Tips for Planning Your Road Trip to Utah

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It became pretty clear early on in my travel planning that 7 days for Utah was not enough. If you really want to see the state, you need more like 14 days or at the very least, 10 days. Initially, our plan was to stay 3 days in Moab, 3 days in Kanab and 1 day in SLC but that abruptly changed when our airline contacted us literally at the last minute (aka the day before our departure) to inform us that they were delaying our return flight for an entire day (seriously!). So I scrambled around and found us a hotel for that last night, excited that we were staying an extra day (a full 7 days total) but annoyed that lack of planning on their part meant a more expensive trip on mine.

This post covers how to make the most of your trip to Utah and how best to plan for it. Utah is a pretty large state so getting from one park to another does take quite a bit of time. You will want to make sure you appropriate the right amount of time for travel as well as time spent in each place.

For more Utah related guides, check out why you need to add Utah to your bucket list, the perfect Utah Road Trip as well as the best hiking in Utah.

tips for planning your road trip to Utah
Tips for planning your road trip to Utah

6 Tips for Planning Your Trip to Utah

1. DECIDE WHICH AREAS ARE TOP PRIORITY
Our top priority was the parks. We don’t really have any major parks back home and after seeing countless photos of Utah in all its splendor, I was dying to go on a thousand hikes and see it all in one fell swoop. This wasn’t going to be a foodie trip (heaven knows I love those) or one where I wanted to go city exploring. This trip was based entirely on natural beauty, hiking, and photos. So we kept the entire trip centered on the best places to hike and explore on foot.

2. STICK TO A FINITE NUMBER OF PARKS
There are A LOT of parks in Utah; we only scratched the surface. For example: we missed Canyonlands, Deadhorse Point, and Capitol Reef Parks entirely. Before you go, I recommend that you need to decide which ones are the most important for you to visit and then plan accordingly. I wouldn’t advise trying to visit two parks in one day; it really isn’t doable. By the time you get to the park (not including the extra few miles it takes to drive to the actual trailheads) and grab all your stuff for your hike(s), a few hours have passed. Before you know it, your day will be gone. Instead, I would recommend allotting at least one or two days per park. If you love the outdoors, I don’t think you’ll be bored with two days per park since there is so much to see. Because of our time constraint, we limited each park to one day and felt pretty satisfied with that timeframe. However, we didn’t even have time for any fun activities like horseback riding, canyoneering or white water rafting.

tips for planning your road trip to Utah

3. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF TRAVEL TIME
If you’re dying to visit a specific park and there isn’t much time to do so, plan your driving route so that you can at least drive past it on your way to a different destination. We were actually planning on doing this with Canyonlands. Our original plan was to drive from Kanab to Moab and stop at Canyonlands along the way. Unfortunately, we left too late and decided to skip that part of our itinerary. However, it was a great idea since it would’ve been a very minor detour and would have given us a rough idea of what the park was like.

4. SLEEP IN THE VEHICLE IF NECESSARY
I realize that not many people are willing to sleep in their vehicle but we’ve done it several times if the alternative doesn’t make sense. Here’s why we did this in Utah: we arrived in SLC super late, around midnight. Our plan was to get up the next morning and drive to the Salt Flats in time for sunrise. Since the salt flats are located about 1.5 hours away from Salt Lake City, we would have to get up around 4:30am in order to arrive in time for sunrise. By the time we checked into the hotel, it would be well past midnight, probably around 1:00am. We both didn’t think it would be worth checking in for just 3.5 hours so we drove our Jeep to a nearby truck stop, parked it and got comfortable. I had a travel pillow with me that made sleep so much easier and since we had packed a bunch of sweaters, we were able to stay warm. Sleeping in your vehicle in Utah is completely different than the East Coast. You don’t have humidity to worry about and at least in October, the weather was mild and comfortable. For a super cool experience, consider renting a camper van or Airstream for your whole trip!

tips for planning your road trip to Utah

5. RENT A 4 WHEEL DRIVE
Initially, I had rented a Jeep because of the possibility of us hiking the Wave, but tragically we did not win the lottery. After a few days driving around and sleeping in the car on the first day, I was so grateful we rented it. It was almost a necessity and most importantly, we were both glad we were driving it as we were clambering over the worst washed out dirt road we have driven on our way to Buckskin Gulch. A car would’ve been fine but we worried less, had way more room and were all around more comfortable throughout our stay. It’s worth pointing out that we did do a lot of driving during our 7 days. If you are staying in one town, you may prefer the typical sedan.

tips for planning your road trip to Utah

6. PICK CENTRAL TOWNS TO STAY IN
Finding lodging was probably the most difficult aspect of this trip. I couldn’t figure out the best towns to stay in so I researched, stewed on it and researched some more. I finally decided that staying in Kanab would keep us close to the Wave. This would allow us to enter the lottery multiple days without much driving and would give us easy access to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. It worked out perfectly. Kanab was a cute little town with only a handful of eateries. We ended up eating at the same fast food joint two days in a row but it was an adequate place to stay. After Kanab, we stayed in Moab. Moab was probably one of the cutest towns we visited in Utah. Moab had much more to offer in terms of shopping and food and Arches National Park was only a 5 minute drive from our hotel. It couldn’t get any better than that. Our last night was a mishmosh as far as plans go so I decided to have us stay in Park City, a 30 minute drive to the airport. It ended up being the best decision as that made departure day seamless (the old plan was to drive from Moab to SLC the morning of).

Grace

A travel photographer and writer with an insatiable desire to explore the world and inspire others to see it for themselves.

8 Comments

  1. Lily Flowers
    November 9, 2016 / 8:21 pm

    Your pictures are making me want to visit even more so!! I wanted to go this past summer and especially visit the wave until I learned about the limitations!! So I wanted to try for next time (not sure when that is) but it’s true you do need a bit of time to explore it all. There’s just so much beauty!!

  2. elise
    November 9, 2016 / 9:01 pm

    Oh my god… your photos are stunning! You really saw a lot of landscape!

  3. November 10, 2016 / 3:34 pm

    You girls are really convincing me to visit Utah! Never thought it was this beautiful. I would absolutely love to visit the salt field. Also, I would’ve slept in the car too hahaha

  4. Worldtravelbug
    November 11, 2016 / 12:49 pm

    TBH I never considered visiting Utah. You know being from Europe and all… But now seeing this I can only imagine the pics I could take there!!…not a big fan of sleeping in the car tho lol

  5. August 4, 2018 / 5:29 am

    Fantastic photos! My parents are going to Utah in two weeks – I’m so jealous.

    • Grace
      Author
      August 4, 2018 / 5:29 pm

      Hope they enjoy it!

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