Utah is a beautiful state full of red rock canyons and vast national parks, making it incredible road trip territory. Driving in Utah, you’ll pass high mountains, blue lakes, deep orange hoodoos and lush green valleys. Thelma and Louise is one of my favourite films and, inspired by the landscapes throughout the film, I set off on a road trip through this exciting part of the USA. Here’s my guide to the ultimate Utah road trip.
Although Salt Lake City is the capital of Utah, many people who visit this state actually begin their journey from a neighbouring state, such as Las Vegas, Nevada or Denver. If you want to visit both the north and south of Utah, beginning in Salt Lake City is a great idea. If you aren’t sure, just give us a ring and our consultants can discuss which city is the best starting point for you.
Where you fly into completely depends on where else you want to combine with Utah. It works really well as part of a loop from Denver, taking in the mountains of Colorado and the bubbling pools of Yellowstone before exploring Moab. Another option is setting off from Las Vegas - this allows you to combine Arizona and the Grand Canyon as well as ‘Sin City’ will make for an unforgettable trip. If you're hoping to visit all of Utah's 'Mighty Five' National Parks, it makes sense to drive in a loop from Salt Lake City.
We started our road trip in Las Vegas and after a couple of days in the city, we drove north towards Zion National Park, around 2.5 hours away. We stopped off to buy some classic American snacks for the journey and picked up a 6 pack of Hoodoo beers, perfect for the next few days! We spent the rest of the day hiking and exploring Zion National Park, which is packed with gorgeous panoramas.
My colleague Chris explored a bit further than me, so read his blog to find out about his hike through Zion on the Angel’s Landing Trail. Zion is a really great spot if you like biking - there are miles and miles of cycle trails and we can book bike rental for you, whether you want them for an hour or a few days!
After the day in Zion, we drove north to Bryce Canyon where we stayed at Ruby’s Inn, which has been around for over 100 years. I’d recommend you stop at the Bryce Canyon Pines restaurant for a slice of pie – the cherry and apple are both delicious!
Bryce is famous for its hoodoos – thin spires of rock created by the winter snows. The process of water freezing and thawing over time creates the magical looking ridged rocks here. We drove right to the end of the rim road and hiked to Rainbow Point, where we enjoyed panoramic views of the Pink Cliffs before driving slowly back along the rim, stopping at every viewpoint along the way.
My favourite stop-off was Natural Bridge, where you can see (you guessed it!) a lovely arch carved out by the geological forces. Heading back towards the main village area, I’d recommend both the Sunset Point and Sunrise Point trails, both beautiful at the relevant times of the day.
Driving south again, we spent a couple of nights in Page. While this little town is technically just over the border in Arizona, its close proximity to Utah makes it a great base to see three brilliant highlights of this road trip. The first is Horseshoe Bend, a beautiful part of the Colorado River that winds its way through the canyon. We parked the car and made the short hike to the edge of the river. As you walk up to the water, the huge bend suddenly comes into view. It really is a magical moment!
Secondly, you can visit Antelope Canyon, a narrow ravine with smooth waved walls in soft pinks and oranges, where shafts of bright sunlight make it a mecca for photographers. You can’t enter without a guide due to the risk of flash flooding that can fill the canyons. The colours in this canyon are unlike anything I've ever seen before - if you're in Page then I'd highly recommend adding this tour to your holiday- just ask us, it’s well worth it.
The final thing to do here is taking a cruise on Lake Powell, all the way along the reservoir before doing a short hike to Rainbow Bridge – the world’s highest natural bridge. With so much to do from here, you can see why it’s worth a stop in Page. After a day of exploring, we relaxed over dinner at Big John’s BBQ, where sticky pulled pork and juicy ribs made a delicious way to end the day.
Monument Valley sits right on the Stateline of Utah and Arizona. I stayed at Goulding’s Lodge – it’s a little bit cheaper than staying inside the park but you could also stay at the View, which has lovely views over the valley. This is true Thelma and Louise country.
As you drive into the area, you’ll see iconic American road trip scenery all around you. The flat landscape is interjected with mesas and buttes. My favourites were the Mittens, where two mesas look like huge hands rising out of the ground. It’s easy to spend the day soaking in the scenery, but you don’t really need more than one night here.
Next, we visited Four Corners Monument - the only place in the US where you can stand in 4 states all at once! New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona come together in this unassuming part of the country. There’s not a great deal to see but if it’s on your route then it’s definitely worth taking a few minutes to get a photo of yourself on the state lines!
Driving north, we hit the small town of Moab, conveniently located between two of Utah’s five national parks. On your way, make a detour and follow the beautiful 'Scenic Drive' in Capitol Reef National Park. If you do this, you'll hit all of Utah's 'Mighty Five' during one road trip. We didn't have time to do this, but there are plenty of places to stay in the small town of Torrey, near the entrance of Capital Reef.
It’s the perfect place to base yourself and, if you want a full day in each park, then you’ll need at least three nights here. There is so much to do here – it’s a hub of activities and outdoor adventures, from jetboating along the Colorado River to rock climbing and hiking. I’d recommend a mountain biking tour or a hot-air balloon ride over the endless beautiful landscape.
It’s also a great place to explore on horseback – we were introduced to our horses and rode along a beautiful trail in Castle Creek where the river gurgles alongside you whilst hacking into the wilderness. It’s all very John Wayne - you really feel like you are in cowboy country! If you want to include one of these tours during your holiday, just ask one of our consultants to add it to your trip itinerary.
All of the landscape around Moab is gorgeous but there are two specifically designated National Parks. Arches National is full of natural rock arches while Canyonlands is larger and flatter, with the Colorado River snaking its way through the valleys. A 4x4 tour to The Needles is the best way to experience Canyonlands - they are similar to Bryce Canyon’s hoodoos but different in a wobbly, otherworldly way. We also stopped in at Dead Horse State Park, where the famous ending of Thelma and Louise was filmed!
Salt Lake City is the capital city of Utah and the hometown of the Church of the Latter Day Saints. It sits in a mountain bowl 4,300 feet above sea level and is surrounded by snow-capped mountains, where skiing resorts provide an escape for residents on weekends. The first thing everyone does here is visit Temple Square, where the Salt Lake Temple takes pride of place.
After admiring the impressive architecture, we took a walk through Liberty Park and drove out to visit the Great Salt Lake. We went to Antelope Island, where you can get a glimpse at the lake as well as looking out for the resident bison. They are so cute but don’t forget that they are wild animals so don’t get too close!
I hope all of this has inspired you to take a trip to Utah – the perfect place for an iconic road trip through the USA. The landscapes you can see are just unreal. Until you get out here and see it for yourself, it’s hard to understand just how stunning it is!
We can plan all kinds of tailor-made holidays and road trips in the USA, whether you're heading for the Deep South or the Pacific Northwest. We can also arrange campervan hire in the USA. Simply give us a call on +44 1273320580 or send us an email with your request and we'll get to work for you.