The 8 Best Road Trips in Utah

Utah is world famous for its red rock arches and deep canyons, but as with many things in life, the trip is often better than any single landmark. The same goes for the state of Beehive – to get to know it properly, refuel, roll down the windows and drive off.

As one of the most beautiful states in America, there is a lot to see. Fortunately, many of these good looks can be achieved via paved highways, scenic drives, and roadside lookouts. While most of the best Utah road trips are easy to get to by car, at the very least some require crossovers with all-wheel drive or high-clearance 4x4s.

NOTE: The distances shown are not directly between the start and end points, so allow some detour and / or additional time from the main route to allow for spontaneous exploration.

The picturesque Byway 12 cuts through the valley of the Escalante River © Horst Mahr / Getty Images

Picturesque byway 12

Panguitch to Torrey, 122 miles, half day

If your just one road trip in Utah, do this one. Here you can experience much of what the state is famous for in a single afternoon.

Highlights include two Red Rock Tunnels, the Dixie National Forest and its nearly two million acres of pinyon pine and desert landscapes, a summit view from 9,000 feet and close access to four of Utah’s greatest natural treasures: Zion, Bryce, Grand Staircase and Capitol Reef.

With plenty of shops and stops along the way, you could easily turn it into a day or even weeks if you factor in the parks included.

A road leading to the plateaus of Monument ValleyManaged by the Navajo Nation, Monument Valley is a Hollywood western icon © Putt Sakdhnagool / 500px

Monument Valley Highway 163

Mexican Hat to Monument Valley, 45 miles, half day

Dozens of major films, including an Oscar winner, have been shot in Monument Valley. On this road trip, arguably the greatest backdrop in film history, you will feel like a character in Stagecoach.

For the most impressive views, head south from Mexican Hat, snap photos of the sombrero-shaped rock and Forrest Gump Point, then head to Monument Valley for even more surreal photography.

Simply driven in less than two hours, allow additional time for side trips and back roads like Highway 276.

The fossilized skull of a dinosaurDinosaur National Monument is the perfect stop for amateur paleontologists on the National Dinosaur Highway © zrfphoto / Getty Images / iStockphoto

Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway

Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway, 512 miles, 1-3 days

Millions of years ago Utah was part of a coastal floodplain that was rich in flora and fauna. Evidence of these animals can still be seen today in the footprints and fossils buried in the state’s desert cliffs and ledges.

To see it all, there is no better route than the Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway. This epic route starts and ends in the beautiful town of Vernal and runs in diamond shape through Utah and a little Colorado along I-70, US 6, US 40 and US 191 among others.

Highlights include the fossil collapse at Dinosaur National Monument, Flaming Gorge, Jones Hole, Fantasy Canyon, and Moab National Parks.

Mirror Lake Scenic Highway

Kamas to the Wyoming border, 42 miles, half a day

Highlights include Upper Provo Falls, photogenic Mirror Lake, Bald Mountain Pass, the Christmas Meadows hiking trail, as well as numerous lookouts, picnic areas, and campsites. It’s also the ideal place to see fall foliage.

A large stone arch and a blue sky above itUtah’s five national parks, like Arches National Park pictured above, are all conveniently located in the southern half of the state © Carol Polich / Lonely Planet

Utah’s mighty 5th

Arches National Park to Zion National Park, 1040 miles, 10 days

Nowhere else in the country – if not in the world – will you find a higher concentration of national parks than in southern Utah. And this ultimate route will take you to all of them and more.

The route begins in Moab in Arches National Park and heads east through Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce, and Zion. However, since there is no direct way to do this, it makes more sense to stop at other parks along the way, including Monument Valley, Goblin Valley, and Kodachrome Basin. Either way, it’s a tour de force of Utah’s natural wonders.

The hairpin bend ends in a road cut into a stone cliffExciting Moki Dugway meandering to the Valley of the Gods near Monument Valley © Getty Images / Collection Mix: Themes RF

Moki Dugway

Mexican Hat to Natural Bridges National Monument, 54 miles, half day

This could be one of the snow-white road trips in America. With hairpin turns and an elevation gain of over 300 meters, this graded gravel road is best driven north to the Natural Bridges National Monument.

Once at the top, take a detour west to see the stunning Muley Point, which overlooks the deep canyons of the San Juan River. Other highlights include views of the Valley of the Gods and its stunning buttes and stone peaks. If you’re not traveling to Natural Bridges, it’s also a wonderful round-trip drive by car.

A car navigates hairpin turns as seen from aboveA car navigates the winding road of the Shafer Trail in Canyonlands National Park © Natali Glado / Shutterstock

Potash to White Rim Road

Moab to Island in the Sky Visitor’s Center, 32 miles, half day

If you thought Moki Dugway was being insidious, wait to see this one. To save the best for last, travel north from Moab on Highway 191, then turn south on Highway 279 to meander around the Colorado River, Corona Arch, and nearby rock climbing and petroglyphs.

From there, turn west on Potash Road to go through Dead Horse Point and into Canyonlands National Park before finally climbing the towering switchbacks of the Shafer Trail to the Island in the Sky Visitor’s Center.

While some cars are capable of this dirt-powered drive, at least you’ll want a four-wheel drive vehicle with more than normal ground clearance. If you have any doubts about the performance of your vehicle, you can always go back the way you came.

A stone, cathedral-like structure with blue skies above itCathedral Valley and the Temple of the Sun in Capitol Reef National Park © Carol Polich / Lonely Planet

Cathedral Valley Scenic Backway

Cathedral Road to Hartnet Road, 72 miles (with detours), half day

To see the best half of Capitol Reef National Park that few people ever visit, you need a high clearance 4×4 vehicle. The reward is substantial: castle-like sandstone formations, panoramic views of the desert and (usually) no other person in sight.

The region’s unique features were shaped over millions of years of erosion, leaving sculpted monoliths that have streaked with the layers of time. For the full experience, get a permit and camp under the stars. The full route details can be found here.

Comments are closed.