to drive very far on this road for epic sandstone views, but the further you get the taller the stones get!

Day Four: The Wave, Arizona

We didn’t originally plan to hike to the famous Wave on our trip to Utah, but while we were in Kanab we applied for the daily lottery. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read our blog on “The Wave, Arizona: Everything you need to know before hiking”. There was a 2-5% chance of winning and somehow we won on our first try! This meant that we had a once in a lifetime opportunity to hike The Wave, and we spent our entire day doing so. We camped at the trailhead so that we could be the first ones on the trail.

We hit the trail before sunrise, and we spent under an hour hiking to The Wave. Make sure to check out our full trail report for a detailed review and photos! This was truly one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever done in my life and the sandblasted stone shaped like waves in the sand was truly a sight to see. The morning light made the rocks a bright red colour and we spent the entire morning exploring and taking photos by ourselves. We hiked further beyond The Wave to Melody Arch and The Alcove, which made the trip even more incredible. We hiked back to the vehicle around 2PM and spent the rest of the night driving 5 hours to Moab, Utah.

Day Five: Canyonlands National Park & Moab, Utah

Canyonlands National Park was such a crazy underrated park in Utah. I know that Utah is full of incredible national parks but I really loved the vastness of Canyonlands! We started our day with an attempt at a sunrise hike down a 4X4 road that got too crazy for us to pass with our vehicle, so we found a spot alongside the highway near Schafer Point to pullover and watch the sunrise.

At this point we decided to book a hotel and explore Moab, Utah. We stayed at Quality Suites Moab to take advantage of their cheap price, free breakfast and dog-friendly rooms. For the rest of the afternoon we explored Moab and checked out a few second-hand hiking gear shops. We had dinner at Pasta Jay’s and decided that Moab is one of our favourite cities in the USA.

For sunset, we decided to leave our dog at home and go back to Canyonlands to watch the sun go down at Green River Overlook. There is a viewing platform right beside the parking lot, but we hiked off the path to the right for this incredible view!

Day Six: Arches National Park & Capitol Reef National Park

Since we were staying at a hotel in Moab, we planned a sunrise hike to the famous Arches National Park. We’ve always wanted to see the incredible Delicate Arch, and we knew that the crowds would be smaller if we hiked in the dark and made it there for sunrise.

We started our hike early and made it just before the sun came up and got to watch the first light hit the Delicate Arch. This arch was huge and it was crazy to stand underneath it! Our next hike had to be a quick one, so we opted to see Sand Dune Arch before heading back to our hotel.

We were sad to leave Moab, but our next stop was 3.5 hours away to Capitol Reef National Park. We wanted to see the Temple of the Sun and Moon which are found in a remote part of the park where you can only access by driving down a really fun, bumpy dirt road.

4×4 isn’t required but highly recommend some clearance and AWD. We got here just in time for sunset and took some incredible shots. From here, we drove a little over an hour to our next incredible camp spot…

Day Seven: Hanksville & Capitol Reef National Park

We drove here in the dark, and woke up on the moon. Moonscape Overlook is one of the craziest free camp spots I’ve ever stayed in. The badlands of Utah have some of the most deep, vast and textured canyons I’ve seen in my life.

Getting here will require a bit of off-roading but we saw plenty of camper vans who made it. There is a famous lookout where you can stand on the scariest ridge I’ve ever stood on! Watching the sun come up over the badlands canyons was a crazy view.

We spent the rest of our day driving through Capitol Reef National Park and exploring stops along the highway. The best recommendation I have is to stop at Gifford Homestead on your drive through Capitol Reef National Park for the best pie of your life! Gifford Homestead is found in Fruita Valley, a beautiful drive, and they sell out of their famous pies every day. Make sure to get here early!

Day Eight: Salt Lake City & Bonneville Salt Flats

Our final day in Utah before driving home was spent in Salt Lake City. We decided to stop in Salt Lake City for the first time and prepare for a long drive home. This meant trying the famous Utah soda shops like Thirst and trying Raising Cane’s chicken because we don’t have fast-food options like this in Canada! I wish we could have spent more time in Salt Lake City but we will definitely stay here someday.

On our way home, we made one final stop at the Bonneville Salt Flats. This unique landform is a huge area covered in literal table salt and we were lucky enough to see them flooded. Since it was a windy day, we didn’t get to see any epic mountain reflections in the floods but the Salt Flats that weren’t flooded were still beautiful. This scenery at sunset can’t be beat, and was the perfect final stop on our Utah road trip.

Best Places to Camp/Stay on your Utah road trip

One of the best things about our Utah road trip was the free camping. We saved so much money by sleeping in our tent at free over-landing spots across Utah. You cannot camp for free in any National Parks, however, you can usually find campgrounds within the parks for a fee or find spots outside of the parks for free camping. I’m going to share some of our free spots and best campground recommendations since we only paid for one hotel on our trip!

  • Our first free campground was at Meadow Hot Springs, we stayed in our tent with plenty of other vehicles.
  • Zion National Park was the most difficult to find somewhere to stay, Watchman Campground was the most beautiful but busy. If you use iOverlander, look for spots just outside of Zion for free camping.
  • Just outside of Kanab, you’ll find free camping at Rainbow Mountain off Highway 89.
  • Our next free camping spot was in the Valley of the Gods outside of Monument Valley.
  • In Moab, we stayed for 2-nights at a hotel called Quality Suites Moab.
  • Outside of the Temple of the Sun you’ll find iOverlanding spots that are not in Capitol Reef NP.
  • The most incredible free camp spot was Moonscape Overlook outside of Hanksville.

Final Thoughts on our Utah road-trip Itinerary

Our 8-day road trip was one of the greatest of all time and there’s still so much more for us to see in Utah! This road trip brought us to the best National Parks in America and I can’t wait to be back here someday soon for more epic hikes. This is definitely one of the most unique and crazy road trips we’ve ever done and it’s easy to see why it’s the best in the USA.

I hope we’ve inspired you to take this adventure yourself and explore Utah! Check us out on Instagram @yakeandmarie or TikTok @yakeandmarie for all of our story highlights and Reels from Utah. If you’re looking for more info on the most exclusive permit-system hikes in Utah check out our other blog on The Wave, Arizona: Everything you need to know!

Comments (5)

  • Sandy

    December 26, 2023 at 8:37 pm

    Wow! What an amazing itinerary! So fun to read and great photos!

  • Sarah

    February 7, 2024 at 8:42 pm

    Hi!
    Can you share the itinerary starting from Vancouver? Like where did you stop before you got to Zion/how many days did it take etc?

    1. Jake & Marie

      June 4, 2024 at 6:24 pm

      Hey! Yes, from Vancouver we drove 12 hours to Twin Falls, Idaho and camped for a night. You can get a hotel here too. The next morning we drove 7 hours to Zion! Same on the way back, we watched sunset at the Salt Flats and drove 4 hours to Twin Falls for the night :)

  • Dion Carmichael

    April 18, 2024 at 2:40 pm

    How much did you spend overall?

    1. Jake & Marie

      June 4, 2024 at 6:25 pm

      Probably around $1500-$2000 CAD

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