3 day/4 night Utah road trip from Salt Lake City to Zion National Park via Bryce Canyon: full itinerary
Utah is known for its breathtaking scenery so, when we found ourselves planning 3 days in this beautiful state, we knew we wanted to make them count.
Our final destination was Hermosa Beach (California) and we had flexibility on our starting point but two must-see sites on our travel dream list: Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park.
With 3 days / 4 nights to spend between Utah and the West Coast, we quickly made up our mind.
Our Utah itinerary would be as follow:
- Day 1: Salt Lake City – drive to Bryce Canyon, night in Bryce Canyon
- Day 2: Bryce Canyon, Kodachrome basin, drive to Zion NP, night in Zion
- Day 3: full day in Zion National Park, night in St George, Utah
This is how we got on.
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Salt Lake City to Zion Road trip overview
Day 1: Visit Salt Lake City
Our first stop was Salt Lake City, where we arrived from New York City, on a late flight.
We rented a car and spent the night in a cheap hotel in the city, the Crystal Inn and suites.
We chose the hotel for convenience and while it was nothing to write home about, it was an excellent base, with clean rooms, fair prices, nice breakfast and free parking.
Morning: temple square and SLC center
We made sure we woke up early the following morning and headed into Salk Lake City center.
Moving around SLC is easy.
The city has very well laid out roads, very wide (we were told they were built so that an ox pulled cart could turn around!) and there are excellent road signs to Temple Square, the heart of the city.
Temple Square is the most important building in Salt Lake City and the center around which the whole urban development grew so we made it the focal point of our visit.
Temple Square is a vast area, right in the center of the city, above which towers the incredible temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The temple is a sight to behold: finished in quartz monzonite, a stone similar to granite, the temple is a gigantic structure with an austere facade and tall pointy towers.
Visitors cannot access the temple however, they are welcome and well catered for in the temple precinct.
Here, you have lovely well-kept gardens, an interesting visitor center and other buildings open to visitors and tourists.
We visited in our own time and we used the very good info panels to get an idea of what it was we were seeing.
However, help was at hand in the form of many local volunteers available to be your guide (in several languages)
We spent most of the morning visiting the temple area and then went for a stroll around the city center.
The city is clean and well organized but one thing is striking: it is exceptionally quiet to the point that the middle of the day felt, crowd-wise, like the middle of the night!
This gave the city a bit of an eerie feeling, however, friendly locals made this a nice stop for us.
If there is one thing that stayed with me after our visit to Salt Lake City was the unusual and noticeable friendliness: I don’t think I got smiled at as often as we did in our few hours in town!
Afternoon: Park City and drive to Bryce
From Salt Lake City, we drove to Bryce Canyon via Park City and this was a lovely lunch stop.
Park City is a renowned sky station and while there is no snow in summer, it has lovely mountains and a relaxed and laid back vibe.
In the afternoon, we drove to Bryce Canyon and elected as overnight stop the small town of Tropic.
About 20 minutes from the entrance of Bryce Canyon National park, Tropic is a lovely stop very well equipped with hotels (this was ours), inns and restaurants and it rewards your driving with gorgeous views over the rocky scenery of this area.
The drive between Salt Lake City and Bryce is easy and gorgeous, especially in its last miles.
Before you reach Bryce, the stunning red rocks of Red Canyon will make you want to stop and take it their unbelievable color but things only get better as you reach Penguitch and Bryce.
The view from the road is breathtaking (and not scary if you are afraid of heights, which was my big fear!).
The red color of the rock and their peculiar shapes, chiseled by erosion, are a great introduction to the marvel that is the Bryce Canyon amphitheater, our next stop.
Day 2: Bryce Canyon, Kodachrome Basin, Zion National Park
Our second day was almost entirely devoted to Bryce Canyon National park.
Many people use Bryce as an intermediate stop en route to Zion however, this park is stunning and really worth a long stop: if you can, spend a day in Bryce, you won’t regret it.
Morning: Bryce Canyon
On this day I recommend you start your morning in the main Bryce National park area.
You access it from the main entrance and this is where you have all the main viewpoints and most famous Bryce attractions.
It is absolutely stunning and the excellent support of the rangers and the convenient park shuttle make the visit easy and informative.
Afternoon: Kodachrome basin
From Bryce, you can easily drive to Zion in a little over an hour but we decided to take a detour and drive to nearby Kodachrome Basin State Park.
Kodachrome is a small area that got its name for the peculiar colors of its rocks, which inspired its fist visitors to name it after the famous photo film!
You enter the basin driving a long, isolated road and on arrival you find yourself surrounded by beautiful rocky peaks in different shades of red and white.
The coloring of the mountains is indeed unique and this, plus the remoteness of the location, makes this stop truly special.
You only need about 30 minutes to take in the scenery but the drive is quite long so I recommend you get to Kodachrome in the early afternoon, to avoid driving in darkness on the way back.
Late afternoon: drive into Zion
In the late afternoon, we took the short drive to Zion but don’t let the short distance make you think of this part of the day as just a moment to get from one place to the next!
Coming from Bryce we entered Zion from its East entrance and the road here is simply breathtaking!
From this side, you enter the park from a tunnel that is at a much higher elevation than Zion Valley and the view you get when you come out of the tunnel and slowly descend into the canyon is out of this world
The peaks are immense and shimmering red in the evening sun and the spare vegetation adds dashes of green in an otherwise rocky, martian landscapes.
Getting into Zion from its East entrance is an unforgettable experience.
If you can, top it off staying at Zion Lodge, inside the park, so you can take in the sunset in the park and, on the day after, sunrise.
You can find our selection of the best places to stay in near Zion here.
Day 3: Zion National Park
Day 3 was entirely dedicated to Zion National Park and we needed it all: the park is huge.
I am going to share a full post about how to spend a full day in Zion but the best advice I can give is: take your time.
The park is big, beautiful and crowded and you really need two nights in the area even just to cover the most popular part of the park: Zion Valley.
We spent the first night in Zion lodge, in the park, and we spent the second night in the area, in St George.
St George is about an hour away but it was a good location as a second stop and a very convenient one thanks to the low cost of its accommodation options.
If your budget or the availability of rooms close to the park in high season is an issue, St George is a great base for visiting Zion. We stayed here and it was clean and well served.
There are several ways to arrange a day in Zion, ranging from taking strenuous hikes to leisurely taking in the views from the valley.
Since we had only had one day in Zion, we opted for staying in the valley and only took short hikes.
We used the excellent shuttle service to move around and managed to hike to the beginning of the famous ‘Narrows’, one of the most famous hikes in Zion.
It was the highlight of an already overwhelmingly beautiful road trip.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, our three days in Utah were part of a longer drive to Southern California but were so special, they became a fabulous road trip themselves.
From St George, you can drive back to Salt Lake City in less than 5 hours, get to LA in about 6.5 or you can stretch your trip to the other stunning areas of Utah and Arizona: the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley are both reachable from here and breathtaking.
This was our itinerary for this Salt Lake City to Zion road trip: I hope it inspired you to take this wonderful drive and you found our experience useful.