This Utah-Arizona itinerary is perfect for first-timers looking for epic scenery, breathtaking trails, and active adventures on their family road trip.
There are plenty of ways you can tackle this journey, depending on where you need to arrive and leave.
For this family road trip itinerary, we’re starting at Moab and meander our way south through the Utah Mighty 5 to end at the Grand Canyon.
From there, you can continue onwards through more of Arizona’s incredible natural wonders and desert reserves or head west towards Nevada and Las Vegas.
Suggested 9-Day Desert Lovers Itinerary
Days 1 and 2: Canyonlands National Park (Island in the Sky and The Needles)
Canyonlands National Park is so vast that a lifetime can be spent exploring it without getting to see everything. Seriously, you could come back many times and never repeat the same experience twice! If you’re new to Moab, though, the best way to go is to explore the Island in the Sky section of the park, which is easier to tackle and will give you a good introduction to the area.
Get an early start by catching one of the most spectacular sunrises in your lifetime at Mesa Arch, one of the most iconic spots in Utah. Next, you can hit a few of the hiking trails on offer to get a good feel of the place. Grand View Point Trail, Gooseberry Canyon, and Upheaval Dome are great options!
To finish off the day in the same but opposite way that you started it, head to Green River Viewpoint and catch an epic sunset with spectacular vistas of the iconic canyons below. At this point, the sun’s rays fall on the canyon walls, bringing the red hues on the rocky surface to life, a splendid spectacle you won’t soon forget.
The next day, you can explore Island in the Sky further or choose to dive deeper into Canyonlands by heading to The Needles district, another amazing spot that offers amazing panoramic views of the canyon and features some off-the-beaten-path, more challenging hikes.
Day 3: Arches National Park
Arches National Park is pretty small as far as national parks go, but this doesn’t mean that it’s short on fabulous things to do and wonderful desert adventures!
Delicate Arch is an excellent place to start the day. This is probably the most iconic sight in Utah, to the point that it’s the arch depicted on their license plates! Next, take on the Landscape Arch trail, which will lead you to the largest natural arch in the USA and the entire world!
Afterward, hop on your car and drive down the Arches Scenic Drive, a stunning road that offers a lot of great viewpoints where you can absorb spectacular sweeping desert vistas.
At this point, it’ll be time for sunset. For a truly epic one, we recommend hiking up to Double Arch and continuing onwards until you reach The Windows, a perfect place to watch the sun go down and bid the day goodbye!
Note that timed reservations have been introduced for Arches National Park. From April to October, you’ll need to reserve your arrival time in advance to ensure entry and beat the summer queues.
Day 4: Capitol Reef National Park
Time to visit Capitol Reef, where the surest way of getting the most out of your stay here is by hiking to Hickman Bridge, a classic trail (2 miles round trip) that will take you to some of the most iconic spots in the park.
After hiking, hop back in your car and take Highway 24 to see the park’s impressive petroglyph figures that can be appreciated along a sheer cliff that runs parallel to the highway. These figures cover several rock panels and provide a wonderful insight into Capitol Reef’s indigenous heritage.
Next, drive along the 8-mile long scenic road, where you’ll catch some of the most famous sights in the park. Then, hike to Cassidy Arch, one of the most exciting trails here and the most iconic spot for photos in the entire park!
Days 5 and 6: Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the smallest national parks in the USA, so a day and a half is plenty to see all of its highlights. Just make sure you start the day as early as possible so you can explore as much as possible and make the most out of your visit.
The highlight of Bryce Canyon are red rock hoodoos, so I recommend packing a lunch and driving the park’s own scenic road first. Feel free to stop by at some of the park’s most scenic overlooks to get a mind-boggling “trailer” of some of the best vistas Bryce Canyon has in store for you.
In the afternoon, pick a short hiking trail so you can continue exploring and getting to know the park a little better. Afterward, get ready for the most epic sunset you’ve ever seen by heading to Sunset Point, where you’ll see the sun going down and the red rock hoodoos changing colors.
Day 6 is all about getting personal with Bryce Canyon. Hoodoos are what make Bryce Canyon so special and unique, so the best way to get more personal with the park is by seeing them up close.
There’s no better way to do that than by taking on the challenge of the Queen’s Garden to Navajo Loop and Wall Street trail. As you move through quirky rock tunnels and aromatic pine forests, you’ll get the best views of the park’s distinctive sandstone hoodoos that will make you feel like you’ve walked into a completely different world!
Come evening, you can drive to Springdale, adjacent to Zion National Park to get a good night’s sleep so you can prepare for another day full of desert wonders.
Day 7: Zion National Park
Begin the day early by heading from Bryce Canyon to Zion National Park. You can start by checking out the Zion Human History Museum, which tells the story of the indigenous Paiute who once lived here. The Towers of the Virgin and Watchman, plus other famous rock formations of Zion, sit right outside the museum, so take advantage of the opportunity to visit them.
Next, your best bet is to tie your shoelaces and explore the park on foot. There are many trails here that are pretty short and gentle, so you can do several of them on the same day.
When you’re done hiking, get back in your car and drive to Kolob Canyon, the best place in the park to watch a sunset. If you want to catch the exact spot for seeing the sun go down, where you’ll get a panoramic vista of the rock formations surrounding you, go up to Timber Creek Overlook at Kolob ViewPoint. You’ll even get some glimpses of the Grand Canyon on a clear day!
If you want to extend your Zion trip visiting Angel’s Landing, be aware you’ll need a permit only available by applying in the seasonal and daily ballot system. Also be mindful of the need to catch a shuttle into the parks popular trailheads when working out your timings.
Days 8 and 9: Grand Canyon National Park
Finish off an epic desert road trip by taking on the Bright Angel Trail, a 9.5-mile-long trail that begins at the rim of the Grand Canyon at Bright Angel Lodge and goes down all the way to the Colorado River at the bottom, ending in Phantom Ranch, where you can spend the night inside the canyon before heading back the next day!
If that sounds a bit much, there are plenty of shorter trails and scenic drives to experience within the country’s most famous national park to complete your Southwest desert adventure – and several interesting stops you can make along the way from Zion National Park to Grand Canyon without needing extensive hikes.
Book well in advance if you wish to stay at any of the Grand Canyon lodges or popular camping grounds within the national park.
Your Utah-Arizona Desert Road Trip Planned
Top Tips For A Utah-Arizona Desert Road Trip
- You’ll be covering several National Parks, so it is well worth investing in your America the Beautiful annual pass, which covers entrance fees at national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and more. At just $80 for 12 months of visits, it’s one of the best investments a traveling family can make.
- We have shown this route as a one-way trip, but you could join at any point and complete it as part of “The Grand Circle,” incorporating Glen Canyon Monument Valley, too (though we’d suggest up to 2 weeks to cover the highlights of this epic road trip route thoroughly).
- You could be crossing between time zones! Arizona observes Mountain Standard Time (MST) throughout the year, while Utah observes Mountain Daylight Time (MDT) – daylight savings – from mid-March to Mid-November.
- Summer in the desert can be brutally hot. Always set out with plenty of water and observe our desert driving tips.
- Never forget a road trip essential again with our downloadable family road trip checklist.
© Family Road Trip