A land of dramatic panoramas, open roads, and skies rich with stars, the Southwestern U.S. makes an inspiring yet relaxed destination for a road trip. This weeklong loop around Southern Utah’s Zion National Park packs in a diverse activities, landscapes, and distinctive towns, with plenty of time to savor it all.
Start out at the gateway of the state’s first national park in the historic, oasis-like town of Springdale for an easygoing introduction to the mighty nature that awaits. A short (and scenic) drive away lies Utah’s iconic red rock country where the adventure opportunities and views are quite literally unparalleled. Then a quick journey alongside the park north takes visitors into desert alpine country at Brian Head, where the rich colors of the desert rocks meet fragrant mountain forests. Finish the loop in Kanab where a vibrant dining scene and pink sand dunes are a remarkable setting for a memorable send-off.
Throughout this select route you’ll come face-to-face with the sort of awe-inspiring nature that brings visitors from around the world to Southern Utah. These natural wonders, and the communities that call them home, are part of what makes the state tick—a way of life that invites guests to share their appreciation and respect for this place by traveling responsibly and with intention. Locals are friendly and often happy to share a tip about a favorite trail or must-see viewpoint, so be sure to ask around when supporting a local business to immerse yourself more deeply here. Roll the windows down, enjoy the ride and get to know one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Itinerary / 7 DAYSPLAN YOUR TRIP
DAYS 1-2Springdale: The gateway to Zion National Park
Accessing Zion National Park from Springdale is quick and easy. Grab a daypack (always bring plenty of water, sun protection and extra layers) and hop on one of nine shuttle stops in town. Zion is one of the most visited National Parks in the country, and it’s easy to see why. At every turn the views are stunning and the trails so enchanting that your hiking boots will feel like slippers.
Because of the park’s popularity, it’s worth planning your visit for off-peak times. Try to visit the park during the week and outside of common vacation times for the thinnest crowds. Where you go in the park can also make a big difference. While the famous hikes are well-known for a reason, there’s plenty to explore in Zion that’s still under the radar.
If it’s your first visit, ride the shuttle to the last stop: the Temple of Sinawava, where you’ll be immersed in a towering Navajo sandstone amphitheater amid the Virgin River. Get a taste for hiking The Narrows, the slot canyons amid the North Fork of the Virgin River. This is an out-and-back hike (the furthest point out is five miles) so you can take it as far as your feet will let you. As one of the park’s most popular experiences, planning ahead is important. Dress appropriately for hiking in a river, respect your fellow hikers, and pack out everything you pack in. Late morning on the weekend is sure to be crowded, so be patient and appreciative of your surroundings. Ask locally for alternatives to Zion’s main canyon if you’re seeking solitude. Better still, consider hiring a guide to take you to those places safely.
Making the most of a day at Zion is all about going with the flow. It’s great to plan a few hikes or destinations but be ready to change your plans to have the best experience. If the crowds are flocking to the park’s greatest hits (like Angel’s Landing) pick from dozens of other spectacular hikes that fit your skill level and time frame.
The shuttle makes it quick and easy to get around the park. Sometimes the best way to appreciate the park isn’t from a crowded viewpoint but by finding a quiet place deep on a trail and simply reveling in the details. For an easy to moderate hike, check out The Watchman trail near the park’s south entrance. You’ll enjoy views of the Virgin River and Springdale as you hike amid fragrant piñon and juniper. Meanwhile the Grotto trail is an easy but scenic loop around the park’s lush pools.
For the true Zion experience, staying in Springdale is a must. Flanigan’s Inn (home to the Spotted Dog Café) offers cabin-style villas with modern minimalist interiors while the Cliffrose Springdale and Desert Pearl Inn feature contemporary styling. All accommodations offer incredible views of the park’s cliffs and mesmerizing, ever-changing light.
On your second day here or between hikes, check out Springdale’s thriving arts community . Be sure to walk downtown and stop by the David J. West Gallery and Worthington Gallery to discover out local and regional artists.
DAYS 3-4Exploring the otherworldly red rock country
Thanks to the high-tech suspension of modern mountain bikes, the rocky, harsh terrain around Hurricane is like a playground. Stop at Over The Edge to rent bikes and a rack. The team will also give you tips on where to ride and what to bring. Always make sure to pack plenty of water and download any maps before you hit the trail. The main mountain bike attraction is the Big Loop trail where you’ll ride over the Mars-like landscape of Gooseberry Mesa. After riding (and working up a major appetite) stop by beloved Main Street Cafe for an early dinner.
Spend another night in Springdale or venture into Red Rocks County and spend the night north of St. George, about 30 minutes from Hurricane. The restful Red Mountain Resort offers both luxury rooms and private villas, or camp at Snow Canyon State Park. Wake up with the sun and hike through the park’s lava fields and winding canyons. For a quick hike with major scenic payoffs, check out the Red Reef Trail at the Red Cliffs Recreation Area, part of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. The area is a sort of crossroads of the Mojave Desert, the Great Basin, and the Colorado Plateau where you’ll find protected species including the desert tortoise. (If you’re lucky enough to run into one of these ancient creatures, be sure to appreciate it from a distance.)
DAYS 5-6Where the desert meets the mountain
For lunch or dinner, The French Spot in Cedar City is a must-visit on the way. You’ll enjoy haute cuisine in a relaxed atmosphere from a Michelin-starred chef. (Don’t miss the stellar pastries that are a taste of Paris in the high desert). About 45 minutes away and even higher in elevation lies the cozy mountain town of Brian Head, located at a staggering 9,800 feet above sea level. Spend the night at the Cedar Breaks Lodge and grab dinner at Sook Jai Thai.
Brian Head is a year-round recreation destination with skiing (receiving on average 360 inches of snow) in the winter and mountain biking and hiking in the summer. In the summer and fall hike to the top of Brian Head Peak where you’ll see the forests meet red sandstone. If the weather is hot (or you’re just feeling particularly brave) cool off after the hike with a dip in Bristlecone Pond.
DAY 7South to Pink Sands
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park offers your choice of a serene contemplative setting with expansive pink sands and delicate desert vegetation or adrenaline pumping motorized exploration. Book a guided tour via all-terrain vehicle where you’ll bound over dunes and through backcountry trails in designated areas. Head west of Kanab to walk the slick rocks and take in the wind formed natural sculptures of Coyote Buttes South, some of the most pristine wild landscape in the south west.
After a hike or desert tour, explore downtown Kanab’s thriving dining scene. Local favorite the Rocking V Cafe, offers gourmet fare in a casual environment and has its own attached art gallery. Sego’s menu of New American cuisine is inspired and ever-changing, while Vermillion 45 serves a unique mix of homestyle French-Belgian-Italian dishes.
If you flew in, drive the three hours back to Las Vegas. You’ll be surrounded by red rock and desert vistas any direction you go.