Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Southern Utah Road Trip

Our plan for how to celebrate our third anniversary started out simple enough.  Brandon and I wanted to visit Arches National Park together.  We planned on driving the 5 hours from Logan, Utah to Moab. We'd stay in Moab for a few days so we could visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and then we'd drive back home.  

However, that simple idea quickly turned into an epic idea.  If we were already going to see two National Parks, then why shouldn't we try to see all five National Parks that happen to be located in Utah?  And if we were doing that, then shouldn't we try to squeeze in as many State Parks and National Monuments that our route would allow?

The end result was a nine day, 1700 mile road trip around the entire state.  We stopped in all five National Parks, seven State Parks, three National Monuments, and a handful of other places of interest.   

I want to tell you about all the amazing locations we visited.  Even if you are familiar with Utah you might be surprised at some of the places Brandon and I discovered.  

Here is a list of the places we visited on that epic trip.  I've even added some places that I discovered after the 2010 road trip.  Click on the name of each place to read the post with all the details.

Day One:

Territorial Statehouse State Park

For a brief time Fillmore, Utah was the capital city of the territory of Utah. Plans were drawn up for a large capitol building with four wings and a dome. However, only the south wing was completed before the legislature moved the capitol city back up to Salt Lake. Today the building is a museum housing artifacts from the early days of Utah's history.

Cove Fort

Cove Fort is the only LDS pioneer era fort that is still standing. And it's free to visit!

Zion National Park

The Virgin River has carved this beautiful canyon from red sandstone. The canyon is full of lush vegetation. The park has numerous hikes of varying degrees of difficulty. Even non hikers will find something to do at either the Visitor Center, the interpretive center, or Zion Lodge. A free shuttle bus connects you to everything in the canyon for most of the year.

Day Two:

Angel's Landing

One of the most adventurous hikes in Utah, Angel's Landing is not for the faint of heart. The trail takes you from long switch backs in the hot sun, to a canyon with cool breezes. From there you navigate 21 tight switchbacks known as Walter's Wiggles. This brings you to Scouts Lookout. From there you have the choice to appreciate the view and then turn around, or you can continue up to the Angel's Landing Summit. The trail becomes increasingly difficult, requiring you to hold onto chains during some parts. The view and the sense of accomplishment that you receive at the top are worth it.

Red Canyon

This small canyon with red rock is relatively unheard of. But pretty much anyone who travels to Bryce Canyon will go through the two stone tunnels in this area.

Day Three:

Bryce Canyon National Park

This National Park is made up of several amphitheaters carved from sandstone. The elements have shaped the sandstone into stone pillars. You can appreciate the odd scenery from trails and overlooks along the edge of the amphitheaters or you can hike down the trails and walk among the stones and pine trees.

Day Four:

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park

Millions of years ago this area was home to many large trees. After those trees died they were turned to stone. Remnants of those stone trees are plentiful throughout this state park. A fairly easy, mile long hike will take you past many pieces of petrified wood.

Scenic Byway Utah Route 12 - between Escalante and Boulder

This 29 mile stretch of Utah Highway 12 connects the towns of Escalante and Boulder. The road runs through a rough, untamed land.

Anasazi State Park Museum

This small museum in Boulder, Utah has several artifacts from the Anasazi Indians. There are ruins of Anasazi dwellings behind the museum. There are also some life-size replicas of what the dwellings would have looked like when they were in use.

Scenic Byway Route 12 - Between Boulder and Torrey

Utah Highway 12 between Boulder, Utah to the south and Torrey, Utah to the north runs through the Fishlake National Forest. This is a 50 mile stretch of road that climbs to a height of over 8000 feet above sea level. As the elevation changes so does the landscape. There is stunning scenery every way you look.

Capital Reef National Park

Highway 24 cuts though the heart of Capitol Reef National Park giving you easy access to petroglyphs, pictographs, natural bridges, pioneer era buildings, and spectacular overlooks.

Goblin Valley State Park

The landscape of Goblin Valley State Park is devoid of plant and animal life. Instead it is home to hundreds of oddly shaped rocks known as hoodoos or goblins. A visit to this place is like taking a trip to another planet.

Day Five:

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (Hite Marina)

Hite is a remote location with spectacular scenery. The blue water of Lake Powell shines in stark contrast to the red sandstone cliffs. Highway 95 takes you to an overlook where you can view the landscape from high above.

Natural Bridges National Monument

This national monument is home to three majestic natural bridges that were carved from the rock by water. Overlooks connected by a scenic drive give visitors an easy way to view the bridges. For the adventurous, there are trails that lead from the top of the mesa down to the bridges.

Edge of the Cedars State Park

The museum at this state park houses one of the largest collections of Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) pottery in the Four Corners Area. Outside the museum there is a ruin of a 1000 year old kiva that you can climb down inside.

Newspaper Rock Recreation Site

Hundreds of petroglyph designs are carved into the face of a sandstone cliff near Indian Creek northwest of Monticello, Utah. This area is less than a 45 minute drive from Highway 191. The rock art is very easy to view.

Ron's Pack Creek Campground in Moab, Utah

Leafy trees, green grass, and a small creek make this campground in Moab, Utah a slice of paradise.

Day Six:

Moab Main Street

Many places claim to be the center of adventure, but Moab truly is surrounded by amazing things to see and do. The city is near two unique national parks, a state park, a major river, and a mountain range. The city's Main Street is a memorable destination itself. Historic buildings and tree lined streets make this town a charming oasis. Great restaurants and many hotels mean that you don't have to travel far for comfort. And chances are, you'll find a souvenir to take home in one of the many gift shops.

Dead Horse Point State Park

This desert state park is located on a plateau that sits 2000 feet above the Colorado River. The river has slowly cut through the land exposing millions of years worth of layers of sandstone. The rock layers have eroded into pinnacles, cliffs. and plains. The view is spectacular every way you look.

Canyonlands National Park (Island in the Sky District)

Remote doesn't even begin to describe The Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. The area is located miles away from any cities and is accessible by only one road. Most of the area is located on top of a large mesa that rises over 1000 feet from the ground below. You can see for almost 100 miles in every direction - and yet there are few signs of civilization. The scenery is full of sandstone that has been eroded into interesting features by wind and water. Surprisingly, this is actually the most accessible area within the park.

Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky VS Dead Horse Point State Park

If you need to decide between visiting Dead Horse Point or Island in the Sky check out my post comparing and contrasting the two places.

Days Seven and Eight:

Arches National Park

As it's name suggests, Arches National Park is home to many stone arches. There are over 2000 sandstone arches in the park. World famous arches such as Delicate Arch, Landscape Arch, and Double Arch are found in the park. There are many hiking trails that range from easy to strenuous that will take you up close to the arches.

Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway (Utah Highway 128)

Utah Highway 128 is a 50 mile byway that runs from Moab, Utah to I-70. If you are travelling to or from Colorado this route is more direct than taking Highway 191 from Moab to I-70, and the scenery is much more interesting. Much of the road runs alongside the Colorado River, and is surrounded by red rock cliffs and mesas. The route passes points of interest such as the Dewey Bridge and the Fisher Towers. There are also several hidden places of interest along the route. Instead of being a shortcut - this route really could be the subject of it's very own day trip.

Alternative Trip (These are places we discovered after the 2010 trip)

The Fisher Towers Section of the Colorado River

There are many ways to enjoy the scenery in Moab, Utah. Perhaps the most refreshing way to enjoy the scenery is to take a river rafting trip on the Colorado River.

Crystal Geyser

Southern Utah is full of unexpected features, but perhaps the most unexpected feature of all is Crystal Geyser. This is a cold water geyser located on the banks of the Green River just a few miles south of the town of Green River.

Black Dragon Canyon

Black Dragon Canyon is virtually unknown compared to other features in Southern Utah. But that doesn't make it less interesting. This canyon has steep sandstone walls painted with desert varnish. A short hike up the canyon leads you to ancient rock art. There are at least two caves located in the canyon. The canyon's close proximity to I-70 makes it an easy side trip. This is a great option if you get sick of the crowds at the various state and national parks in Southern Utah.

San Rafael Swell

The San Rafael Swell rises like a giant wrinkle on the earth's surface. The swell stretches over 100 miles in a north south line. The maze-like canyons and passages through the swell have been barriers to travel for centuries. Interstate 70 became the only paved road through the swell when it was built in the 1970's. The interstate allows travelers a glimpse into the wild landscape. But for those people with time and adventurous spirits the swell has many hidden treasures located along dirt roads. The swell is one of those rare places that offer amazing beauty without crowds of tourists.

More of Day Eight:

Douglas Pass Road

On a map, Colorado State Highway 139 looks simple enough. It runs in nearly a straight line parallel to the western boarder of the state. However, straight is not a word to describe what this 70 mile road is really like. The road climbs to a height of 8000 through several switch-backs. Down hill grades of 7% are not uncommon. This simple looking road is full of adventure.

Dinosaur National Monument

One of the most famous dinosaur fossil quarries is located within Dinosaur National Monument. The Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry is known for it's wall of dinosaur bones where visitors can have a close view of fossils still inside the rock that preserved the bones. The quarry was closed for several years, but now has re-opened. A new visitor center welcomes dinosaur lovers to the monument. Away from the quarry there are several scenic drives, hikes, and even opportunities for white water rafting.

Day Nine:

Utah Field House of Natural History

The area around Vernal, Utah is known as Dinosaurland because of the many dinosaur fossils that have been found in the area. The Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum is located on Main Street in Vernal. This museum teaches visitors about the many fossils that have been found in the area. There are dinosaur skeletons on display as well many plant fossils. There is also a short movie that describes paleontology research. Outside the museum there are several large dinosaur statues on display in the Dinosaur Garden.

Fossil Butte National Monument

Described as an "Aquarium in Stone" Fossil Butte National Monument contains hundreds of fossils that formed in an ancient lake. Many of the perfectly preserved fossils are on display in the visitor center. This is a great place for anyone interested in paleontology.

* * * 

If you plan to visit any of these sites, you should know that most of them charge entrance fees.  Paying all the individual entrance fees for the parks adds up quickly.  Thankfully, there is a Federal Lands Pass that you can purchase for $80.  This will give you access to National Parks, National Monuments, National Recreation sites, and so on for one year.  There is also an annual Utah State Park Pass that costs $75.  You can either order these passes online, or you can request them when you visit a park for the first time.  I recommend waiting to buy your pass until you are at the park.  That way you can have your pass for a full year after the day you first used it, instead of the day you bought it online.   

To help you plan your trip I've entered our route into Google Maps.  Click on this image to go to Google Maps.  You'll be able to zoom in on the specific roads.

I hope I can inspire you to want to visit at least some of these awe inspiring places.  We'll start with the building where Utah as a state began - the Territorial State House in Fillmore, Utah.

Want more Utah Ideas?  Check out my list of things to do in Northern Utah.


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I now feel like the trip I have been dreaming of planning for my family can happen. The details, map and advice are priceless. Could you post places that you stayed or did you camp?

  2. You are very welcome. I'm glad this list is helpful. We camped along the way. We stayed at the Watchman Campground at Zion, Sunset Campground and Ruby's Inn Campground at Bryce, the Campground at Goblin Valley, Ron's Pack Creek Campground in Moab, Devil's Garden Campground in Arches, and a KOA in Vernal. Hope that helps. Let me know if you have any other questions.

  3. Thank you for posting this - Perfect route for us. On my official to-do list.

  4. Awesome Valerie! We are taking a road trip this summer with the family, and I am excited that you have done the planning for us already!!!

  5. Thank you for all the great info. Did you just camp one night for each of the days you listed what you did? Or more nights than one needed for different places?


I would love to hear what you think. Did I get it right, or was I dead wrong? What was your experience like?


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