The experts at the Utah Office of Tourism shared their ideal itinerary with us. Read on—and then hit the road.
DAY 1: Salt Lake City to Arches National Park
Distance: 231 miles/approximately 4 hours
Arches National Park contains about 2,000 windowed arches, towering spires, harrowing hoodoos and precarious pinnacles on display, including Delicate Arch, perhaps Utah’s most iconic feature, which is a must-hike destination in the park. A paved 40-mile scenic drive from the park entrance provides numerous parking areas for trail access and scenic overlooks. The visitor center is five miles north of Moab via U.S. Highway 191.
Guided Tour: Sign up for a tour through the Fiery Furnace. Because this twisting labyrinth of brilliant red-rock fissures and spines is so intricate, it is highly recommended to find your way through with a guide.
Hikes: The 1.5-mile hike to Delicate Arch is beautiful, with the end reward view of Utah’s famous landmark. Or hike some of the longer trails in the park, such as Double O Arch, Tower Arch and Landscape Arch.
Drive: The scenic drive in the Windows Section of the park contains some of the area’s largest arches. Additional park activities: backpacking, biking, camping, canyoneering, ranger-led programs and rock climbing.
DAY 2: Arches National Park to Canyonlands National Park
Distance: Moab to Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky district —35 miles/approximately 45 minutes
Photography: Early morning and late afternoon bring the best photographic light to the park during the “magic hours.” The park website recommends areas, formations and times for peak photography opportunities.
Along the way: Travel Dead Horse Mesa Scenic Byway to Dead Horse Point State Park for a dizzying view some 2,000 feet above the Colorado River as it winds its way into Canyonlands National Park. You’re sure to treasure this panoramic perspective of the river that carved out the canyons. This is a locals’ favorite. Canyonlands National Park is Utah’s largest national park with views thousands of feet down to the Green and Colorado rivers and thousands of feet up to red rock pinnacles, cliffs and spires. Rivers have sliced the parks into three districts: Island in the Sky is the northern section where visitors can look down to the Colorado River on the east and the Green River on the west; The Needles District is named for its profusion of red-rock spires and sandstone fins; and the Maze District is a remote and jumbled stone playground and requires backcountry use permits year-round. Major entrances to the park are accessible from U.S. Highway 191. Access to Island in the Sky is 35 miles northwest of Moab and access to the Needles District is 22 miles north of Monticello.
Walk: Mesa Arch is a relatively easy 30-minute jaunt that leads to an arch perched right on the edge of towering sandstone cliffs and is especially beautiful at sunrise. Hike: Island in the Sky, the park’s most accessible and visited district of the park, allows for a bird’s eye view of this vast and awesome landscape. The “Island” sits atop a mesa over 1,000 feet above the surrounding terrain, the source of its aptly given name. The Grand View Point Trail is a mild two-mile round-trip hike to the southernmost edge of the “Island” with expansive views of the complex canyon system formed by the convergence of the Colorado and Green rivers.
Stargazing: Visitors appreciate the dark night sky of the park that can reveal 2,500 stars to the naked eye, along with a clear view of the Milky Way.
Additional park activities: Drives, backpacking, camping, climbing, horseback riding and ranger-led programs.
DAY 3: Canyonlands National Park
Bike: The biking terrain in the park is famous and offers a variety in difficulty and scenery. The White Rim in Island in the Sky is a 100-mile trail that you can start at any point. If you are interested in more difficult roads, try The Maze area. Please check conditions before heading out on trails.
Rafting: Half-day excursions are offered on both flat water and Class III-V whitewater. You’ll see the role the water has taken in shaping the landscape.