17-Day Grand Canyon and Utah’s Mighty 5 Road Trip Itinerary

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Last updated Jun 27, 2023

Utah’s national parks have always been on the list of places we wanted to explore, and in 2020 we got an opportunity to do so. During this 17-day Grand Canyon and Utah’s Mighty 5 Road Trip, we drove over 1000 miles, hiked over 100 miles of trails, went on helicopter rides and jeep off-roading trips. Pretty much had a blast!

This road trip starts in Las Vegas and ends in Salt Lake City. On this road trip, you will visit Grand Canyon and Utah’s Mighty 5 – Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches National Park – in a little over 2 weeks. This travel guide caters mostly to people looking to spend their time hiking and going on different adventures.

17-Day Grand Canyon and Utah’s Mighty 5 Road Trip Itinerary

Day 1 – Las Vegas
Day 2 – Drive to South Rim Grand Canyon
Day 3 – Grand Canyon Hike
Day 4 – Drive to Zion National Park
Day 5 & 6 – Zion National Park
Day 7 & 8 – Bryce National Park
Day 9 – Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument
Day 10 – Capitol Reef National Park
Day 11 – Drive to Moab
Day 12 – Arches National Park
Day 13 – Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park
Day 14 – Needles, Canyonlands National Park
Day 15 – 17 – Salt Lake City

Day 1 – Las Vegas

Arrive in Las Vegas and rent a car that you will use for the rest of the trip.  

Las Vegas is really not our scene, so we just went out to dinner and went to bed wanting to start the next day early.

Where did we Stay: Venetian Hotel

Where did we Eat:  El Segundo Sol

Day 2 – Drive to South Rim Grand Canyon

Start the day early knowing that most of it will be driving. Due to COVID, the Hoover Dam was closed at this time, but if at the time of your travel it is open, it is a nice place to stop and walk around for a little bit.

Take a lunch break at Williams, AZ a town that historic Route 66 used to go through. South Rim Wine and Beer Garage and Historic Brewing Barrel and Bottle House are good options for lunch.

This is also where we recommend you stock up on snacks and water for the Grand Canyon hike. There are no grocery stores in Tusayan for things like that.

After checking into the hotel in Tusayan, or wherever you are staying, we suggest driving into the Grand Canyon National Park for a sunset or just to get a feel for it, especially if it is your first time there.  Seeing it for the first time leaves you speechless for a few minutes. It truly is Grand! You can walk the Rim Trail in the Village and that part of the trail is paved.

Rim Trail – Grand Canyon | 17-Day Grand Canyon and Utah’s Mighty 5 Road Trip Itinerary

The next day is your full day to explore the park. We spent in on our big hike, ~14 miles, over 3000 ft elevation change, and temperature in the canyon of 100⁰F. Biggest hike of our trip and it left us completely exhausted but the views were just stunning.

  • TIP: Hiking in the Grand Canyon is just as hard as most people will tell you, come prepared.

Where did we stay: Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon in Tusayan, AZ – we didn’t stay at the park, since the lodging options were limited at the time of our bookings. However, this hotel is run by the same company as the park hotels and we would not recommend staying here. It is overpriced and not worth it. If you can find something better or the same but for less money, it would be a better choice.

Where did we eat: Canyon Star Steakhouse – Hotel Restaurant – also wouldn’t recommend it, overpriced for the OK quality, but there are not many options in town and since we were starting an early day the next morning, we just wanted something convenient.

Day 3 – Grand Canyon Hike

The hike that we chose for today is from South Kaibab to Tonto to Bright Angel Loop. The hike starts at South Kaibab and ends at Bright Angel, which means you will need to park close to Bright Angel trailhead and take a shuttle to the South Kaibab trailhead. Below is the shuttle map for 2023.

This hike is every bit as challenging as we expected it.  We had a few things going against us, an altitude that we are not used to and extremely hot weather. It just seemed like we couldn’t drink enough water.  We are extremely glad we did this hike since the canyon is simply stunning, but if you decide to do this hike make sure you are fully prepared and give your body enough rest afterward.

You can take other less challenging day hikes in Grand Canyon: go down South Kaibab Trail no further than Skeleton Point and back or go down Bright Angel Trail no further than Plateau Point for the view of the river and back.

Where did we eat:  Plaza Bonita

Day 4 – Drive to Zion National Park

Drive from Grand Canyon to Springdale makes for a long day, close to 5 hr drive, but it can be broken up by stopping at Horseshoe Bend or doing a quick hike like Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch hike.

We ended up stopping at Horseshoe Bend for an amazing view, it is only about a 20-minute walk. The hike that we were really looking forward to from the Kanab, UT area was Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch unfortunately, neither one of us felt good enough to do it and with a heavy heart, we decided to skip it. We highly recommend it though if you feel up to it.

Horseshoe Bend Road Trip Page AZ
Horseshoe Bend | 17-Day Grand Canyon and Utah’s Mighty 5 Road Trip Itinerary

TIP:  This is a good example of changing your plans, as necessary. When we are on vacation, we often push ourselves to the limit because we hate to miss something. But we also realized, this is just the beginning of our vacation and if we push ourselves and get injured, we may not be able to do any of the fun things we had planned for next two weeks. Listen to your body and plan accordingly.

Upon arrival at Zion National Park, we did a short 1-mile roundtrip Canyon Overlook Trail which offers an amazing viewpoint into Lower Zion Canyon.

Where did we stay in Springdale:  Cable Mountain Lodge – we really enjoyed this accommodation. We had our own private balcony where we can enjoy coffee in the morning and an adult beverage in the evening with the Watchman watching over us. It was extremely clean and had laundry facilities.

Where did we eat: Zion Brew Pub

Day 5 & 6 – Zion National Park

The next couple of days is for exploring the beautiful Zion National Park.

To do any of the Zion Canyon Trails you have to take the shuttle into the canyon. The only other way to enter Zion Canyon is by private shuttle or e-bikes/bikes.  All the information you need for the Zion Shuttle Service is on RECREATION.GOV

Angle’s Landing was closed when we were there. It is a dangerous hike to do, so be sure to do your research before you commit to something like that.

Some other hikes we recommend are The Narrows, Emerald Pools, and Observation Point. The Observation Point Trail from the Canyon has been closed for some time now due to the rockfall, but there is a different way to get to it, a lot less strenuous and you can read more about it in our post Alternative Ways to Hike to The Observation Point in Zion.

The Narrows Zion
The Narrows | 17-Day Grand Canyon and Utah’s Mighty 5 Road Trip Itinerary

Other things to do in Springdale: Helicopter Ride, Jeep Tour, Drive through Kolob Canyons and hike their trails – Timber Creek Overlook Trail is a short and sweet one, Drive Kolob Terrace Road with the endpoint at the Kolob Reservoir.  We have detailed some of these adventures in our post 3 Epic Days in Zion National Park.

Where did we eat: Oscar’s Café – casual dining with a Mexican influence, there is always a wait here but it goes quickly. King’s Landing Bistro – more of the fine dining experiences in town, with great outdoor seating and wine selection, expect a long wait during the busy season and they only take reservations for parties of 6 and more.

Day 7 & 8 – Bryce Canyon National Park

The drive from Zion to Bryce Canyon is only about two hours with a scenic drive through the Red Canyon. On our way into Bryce, we stopped and did the short Mossy Cave hike to the cave and the waterfalls.

We stayed in Tropic, a town of few amenities, and whatever you think you may need during your stay in Tropic may be best to pick up while in Springdale.

Bryce Canyon National Park is a series of natural amphitheaters sunk into pink cliffs and filled with delicate red rock hoodoos. The ultimate hike to do in Bryce is the Figure Eight Loop. It is a loop that starts at Sunset Point, combines Navajo Trail, Peekaboo Loop, and Queen’s Garden Trail, and ends at Sunrise Point.

It is a 6.3-mile loop that lets you walk through the Wall Street section of the Navajo Loop, hike the Hoodoos and Wall of Windows in the Peekaboo Loop, visit Queen Victoria in the Queen’s Garden, and finish with the splendid view of the Bryce Amphitheater.

Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon | 17-Day Grand Canyon and Utah’s Mighty 5 Road Trip Itinerary

After this hike we stopped at the iconic Bryce Lodge for lunch, they were only offering take-out at the time. We found a shaded spot in the park and indulged before we started the scenic drive through Bryce.

The scenic drive, stopping at different viewing points, and walking the rim trail will give you a taste of the park if hiking is not something that you would like to do.

Another popular hike in Bryce is the Fairylands Loop, where you can see the Chinese Wall, Tower Bridge, and Hoodoos on a less crowded trail.

Where did we stay: Stone Canyon Inn

Where did we eat: Stone Hearth Grill and The Pizza Place, both decent places to eat.

Day 9 – Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

The drive from Tropic to Torrey is only a couple of hours and we decided to do a couple of hikes in the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument.

Our first stop was the Peek-a-boo and Spooky Slot Canyons – this is a must! One of our favorite short hikes. We both enjoy hikes that make you use your hands and feet to move along and the combination of these two definitely does.

To get to the trailhead you have to drive for 24 miles on the Hole-In-The-Rock Road, an unpaved, sand and gravel bumpy road that takes about an hour to drive 24 miles. The parking lot is at the Lower Dry Fork Trailhead. Parking is limited, but there is an overflow parking about half a mile away. Bathrooms are available at the parking lot; no water filling stations.

Grand Staircase Escalante
Peek-a-boo Slot Canyon | 17-Day Grand Canyon and Utah’s Mighty 5 Road Trip Itinerary

The first part of the hike is just walking on the rim, seems easy nothing to it, and then you have to climb down over the rocks and sand to the entrance of the Peek-a-boo Canyon. There are some trail signs, but the best thing to follow are cairns (rock piles).

Once at the Peek-a-boo entrance, the hardest part will be climbing into the slot canyon. After that, it’s just walking through it and enjoying the colors that sunlight brings in. As you exit the Peek-a-boo Canyon veer to the right and look for cairns, they will show you the way. You will be walking through sand for about half a mile before the entrance to the Spooky Gulch pops up.

Spooky is a little more complicated than Peek-a-boo, you will have to use a rope to climb down some large boulders at one point and it is not easy to do. It is also much tighter than Peek-a-book, with tight corkscrew passages and hardly enough room for your feet to turn, but that is what makes it so fun!

We came out of the canyons with a few bruises and scratches, but big smiles on our faces! When you exit Spooky Gulch keep walking to the right along with the wash toward the entrance to the Peekaboo and from there the exit to the parking lot is the same way you got down.

Grand Staircase Escalante
Spooky Slot Canyon | 17-Day Grand Canyon and Utah’s Mighty 5 Road Trip Itinerary

TIP:  It is a good idea to wear hiking shoes with good tread to be able to climb in, out and over the boulders. We would also recommend a long sleeve shirt and long pants to minimize the bruises and scratches. It is best to do this hike clockwise, Peek-a-boo then Spooky, otherwise you will be running into people going the other way and there is not enough room for two-way traffic.

A short distance from the Hole-In-The-Rock Rd is the Lower Calf Creek trail, an easy trail along the creek to an amazing waterfall. We really rushed through this one, because we realized that we needed to be in Torrey before 7 pm when the liquor store closes. Priorities, you know!

For more information about these two hikes, you can check out our post – Must Do Hikes in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (Peek-a-boo and Spooky Loop and Lower Calf Creek).

Grand Staircase Escalante

The drive from this point on to Torrey on the scenic HWY 12 is both beautiful and scary. There is one part of the road called Hell’s Backbone – ‘nuff said! Also, a lot of the road is open-range cattle grazing which means you will see cows crossing the highway, use caution.

Where did we stay: Cougar Ridge Lodge – we rented one of the Casitas on the ranch, it was a pricy stay but spotlessly clean with an excellent view and the best accommodations we had on this trip. The ranch has horses, donkeys, llamas, dogs, and a sassy cat that hung out on our porch.

Capitol Reef

Where did we eat: Hunt and Gather – an excellent restaurant that occasionally has a local game on the menu.

Day 10 – Capitol Reef

The size of Capitol Reef really surprised both of us, it spreads over 100 miles from its north-to-south boundaries. It is one of the less-visited national parks, but equally beautiful and full of adventures. It is not as packed as Zion and Arches which makes it very peaceful and more enjoyable.

Some highlights are:

Chimney Rock – as a hike or just a viewpoint
Capitol Gorge – easy hike with Petroglyphs and Pioneer Registry. The Water ‘Tanks’ trail can be added to it for a little bit more difficult hiking experience, but still very easy hike.
Cassidy Arch – our favorite hike in this park.
Grand Wash – the narrows, without water, of the Capitol Reef
Hickman Bridge – short hike to a large natural bridge
Sunset Point/Panorama Point – great viewpoints
Fruita Historic District – a historic orchard with different fruit trees that you may pick and eat free of charge while in the orchard.  The oasis in the desert!

To learn about more things to do in Capitol Reef check out our post – Easy Must Do Hikes in Capitol Reef.

Capitol Reef
Chimney Rock | 17-Day Grand Canyon and Utah’s Mighty 5 Road Trip Itinerary
Capitol Reef
Cassidy Arch | 17-Day Grand Canyon and Utah’s Mighty 5 Road Trip Itinerary

Where did we eat: Grill It Yourself – something that our accommodations offered. Pre-packaged meals you grill on your own private porch. We loved it!

Capitol Reef

Day 11 – Drive to Moab

The drive to Moab is only 2.5 hours from Torrey and you can spend the morning and the early afternoon hiking some of the hikes in the Capitol Reef mentioned above before you hit the road. Moab is one of the top adventure towns in the world to learn more about things to do in Moab check out our post – Four Adventure Filled Days in Moab.

Arrive in Moab with enough time to clean up and go out to dinner.

Where did we stay: We rented an Airbnb apartment with laundry facilities as by this point it was desperately needed.

Where did we eat: Fiesta Mexicana, recommended by the host for great margaritas.

Day 12 – Arches National Park

In Arches National Park you can drive up to a lot of viewpoints and see a lot of it from the car, but where is the fun in that?!  Most hikes are short and easily accessible.

The star of the park is the Delicate Arch, famous for being on Utah’s license plate, a 3-mile round trip hike with over 400 ft elevation change. Not the easiest hike and is usually very crowded. The best time to enjoy the colors of the arch is during sunset.

Arches National Park
Delicate Arch | 17-Day Grand Canyon and Utah’s Mighty 5 Road Trip Itinerary

TIP: It has been local tradition to go hang out at the ‘Delicate’ during the full moon and it is amazing to see.

The longest hike in the park is the Devil’s Garden Trail. It is 7.9 miles if you do the loop and all side trails to see a total of 7 Arches (Landscape, Pine Tree, Tunnel, Double O, Navajo, Partition, and Private Arch).

The beginning of the trail is quite easy, once you pass the Landscape Arch is when it becomes a little difficult. The hike from there to the Double O arch requires some steep climbing up on the sandstone fins. We loved this part, but it can be challenging and intimidating to some people.

Once at the Double O arch you can return the same way or continue on the Primitive Trail. Paying attention and following cairns (rock piles) is necessary on the Primitive Trail.

It has steep slopes, narrow drop-offs, and rock scrambling which is what makes it so much fun! If you decide to do just the loop, without side trails to different arches it is only about a 5.5-mile hike.

Landscape Arch | 17-Day Grand Canyon and Utah’s Mighty 5 Road Trip Itinerary

Another interesting hike is the Windows Loop Trail, where you get to see the North and South Windows as well as Turret Arch. It is only about a mile-long loop. Once back in the parking lot on the other side you can take a short hike to see the Double Arch, only about half a mile round trip.

For a more secluded and off-the-beaten-path trail, we suggest Tower Arch. It is secluded in the Klondike Bluffs and requires driving on an unpaved road for about 7 miles before getting to the trailhead.  Parking and restrooms are available at the trailhead. It is only a 2.4-mile round trip trail with a lot of cairns marking the path.

There are a lot more hikes to do in Arches, these are just some of our favorites.

Where did we eat: Desert Bistro

Day 13 – Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park has three different districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze. They are all completely different and offer different adventures.

Island in the Sky is closest to Moab (about a 30-minute drive) and you are driving on top looking down into the canyon. For us, it felt and looked a lot like the Grand Canyon at times. The Needles is about a 2-hour drive from Moab, and you are driving in the canyon looking up. The Maze is the most remote district, and we did not visit it this time.

Our original plan was to hike the Syncline Loop in the Islands in the Sky, which sounds like an interesting hike, but we would not get an opportunity to see the rest of the park. Instead, we decided to drive to a few different viewpoints and hike shorter trails.

Canyonlands National Park
Mesa Arch | 17-Day Grand Canyon and Utah’s Mighty 5 Road Trip Itinerary

The first stop is Shafer Trail, not for a hike but just to look at that crazy road from above. Can’t say that we would like to drive on it. Then a short hike to see the Mesa Arch. Sorry to break it to you Arches National Park, but this was our favorite arch.

From Mesa Arch, we drove to Grand View Point Overlook and spent a couple of hours walking around. It is an easy trail and at the end, there is a big boulder or a few big boulders stacked together you can climb for a 360-degree view.

Canyonlands National Park

The next stop was Green River Overlook, this is not really a hike, just an overlook where you get a view of the Green River, and our last stop was Upheaval Dome. Syncline Loop trail is an 8.3-mile strenuous hike around the Upheaval Dome.

Upheaval Dome’s claim to fame is that there are two theories on what it is: Salt Dome Theory and Impact Crater Theory. After our extensive research of just looking at it for a few minutes, Kris has decided that it is Impact Crater, and we are sticking to it! We took a couple-mile hike to first and second lookouts and concluded our day in Canyonlands, Island in the Sky.

Unbeknownst to us, our biggest adventure of the day and even this trip was yet to come. We booked an off-roading sunset tour the night before, thinking it would be something different to do since Moab appears to be the off-roading capital of the world. It turned out to be the scariest and most exhilarating thing we did.

The off-roading tour is on a trail called Hell’s Revenge, which should have been a clue. Driving up and down slick rock straight through Hell’s Gate to eventually end up with a beautiful view of the Colorado River, Arches National Park, and La Sal Mountain Peaks around you with both sunset and moonrise happening at the same time. It was a beautiful thing to see.

Moab Hell's Revenge

Where did we eat:  Thai Bella

Day 14 – Needles, Canyonlands National Park

Other than driving to and from Needles, the Chesler Park/Joint Trail Loop was our favorite hike of the trip. It starts at the Elephant Hill Trailhead with steep stairs.

The trail requires climbing over slick rock and walking through thick sand and gives you the best view of the needles in the park. It is about a 12-mile hike and took us almost 6 hours to complete. We did take a long lunch break and did get lost once, but that is all part of hiking for us! We laughed about that over our cold drinks when we got back to the apartment.

We are glad that we concluded our National Park Road Trip with this hike! For a detailed description of the trail check out our post – The Best Hike in the Needles – Chesler Park/Joint Trail Loop.

Canyonlands The Needles

Where did we eat: We ordered takeout from Sultan Mediterranean Grill.

Days 15-17 – Salt Lake City

After spending two full weeks in the desert, it was refreshing to see the fall colors while driving toward Salt Lake City.

With COVID still in full swing, we really didn’t do anything in the city but loved our hike to Lake Blanche. This is a beautiful 6.6-mile round trip hike with about 2,800 ft elevation change where there is a good chance to spot a moose or two!

Salt Lake City Hike
Lake Blanche | 17-Day Grand Canyon and Utah’s Mighty 5 Road Trip Itinerary

The next day we returned the rental and flew back home.

Where did we stay: AC by Marriott

Where did we eat: Settebello – wood-fired pizza joint and Red Iguana – iconic Mexican restaurant with excellent food and margaritas.

We drove over 2000 miles and hiked close to 100 miles on this trip and enjoyed every bit of it. Each park was unique in its own way which absolutely fascinated us.

Great Resources For the Trip:
NPS.GOV – for the status of each park and what is OPEN and CLOSED
RECREATION.GOV – for shuttle tickets to Zion. Shuttle in Grand Canyon is free. In other parks, you can get anywhere you need with your car.
USGS.GOV – to buy National Parks Annual Pass. It is $80/vehicle, valid for a full year from the month of purchase through the last day of the month. This is worth the investment if going to more than one national park.

Other helpful posts…
Grand Hike in The Grand Canyon – South Kaibab to Tonto to Bright Angel Loop
Alternative Ways to Hike to the Observation Point in Zion
3 Epic Days in Zion National Park
Must Do Hikes in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (Peek-a-boo and Spooky Loop and Lower Calf Creek)
Four Adventure Filled Days in Moab
Easy Must Do Hikes in Capitol Reef




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