Your 6-day tour of Utah’s five national parks starts with the drive from Salt Lake City to Arches National Park. Throughout the week, you’ll continue to Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion parks to soak up the incredible geological features that make this region of the American Southwest such an outdoor paradise. From deep canyons and rushing rivers to natural arches and mysterious hoodoos, the photo ops are endless.
Five nights of accommodation at 3-star hotels with breakfast are included, as well as lunch at local restaurants; your guide will decide where and when to stop for lunch based on your group’s activities. Two dinners are also included. If you want to experience more than just hiking, optional activities in the parks include canyoneering, horseback riding, rock climbing, mountain biking and helicopter rides (own expense).
Day 1: Salt Lake City – Arches National Park – Moab (L, D)
Enjoy an easy 4-hour drive through the majestic Wasatch Mountains over Soldier Summit and through the Dinosaur Capital of Utah to Arches National Park, home to more than 2,000 arches that make up the out-of-this-world landscape. Other geological features include fault lines, petrified sand dunes, bridges, balanced rocks, spires and more.
In the afternoon, explore Park Avenue, Windows Section, Balanced Rock, Courthouse Wash and other areas on the park’s front south side, and be wowed by must-see formations Delicate Arch, Landscape Arch and Double Arch. If there’s time, you may also have the chance to check out the Cove of Caves, Garden of Eden, Petrified Sand dunes, Fiery Furnace Viewpoint or Double O Arch.
Your day ends in the artsy and outdoorsy town of Moab, where you can enjoy dinner and a little relaxation.
Overnight: Fairfield Inn Marriott hotel or similar in Moab
Day 2: Arches National Park (B, L)
Arise with the sun to return to Arches and visit Delicate Arch before the crowds arrive. Then move deeper into the park to explore Landscape Arch, Double O Arch and other spots you missed yesterday.
Enjoy lunch at a popular restaurant in Moab, and then head out on a scenic drive and hike along the Colorado River to the Petroglyph Panels, Dinosaur Tracks and other geological highlights that sit outside Arches. Return to Moab for the evening.
Overnight: Fairfield Inn Marriott hotel or similar in Moab
Day 3: Moab – Canyonlands National Park – Capitol Reef National Park (B, L)
In the morning, say goodbye to Moab and head to the second district of Canyonlands National Park: Island in the Sky. From this large mesa, admire the wild view of countless canyons, buttes, mesas and other rock features that were carved by the Colorado and Green rivers over millions of years. Hike to an ancestral pueblo granary; see Mesa Arch, one of the most photographed geological formations in the park; and hike along a remote path out to Grandview Point, Murphy Point or Upheaval Dome.
Next, make your way to your second park of the day, Capitol Reef National Park, with a 3-hour drive along the San Rafael Swell and Fremont River, stopping in Green River for lunch. A hidden gem of Central Utah compared to the better-known, more-visited parks, Capitol Reef is home to cliffs, canyons, domes, bridges, petrified wood, geodes and fruit orchards, all tucked into the middle of the Waterfold Pocket, a 100-mile (160-km) geologic monocline.
Inside the park, you can experience more than 15 unique rock layers that sit within a small area. You’ll also see petroglyphs and historical buildings left over from the pioneer settlers and Native Americans who lived here for thousands of years. Listen to stories from your guide and learn about the cultural history of these communities.
Finally, visit Sulfur Creek Overlook and Panoramic Point before arriving in Torrey, where you can relax for the evening.
Overnight: Capitol Reef Resort in Torrey
Day 4: Capitol Reef – Bryce Canyon National Park (B, L)
Watch the sunrise from your hotel balcony, and then head back to Capitol Reef National Park to spend the morning hiking to see more of the park. Options include Hickman Bridge, Cassidy Arch, Grand Wash, Cohab Canyon, Chimney Rock and Sulphur Creek, each of which provide an experience unique to its area with different rock layers available for exploration.
Then make the 3- to 4-hour drive along Scenic Route 12, one of the country’s most photo-worthy roads, to Bryce Canyon National Park. The route takes you over the Aquarius Plateau, which maxes out at 9,600 feet (2,926 meters), and down into Boulder before continuing over the ‘Hogback’ with a drop of hundreds of feet on either side of the narrow road. Finally, cross the labyrinth of canyons that form Grand Staircase Escalante Monument.
Inside Bryce Canyon, take a short hike to Mossy Cave along the East Fork of the Sevier River as it cascades down into the valley of Tropic (spring, summer and fall only). You’ll be wowed by your first look at Bryce Canyon’s lunar-like landscape, known for its hoodoos.
Spend the evening in Bryce City. If you’re interested, you can attend the Night Sky/Astronomy program offered by the park service at the visitor’s center (available from May to October, weather permitting).
Overnight: Ruby’s Inn in Bryce City
Day 5: Bryce Canyon – Zion National Park (B, L)
Wake up early for the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch the sunrise from the rim of Bryce Canyon, where you can witness the landscape change from a gray mass into a glowing wonderland of rock pillars. While hoodoos can be found around the planet, the ones at Bryce Canyon are particularly beautiful for their coloring.
Spanning more than 2,000 feet (610 meters) in elevation, Bryce Canyon has three distinct climate zones within its borders, and is home to a landscape that was created by the processes of faulting, geological uplift and frost wedging. You have the morning to explore how you wish, from a leisurely walk along the rim to a hike on the Queen's Garden/Navajo Loop trail or Fairyland Loop trail. In addition to the geological features, you can see wildlife like pronghorns, antelope and deer on the high plateau.
Next, make the 2-hour drive to Zion National Park, stopping on the way for lunch at one of the many local eateries that are available. As you arrive at the east entrance of Zion, observe the top layers of the largest sand dunes that have ever existed. Keep your eyes open for bighorn sheep, and admire ponderosa pine trees that grow out of the sheer cliffsides.
Make a quick stop at Checkerboard Mesa and a few other photo spots, and then hike up to Canyon Overlook to peer 2,500 feet down to the bottom of Pine Creek and Zion Canyon. Walk along the historic 1.1-mile-long tunnel and down into the canyon, and enter into the main canyon to continue marveling at this landscape that was sacred to the Native Americans who lived here for thousands of years.
Spend the evening in Springdale, where you can entertain yourself at local art galleries, restaurants and shops before retiring for the night.
Overnight: La Quinta Inn and Suites in Springdale
Day 6: Zion – Salt Lake City (B, L, D)
Arise early to explore more of the canyon, or just take in views of the 3,000-foot cliffs from your hotel balcony. Perhaps hike the Virgin River Narrows, cross Angels Landing, walk to the Emerald Pools or, if you’re looking for a long hike, climb up the East Rim Trail to the top of the park and visit Cable Mountain or Observation Point.
Around midday, leave Zion for the 4.5-hour drive back to Salt Lake City, stopping for lunch in historic Cedar City and taking another break in Fillmore. The route takes you along the Hurricane and Wasatch Fault lines before arriving in Salt Lake City in the evening.