After first visiting Utah in 2018 on our Southwest road trip we knew we wanted to see more of this gorgeous state. We were thrilled when Visit Utah invited us for a Southern Utah road trip. We’d be going from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas (but you can do a round trip to/from either airport) stopping in Capitol Reef National Park, Escalante, and Bryce Canyon National Park over 8 days. Below you’ll find our complete Southern Utah road trip itinerary that will make it a breeze to plan your own trip.
How to Find Affordable Flights for Your Southern Utah Road Trip
If you’ve been following our adventures for a while you know we love flight deals. Flight deals have allowed us to travel frequently and there are so many deals into both Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, from some cities you can get round trip flights for as low as $100! We especially love Scott’s Cheap Flights as they email deals directly to your inbox as soon as they come up, allowing us to never miss a deal!
Getting a One Way Car Rental for Your Southern Utah Road Trip
Since we did our adventure as a Salt Lake City to Las Vegas road trip we got a one way rental. This will limit the car rental companies you can choose from as they don’t all offer one-way rentals. We were able to book with Alamo, who we’ve used numerous times and they had a great rate. You can find their last minute deals here. Be sure whatever rental company you go through you get unlimited miles!
Southern Utah Road Trip Itinerary Day One
Our first day was pretty much a travel day. We landed in Salt Lake City around 1:00pm, picked up our rental and grabbed lunch before our drive to Torrey, Utah. One thing we also did which I highly recommend is stopping at Target or Walmart to grab snacks and water. If you’re traveling through Southern Utah in the summer like we did you will need a lot of water. Buying single bottles throughout the drive would cost a lot so grabbing two cases of water and snacks for the road/evenings was perfect. Remember the cities you’ll be traveling through don’t have stores like these so options will be limited.
After this we made the 3.5 hour drive to Torrey to check into Capitol Reef Resort where we’d be spending the next 3 nights. The resort is just 11 minutes from Capitol Reef National Park’s visitor center so it’s truly in the best location when visiting the park. The resort has a variety of accommodations from the Conestoga Wagons we stayed in to cabins, teepees or traditional rooms.
For dinner we went right across the street to the Rim Rock Patio. They have mostly outdoor seating, both covered and uncovered and a very decent menu. Everyone says they have some of the best pizza in town. We loved that there was plenty of space for the kids to run around and play while we waited for our food.
Southern Utah Road Trip Itinerary Day Two
On our first full day we woke up and ordered breakfast from the restaurant on site, Pioneer Kitchen. Since they only have indoor seating we got it to go and ate by the fire pit in front of our wagon. I don’t have a picture of our breakfast but one night we also had s’mores in front of the fire pit so you can see that area. They sell the s’more kits for $5 and they make four s’mores.
Capitol Reef National Park
After filling up our bellies it was time to make the short drive to Capitol Reef National Park. The entrance fee to the park is $20 per vehicle but if you have the American the Beautiful National Park annual pass it’s free to enter. The annual pass is only $80 so I highly recommend getting one if you plan on visiting at least 3-4 National Parks in one year.
If you’re traveling with kids like we were, your first stop in the park should always be the Visitor’s Center. This way they can pick up the Junior Ranger booklets to fill out while exploring to earn a Jr. Ranger badge. It’s also a great place to get a map of the park and/or learn about the different programming going on during your visit.
After taking care of that we hit the Scenic Drive which is 7.9 miles out and back in this park. Even though we had just had breakfast we had to stop at Gifford House for their famous homemade pies. They’re only open from 8am-4pm but often sell out prior to closing for lunch from 12-1, so we didn’t want to miss out. I’m glad we did because at 10:30am they only had 10 cinnamon rolls left and 2 sourdough breads. Pie flavors are apple, cherry, peach strawberry rhubarb, and mixed berry.
After enjoying the delicious fruit pies we kept the fruit theme going by walking over to the orchards. Here you can pick fresh fruit on your own straight from the trees. During our July visit the ripe fruits were apricots but depending on the time you visit it may be apple, cherries, peaches, pears or plums. You can keep what you pick and the cost was $1/lb for the apricots. It’s cash only and no change is offered as the station was unmanned and you put the money in a box.
Capitol Gorge Trailhead
We kept driving all the way to the end of the paved scenic drive until we got to the Capitol Gorge Trailhead turn off. The road here is unpaved but we managed just fine in our rented Ford Fusion so you don’t need a 4WD at all. The trail is 0.8 miles each way and extremely flat so it is very easy with kids. Mine were 5 and 7 at the time of the hike and they did just fine but note there is no shade on the trail.
After the hike we left the scenic drive to explore the schoolhouse in the town of Fruita within the park. It’s a one room schoolhouse that served the community for years. Outside there is a box where you can listen to Janice Torgerson, a teacher at the school, discuss what it was like teaching there. It’s been restored to resemble exactly what it looked like in the 1930s, chairs, desks, chalkboard and all!
On our way out of exploring the park for the day we stopped at Goosenecks Point Trail. Honestly, it’s barely a trail as you just walk a few steps until you are at the most gorgeous overlook! I highly recommend stopping here, it was one of our favorite parts of the park.
Lunch at Curry Pizza
For lunch we left the park to eat at Curry Pizza, an Indian restaurant that also serves traditional Indian dishes, pizza style. It has been highlighted on the Food Networks’ Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and we could tell why! We got Chicken Korma, the Chicken Tikka Masala pizza and a cheese pizza for our picky eater.
Pool Time at Capitol Reef Resort
We headed back to Capitol Reef Resort to relax for the rest of the day before dinner. They have a great pool and hot tub so we checked that out. The pool here is not heated but after being in the sun all day, the water felt great.
For dinner we ordered take out from Broken Spur Steakhouse and ate it by the fire pit in front of our cabin. They turn the fire pits on here from 6-10pm nightly and it’s so relaxing sitting there.
Southern Utah Road Trip Itinerary Day Three
On our third day we got breakfast at Pioneer Kitchen again. We really wanted to try Wild Rabbit after hearing great reviews but unfortunately it was closed for the day. We went back into Capitol Reef National Park for another adventure.
Hickman’s Bridge Trail
We kicked the day off doing the 2 mile back and out Hickman’s Bridge Trail. Be sure to bring lots of water (and hats) on this trail as there is no shade. It is so worth it though, we absolutely loved getting to the bridge. My 5 year old who hates hiking did the entire thing on her own with no help. There are a few parts with stairs but nothing too steep.
Lunch at Slackers Burger Joint
We took our time hiking, making lots of stops for the kids and relaxing at the bridge so when we got down everyone was ready for lunch. We left the park to get lunch but remember your entrance fee covers 7 consecutive days in the park. We drove to Slackers Burger Joint for lunch, be sure to get a milkshake or banana split!
Ranger Led Program at Capitol Reef National Park
After lunch we headed back to Capitol Reef National Park with a plan to do the Grand Wash Trail but unfortunately there were flash flood warnings in the area. This is common for summer so you must always be on the lookout as it could be dangerous if you ignore the signs telling you where not to explore during these warnings. Instead we visited Panorama Point and went to the Geology Talk put on by the park rangers. The girls loved this talk, learning so much they could fill out in their Jr. Ranger activity books and getting to touch old rocks of the park.
We wouldn’t be coming back into this part of the park anymore so we were sure to stop at the Visitor’s Center afterwards. Here the girls were sworn in as Jr. Rangers of Capitol Reef National Park.
Dinner at Rim Rock Restaurant
For dinner we ate at Rim Rock Restaurant. It’s the upscale sister restaurant to Rim Rock patio where we ate our first night. They also have outdoor seating but no place for kids to play.
Upper Cathedral Valley Jeep Tour
After dinner we headed on a Jeep Tour with Fremont River Guides. Capitol Reef National Park is huge but most of it can’t be accessed with a regular car so if you want to see parts of the park like Upper Cathedral Valley you need a 4WD. Even if you’ve rented one unless you know the area I highly recommend a tour guide as there are no road signs in the valley and if you don’t know where you’re going it’s extremely easy to get lost.
Southern Utah Road Trip Itinerary Day Four
On day four of our Southern Utah road trip it was time to leave Torrey, Utah and head to Escalante, Utah but not without stops on the way.
Before checking out of Capitol Reef Resort we had a 7am Llama Hike with Wilderness Ridge Trail Llamas. They offer day and overnight hikes and we chose the 2 hour day hike. You can also do a 1 hour, 4 hour or full day hike.
The llamas were brought to Utah in the 90s to assist hunters by carrying their supplies and hunted meat. After the practice died out the llamas were just left. We all loved the hike, it was very scenic and the girls loved petting the llamas throughout the time. Note, you cannot ride the llamas at all so if you’re looking to do so this isn’t the tour for you.
Breakfast at Magnolia’s Street Food
When the tour was over it was time to drive to Boulder, Utah. We took the Scenic Byway 12 to get there and I recommend you doing the same. The drive was a quick 45 minutes and when we got in we had breakfast at Magnolia’s Street Food. We only had granola bars prior to the hike so it was great to have a real breakfast.
The food truck is located in the parking lot of Anasazi State Park Museum which was our next stop. It’s a small museum but teaches all about the Ancestral Puebloans who lived in the area. Kids can also earn a Jr. Ranger Badge here which I love because I think it helps kids grasp much more as they’re looking for the answers to the questions in their book.
In the back of the museum they have replicas of the homes the Ancestral Puebloans live in. It was nice being able to walk through these and have a good grasp on what it would be like living amongst them during these times.
After the girls earned their Jr. Ranger badge we drove down Burr Trail Road to find Singing Canyon. It’s literally off the side of the road so when your GPS tells you you’re there don’t ignore it like we did and keep driving. There is a small pull off where you can park your car as you walk into the canyon. Once inside, sing loudly and see why it’s called Singing Canyon!
Lunch at Burr Trail Grill
You cannot leave Boulder without getting lunch at Burr Trail Grill. It’s a scratch kitchen and oh so good. You also cannot skip dessert, their homemade pies and ice cream was heavenly!
Check-in to Yonder Escalante
After lunch we continued our drive to Escalante, Utah on Scenic Byway 12, another 45 minute drive. When we arrived we checked into our home for the next three nights, Yonder Escalante. Like Capitol Reef Resort they have a variety of accommodations, cabins like we stayed in, Airstreams and then spots to park your own RV. If you’d like to rent an RV, RVshare has a lot of options.
Each cabin sleeps up to 3 but with a queen size bed, one person would need to sleep on the couch in the room. The cabin has a fridge, microwave, A/C, patio with two chairs and a cooler along with a table, two chairs and personal fire pit. We were able to use the fire pit to make our dinner for the night. We bought 2 meal kits from the front office as they each feed two and there were 4 of us. They come with everything you need, 2 pieces of meat of your choice (chicken, beef, or pork), seasoning, oil, salad, cornbread, veggies and potatoes and hot sauce. The kit also comes with a cast iron skillet, fire wood, salad and dinner plates and silverware. The best part, when you’re done just give all the dirty dishes to the front desk, no need to clean anything yourself!
Southern Utah Road Trip Itinerary Day Five
We woke up ready to explore the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument area. We’d be going on lots of hikes today so we had to fuel up with a good breakfast. On the way to the Escalante River Trailhead we stopped at Kiva Koffehouse. They are only open Wednesday-Sunday so plan accordingly!
Hiking Trails in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
There are a lot of trails in the area and we decided to do the Escalante River Trailhead. It’s along the river and while it goes as far as 15 miles in one direction and 70 in another you can just walk as short or far as you’d like. Another trail to try out is Upper Calf Creek Falls, we didn’t get to do it since it’s recommended for families with older kids but we heard the waterfall views are gorgeous!
When we finished hiking we drove back on Scenic Byway 12 to head to Devil’s Garden, a natural playground for kids. This was by far one of their favorites as they got to run around and then also climb up all these crazy hoodoo like structures. Even my mom and I had a lot of fun running around with them and playing hide and seek!
They played here for such a long time and if we had brought lunch with us we would have stayed longer. There are quite a few picnic benches here along with grills so it’s easy to bring or cook lunch here to keep the playing going! As usual, be sure to bring lots of water, it is located in the middle of nowhere. Also since it’s not on a paved road be sure to check road conditions prior to driving here to ensure your safe as there is little to no service on the way or once you reach here.
Lunch at Georgie’s Outdoor Mexican Cafe
After all of that running around we were ready for lunch. We stopped at Georgie’s Outdoor Mexican Cafe, a food truck with tables and seats out front. You have to get the Lavender lemonade, it was so good! They have a variety of menu items, including a kids meal!
Afternoon at the Pool
We headed back to Yonder Escalante after lunch to enjoy the pool. After all the hiking we wanted to cool off and this was the perfect way. The pool here is very nice and it also has a hot tub if it’s cooler during your visit.
Dinner at Nemo’s Drive-Thru
For dinner we grabbed food at Nemo’s Drive-Thru and brought it back to Yonder Escalante. We absolutely loved their common area with lots of tables, fire pits, games and more. It’s covered as well so even if it’s raining or hot outside you can enjoy the space.
Drive In Movie
After dinner we headed to the movies and by headed I mean we walked over to the amazing Drive-In Theater right on the property of Yonder Escalante. This drive-in is exclusive for guests and absolutely amazing, I mean there are cars already there for you to sit in. Not just any cars but classic cars in a variety of colors! A different movie plays every night and if the classic cars fill up before you arrive there are 2 sets of bleachers or you can bring your own chair. Of course there is an Airstream concession stand with free fresh popcorn and bottled water. If you want other snacks like candy, etc. those are also for sale. During our three nights the movies that played were Forrest Gump, The Great Outdoors and Spirit, so movies for everyone!
Southern Utah Road Trip Itinerary Day Six
On this 6th day of our trip we had an extremely early start, needing to be somewhere at 7am for a tour. This time was earlier than any breakfast places opened so we ate right at Yonder Escalante. They have free muffins (along with paid items like oatmeal and fruit) every morning starting at 7am but we always found they started setting up around 6:40am which was perfect for us as the tour was just 6 minutes away.
Our tour for the day was Canyoneering with Excursions of Escalante, the tour I’d been looking forward to most! Just my eldest daughter and I went while my mom stayed back with my 5 year old. This is because 7 is the age minimum on public tours and as the company already had another family booked the same day as us. However, if you book a private tour they do lower the age minimum to 5.
Canyoneering is such a unique thing that includes rappelling, hiking, and squeezing through small crevices. There are lots of canyons in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and your guide will determine the best one for you based on experience and the extensive safety brief you go through. We ended up canyoneering Beau Beau, named after our guides dog. Of course I have nothing to compare it to but it was awesome.
The adventure lasts anywhere from 5-7 hours but lunch is included which you’ll eat half way through. Plenty of water is also packed so no need to bring your own. We felt extremely accomplished after we finished this adventure. You will end up dirty so be sure to wear clothes you don’t care about!
Dinner at Escalante Outfitters
After our canyoneering adventure we were hungry! Everyone says that Escalante Outfitters has the best pizza in town so we had to have some. They do have outdoor seating but we ordered to go so we could eat at our cabin after a long day.
Southern Utah Road Trip Itinerary Day Seven
Sadly our Southern Utah road trip was coming to an end and we only had one more city to visit. It was time to leave Escalante and head to Bryce Canyon City where Bryce Canyon National Park is located. Just one hour drive from where we were we’d have the entire day to explore. The entry fee is $35 per vehicle for up to 7 consecutive days of visiting but again if you have a National Park annual pass it’s free.
Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the most accessible National Parks we’ve been to. We previously visited in 2018 on our Southwest road trip and were so happy to return. Before heading on the scenic drive we stopped at the visitor’s center to pick up Jr. Ranger activity books for the kids and explore the small museum they have here.
After we drove all the way to the end of the park and then made our way back to the entrance stopping at each overlook. Many of these overlooks have trails you can hike but even if you can’t you can see so much of this park from the overlooks which is great for those in wheelchairs or with kids you don’t feel comfortable hiking with.
Scenic Drive Overlooks
At Rainbow Overlook you can do the Bristlecone Loop Trail which is a very short and easy hike. Along this hike we saw lots of berries and different types of trees and plants. My other favorite outlooks are Ponderosa Point, Agua Canyon and the Natural Bridge.
Dinner at Ruby’s Inn
For dinner we ate at the Cowboy’s Buffet and Steak Room at Ruby’s Inn, ordering off the a la carte menu. The food was very good, we got trout and coconut shrimp!
Bryce Canyon is a certified Dark Sky area and so this evening we were supposed an astronomy tour with Dark Ranger Telescope Tours but unfortunately it poured all night long and it was cancelled. While I can’t speak to the tour, I can speak to the professionalism of the company and how they handled our cancellation. The owner was even nice enough to recommend a different tour company in another city we’d be visiting later on. Hopefully one day we can visit again and do it here!
Southern Utah Road Trip Itinerary Day Eight
Sadly it was the last day of our Southern Utah road trip! We’d be spending the first half of the day in Bryce Canyon National Park before driving to Las Vegas to fly home. Today we spent our time exploring the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater area of the park. This part of the park you can access via the park shuttle but there is also parking at each look out point. Starting from the furthest section from the entrance we checked out Bryce Point first.
We then drove to Inspiration point but if you’re up for hiking you can take the Rim Trail, about a 1.4 mile hike. We drove since we planned on hiking at Sunset Point but if you hike remember you can take the shuttle back once you reach.
Sunset Point and the Navajo Loop
At Sunset Point we hiked the Navajo Loop, a 1.3 mile loop. This hike is absolutely stunning and along the way there are lots of points of interest, starting with Thor’s Hammer.
The hike is moderate with some steep points but both my 5 and 7 year old hiked the entire thing on their own. There are a few areas with benches you can stop and take a break or you can find a rock to sit on. We brought lots of water and snacks for this hike. We saw some beautiful Blue Jays along with chipmunks throughout the trail.
When we were done with the trail we drove to the last stop, Sunrise Point. Here we attempted to recreate a photo we took here 3 years ago but it was an epic fail. Still it was crazy to see how big the girls had gotten since that trip and nice to create new memories here.
It was unfortunately time for us to leave and make the four hour drive to Las Vegas airport. Of course not before the girls earned their 4th Jr. Ranger badge on this trip alone. They have quite the collection and have learned so much through this program.
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