A Budget Friendly 7-Day Utah National Parks Itinerary

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So you want to plan a road trip to visit the spectacular “Mighty Five” Utah national parks? Great choice! There is quite a lot to see in Utah and a considerable amount of distance to cover between the parks. If you’re limited on time, our budget friendly 7-day Utah national parks itinerary will help you efficiently organize your trip and maximize the highlights at Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion National Parks.

Our itinerary assumes travelers want to visit all of the parks in one trip and don’t mind long drives (that’s part of the fun anyhow!). Thus, our Utah national parks itinerary will accomplish the following:

  • Visit all five Utah national parks: Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion
  • Detail premier hikes and outdoor activities at each park
  • Recommend budget-friendly hotel accommodations
  • Suggest favorite dining spots at each destination

A road trip through Utah is a truly unique and memorable experience. The grand scale of these parks is remarkable and each destination is an outdoor recreation wonderland. Enjoy the adventure!


The “Mighty Five” Basics

Before we dive into the itinerary, let’s first start with the basics of each of the parks. Arches and Canyonlands are very close to one another near Moab. However, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion are all 3-5 hours away from Moab. But don’t let the drive times deter you, as the scenery along the way is well worth it!

  • Arches National Park: Located in southeastern Utah near Moab and Canyonlands National Park. Arches is known for its magnificent natural sandstone arches. Delicate Arch and Balanced Rock are two of the most popular sights. 
  • Canyonlands National Park: Located in southeastern Utah and divided into three districts. The Island in the Sky District is near Moab and Arches National Park. Here you’ll see Mesa Arch, Grand View Overlook, and more. The Needles District and the Maze District are further from town.
  • Capitol Reef National Park: Located in southcentral Utah near Torrey. The park is known for its red rock cliffs, monoliths, and the Waterpocket Fold (referred to as a reef). 
  • Bryce Canyon National Park: Located near Tropic in southwestern Utah. Bryce Canyon is popular for its amphitheaters of colorful hoodoos.
  • Zion National Park: Located near Springdale in southwestern Utah. Zion is a canyoneering paradise. The Narrows and Angel’s Landing are two of the many premier hikes here.


Day One

We start our itinerary with travel to Moab. Assuming you are driving from within Utah or another nearby state, it can be a fairly lengthy drive. For instance, Moab is about 4 hours from Salt Lake City and 5 hours from Denver. Plan your arrival to reach the hotel after check-in time (usually post 3pm) and rest up for dinner and an early start tomorrow.

For lodging, we recommend SpringHill Suites Moab or the Fairfield Inn Moab, as both are at the edge of downtown and very close to Arches National Park. For dining, try the Moab Brewery for a local microbrew and good dinner.

Day Two


Wake early to prepare for a morning in Arches National Park and check out of the hotel. We recommend ordering breakfast and a packed lunch for later in the day from Love Muffin Café, which opens at 6:30am. Order online and try their Veggie Sunrise Panini or their New Mexico Burrito for breakfast.


After picking up your food, arrive at Arches National Park around 7:00am. We recommend making stops at Park Avenue and Balanced Rock to take in the sights. But don’t stay too long, as you’ll want to get started on your hike in Devils Garden. Devils Garden is one of the premier hikes in the park with abundant arches along the route. Our recommended route is 6.2 miles and reaches six arches, but you can extend or shorten as preferred. Bring your packed lunch to enjoy later during the hike, before you hit the road again.


After your hike, begin the drive to Springdale, UT and Zion National Park. The drive is approximately five hours, but it’s worth the effort so you can enjoy shorter drives between parks on the way back. We recommend staying at the SpringHill Suites Springdale, which is an affordable option and walkable to most places in town. For dinner, try Oscar’s Café, a popular Mexican restaurant near the hotel.

Day Three


Wake early and pick up breakfast at Deep Creek Coffee Company around 6:30am. You’ll want to catch a shuttle ride into the park by 7:00am. We recommend a private shuttle with Zion Adventures (detailed below in Planning Tips), which you need to book in advance. Today you’re hiking Angel’s Landing, and you want to arrive at the trailhead before all of the crowds. Ask Zion Adventure Company to drop you off at The Grotto inside Zion National Park.


You should reach The Grotto around 7:30am. Angel’s Landing is an iconic hike in Zion National Park, noted for its high level of exposure along the traverse to the summit. This is not a hike for those with a fear of heights. The route from The Grotto is 5.0 miles and gains about 1,500ft. in elevation. You’ll hike through Refrigerator Canyon and up Walter’s Wiggles (a series of short switchbacks) to reach Scout Lookout. From here, you’ll begin the half-mile traverse to Angel’s Landing, with chains bolted into the rock along the way. Crowd bottlenecks are common here, hence the purpose of an earlier start. Double-back for a return shuttle pick-up at The Grotto. A pick-up time of around noon will provide more than enough time to hike and enjoy the summit.


You should be back in Springdale around lunch time. You’ll probably be hungry after a strenuous hike, so stop by Whiptail Grill for lunch. Take the remainder of the day easy to rest up, and walk around town exploring the shops and stopping by the Zion National Park Visitor Center. Later in the evening when you’re ready for dinner, opt for King’s Landing Bistro, walkable from the SpringHill Suites Springdale.

Day Four


A more leisurely start this morning. Check out of the hotel and stop by FeelLove Coffee Zion for some coffee and pastries around 8:00am. Today we recommend an e-Bike ride through Zion National Park, so you’ll want to have enough energy for the ride.


Book an e-Bike through Zion Adventures. We suggest making bike reservations in advance. Bike rentals start at 9:00am, so pick up the bike at that time in order to enjoy a bike ride until around lunch time. For trails, try the Pa’rus Trail which avoids the park’s vehicle entrance. At the end of the Pa’rus Trail, you’ll reach Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Ride as far as preferred — perhaps stopping at The Grotto to hike to the Emerald Pools or to Weeping Rock. Plan enough time for your return to be back in Springdale between noon and 1:00pm.


After returning the bike rentals, stop by Deep Creek Coffee Company again for a to-go lunch. You’ll want to be on the road to reach Bryce Canyon National Park for a sunset view at Sunset Point. The trip to Bryce Canyon from Springdale is about two hours.


Arrive at Bryce Canyon National Park’s Sunset Point and hike around the amphitheater rim awaiting the spectacular sunset. Once you’ve enjoyed the sunset, call ahead and order pizza at the Pizza Place in nearby Tropic. After picking up dinner, our lodging recommendation is the Best Western Plus Grand Hotel. There is another Best Western (Ruby’s Inn) across the road if the Grand Hotel is full. Both are very close to the park entrance and affordable options.

Day Five


Start your day with breakfast at the hotel and head back into Bryce Canyon National Park at your own pace. You’ll have the entire day to explore the park. We recommend an early morning visit to Bryce Point, which is where our suggested hike (the Peek-A-Boo Loop Trail) begins.

After taking in the views at Bryce Point, begin the Peek-A-Boo Loop Trail, a 5.5 mile hike that loops through the amphitheater’s spectacular hoodoos. This is a moderately challenging hike, that initially descends to the canyon floor, but works its way up about 1,500ft. back to the rim.


After your hike, head to the Bryce Canyon National Park Visitor Center for a look around. Once done at the Visitor Center, pick up lunch at Idk BBQ in Tropic. If open, you could alternatively try the Bryce Canyon Lodge (only open seasonally) instead of driving to Tropic. 


Head back into the park before sunset and arrive at Inspiration Point. This area will offer a bit of a different sunset vantage point than before. Take your time and enjoy the views, as Bryce Canyon National Park is a truly unique place with the largest concentration of hoodoos in the world. After sunset, we recommend dinner at Bryce Canyon Pines Restaurant, which is only a short drive from the Best Western Grand Hotel.

Day Six


Today you’ll be heading for a morning hike along the Chimney Rock Trail in Capitol Reef National Park. Check out of the hotel early (we recommend around 7:00am) and head to Bryce Canyon Coffee Co. in Tropic for a coffee and quick bite to eat. Capital Reef National Park is about a 2 hour drive from Bryce Canyon and there are few dining options beyond Tropic, except for Escalante which you will also pass through along the way.


You have plenty of hikes to choose from in Capitol Reef, but we recommend the Chimney Rock Trail, which you’ll pass right by along your trip. This loop hike is a moderate 3.4 miles round-trip and has exceptionally expansive views of the surrounding area. After your hike, stop by the Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Center and don’t miss the Fremont petroglyph panel in Fruita on your way out of the park.


Now that you’ve explored some of Capitol Reef National Park, head back towards Moab and visit Canyonlands National Park for sunset views and the fifth of the Utah national parks on the list. It’s a little under a three hour drive to Canyonlands, so you’ll want to time the drive be able to leisurely explore around Grand View Overlook and Mesa Arch during the sunset hours. We recommend driving directly to Grand View Point for the views, and then backtracking to Mesa Arch for a .5 mile loop hike.


After your visit to Canyonlands National Park, head towards downtown Moab. We recommend dinner at Arches Thai. Once done with dinner, check in to your hotel — again, we recommend either the SpringHill Suites Moab or Fairfield Inn Moab for their close proximity to Arches National Park. 

Day Seven


The last day of the trip and now for the grand finale. Return to Arches National Park in the morning, preferably before sunrise, and hike the 3.1 mile out-and-back trail to Delicate Arch. This arch is perhaps the most iconic arch in all of Arches National Park, and in Utah for that matter. Take your time and enjoy the scenery, as you’ll be departing back for home after this hike. Don’t forget to walk by the petroglyphs not far from the trailhead. 

After the hike, stop by Moab Garage for some good coffee and breakfast before starting on the return road trip. Congratulations on visiting all five Utah national parks and seeing amazing scenery along the way!

Planning Tips

To help you plan your Utah national parks itinerary, we’ve also listed a few tips that to consider before you travel. These tips will make the trip much more efficient and reduce the chance of complications. 

  • Order an Annual National Park Pass in advance. Entrance fees range from $30-$35 at each of the Utah national parks, so it’s worth the investment.
  • Book hotels far in advance of planned travel. During busy seasons, hotels near the parks are very busy. Earlier bookings may help reduce costs.
  • Order Zion Shuttle Tickets in advance. We recommend a private shuttle, such as Zion Adventures. Yes, this is a more expensive option, but the shuttle at Zion National Park is not guaranteed for reservation. 
  • Reserve Zion e-Bikes in advance. These are very popular and often have no reservations available the day-of. Again, we recommend Zion Adventures for e-Bike reservations.
  • Bring snacks and extra jugs of water for the road trip. Much of the trip will have few dining options along the way. Make life easier by picking up provisions before you start.

Guide Books

The Outdoor Corps prides itself on curating lists of some of the best books out there on a given subject. Within our lists, you’ll find carefully selected books that aim to enhance your experience of the area, rather than just an arbitrary listing of any book that covers the subject at hand.

Below is a listing of books about Utah and its national parks, including travel guides, recreation guides, maps, and a few area-specific naturalist books (on flora, fauna, and geology).

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