The Perfect Desert Road Trip: 5 Amazing Places To Explore in Utah

Louise Tuck

When it comes to stunning natural beauty, it's hard to compete with Utah. Not only is it home to five incredible national parks, but there are places located closer to Salt Lake City that will absolutely blow your mind.

This itinerary took us about a week to do, but we easily could have taken 2 weeks or more as we still had many hikes we wanted to fit in. Bear in mind, these are just our top 5 stops - there's an unlimited amount of exploring to be done if you've got the time for it!

Hop in your car, load up your playlist and explore our Top 5 destinations in Utah. The dramatic desert landscapes that you'll witness along the way are like nowhere else in the world. You'll see exactly why this state has a unique quality that keeps us coming back time and time again.

1. Bonneville Salt Flats

Located just outside Salt Lake City, it's honestly hard to believe that this incredible place is located just off the freeway. In fact, depending on where you stop, you'll likely hear traffic whizzing by the entire time. But don't let that detract from the magic of this place. You'll literally be surrounded by picture perfect reflections that will have your jaw on the floor the entire time.

I recommend going either at sunset or sunrise when the sky lights up giving off orange and purple hues that magically reflect across the water. (These images were taken at sunset.)

This a popular spot for wedding and engagement photoshoots and you'll likely witness one yourself if you're out there at sunset.

2. Zion National Park

Zion is one of those places that is busy for a reason. Even if you never leave your car, the views are astounding. As you wind your way up through the valley, it just gets better and better. There are hikes in Zion for every mood and skill level, whether you're looking to escape the heat in the cool waters of The Narrows or get your adrenaline pumping by walking the ridge up to Angel's Landing.

Make sure to check what's open at the Information Centre before hopping on the bus, because this area is prone to flash flooding and trails can be closed.

Many hikes, like The Wave, require permits so make sure you plan your trip ahead of time!

You can find out more specifics on hiking The Narrows and Angel's Landing, including gear and what time of year to visit here.

3. Mystic Hot Springs

If you're like me, no trip is complete with a good soak in some naturally fed hot springs. I had no expectations for Mystic Hot Springs, other than seeing it as a tourist gimmick, but it was actually one of my favorite stops on our road trip.

The people were friendly, the water was HOT and relaxing, and the views were spectactular.

We found that each tub was a different temperature, which was great because our tolerance for hot water varies greatly. There's something for everyone here, from lukewarm to practically scalding (ok, not quite, but I do like it hot).

Pro tip: Arrive early, because there are a limited number of tubs and you'll want to figure out which tub you like best before it gets busy.

If you'd prefer hot springs that are a little more secluded, check out Fifth Water Hot Springs.

4. Bryce Canyon National Park

One of the most underrated national parks, in my opinion, is Bryce Canyon. I instantly fell in love with the color palette, the unique landscape and the fact that we pretty much had every hike to ourselves! (We arrived later in the day and hiked until sunset).

If you're not afraid of the cold, try to visit in the winter to witness the mind-blowing contrast between the red-orange rock and the glistening, white snow.

We've been in both summer and winter and you really can't go wrong with either. Our top hikes in Bryce Canyon?

1. Queen's Garden Hike

2. Navajo Loop

3. The Rim Trail

5. Arches National Park

If you come to Arches National Park expecting there to be, well... lots of arches, you're not going to be disappointed. They come in every shape and size and their sheer scale is overwhelming. Make sure you stretch your neck before visiting, because you'll probably spend the entire day looking up. The park can mostly be explored by car, but you're allowed to take a closer look by foot as long as you heed the fragile vegetation signs and take care if you're climbing anything.

Honorable Mention: Canyonlands National Park

Since Canyonlands is a mere 30 minute drive from Arches, it would be unfair to leave it off this list. The desert landscape is something you'll never forget, especially if you go at sunrise and catch the "glow" that appears to light up the underside of famous Mesa Arch.

Happy Adventuring!

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Hi! My name is Louise and I'm a mountain girl who loves writing about everything related to outdoor adventure travel.


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