Why this Amazing Southern Utah Road Trip is the Best
“The time passes extremely slowly, as time should pass.” ~ Edward Abbey, American author
With this quote, Edward Abbey describes his first two seasons in southern Utah in his book Desert Solitaire. Today, millions of visitors pass through the string of national parks known as the Mighty Five each year. With just a little planning, you’ll see why this amazing road trip is the best and why Edward Abbey and millions of people love it.
The slot canyons at Zion National Park are amazingly beautiful.
Eddie and I began an eight day road trip on the western side of Southern Utah at Zion National Park. We drove through a maze of canyons, tunnels, and towering cliffs in our car, from one end to the other, avoiding the crowded park shuttle.
Zion is known for some of the world’s most beautiful canyons and there are numerous ways to get a closer look, including bicycle and 4WD tours. We hired a photography guide, who drove us though shifting desert sand to the slot canyons by 4WD. From there we hiked on foot.
Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park make this southern Utah Road Trip the very best.
Pick up State Route 12, Journey Through Time Scenic Byway, from Zion to Bryce Canyon National Park. This amazing 122 miles of road is designated an All-American Road.
At Bryce Canyon, you will have arrived at one of the most extraordinary places on Earth! Why? There are more pinnacles there than anywhere else in the world. The Paiute know them as Legend People, turned to stone by the trickster Coyote. Formed completely by nature, today we refer to them as hoodoos or fairy chimneys.
Continuing along Scenic Byway 12 to Capitol Reef National Park, we passed under the iconic arch at Red Canyon.
A herd of bison were on the way to a favorite watering hole and we stopped to take pictures. The majestic American bison is the national mammal of the U.S. and its largest land animal. A bull can weight up to 2000 pounds!
As I learned that day, it’s important to stay far away and use your longest lens to get their photo. While I was clicking away on the other side of a split rail fense, a massive bull walked right through and stood about eight feet away. I saw the reflection in his eyes before I turned and ran!
Grand Staircase-Escalente National Monument and Capitol Reef National Park
Enveloped by twilight skies, we headed through parts of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and Capitol Reef National Park. Missing our rendezvous at a river crossing near Boulder, Utah to access our hideaway room in a rock cave, we abandoned the idea and used the Hotel Tonight App to find the closest hotel room. It was 170 miles away! We saw very little of Scenic Route 276 before twilight slipped away. Our biggest regrets were departing without spending the night in the cave and taking the time to get pictures of the spectacular aspen trees at Boulder Mountain. Perhaps next time!
Moab, Utah offers convenient access to the eastern side of southern Utah. From there, we visited Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Dead Horse Point State Park.
Arches National Park
Arrive early for the best chance to get into Arches. We left our hotel at 3:30am! This allowed us to breeze through the entrance which is open 24 hours a day. We headed to Delicate Arch first. It’s the most recognizable natural arch in the world. Already, we could see the occasional flashlight beam of the people heading up the trail. Our decision to get up early paid off. The park was full by 7:30am!
Canyonlands National Park
Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park draws a crowd for the magical sunrise there. Even though we arrived before daylight, the crowd beat us to it! But with a little patience, we had the arch almost to ourselves.
Other views in Canyonlands National Park and nearby Dead Horse Point State Park are not as crowded and there are places to park and enjoy the views. With another photography guide, we climbed higher up the cliffs on wobbly knees to less crowded areas.
Dead Horse Point State Park
Dead Horse Point State Park
How we got there.
After spending a week at Tanque Verde Ranch in southern Arizona, Eddie and I rented a car and drove to Utah for this amazing road trip. If you’re flying out to visit the parks in southern Utah and starting at Zion, the closest airport is McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, NV. From the other end at Arches National Park, the closest airport is Salt Lake City International Airport in UT. From Moab, we drove to Salt Lake City to turn in our rental car and fly home.
See this amazing southern Utah Road Trip on Google maps.
For more pictures of this southern Utah Road Trip, go to Marie’s Gallery.
Go to City Guide to Living in Salt Lake City and Its Neighborhoods for a complete guide on living in the area.
Travel Note September 25, 2021
See breathtaking scenes at every turn across southern Utah. The mighty five: Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Arches are some of the most beautiful parks in the world! And there’s even more beauty spread across Utah.
Thankfully public laws protect these remarkable historic trails, wild and scenic rivers; parks and monuments; and conservation and wilderness areas. The latest include Utahraptor State Park, named for the state’s dinosaur. This and Lost Creek State Park will soon become the 45th and 46th state parks in Utah. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument spans almost one million acres and includes five biological life zones. In 2021, it became the first national monument managed by the Bureau of Land Management. In 2016, Public Law designated over one million acres at Bears Ears National Monument. Then, in 2017, another look cut the size by 85 percent. Native people know the area for its important historic and cultural resources. They fought hard to preserve the original tract. Perhaps soon, yet another review will result in restoration of its original size.
Eddie and I found out why this amazing southern Utah road trip is the best! In eight days, we saw parts of the mighty five, Dead Horse Point State Park and the astonishingly beautiful scenery along the way. Our stops included everything from the iconic, crowded places such as Delicate Arch to vast wilderness areas in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. We felt our aloneness as we drove through parts of the Grand Staircase at sundown. After dark, the wilderness felt even larger and we felt even smaller. Had the universe swallowed us? Would we make it out?
This southern Utah road trip is exceptional and worthwhile even during the peak season. Read my latest story to find out why!