Utah’s landscape is synonymous with the American West, from its iconic desert arches to red rock canyons and towering mountains. There’s no better way to experience Utah’s iconic landscape than with a Utah road trip from Salt Lake City to Moab. This drive will take you from the city streets of Salt Lake to the wilds of Utah’s most pristine desert landscape. With a visit to hot springs and three of Utah’s five mighty national parks, this Utah road trip is ideal for nature lovers, avid hikers, rock climbers, and anyone who appreciates the beauty of the desert.
The Ultimate Utah Road Trip Salt Lake City to Moab
Utah Road Trip
On this Utah road trip, travelers will travel from Salt Lake City to Moab and encounter some of the state’s most pristine desert landscapes in Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Arches National Parks.
Utah Road Trip Travel Time: Salt Lake City to Moab
This Utah road trip covers 458 miles and takes approximately 8 hours and 8 minutes of drive time. We recommend taking five days to complete your trip.
Best Time of Year for a Utah Road Trip
Southern Utah’s national parks are open year-round, but most visitors flock to Utah’s mighty five from April through October. We recommend visiting Utah’s national parks in the fall or spring to avoid the peak summer crowds and brutal desert heat. Check out our other Salt Lake City to Zion National Park Itinerary for an alternative route.
Summer: With temperatures that often exceed 100°F, visiting the Southern Utah desert in the summer can be extremely strenuous. Despite the heat, the summer brings heavy crowds to Southern Utah’s national parks.
Fall: Fall is a pleasant time to visit southern Utah’s national Parks. With daytime temperatures ranging from the 50s to the 60s and nighttime temperatures hovering around 40°, the Fall is perfect for exploring the park without the summer crowds.
Winter: Winters in Utah can be chilly, with highs between 30º to 50ºF and lows from 0° to 20°F. While the area is not known to receive large amounts of snow, even small amounts of snow and ice can close local roads and trails.
Spring: Spring offers mild temperatures and plenty of sunshine, with daytime weather ranging from the 50s to the 70s and night-time lows between the 30s and 40s.
Preparation for a Utah Road Trip
Sun Protection: The Utah sun is no joke. Bring ample sun protection, including sun hats, sunglasses, UPF clothing, and plenty of sunscreen.
Layers: The weather in the desert can change without warning. The days can be sunny, but the night temperatures can drop quickly as soon as the sun goes down. Bring layers for chilly desert nights.
Water & Food: A Campervan allows you to take everything you need on the road. When exploring the desert, bring more water than you think you need. Add a kitchen kit to your camper van to plan your meals during your journey.
Dispersed camping vs. campsites: You’ll find more availability than traveling in the summer. A van makes dispersed camping easy. You can disperse camp for free on federal and BLM land. There are plenty of apps to help you find a dispersed camping site on your route. If you’re considering booking a campsite, either in a national/state park or a private campsite, make sure you book at least a few months before your trip.
Phones & Chargers: Navigation is integral to your trip’s success. Make sure you bring a smartphone or GPS device and a charger.
Downloaded Maps: In the desert, you never know when you’re going to lose service. Download maps of the region offline in case you lose service.
Utah Road Trip Stops
Utah is a mecca for adventure, and it’s hard to know where to start. Utah has it all, from the mountains to the desert and everything in between. In this itinerary, you’ll travel from Salt Lake City to Moab and hit three of Utah’s Might Five national parks along the way.
Day 1: Salt Lake City to Fifth Water Hot Springs
Fifth Water Hot Springs, our first stop, is just an hour south of Salt Lake City. Fifth Water Hot Springs, also known as Diamond Fork Hot Springs, is a series of creekside hot springs rock pools with milky blue waters that reach up to 111°F. There’s also a hot spring waterfall. Stop for a few hours to hike to the pools and take a dip, or stay overnight and camp nearby in Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
Camping Near Fifth Water Hot Springs
Diamond Campground: Shaded by massive cottonwoods and willows, this campground is ideal for camping in your van and exploring the hot springs There are a few family sites located 15 miles from Spanish Fork and group sites a few miles further up the road. This campground has vault toilets, campfire rings, and picnic tables. Reserve your campsite here.
Dispersed Camping in Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest: There are plenty of dispersed camping options in the nearby Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. Click here for tips on finding a nearby dispersed campsite.
Things to do in Fifth Water Hot Springs
Hike the Hot Springs Trail: The Fifth Water Trail is a moderate 4.5 out-and-back hike that takes you directly to the hot springs pool. The trail begins at Three Forks and then leads across a bridge to follow Sixth Water Creek until you cross a second bridge and the trail forks. Follow signs for Fifth Water. You’ll eventually come to a series of rapids, a cold waterfall, and then the hot springs. About 1.5 miles out, you’ll begin to smell the sulfur from the pools.
Soak in the Hot Springs: Relax and unwind in the electric blue waters of the Fifth Water Hot Springs. Soak in a series of pools that range in temperature from 102° to 111° F. There’s also a hot spring waterfall to enjoy. There are no facilities at the pool, so pack out everything you bring in.
Where to Eat Near Fifth Water Hot Springs
Ginger’s Garden Cafe: Located in nearby Spanish Fork, Ginger’s Garden Cafe serves organic, vegan, and vegetarian dishes with a focus on raw, whole foods. If you’re looking for a healthy option nearby, Ginger’s is your best bet.
Sidecar Cafe: Located in nearby Springville, Sidecar Cafe offers a classic diner experience, serving breakfast and lunch classics like pancakes, omelets, tasty burgers, and more.
Mountain Mikes Pizza: Located in Spanish Fork, Mountain Mikes has been making pizza and serving the Spanish Fork community for over 45 years. With fresh dough made daily, Mountain Mikes has the best pizza in town.
Day 2: Fifth Hot Spring to Capitol Reef National Park
The towering bluffs and windswept canyons in Captial Reef National Park make it one of Utah’s most understated parks. Often overshadowed by the likes of Zion and Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef’s massive red rock spires and sprawling desert vistas don’t get the recognition they deserve. Located 137 miles southwest of Moab, Capitol Reef is the second stop on our Utah road trip. Capitol Reef is a geological wonder and a haven for hiking, canyoneering, and other outdoor endeavors. Capitol Reef offers dozens of campgrounds and plenty of land for dispersed camping.
Camping in Capitol Reef National Park
Fruita Campground: As the park’s only developed campground, Fruita Campground fills up quickly. This Utah campground has 71 sites and is open from March 1 – October 31. Located on the banks of the Fremont River and surrounded by historic orchards, this campground is a true desert oasis. Each campsite has a picnic table and a fire pit. There’s easy access to potable water and restrooms with flush toilets. Make your reservations here.
Cathedral Valley Campground: This primitive campground is located 7,000 feet above sea level along the park’s Cathedral Valley Loop Road between Juniper and Pinyon forests. The dirt road leading to the campground is a rough drive, but the views of the surrounding desert are well worth it. There is no access to potable water, so pack everything you will need. The high desert can experience huge fluctuations in temperature, so plan accordingly. Check with the Capitol Reef Visitor Center for road conditions before your stay.
Cedar Mesa Campground: Another of the park’s primitive campgrounds, Cedar Mesa is located 23 miles south of Utah State Highway 24 on the Notom-Bullfrog Road. This campground sits at an elevation of 5,500 feet and may require high clearance depending on road conditions. You can check road conditions by calling 435-425-379 or by checking in with the visitor center.
Hike the Capitol Gorge Trail: The Capitol Gorge Trail is a moderately difficult 4.5-mile out-and-back that leads hikers through the gorge as red rock canyon walls tower overhead.
Hike the Burro Wash Slot Canyon Trail:As the most popular slot canyon hike in the park, you’ll likely encounter others on the trail, but it’s still worth the trip for the spectacular canyon views. The hike is a 7.6-mile out-and-back that begins as a stroll through an open wash but eventually leads to a narrow, shoulder-width canyon passage. The best time to visit this trail is from March through November.
Hike the Cottonwood Wash Slot Canyon: This 6.5-mile out and back takes you to one of the park’s best hidden gems. The Cottonwood Wash Slot Canyon contains rock scrambles, chockstones, and the occasional pool of water, but the obstacles add up to a surreal experience traveling through the canyon. Some spots are so narrow, you’ll need to turn sideways to squeeze through.
Places to Eat in Capitol Reef National Park
Marinia’s Country Cafe: With massive portions of homestyle meals, Marina’s Country Cafe is hard to pass by after a long day exploring in the park. Marina has exactly what you need to refuel after a hike, from their tasty jalapeno burger, homemade soups, and fried chicken to their famous pies.
Rim Rock Patio: With delicious pizes, barbeque, and pasta, Rick Rock Patio has a little bit of everything. This casual eatery has a partially covered outdoor patio that offers surreal views of Capitol Reef.
Stan’s Burger Shack: Located between Moab and Capitol Reef National Park, Stan’s Burger Shack is an old-fashioned burger joint with tasty burgers, fries, and milkshakes. Beyond burgers, Stan’s has wraps, sandwiches, and other tasty items like chicken fingers.
Day 3: Capitol Reef National Park to Canyonlands National Park
Continuing on your Salt Lake City to Moab road trip, Canyonlands National Park is Utah’s largest national park and is located just over 30 miles from Moab.
The vast landscape that encompasses the national park features vertical rock spires, winding canyons, red cock cliffs, and unfathomably large mesas, all of which stretch across 527 miles of pristine desert. Canyonlands was formed by tributaries of Utah’s Green River and the Colorado River, which slowly carved the park’s unique geologic features out of the desert landscape. The park is divided into three distinct regions: The Needles, the Island in the Sky, and the Maze. Whether you’re chasing solitude or adventure, Canyonlands has something for every traveler.
Camping in Canyonlands National Park
Staying the night in Canyonlands National Park will give you early and easy access to the many trails within the park, as well as an unreal night of stargazing. There are two main campsites in Canyonlands National Park, multiple backcountry sites, and dispersed camping available on nearby BLM land. For an extensive list of BLM campsites, click here.
Island in the Sky (Willow Flat) Campground: The Island in the Sky Campground has 12 first-come-first-serve campsites located near the Green River Overlook. Campsites are $15 a night. This campsite has no drinking water, so be sure to bring what you’ll need.
The Needles Campground: The Needles Campground offers 26 individual campsites and 3 group sites. A portion of the individual sites are reservable from spring through fall. The rest of the year, all sites are first-come, first-serve. Nightly camping in the needles is $20 and includes access to toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings.
Dead Horse Point State Park: Dead Horse Point State Park is just a 10-minute drive from Canyonlands National Park and gives visitors a captivating view and new perspective of Utah’s Canyonlands. The two main campgrounds, Kayenta and Wingate, offer a combined 52 campsites, many of which have electrical hookups. Make your reservations here.
Hiking and More in Canyonlands National Park
Mountain bike the White Rim Road: While there’s no dedicated bike track in Canyonlands, the 100-mile White Rim Road, located at the Island in the Sky, is a favorite for mountain biking and bikepacking. The ride winds below sheer clifts and Mars-like geological features.
Take on the rapids in the Colorado River: Thrill seekers will love the rush of whitewater rafting through the formidable rapids of the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park. The Cataract Canyon is home to some of North America’s most exciting rapids. The best time of year for rafting in Canyonlands is during the spring runoff season.
Hike to the Mesa Arch: Located within the Island in the Sky region of the park, the Mesa Arch is one of Utah’s most recognizable landmarks. The hike to the arch is a short and sweet 0.6-mile loop. Pack a headlamp and set off just before dawn to catch the sunrise through the massive 27-foot arch.
Hike to the Chesler Park Viewpoint: This challenging 5.8-mile out and back takes hikers through the heart of the Needles region of the park, where they’ll pass through slot canyons, spy ancient petroglyphs, and see some of the park’s most enchanting geological features. The trail begins at the Elephant Hill Trailhead and quickly leads into a steep staircase. Follow signs for the lookout along the way.
Places to Eat in Canyonlands National Park
Desert Bistro: While there’s nowhere to eat inside the park, Canyonlands is so close to Moab that it’s easy to head into town for a good meal. There’s no better place to do that than Desert Bistro. This upscale eatery is perfect for date night, offering fine dining with a southwest flare.
Zax Restaurant: Zax’s is a great option after a long day hiking or biking in Canyonlands. They specialize in pizza, burgers, and steaks and offer all-you-can-eat salads. If you’ve worked up an appetite in the park, head to Zax.
Moab Brewery: Nothing beats the desert heat like a cold beer. Moab Brewery serves a wide selection of craft beers and bar eats. Grab a six back to go for your van fridge after the meal!
Day 4: Canyonlands National Park to Arches National Park
Arches National Park is located just five miles up the road from Moab and, as the name suggests, has the largest concentration of sandstone arches on earth. Over 2,000 arches sprout out of the ground like Martian wildflowers in the 119 square mile national park. Beyond the arches, the park is home to several other extraordinary geological formations like vertical rock spires, sheer sandstone fins, balanced rocks, and pointed pinnacles. From hiking and biking to star gazing, Arches National Park is the ultimate desert adventure destination.
Camping in Arches National Park
With its otherworldly landscape, camping in Arches National Park feels like you’re on an extraterrestrial expedition. Arches National Park only has one reservable campsite, but there are plenty of camping options around Moab, both on private land and BLM land. For a list of dispersed campsites around Moab, click here
Devils Garden Campground: Located in the heart of the Arches National Park desert, Devils Garden Campground is shadowed by natural sandstone arches and fins. Campsites can be reserved up to 6 months in advance for stays from March 1 to October 31. From November through February, all sites are first-come, first-served. There are a total of 51 sites with access to picnic tables, grills, drinking water, and flush toilets. Make your reservations here.
Courthouse Rock Campground: Located on nearby Bureau of Land Management land just off the Old Spanish National Historic Trail, Courthouse Rock Campground offers 10 campsites, two of which are reservable. The campground has access to vault toilets, and each site has a fire ring and picnic table. Make your reservations here.
Sun Outdoors Arches Gateway: Formerly Moab Valley RV Resort and Campground, this RV resort and campground is located less than 10 minutes north of the park along Highway 191. Take your camping up a notch with world-class amenities like a hot tub/ pool, a putting green, a bike shop, and a dog park. Reservations start at $60.
Hiking and More in Arches National Park
Take a scenic drive through Arches National Park: Arches is a red rock oasis with geological wonders waiting around every bend. While there’s no denying some of the best views can be found on hiking trails, the park possesses some of the most iconic roadside views in the country. While driving through Arches, you can spot more than 1,500 arches ranging from just a few feet to over 300 feet. The drive to the Windows section of the park takes a few hours but is worth it for the view of the park’s largest arch.
Hike to Delicate Arch:Perhaps the most trafficked trail in ARches, this hike ends at the world-famous Delicate Arch. If you want to beat the crowds, consider visiting in the winter or hiking at sunrise. The hike is a moderate 3.2 mile out and back, with the majority of the elevation gain on the way to the arch.
Hike the Devil’s Garden to Landscape Arch: The Landscape Arch trail is a short 1.9 mile out and back that will take you past Pine Tree Arch and Tunnel Arch along your way. Once you get to Landscape Arch, you can turn around or keep going through more difficult terrain to reach Navajo Arch, Partition Arch, and Double O Arch.
Where to Eat Near Arches National Park
98 Center: Like Canyonlands, Arches doesn’t have any food options within the park, but drive five short miles, and you’re in Moab. 98 Center is Moab’s go-to for delicious Asian Fusion. With fresh, organic, and locally sourced ingredients, it’s hard to beat 98 Center’s exciting fusion dishes.
Fiesta Mexicana: Fiesta Mexicana is a go-to for Moab visitors. This charming, small-town Mexcian restaurant offers all the traditional southwestern dishes you’d expect served with a smile.
Pasta Jays: If you’re in the mood for a hearty meal, you can’t go wrong with traditional Italian, and Pasta Jays serves the best Italian in all of Moab. Pasta Jays is located right on Maine Street.
Day 4: Arches National Park to Moab
Moab, Utah, is the adventure capital of the southwest. The town is surrounded by geological wonders that have been carved by the wind and water for millennia. Moab’s red rock desert is more than just a pretty view. It’s a playground for adventures who come to Moab from near and far to hike, bike, climb, and raft in one of the most unique landscapes in the United States. Due to its reputation as an adventure destination, a community of like-minded outdoor enthusiasts has helped create one of the most unique towns in the Southwest, where culture and adventure go hand-in-hand.
Camping in Moab Utah
Moab has dozens of potential campsites, from camping in the nearby national and state parks to private campgrounds and dispersed sites on BLM land. If you’re considering booking a reservable campground in a national or state park, consider booking several months in advance. If you’re planning on finding a dispersed campsite on BLM land, click here for a list of BLM sites near Moab.
Sun Outdoors North Moab:Formerly Slickrock Campground, this Moab campground is located within walking distance of both downtown Moab and the Colorado River. The campground stretches across 10 shaded acres and has showers, laundry facilities, restrooms, wifi, and an onsite store.
Spanish Trail RV Park: Just 3 miles south of downtown Moab and 9 miles from Arches National Park, Spanish Trail RV Park gives you the best of both worlds. With a pool/ spa, clean restrooms, laundry facilities, wifi, and more, Spanish Trail RV Park makes camping easy.
Moab Rim RV Campark & Cabins: Moab Rim offers open sites with unmatched views of the Spanish Valley and La Sal Mountains. This Moab campground is hard to beat, with recently upgraded showers and restrooms and hiking and biking trails nearby. It’s located just 2 miles south of downtown Moab.
Pack Creek Campground and RV Park: Pack Creek Campground and RV Park offers a family-friendly, secluded camping experience right off the highway with showers, firepits, electrical/water hookups, and laundry facilities.
Things to do in Moab, Utah
Mountain bike through the desert: Moab is home to a scenic and thrilling 10-mile desert loop that was originally designed in the late 60s for motorcyclists. Today, it’s known as Slickrock Loop and is one of the most popular mountain biking trails in the area. Moab’s list of bikeable trails is one of the best in the country.
Go white water rafting: If you’re visiting Moab in the spring or summer, white water rafting should be high on your list. The Colorado River winds through Moab and offers paddlers a mixed bag of river conditions, from calm waters to world-class rapids.
Go canyoneering: Canyoneering is a thrilling way to explore canyons using basic rope and climbing techniques to repel and descend slot canyons. Canyoneering will take you to remote corners of the desert through lesser-known canyons. Moab has an excellent selection of guides to help you navigate the canyons safely.
Places to Eat in Moab
Milt’s Stop & Eat: Milt’s Stop & Eat is a staple of the Moab community. This classic American diner has been serving affordable yet delicious diner fare since 1954. Milt’s is located on the road to the Slickrock trail. While the dining room is small and fills up fast, there’s a pickup window, so you can take your meal on the road.
Jailhouse Cafe: If you’re looking for a decadent breakfast and a warm cup of coffee, head to downtown Moab’s Jailhouse Cafe. Jailhouse Cafe serves breakfast favorites like fluffy pancakes and savory scrambles. It’s the perfect place to fuel up before a day of adventuring in the desert.
Antica Forma: Head to downtown Moab for Italian woodfired Neopolitan Pizzas at Antica Forma. Beyond Pizza, Antica offers tasty calzones and some of the best pasta in town.
Why Rent a Camper Van for a Utah Road Trip?
The perfect blend of mobility and comfort: A camper van gives you unparalleled mobility and comfort. While an RV may have a similar level of comfort, you’re limited on where you can park and stay. A camper van offers the best of both worlds–camping made comfortable and easy meals on the go. Navigate winding mountain roads easily, get to remote campsites, and enjoy all the freedoms of camper van travel.
Easy to drive: Unlike giant RVs, camper vans drive just like normal cars, fit into regular parking spots, and are easy to use both in nature and in the city. Camper vans are unrivaled when it comes to dispersed camping. Access remote campsites and trails in the far corners of Utah’s southern desert without sacrificing the comfort your van provides.
Flexible Camping: Since camper vans don’t require electrical or sewer hookups, you have the flexibility to camp in tent-designated campsites and remote dispersed sites. Find isolated dispersed campsites or camp in park-maintained tent sites with a camper van.
Convenient and fun: With dozens of add-ons and several spacious models, our camper vans make spending the night in nature easy and enjoyable. You can pack everything you need for a multi-day and multi-activity adventure in your van and not waste time setting up a tent or looking for RV-designated camping/ parking.
Reserve with Escape Camper Vans for your Salt Lake City to Moab Road Trip
Now that you are armed with all of the information needed to plan the greatest Salt Lake City to Moab road trip, you better get to planning! This itinerary serves as a great jumping-off point, and it can be tailored to fit your travel plans so you can maximize your time traveling from Salt Lake City to Moab. Traveling in a camper van gives you the most flexibility in your travel plans, and it means that you get to spend more time exploring and less time searching for campsites or finding hotel accommodations.