Road Trip: Lost in Southern Utah

Two friends make the rounds of Utah’s five National Parks in four days of adventure in the high desert

Delicate Arch
Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah.

I wouldn’t recommend cramming five national parks into just four days.*

Especially not if you also plan to scramble through narrow canyons, mountain bike over Kodachrome mesas, and get lost on an Indian reservation along the way. (Not that my buddy Stew and I planned on that last one.)

If, however, you are going to attempt such a foolhardy quest, Southern Utah’s the place to do it.

Five of the nation’s most gorgeous parks are packed into 450 miles of high desert highway snaking from Moab, near the eastern border with Colorado, to Springdale in Utah’s southwest corner.

Amazingly, each park stands out.

Southern Utah Road Trip
Day 1: Moab & Arches NP
Day 2: Canyonlands NP & Monument Valley
Day 3: Capitol Reef NP, Hwy 12, & Bryce NP
Day 4: Bryce NP & Zion NP
Practical info

Spectacular Bryce, with its striped rock pinnacles, and majestic Zion, where noble rock domes rear above verdant canyons, are both justly famous.

So are the sandstone bridges arcing over red desert scrubland in Arches National Park.

Sprawling Canyonlands is less well known, but it’s every inch as impressive as the Grand Canyon (yet receives a mere fraction the crowds).

Even more secluded is Capitol Reef, the forgotten stepchild of the bunch. It gets only half as many visitors as Bryce, and one-fifth the crowds of Zion. You could spend all day hiking the narrow canyons, where Butch Cassidy and his gang once hid out from the law, and run into only a handful of other people.

Yes, tackling all five parks in just four days is a fool’s errand. But over the years, Stew and I have climbed mountains together.

We’ve traveled through the hinterlands of Eastern Cuba and even taken a troop of Boy Scouts on a three-week tour of Europe.

We love a challenge.

» Day 1: Mountain Biking in Moab, Arches NP, and the view of Canyonlands NP from Dead Horse Point

* Seriously. Don't attempt this in four days. It'll be no fun. Take at least five. No really: a week would be far better.

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in December 2008, based on an article written for Budget Travel magazine in 2005, reproduced here by permission.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.