Three Park Tour

This is our recommendation for a perfect week in Southern Utah – three national parks in one road trip. See Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks.

Park One | Capitol Reef

Your first stop on this awesome trip is Capitol Reef. It’s the perfect place to start.

Day one – Roadtrip:

Get packed and drive
Your destination? Capitol Reef National Park. Located about four hours from Salt Lake City.

Check in at the Lodge at Red River Ranch or other accommodations

Day two – Capitol Reef:

Arrive in Capitol Reef
Visit the Visitor Center for a quick overview of the park

Drive down the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive
This road will take you further into the park, offering even more spectacular scenery. It is a toll road and will cost you a ten-dollar fee for a week’s worth of access. There are a couple of offshoots to the main road, one of them will lead you to Cassidy Arch. (The turnoff is clearly marked.)

Hike Cassidy Arch (Moderate | 3.5-miles roundtrip)
This is one of our favorite hikes in the park. A relatively steep climb will lead you to Cassidy Arch – yes, it was named after the outlaw, Butch Cassidy – and stunning views of the park. The trail is moderately strenuous, with a large increase in elevation.

Visit the Gifford House for homemade ice-cream
It’s the perfect afternoon pick-me-up.

Have dinner in Torrey
Check out this page for dining recommendations.

Day three – Scenic Byway 12:

Get on Scenic Byway 12 heading south to Boulder

Stop in Boulder
See the Anasazi Indian Village. Or grab something to eat Hell’s Backbone Grill.

Continue on Byway 12 toward Escalante

Stop by Lower Calf Creek Falls (Moderate | 5.7-miles roundtrip)
Hiking Calf Creek is a nice way to break up the drive. Follow the sandy trail until you see the falls. Little to no elevation change makes this trail moderately easy. But you will probably get a little wet.

Continue on Byway 12 toward Bryce Canyon

Hike Mossy Cave (Easy | 0.9-miles roundtrip)
Get your first peek of Bryce Canyon by hiking this short trail. It is located on Byway 12 about 4-miles outside of the main park entrance. Keep your eyes open for the small parking lot that marks the trailhead. A very easy hike leads you to a waterfall and a mossy grotto.

Check in to your accommodations

Park Two | Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon is your second major stop on this journey. It’s time to play with the hoodoos

Day four – Bryce Canyon:

Arrive in the park
There is a fee of $25 for each entering vehicle.

Stop by the visitor center for a quick overview of the park

Hike Fairyland Loop Trail (Strenuous | 8-miles roundtrip)
Fairyland is one of the best hikes in Bryce Canyon – and we think it’s a great one-stop shop for all your Bryce Canyon needs. The trail starts at Fairyland Point, situated on the canyon rim. (Just look at that view! It’s breathtaking.) And as the trail leads you into the canyon, you’ll get to see the hoodoos and spires up close. Pack lunch and eat a picnic on the trail.

Have Dinner in Bryce Canyon City

Experience the night sky
If you time it right, you could be in Bryce Canyon during a full moon. Which means you could go on one of their famous Full Moon Hikes. If you can’t make that work, there are sometimes other astronomically-themed activities to attend. Check with the visitor center.

Park Three | Zion

Zion is the most famous of the national parks in Utah. Which makes it a great finale to your trip.

Day five – Zion National Park:

Drive from Bryce Canyon to Zion
This is another amazingly beautiful section of highway, so take some pictures along the way. Enter Zion at the East Entrance. A $30 dollar fee is required for each entering vehicle.

Drive through Checkerboard Mesa on the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway
Keep your eyes peeled for wild mountain goats. Also you get to drive through some very cool tunnels, which is a bonus if you’ve got kids with you.

Stop by the visitor center for a quick overview of the park
There is a lot of cool information about the park to be found here. Take the time to check out the short educational film about the park.

Take the shuttle up Zion Canyon
Dibs on the window seat!

Stop by Zion Lodge for lunch and ice cream
This historic lodge has a little restaurant. Grab some food – don’t forget the ice cream – admire the view, and get ready for one of the best hikes in the park.

Hike to Upper Emerald Pools (Easy | 3-miles roundtrip)
Emerald pools is a pretty easy hike, in fact it’s so easy that the first part is paved. There are three consecutive pools, aptly named Lower, Middle and Upper Emerald Pools. Hike to the top, you won’t be disappointed. If you don’t want to backtrack, take the Kayenta Trail back down. This will add another mile to the hike, but the views are worth it.

Take the shuttle back down Zion Canyon

Look at all the cool shops and galleries at the South Entrance
After you get back to your car, exit to the south. There are a bunch of boutiques near the entrance. Walk through a gallery or two. You can also watch a film at the nearby IMAX theatre. Plus there are a lot of restaurants, in case you’ve worked up an appetite.

Check into your accommodations

Day six – Zion National Park:

Reenter the park
Try to get there early. Today you’re going to tackle Angel’s Landing, the most iconic hike in Zion. It can be pretty strenuous, so an early start will make it more enjoyable. (Some people even recommend watching the sunrise from the top.)

Take the shuttle to Angles Landing

Hike Angels Landing (Strenuous | 10-miles roundtrip)
The trail starts out relatively easy, with the first section being paved. However, by the time you make it to the last half mile, you will be on a narrow path, close to the edge of the canyon ridge. (Don’t worry. There are anchored chains to keep you from falling off.) The trail’s elevation change is pretty dramatic, so take your time. But you will never forgot the view form the top.

Time for lunch!
You can stop by the Zion Lodge again, or go to one of the many places near the front entrance.

Take it easy, you’ve earned it
Go for a swim, take a nap, or buy some art at a gallery. Just relax for the rest of the day.

Day seven – On your way:

Time to head home
Pack up and head out. But don’t worry, these three awesome parks will be here for you the next time you come this way.