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5 Best Road Trips

Salt Lake City to Zion National Park Road Trip

Fun multi-day driving itinerary from Salt Lake City through Grand Staircase, Bryce Canyon, Zion and Cedar Breaks national park sites.

Start: Salt Lake City

Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Photo by Steve Greenwood
Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Photo by Steve Greenwood

Salt Lake City is home of Temple Square (world headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), and serves as a great home base for outdoor recreationists.

For anyone interested in genealogy, check out the Family History Library, the largest collection of genealogical records in the world. You might not be Mormon, but if you share an ancestor with a member of the LDS, chances are that the Family History Library has that data.

The Heart of the Cave in Timpanogos Cave National Monument
The Heart of the Cave in Timpanogos Cave National Monument. Photo by Ken Lund via FlickrKen Lund/Flickr

Park City

Head south past the Cottonwood Canyon ski resorts to Park City, Utah, the premier resort town and site for 2002 Winter Olympic events. Further south on I-15 is Provo, home of Brigham Young University and close to Timpanogos Cave National Monument and Robert Redford’s Sundance Ski Resort and Village. (Every January, the Sundance Film Festival selects 200 films for exhibition from more than 9,000 films entered from around the world.)

Just a few miles south is the 38-mile Nebo Loop Scenic Byway — a north-south mountain drive that runs between the regional centers of Payson and Nephi.

For those who thrill to bagpipes, Payson is the site of the annual Scottish Heritage Festival, held every July. On a culinary level, other annual festivities include a salmon supper, held every August, and the Onion Days festival, held every Labor Day weekend.

Just 25 miles south of Nephi (and five miles east of I-15), you’ll find the sandy beaches and warm waters of Yuba State Park, a favorite with in-boat campers.

Fishlake National Forest

Fish Lake
Widgeon Bay on the Fish Lake, Fishlake Scenic Byway, UT

Fishlake National Forest of central Utah will roll by for the next 100 miles or so. Fish Lake (south of Salina), from which the forest takes its name, is considered by many to be the gem of Utah. The largest natural mountain lake in the state, it offers trophy fishing and bird watching.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Utah Highway 12 through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Utah Highway 12 through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Photo: Depositphotos

Head for the scenic Utah Byway 12 from Boulder to Escalante and into Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It’s rated one of the ten most scenic highways in the nation by Car and Driver Magazine.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is named for the 5,500-foot stairstep-like rise of formations from the rim of the Grand Canyon and up to the Bryce and Escalante River canyons. And the monument is surrounded by state parks and recreation areas.

Wanting to Do More Sustainable Travel?
Follow our eco-friendly vacation itinerary of this section of the road trip from Boulder, Utah to Zion National Park.

Bryce Canyon National Park and Kanab

Bryce Canyon Amphitheater from Inspiration Point
Bryce Canyon Amphitheater from Inspiration Point Photo: Depositphotos

Explore Bryce Canyon National Park’s famous red rock spires and horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters. Bryce Canyon transcends 2,000 feet of elevation, and therefore exists in three distinct climatic zones: spruce/fir forest, Ponderosa Pine forest, and Pinyon Pine/juniper forest. Don’t miss our top seven viewpoints in the park. Then head for the nearby gateway town of Kanab to base your adventures for the next couple of days. Here are four of our favorite activities in the Kanab area.

Zion National Park

Zion Canyon Road with car lights streaming the way in Zion National Park
Zion Canyon Road with car lights streaming the way in Zion National Park Photo: Kyle Ford

As visitors drive through Zion National Park, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the size and vertical orientation of the canyon walls that are all around you. You feel tiny considering the scale of your surroundings. Spend the day hiking one of the famous trails like the Emerald Pools, Angels Landing (Not for those scared of heights) or Zion Narrows (Be prepared to wade through water.) Also don’t miss our top three vistas in Zion National Park.

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Cedar Breaks Natioinal Monument
Cedar Breaks National Monument by Averette via Wikimedia Commons

Welcome to Utah’s “Dixie,” known for a mild climate and history as a pre-Civil War-era cotton growing region. There’s a 7,500-foot drop from the cool forest of Cedar Breaks National Monument to St. George on the edge of the Mohave Desert. This is “Color Country,” known for the vibrant hues of cliff faces and especially Zion National Park.

Cedar Breaks is a natural amphitheater, sort of a miniature Bryce Canyon. The canyon rim is 10,000 feet, so snow effectively shuts down the monument from October to May.

Nearby Cedar City hosts the annual Utah Shakespearean Festival, from late June to mid-October. Plays featured this season in repertory are: Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing, Pride and Prejudice, Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps and Great Expectations: A New Musical.

St. George is one of the fastest-growing communities in the country for the past 20 years, attracting retirees drawn by the mild winters. Just 43-miles east of St. George is Zion National Park.

End: Salt Lake City