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The drive from Salt Lake City to Zion National Park covers more than half the length of Utah and passes must-do stops that knowledgeable travelers shouldn’t miss.
Zion To Salt Lake City Road Trip
Zion was the third most visited national park in 2020; after all, the beautiful red cliffs are a bucket list destination for many travelers. But there is so much more to see than these steep red formations. Although the 300-mile route is virtually a straight line across I-15 South (and can easily be done in a day), you’ll drive past canyons, lakes, reservoirs, sand dunes, and more that are worth a stop. And they will certainly be less crowded than almost anywhere else in the park
The Best 5 Day Utah Road Trip From Salt Lake City
This road trip from Salt Lake City to Zion is completely customizable and allows you to choose how you want to explore some of the most unique landscapes in the world. Discover the highlights that interest you, take a trip, discover the best places to stay and explore a side of Utah that not everyone sees.
If you were to drive this route without stopping, it would take you approximately 4 hours and 30 minutes. But there’s so much to do along the way that you could easily make a week of it, especially if you want to spend several days in Zion and Bryce.
Check out the full map here and don’t feel like you have to cram everything into one trip. This is a ride you can do multiple times and never repeat the same stop twice (although you might want to repeat a few of them, of course!)
Breathe a sigh of relief as you leave the bustling city behind, knowing that the best and most beautiful parts of the state (or country, for that matter) are right in front of you.
Ultimate Zion National Park One Day Itinerary
This part of the journey is the longest as you drive out of the city. In one go, the drive from Salt Lake City to Cedar City takes about three hours. However, with a few highlights and a few side trips, this stage could easily turn into a multi-day adventure.
Less than an hour’s drive and just 10 minutes from the I-15 Alpine exit is Timpanogos Cave National Monument.
It is an underground world full of stalactites and stalagmites, beautifully decorated pools and hidden pools that can be discovered through cave tours organized by the National Parks Service. Beat the heat and stretch your legs as you learn the science behind the caves and stories of the past.
The petroglyphs of Parowan Gap, just off the highway, are a step back in time, both geologically and historically.
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They are believed to have been carved by various Native Americans passing through the region, and much remains unknown about their origins and purpose. If you visit, be sure to observe Leave No Trace principles and do not touch the petroglyphs so that you can preserve them for future research and visitors.
Home to the largest alpine lake in the state, Fishlake National Forest is a green oasis in central Utah. Fish Lake and the surrounding lakes and reservoirs offer excellent fishing, while the area offers numerous hikes with high mountain views, camping, ATVs, scenic trails and more.
This is a great active spot and place to stretch your legs if you’re the kind of person who spends too long in the car.
About a two-hour drive from Salt Lake City, accessible via a short detour from I-15, is Little Sahara. It’s 60,000 acres of sagebrush flats, juniper-covered hills and sand dunes for OHV fun, hiking and camping.
The National Parks You Can Drive To From Salt Lake City
Rent a dune buggy and zoom around the sand or visit the Rockwell Outstanding Natural Area for peaceful walks and wildlife viewing. You can also choose from hundreds of campsites if you decide to stay overnight.
Cedar Breaks National Monument, just east of Cedar City, is a natural amphitheater with rock formations quite similar to those in Bryce Canyon National Park. But unlike Bryce Canyon, which averages 2.5 million visitors per year, Cedar Breaks welcomes fewer than 600,000 visitors per year, allowing you to see some truly unique terrain without the crowds.
Stroll along empty paths, admire wildflowers in summer or gaze at the night sky. Cedar Breaks’ elevation of 10,000 feet and dry air make it one of the best places in the country for stargazing.
There are plenty of campsites in the locations above, but once you get to Cedar City, you’ll find that the college town also has plenty of lodging options.
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Spend the night in one of the many hotels, or stay in the alpine apartments and chalets at the nearby Brian Head Resort.
Although it is the shortest leg of the trip, this section from Cedar City to Springdale may have the most to do. With numerous detours and notable stops, this section can easily take up a day or two of your time.
You’ll pass a few small towns as soon as you get off the highway – Virgin (home of the annual Red Bull Rampage mountain bike race), Grafton ghost town and Rockdale – before reaching the entrance to Zion National Park in Springdale.
Cut into the western edge of the Colorado Plateau (and just off I-15), you’ll find a beautiful piece of Zion National Park that somehow flies under the radar: Kolob Canyons.
One Day In Zion National Park
Once you leave the highway and pass the visitor center to formally enter the park, you’ll follow a five-mile road that winds through towering Navajo sandstone and leads you to hiking trails and viewpoints that most park visitors miss. Please note that the roads may be closed in winter.
Uh-kin, emphasis on the “hur”), sits on the edge of the Colorado Plateau: home to the highest concentration of national parks in the country. Steep cliffs on the east side of the city provide one of the most dramatic views of the plateau’s border. It’s a great stop to restock on all the essentials you used up so far on your road trip from Salt Lake City to Zion.
Be sure to stop by River Rock Roasters in La Verkin on your way out of town to enjoy a cup of coffee with city views on the steep cliffs of the Plateau.
St. George is well worth the extra drive. It’s one of the best stops on any road trip from Salt Lake City to Zion, but it’s also a great overnight destination if you have a weekend to spare. It’s only a half-hour drive from the main route to the city center (where you can find gems like the Dinosaur Discovery Site), but it’s the area you’ll really want to explore.
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Climb or hike near red sandstone at Snow Canyon State Park in the Red Cliffs Reserve and camp for the night on a crystal blue reservoir surrounded by desert sand at Sand Hollow State Park.
There are so many places to stay on this leg of the drive from Salt Lake City to Zion. Southern Utah is no stranger to tourists and as a result you’ll find plenty of camping and glamping spots, boutique hotels and unique hotels, plus Airbnbs and vacation rentals. Check out the best airbnbs near St. George or treat yourself to The Crescent Moon Inn just outside Snow Canyon State Park.
In Springdale, you can stay in town at a hotel like the Desert Pearl Inn or Bumbleberry Inn, or spend the night at one of Zion’s campgrounds. Or opt for a glamping experience at Zion’s Tiny Getaway.
This leg of the road trip starts in Springdale, the western entrance to Zion National Park, and ends back in Salt Lake City. You’ll drive through the park and have the opportunity to take side trips that will take you to some of the most unique landscapes in the world.
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It’s the most versatile part of the road trip, so you can head straight back to Salt Lake or explore one (or all) of the additional parks, monuments, and cities.
Towering red cliffs surround Springdale, the unofficial gateway to Zion. Although it has a year-round population of fewer than 1,000, the town is home to several hotels, resorts, trinket and jewelry stores, clothing stores, and restaurants. Enjoy a coffee and some food in town and head to the shuttles to explore the walks and sights in the park.
Pro tip: You can usually buy all your Zion Park souvenirs in town for less than they’ll cost you in the park, assuming you don’t mind “unofficial merchandise,” although sales at the park store in the visitor center does support the National Park Service.
This is why you take the road trip from Salt Lake City to Zion in the first place, right? Once in the park, your options are endless. There is a lot to do in Zion, but if you only have a day to spare, check it out