All five of Utah’s national parks are located across the southern end of the state in Red Rock Country. The total driving time to see them only takes about six-and-a-half hours, but of course you’ll want to spend a few hours at each one to marvel over the deep narrow canyons, natural arches, towering buttes and cliffs. Check out the directions on Google Maps below, along with each park’s best hike and top-rated campground.
1. Zion National Park
Take this hike: Angel’s Landing
Where to camp: Watchman Campground
Kick off your trip at Zion National Park in southwestern Utah. The landscape here is dominated by massive reddish sandstone cliffs and unusual plants, thanks to its unique location at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert regions. In fact, Zion was the first national park established in Utah and holds a rich history with paths where native people once walked.
During the day, the park has something for everyone: hiking paths of all difficulty levels (Angel’s Landing is our favorite for dramatic views), and a 25-mile scenic drive on Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel Highway. If you’re looking to stay the night, book a tent or RV site at Watchman Campground. Reservations aren’t required, but strongly suggested because of the park’s popularity. The campground’s very well-kept, an easy quarter-mile walk to the South Entrance, and offers matchless views of the surrounding cliffs (especially by sunset).
2. Bryce Canyon National Park
Take this hike: Navajo Loop Trail
Where to camp: North Campground
A scenic half-hour east from Zion, Bryce Canyon has a landscape reminiscent of Mars. The scenery is defined by “hoodoos”, which are essentially spire-shaped rock pillars that are still standing after years of erosion.
Drive the park’s main road for sweeping views of these crimson-colored formations in Bryce Amphitheater. Along the road you’ll also pass several overlooks (like Sunrise Point and Sunset Point) where you can find the best photo ops. To see the hoodoos up close, hike Navajo Loop, beginning at Sunset Point down into the main amphitheater. Near the Visitor Center, North Campground provides a well-maintained home base while you take off to explore the area. Hookups aren’t available, but the campground’s prime location puts you within a close distance of many trailheads.
3. Capitol Reef National Park
Take this hike: Capitol Gorge Trail
Where to camp: Fruita Campground
Continuing east, you’ll reach Capitol Reef National Park in south-central Utah. This park in the heart of Red Rock Country is defined by a long wrinkle in the earth known as the “Waterpocket Fold”. For almost 100 miles this geological feature runs from north to south with deep narrow canyons and unique rock formations.
Hike the Capitol Gorge Trail by the end of the park’s Scenic Drive for an easy family fun trip. This mile-long route follows a dirt road with narrow rock walls featuring ancient petroglyphs, and famous potholes filled with water (known as “The Tanks”). For campers there are tent and RV sites available at Fruita Campground. The sites don’t have hookups but you’ll be right by the park’s key attractions and hiking trails.
4. Arches National Park
Take this hike: Delicate Arch Trail
Next up, you’ll reach the iconic Arches National Park. It’s home to over 2,000 natural sandstone arches but Delicate Arch (pictured above) is the most recognizable. The park has hiking trails from easy to difficult, and by night the dark skies provide the perfect backdrop for stargazing.
If you’re looking to camp, the park’s only maintained campground Devils Garden is currently closed for the 2017 season due to road construction. However you can still find tent & full hookup RV sites close-by at Moab Valley RV Resort.
5. Canyonlands National Park
Take this hike: Grand View Point Trail
Where to camp: Willow Flat Campground in ‘Island of the Sky’ section
Though only about a half-hour from Arches National Park, Canyonlands doesn’t get nearly as much attention. This equally-amazing park has lots of hiking trails, sheer sandstone cliffs, the Colorado and Green Rivers snaking their way through, and expansive views that go on for miles.
Canyonlands is divided into three districts, but only two are easy to access: Island in the Sky and The Needles. Camping is scarce here, but sites without hookups are available at Willow Flat Campground. After hiking in the park, you may want to drive a half-hour east to Canyonlands RV Resort in Moab for sites with full hookups and amenities like a swimming pool.
Pro-tip: The total entrance fee for all of these national parks adds up to about $120. You can save money by purchasing an $80 annual ‘America the Beautiful Pass’ from the National Park Service. Read our post here for more info.