The Best of Utah
Utah’s top sights form a ring within the state, making it easy and logical to take a 10-day-loop road trip that connects the state’s most alluring attractions and sights. Think of this as a sampler of Utah’s varied destinations. On your next trip—and chances are you’ll want to come back to explore more deeply—you can focus on your favorites.
This trip assumes that you begin and end your trip in Salt Lake City. But because most of it is a loop, you can join it at any of several natural entry points: near Moab, if you’re coming in on I-80 from Denver, or near Zion, if you’re coming in on I-15 from Las Vegas.
Arrive in Salt Lake City. Take in the Mormon historical sites at Temple Square, wander through the historic neighborhoods along South Temple Street, and, depending on the weather, attend a free evening concert at the Mormon Assembly Hall, the tabernacle, or Gallivan Square. Spend the night at Hotel Monaco.
Drive north on I-15 to Ogden. Walk among the historic storefronts—now shops and cafés—on 25th Street at the heart of 1890s Ogden. After lunch, continue north to the Golden Spike National Historic Site, a brief journey back in time into the Utah outback to the spot at Promontory Point where the transcontinental railroads were joined in 1869.
After checking out the steam trains, drive to Logan in the verdant Cache Valley, home to Utah State University and, in summer, the Utah Festival Opera. Find an excuse to eat some delicious Aggie ice cream, made by the university’s dairy school. Spend the night at the Best Western Weston Inn.
Return south toward Salt Lake City on I-15, this time stopping by Antelope Island State Park, the largest island in Great Salt Lake, reached by a seven-mile causeway. It’s one of the few areas where you can get close to Great Salt Lake, and, if you wish, you can hike up to viewpoints or rent a boat or take a swim at one of the state park beaches.
Hose the salt off your body and continue south, passing through Salt Lake City to Park City, Utah’s top ski resort and film festival center. The old town area of Park City is a long and narrow street that remains from the town’s beginnings as a mining camp. Shop the boutiques and pick out a fabulous restaurant for dinner. Main Street is lined with good choices; if budget’s no matter, try the Riverhorse Cafe or Chimayo. Stay at the Hotel Park City.
Today you’ll put quite a few miles on the car. Drive from Park City to Provo on Highway 189, through the very scenic Provo Canyon. Continue south on Highway 6, first to Price and then to the town of Green River. After a brief drive along I-70, turn south on U.S. 191 to Moab.
You’ve earned a reward for driving five hours, so treat yourself to a night at Sorrel River Ranch, a luxury guest ranch east of Moab with a great dining room and decks that overlook the Colorado River.
You’re in the midst of national parks, so start exploring. Arches is an easy drive from Moab; you’ll have time to hike to Delicate Arch, explore the Devils Garden, and stop at every scenic viewpoint along the way.
Spend the night at the Gonzo Inn in Moab, a major center for recreation in southeast Utah. In the evening, enjoy Moab’s lively scene: good restaurants, brew pubs, and hoards of bicyclists.
From Moab, drive south on U.S. 191. Unfortunately, time doesn’t allow for exploration of all the far-flung districts of Canyonlands, but at least pull off U.S. 191 40 miles south of Moab at the road to Needles District and drive 10 miles to Newspaper Rock Historical Monument, one of the finest and most accessible petroglyph sites in Utah.
Return to U.S. 191 and continue south 78 miles to Blanding. From south of town, follow Highway 262 and back roads to Hovenweep National Monument, Utah’s most impressive Anasazi ruin, dating from 1200 A.D. Wander through the many stone structures, most in remarkably good repair, and ponder the mysterious disappearance of the farming Anasazi people.
Back on U.S. 191, continue south to the charming small town of Bluff, where you’ll stay at the Desert Rose Inn.
From Bluff, drive to aptly named Mexican Hat and drop into the Navajo Reservation. Soon the dramatic spires of Monument Valley fill the skyline. These lonely fingers of stone rising from the barren desert are practically metonyms of the Old West (at least in old Western films and modern SUV advertisements). After snapping hundreds of photos, continue southwest and drop into Arizona via Highway 163.
At Page, you’ll cross the Colorado River on the Glen Canyon Dam. Stop and peer south over the 710-foot-high concrete dam at the beginning of the Grand Canyon. After leaving Page, you’ll re-enter Utah. Your final destination? The Parry Lodge in Kanab.
Two national parks in one day? No problem! From Kanab, get an early start and drive Highway 89 and then Highway 9 to Zion, where you’ll drop off the car and ride the shuttle bus along the Virgin River parkway. Hop off and on, taking short hikes in the mighty Zion canyon.
Stop for lunch at the Zion Park Lodge, then backtrack to Highway 89 and continue north. Make the turn on Highway 12 for Bryce Canyon. Check into Bryce Canyon Lodge, then catch a free afternoon shuttle along the parkway. You’ll want to catch the sunset on the park’s mysterious pink and orange hoodoos.
From Bryce Canyon, continue east along Highway 12 to Escalante for a day of hiking. It’s your choice: the easy, mostly level hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls, or more intense clambering and canyoneering through the Dry Fork of Coyote Gulch. After a day of outdoor recreation, enjoy great food and comfortable lodging at Boulder Mountain Lodge in Boulder.
Today, return to Salt Lake City by following Highway 24 to Salina, then Highway 50 to I-15, which will get you to the Utah state capital in time for dinner.
© W.C. McRae and Judy Jewell from Moon Utah, 9th Edition