Southern Utah Road Trip: A 7-Day Itinerary

Aug 24, 2021 | Camping, Itineraries, National Parks, Simple Suit, United States, Utah, Zion National Park

A Southern Utah road trip has been on my radar for years.

We’ve passed through Utah on several occasions, visited Zion National Park, and explored Dinosaur National Monument, but hadn’t spent concentrated time in this unique state.

The gorgeous red-rocked landscapes of Utah are recognized across the world. We didn’t have time to see everything (farming is a difficult job for Allan to do remotely), but we had plenty of time to see an amazing collection of some of the most beautiful places in Utah.

To help you plan your family’s southern Utah road trip, here’s a 7-day itinerary!

GETTING THERE

The first part of our road trip was spent…well, on the road. We traveled from the Central Coast of California to St. George, Utah. It was an 8-hour drive that was relatively uneventful.

The kids spend most of their time working on their new Road Trip Activity Binder that I created. Their favorite activities included the Find that State (license plate game), completing Silly Stories (my version of Mad Libs), and playing Sink the Ships. It definitely cut down on the typical disagreements that occur in the car.

The rest of the time they spent eating, looking out the window (we saw wild donkeys), and watching a Harry Potter movie.

We arrived at St. George in the middle of the afternoon and in the middle of a heatwave. A southern Utah road trip in July is not for the faint of heart. Thank goodness for swimming pools and air conditioning.

Swimming and relaxing for the afternoon and evening was a perfect way to start our vacation!

DAY 1 – BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK

Bryce Canyon is located only a little over two hours away from St. George. The wonderful thing about Bryce Canyon is that it’s nestled in the mountains at 8,300 feet above sea level. The temps dropped 25 degrees which was a nice change.

Get Settled at the Campsite or Hotel

When we arrived we immediately went to our campsite and set up camp. We like getting settled before we begin our adventures.

We stayed in the Sunset Campground which has picnic tables, fire pits (although there was a fire ban due to the drought), and flush toilets. Showers can be found at the General Store, a short distance from the campground.

kids holding skimboards at the beach while watching waves in Morro Bay in California

Sunset Campground at Bryce National Park

Visit Inspiration Point

After setting up camp and getting some food in our bellies, we walked to the campground entrance and caught the shuttle bus to Inspiration Point.

The shuttle buses have air conditioning, which was lovely on a hot summer day. Masks are required on the shuttle, so don’t forget to throw one in your backpack!

We hopped out of the shuttle at Inspiration Point and got our very first glimpse of Bryce Canyon. Allan saw it first and all he said was, “Wow.”

I cried.

“Momma, why aren’t you taking any pictures?” one of the kids asked.

“First I need to take it all in,” I replied.

Pictures are a treasure but they can never replace experiencing something with all five of your senses.

From the first viewpoint, we hiked up a short, but steep, dirt trail to the middle and upper lookouts for Inspiration Point. Sometimes, there are no words.

Tour the Visitor’s Center

Next, we hopped back on the shuttle and made our way to the Visitor’s Center. We typically like to stop by the Visitor’s Center on our first day in a new park to talk to Rangers, watch informative videos about the park, and check out the interactive displays. It’s also a great time to pick up a Junior Ranger booklet if you have younger children.

barnacles sea urchins sea anemones in a rocky tide pool

Explore Old Town Bryce

After the Visitor’s Center, we got back on the shuttle and rode into Old Town Bryce. We took silly pictures, contemplated buying an expensive slab of petrified wood (not really), and window-shopped.

TIP: Don’t forget to take your park pass with you! Old Town Bryce is located outside of Bryce National Park and the shuttle bus driver will require that you show your pass before you can get back on the bus.

We didn’t have ours with us. Oops! I asked if I could show him my campground reservation for proof of entry, and he obliged.

Visit Bryce Point

In the evening, we decided to drive ourselves down to Bryce Point. We admired the views of these amazing hoodoos, then got back in the car for our next adventure.

Take an Evening Wildlife Drive

The best time to view wildlife is in the cool of the morning or evening, around dusk. After leaving Inspiration Point, we drove towards Rainbow Point for a few miles and spotted mule deer, wild turkeys, prairie dogs, chipmunks, and ground squirrels.

Catch the Sunset at Sunset Point

Just before sunset, we ended our drive at Sunset Point. We walked along the rim trail and took in the changing views of the valley. There was a decent amount of cloud cover that evening, which ended up obscuring the sunset. Regardless, it was beautiful!

DAY 2 – BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK

On our second day in Bryce Canyon, we decided to beat the heat and take a morning hike. We were told that to fully appreciate Bryce Canyon you MUST hike into the hoodoos and see the rock formations up close and from a different angle.

Hike Queen’s Garden + Navajo Loop + Wall Street

The Queen’s Garden Trail begins at Sunset Point. The trail is fairly steep and the dirt trail was loose underfoot, but if you have decent traction on your shoes, you should be fine.

We hiked down Queen’s Garden Trail until we ran into the Navajo Loop Trail, which we followed east, and then finished by going north on Wall Street, up and out of the canyon.

This loop was about 3 miles and one of the most beautiful trails I have ever hiked in my life.

girls fishing at Barney Schwartz Park pond in Paso Robles

Eat Ice Cream in Old Town Bryce

After working up a sweat hiking, we drove into Old Town Bryce and got ice cream from the ice cream parlor. Unfortunately, it was some of the worst ice cream we’ve ever had. Haha! I didn’t know it was possible to have bad ice cream, but apparently, it happens. Next time, we would probably opt for a prepackaged ice cream treat from the General Store.

Go Souvenir Shopping

Getting a small souvenir (we’re budget shoppers), is always on the kid’s “must-do” list. It’s also my least favorite part of vacationing. But it brings them joy for years to come, so it’s a small sacrifice. We perused the General Store in Old Town Bryce (it’s big!), then headed back to the campsite for lunch. 

Bike Bryce Canyon

Claire’s legs were done for the day, so Corrine and Allan went for a bike ride. An 18-mile paved multi-use trail runs through the park, and out along the highway. They ended up riding about 8 miles round trip and got in a workout with the higher elevation.

TIP: A shuttle bus driver said the best thing to do was to put your bike on the front of the shuttle in town, ride the bus up to Inspiration Point where the trail starts, and ride downhill the entire way back into town.

Hike the Rim Trail

Allan and the older kids still hadn’t had enough exercise, so they took the shuttle up to Bryce Point and hiked the 2-mile Rim Trail back to the campsite.

Date Night: Bike Ride and Sunset Watching

By the time they returned and we had dinner, I was itching to get out and explore more, so we left the kids at the campsite to play card games while Allan and I went on a quick date. We rode our bikes to Sunset Point and watched the sun set over the canyon. It was such a peaceful, beautiful moment that I’ll remember forever.

DAY 3 – SCENIC HWY 12 & ARCHES NATIONAL PARK

We packed up first thing in the morning and headed toward our next destination, Moab. Although it’s a slower route, I wanted to take Highway 12. This famous highway is famous for a reason.

Highway 12 could be classified as one of the most iconic and beautiful highways in the United States. It is equal parts majestic and terrifying.

You won’t see large semis on this route, for good reason. This route is carved through the beautiful rock formations of Bryce, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Capitol Reef. One section will take you along a ridge that has stunning drop-offs on both sides of the road.

Our advice, if you’re pulling a large trailer or there’s inclement weather, take an alternate route. Otherwise, this will be a road that you’ll never forget!

Take time to pull off the highway periodically and enjoy the views. If you have avid hikers, hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls (8 miles roundtrip). Alternatively, younger children will enjoy a visit to Goblin State Park!

I was also surprised to see that while there was a huge variety of rock formations, there were also beautiful green mountain passes like the one pictured below.  I definitely wasn’t expecting to see this view on my southern Utah road trip!

Eat Dinner at Moab Diner

An early dinner at the famed Moab Diner seemed like a good idea. The food is good, down-home cooking. Nothing too fancy. Just solid food. However, they have ice cream…

TIP: Get the huckleberry shake or a cup of huckleberry ice cream!  You’ll thank me later.

Explore the Windows Area of Arches National Park

Arches National Park is located on the outskirts of Moab, just minutes away from downtown. After dinner, we headed into the park and were able to see the Courthouse Towers Viewpoint, Petrified Dunes, Balanced Rock, and the Windows Section.

The Windows Section had low crowds with ample parking. We all loved standing under Turret Arch and in the Windows. It feels otherworldly.  

We could have easily spent several more hours in this section of the park. There’s so much to see in such a small area.

TIP: If you’re wanting to pick up a Junior Ranger booklet, you’ll have to plan to arrive in the park before 5 pm, when their Visitor’s Center closes.

DAY 4 – ARCHES & CANYONLANDS National Parks

Spend the first half of the day exploring Arches National Park and the second half in Canyonlands National Park!

Hike to Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch is one of the most photographed arches in all of Utah.  You’ll even find it on the state license plate.  It’s an iconic hike and something that should be experienced…at least once!

Arches National Park has seen higher-than-average visitor levels. When parking lots fill, they close the park entrance for a few hours until things thin out.

We left our hotel at 7 am to go to the park. We ended up driving around for 25 minutes trying to find a spot to park.

TIP: To secure a parking spot, arrive at the Delicate Arch Trailhead before 7:30 am, or arrive in the afternoon.

It was hot, so we opted to hike in the morning when the weather was a little cooler. 

The hike to Delicate Arch has almost no shade, and you’re walking uphill on a large slab of rock for a good portion of the trail. Bring plenty of water!

This trail is only 3 miles roundtrip with a moderate elevation gain. Spots near the end of the trail have steep drop-offs, so keep young kids close.

The view at the end is worth the work!

View Petroglyphs and Cabin

Near the start of the trailhead, there is a spur trail that leads to some petroglyphs and an old cabin that we all enjoyed viewing and learning more about.

See Other Areas of Arches National Park

Depending on your energy levels and how quickly you finish the Delicate Arch hike, you can check out the Fiery Furnace area of the Arches National Park, or take a quick hike to Sand Dune Arch (kid favorite).

Island in the Sky at Canyonlands National Park

Leave Arches National Park and make your way toward Canyonlands National Park. This park was the park that surprised us the most.

We took a picnic dinner and explored the Island in the Sky area of Canyonlands. It’s truly stunning.

It reminded us of the Grand Canyon on a smaller scale…without all the people. This park is a hidden gem!

Hike to Mesa Arch

The hike to Mesa Arch is short, only .5 miles each way. Allan and I “hiked” in flip-flops, so I would say this is an easy trail for kids.

The most popular time to visit is in the morning when the sun is rising behind the arch. So, if seeing the Mesa Arch at sunrise is important to you, you could always visit Canyonlands in the morning and hike Delicate Arch in the evening.

The arch was much smaller than I had pictured it to be, but the view of the canyon through the arch is the show stopper. I could have sat there and stared out over the canyon for hours.

But, unfortunately, a storm blew in suddenly, and we were racing back to our vehicle to get out of the sand and wind. We, along with several other park visitors, ended up hanging out in our vehicle for almost an hour until the winds settled down and it was safe to drive.

Claire thought we were going to die. Everyone else thought it was exciting. To me, it was much less intense than being under a tornado warning in Texas (been there, done that).

TIP: Check the weather before you hike. Cell service can be spotty in the park, and summer storms can roll in quickly.

DAY 5 – TRAVEL TO ZION NATIONAL PARK

We packed up and hit the road for Zion. We thought about taking the southern route to see Monument Valley, Horseshoe Bend, and a couple of scenic spots in Kanab, but the kids were voting for less driving time, so we took the northern route.

Explore Springdale

The town of Springdale is located right next to Zion National Park entrance. There’s a free shuttle service that will allow you to travel up and down the main street. You can exit the shuttle right at the park entrance.

Visitor’s Center

Yes, this is the place where you can talk to Rangers, ask questions about shuttles and trails, and pick up a free Junior Ranger booklet.

Ride the Shuttle Around Zion Valley

Whenever we arrive in a park, we enjoy riding the shuttle around the park to get “the lay of the land”. We hopped on a shuttle and rode down to the Temple of Sinawava, got off, then got back on and returned to the Visitor’s Center.

Evening Bike Ride along the Pa’rus Trail

While the kids and I hung out at the pool, Allan opted to take a bike ride along the Pa’rus Trail that winds through the park. There is an abundance of bike rental shops in the town of Springdale that rent cruisers and e-bikes. However, since we’re cheap, we love fixing flat tires, and we think riding bikes that haven’t had a tune-up in years builds character, we brought and rode our bikes.

DAY 6 – ZION NATIONAL PARK

Hike the Canyon Overlook Trail

Although we visited Zion National Park in 2015, we didn’t hike the Canyon Overlook Trail, so this was a first for us.  Of all the hikes with did on our southern Utah road trip this summer, this one was one of our favorites!

We fell in LOVE with this trail.

It’s short, and has a cave, bridges, steps cut out of rock, and stunning views. What’s not to love?!

This 1-mile trail is family-friendly, but independence-seeking toddlers could make it more challenging.  

TIP: If you can only do one hike in Zion, do this hike!

Lower, Middle, and Upper Emerald Pools Hikes

Claire’s legs were maxed out after hiking the Canyon Overlook Trail (when you live with a muscle disease, you learn that it’s best to know your limits), so Allan took the girls back to swim while Brandon and I went for a hike.

We chose to hike Lower, Middle, and Upper Emerald Pools. It was sweltering, but we survived and there was at least a little water falling which made it rewarding. 

If you have younger kids, I would recommend taking the Lower Emerald Pools trail and combining it with a Kayenta Trail, skipping Middle and Upper Pools.

Relax by the Pool

We loved our hotel stay at La Quinta Inn and Suites. The pool was huge and perfect for families. Plus, we had amazing views of the red-walled cliffs and the hotel is located less than a mile from the park entrance.

DAY 7 – ZION NATIONAL PARK

The Narrows

The Narrows is a section of the Virgin River through a tall, narrow canyon. Hikers wade through the water, up the river for several miles. The water is typically no higher than waist-deep.

There are lots of rocks in the water that make it more challenging to navigate. It’s a gorgeous and unique experience that’s a must-do for most visitors to the park.

You’ll notice there are quite a few outfitters that rent hiking boots and poles.

Can you guess what we did since we’re cheap? We saved $150 and hiked in water shoes that we picked up at Walmart for $5.98.

You can hike for five minutes up the river or for hours. You choose!  Claire and I opted for an abbreviated version, and Allan took the older kids higher up the river.

While I do love this hike, it is one of the busiest hikes in Zion.  

The Lodge for Lunch

At Zion Lodge in the park, there is a cafeteria where we grabbed lunch after our Narrows hike. The food is typical park food with a selection of burgers, sandwiches, pizza, and salad. There is very little in life as rewarding as a burger and fries after a hike. I opted for a chicken burger and they were kind enough to give it to me in a lettuce wrap.

Attend Ranger Talk

We sat on the lawn to eat our lunch, and there was a ranger nearby leading a talk about condors. My ten-year-old especially loved learning more about condors! The rangers are great about making it interactive and having plenty of hands-on items for the kids to explore.

Relax by the Pool

Are you noticing a theme here?

We enjoy both camping and staying in hotels and typically do both on our road trips. In the first half of our trip, we camp. Then, for the second half, we stay in hotels. Ending our trip with plenty of pool time is a great way to just slow down and chill before returning home.

PLANNING YOUR SOUTHERN UTAH ROAD TRIP

Are you planning a southern Utah road trip? What is on your itinerary? Do you have any questions?

I would love to hear from you!

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