Tackling Utah’s 5 National Parks in 5 Days

One-day itineraries for visiting these iconic parks, for when time is limited.

Jordan & Brittany Griggs Jordan & Brittany Griggs  |  08.01.2018

As RVers, it’s seemingly in our DNA to pack as much as possible into one day – especially when we’re in a beautiful part of the country. Brittany and I recently found ourselves with five days to spend in Utah, a state we’ve been wanting to explore for quite some time. Though all Google searches seemed to strongly discourage tackling all five of Utah’s National Parks in as many days, we decided to do it anyway! The result? A fun-filled week of adventure that we found very doable.

Although, you could spend days or weeks at these parks, below we outline our recommended itinerary for Utah’s ‘Mighty Five’ in five days – in case you are short on time.

Day 1: Zion National Park

During peak season (March-October), personal vehicles are not permitted on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Instead, a park shuttle must be taken. It’s actually quite convenient and makes getting around really easy.

Begin by picking-up the shuttle at the Zion Canyon Visitor’s Center near the south entrance of Zion (there’s an RV parking lot for your rig). If you’re looking for an easy hike to begin the day, skip the shuttle and walk along the Pa’rus Trail, just past the shuttle pickup line. It’s a 45-minute paved trail walk to shuttle Stop #3, Canyon Junction, where you can hop aboard.

Recommended one-day itinerary:

1. Riverside Walk

Take the shuttle to the last stop (#9 – Temple of Sinawava) for the Riverside Walk. The trail is paved, with minor elevation changes. It winds its way through a canyon, along the Virgin River. The best part is it dead ends right into the river, where you can wade into the water to cool down and enjoy the views. This trail is 2.2 miles round trip, about 1.5 hours.

We ended here, but if you can opt to continue hiking through the river one mile further to reach The Narrows, it is a well-loved hike. The Narrows hike is through the water (so bring your water shoes) and can be extended up to 14-miles (round trip)!

utahs national parksThe Riverside walk offers a chance to cool off at trail’s end.

2. Weeping Rock

Hop the shuttle to Stop #7 and make the short (yet steep) 0.4-mile round trip hike to Weeping Rock, a natural rock alcove with dripping springs. It’s another chance to cool down, and the views from inside the rock alcove are super cool.

3. Lower Emerald Pool

Take the shuttle to stop #6 (The Grotto) and pick-up the Kayenta Trail just across the street. The unpaved trail along the canyon-side offers some amazing views and was one of the less crowded spots we found. Continue to the Lower Emerald Pools, a series of pools and waterfalls down in a canyon, and end the hike at Zion Lodge, shuttle Stop #5 (1.5 mile, ~1 hour).

utahs national parksEnjoy sunset at the end of the Canyon Overlook Trail.

5. Dinner & Scenic Drive

Head back to the Zion Visitor’s Center and grab dinner in Springdale, a cool little town just outside the park’s south entrance (a few minutes from the Visitor’s Center). If you like Mexican fare, try Oscar’s – its laid-back vibe and amazingly fresh food are perfect after a long day of exploring.

After dinner, drive the scenic Zion-Mount Carmel Highway to the Canyon Overlook Trail (just on the other side of the tunnel). The westward facing overlook makes this one-mile hike perfect to do an hour or so before sunset.

Other Popular Activities in Zion

If time allows, the Angel’s Landing Hike is a bucket-list activity for many. The strenuous, 5.4-mile hike has spectacular views, but is not recommended for anyone with fear of heights. Zion Museum is another fun addition.

Camping Near Zion

Watchman Campground (¼ mile from the South Entrance) or South Campground (½ mile from the South Entrance) are two of the best options with great views and close proximity to both Springdale and the Zion Visitor’s Center shuttle pickup.

Day 2: Bryce Canyon National Park

Rise early and make the two-hour drive to Bryce Canyon National Park. There’s a shuttle you can grab near the Visitor’s Center, but we opted to drive around the park as there’s plenty of parking at each stop.

Recommended one-day itinerary:

1. Bryce Point

Drive to the far end of the park, where you’ll find Bryce Point. It’s a quick 10-minute walk from the parking lot to the overlook. (If you want an easy hike to get the blood flowing, walk a portion of the Rim Trail, high above the canyon.)

utahs national parksBrittany taking in the views at Bryce Point.

2. Inspiration Point

This is another great spot with three separate overlooks, a short walk from the parking lot. It’s a steep incline, but be sure to check out all three!

3. Sunrise Point & Hiking

Park at Sunrise Point and pick-up the Queens Garden Trail. This hike is incredible! You’ll traverse from atop the rim down into the canyon floor, passing amazing bright orange landscape along the way. When you reach Queen Victoria, continue along the trail (it’s wooded and provides some nice shade) toward the Navajo Loop Trail.

Head toward Wall Street, where you’ll find incredible rock walls and a winding “staircase” leading you back to the rim from the canyon floor. Take in the views from Sunset Point, and follow the Rim Trail back to your vehicle over at Sunrise Point. The diverse views make this 3.2-mile hike so worth it! (Note: I highly recommend doing the loop in the manner described above. Doing it in reverse fashion makes for a tougher walk).

utahs national parksViews from the Queens Trail Hike, down into the canyon.

Camping Near Bryce

Check-out the Cannonville / Bryce Valley KOA, where trees provide some nice shade and views of the surrounding landscape won’t disappoint.

Day 3: Capitol Reef National Park

If your legs are tired from all the hiking, you’re in luck! Day 3 is a lot of time touring from the RV as you’ll traverse from Bryce Canyon over to Moab, stopping at Capital Reef National Park along the way.

Recommended one-day itinerary:

1. Drive to Capitol Reef

Be sure to take the Highway 12 route to Capitol Reef. It’s a beautiful drive with quite a few amazing pullouts, ideal for quick breaks and great photo opportunities.

2. Panorama Point

Shortly after turning off Highway 12 onto Highway 24 there’s an overlook called Panorama Point. Panoramic views make it worth a quick stop. Continue on and turn onto Scenic Drive, an 8-mile stretch of paved road with breathtaking views inside Capitol Reef National Park.

utahs national parksThe 8-mile drive through Capitol Reef National Park offers great views all around.

3. Grand Wash Road

For the off-road lovers, this unpaved road is an awesome drive through towering rock formations. It doesn’t require 4-wheel drive, but it’s a bumpy ride. Well worth it though! It dead-ends at the Grand Wash Trail, if you’re interested in a hike.

4. Capitol Gorge Road

Similar to Grand Wash, this unpaved road winds through epic rocks and narrow canyon-like formations. The Capital Gorge Trail offers a hiking option at the end of the road, too.

utahs national parksUnpaved roads through tall rock formations make for a fun adventure!

5. Continue onto Moab

Make the remaining 2-hour drive to Moab, where you’ll settle in for the night (prepare for more great views on the drive).

Camping in Moab

Lots of options in the area! For a more resort feel, check out Moab Valley RV Resort & Campground – close to town and the pool will come in handy at day’s end. For a more remote feel, snag a campsite along the Colorado River.

Day 4: Arches National Park

Arches is a stones-throw from Moab, so you’ll wake with a short commute from your camp spot. It’s notorious for being one of the more crowded parks in Utah, so we opted to get an early start. No shuttles mean you’ll be driving the park, too.

Recommended one-day itinerary:

1. Delicate Arch at Sunrise

This may have been our favorite spot of the entire trip! The large, freestanding arch is incredible, especially in morning light. Many recommend doing this at sunset (as it’s westward facing), but sunrise proved to be spectacular, too. It’s about 30 minutes from Moab to the Delicate Arch. The 3-mile round trip hike is more challenging than others (a good chunk is uphill), so budget at least one hour from the parking lot to the Delicate Arch.

utahs national parksBrittany poses under the spectacular delicate arch in Arches National Park.

2. Double O Arch

Another difficult hike, but worthwhile with lots of sites along the way. Park at Devils Garden Trailhead, and expect to see the Tunnel Arch, Pine Tree Arch, Landscape Arch, Navajo Arch, Partition Arch, and finally the Double O Arch on this 4.5-mile round trip hike with some uneven terrain (~3 hours).

3. The Windows Section

Here you’ll find the Double Arch, North Window, South Window, and Turret Arch. They can be viewed from the parking lot, but an easy walk out to each is recommended – about 1.5 miles total.

utahs national parksThe Double Arch is a quick and easy walk and cool to view from directly under the arch.

4. Balanced Rock

Pop into the parking lot and view this unique rock structure before leaving the park.

Camping & Exploring in Moab

After this day (12 miles & 25,000 steps!) some relaxing will certainly be desired. Moab is a bustling town with lots of shops and food options. We chose to have dinner at Miguel’s Baja Bistro, a low-key restaurant serving up Baja-style Mexican fare. For a post dinner activity, drive Highway 128 along the Colorado River at sunset. When it is time to sleep, plan to camp at the same place as the prior night or try out another option – maybe with even better views!

Day 5: Canyonlands National Park

There are two separate sections of Canyonlands National Park – Island in the Sky and The Needles. It’s ideal to do each in separate days, so we opted for Island in the Sky due to it’s proximity to Moab (a 40-minute drive vs. 1.5 hour drive to The Needles).

Recommended one-day itinerary:

1. Shafer Canyon Overlook

This first stop is just a quick walk from the Visitor’s Center. While there are some great hiking trails in the park, there are also plenty of awesome overlooks like this one (in case you are all hiked out).

2. Upheaval Dome

A moderate hike ends with two viewpoints of a really unique geological feature. The trail is two miles round trip and took us about 1.5 hours.

3. Holeman Springs Canyon Overlook

Simply pull-off on the side of the road and walk a few minutes to the edge of the canyon for great views.

4. Green River Overlook

A must-see overlook (no hiking required) with views of canyons, mountains and the rugged green river below.

utahs national parksA view of the Green River from the overlook.

5. Grand Viewpoint Overlook

The best view in Canyonlands awaits at the end of this two-mile walk. It follows the canyon edge and ends with 360-degree views that stretch for miles.

utahs national parksThe Grand Viewpoint overlook offers the most spectacular views withing Canyonlands.

Other Activities Near Canyonlands

There are plenty of other overlooks throughout the park and some really cool unpaved roads for those traveling with 4-wheel drive (maps offered in the Visitor’s Center). Also, Dead Horse Point State Park is right next door with some cool sites to see, too. (Entrance fee: $20).

A few final tips

Be sure to pack plenty of water as the Utah heat is no joke (especially in the summer)! If you’re not used to the elevation (4,000 – 9,000 feet above sea level in most cases), you’ll need to hydrate even more. Also, food options are minimal in the parks, so pack a lunch and snacks for the day – it will make life easy.

If you don’t already have an annual National Parks pass, this may be a good time to consider getting one since it will save you some money.

These itineraries are ideal for those traveling in more compact RVs or with a tow car, but can be done with larger units (though some additional planning will be needed). There’s a ton of public land throughout Utah, so if the weather’s right, ditch the campgrounds and boondock on a gorgeous piece of public land.

And after five days traversing Utah’s Mighty Five National Parks, there’s no doubt you’ll be the best kind of tired!


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3 Comments

  1. Judy Taylor Posted on 08.11.2018

    Great itenerary just a few errors. The river in Zion is the Virgin NOT Virginia and the Watchman campground is IN the park.

    1. Brooke Baum Posted on 08.11.2018

      Judy, Glad you enjoyed the article and I’ve made edits to correct these errors. Thanks for drawing that to my attention. -Brooke, GoLife Editor

  2. Bill in Tennessee Posted on 08.11.2018

    One year to the day after my last cancer treatment, my wife and I did my bucket list item, climbing Angel’s Landing. A tough trail, but very doable if you’re in pretty good shape. “Take THAT, cancer!” My advice to anyone wanting to do that trail is START EARLY IN THE MORNING, eat a hearty breakfast, pack a lunch, and hit the trail as early as possible. The heat of the day will be after noon, and you’ll be thankful that you’re descending and not climbing in that heat.