One of the most scenic states in the USA, Utah is home to some of the most stunning national parks, unique landscapes, immersive cultures, and infinite exploration possibilities. From gateway cities such as Salt Lake City to pristine gems like Moab, planning a staycation to one of these destinations in Utah is an experience of a lifetime.
Here’s a detailed guide on how to plan a staycation in Utah along with activity suggestions and more.
Staycation in Utah: Things to know before you plan
Planning a staycation in Utah differs greatly from planning a staycation anywhere else in the US. The region is vast, and every landscape is unique. Following the national park trail is the easiest way to cover most of Utah but there’s more to Utah than just the national parks. Here are some things to know before you plan a staycation in Utah:
1. What is the ‘Mighty 5’ road trip?
‘Mighty 5’ is the road trip that covers all the national parks in Utah: Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, and Zion. Each National Park renders a remarkable experience to travelers, be it the magnificent arches to unique rock formations and be it the canyons of Canyonlands or the narrows of Zion.
However, the Mighty 5 road trip offers something more than national parks and natural vistas, it is a dive into the immersive culture of southern Utah, a peek into its history, community, and charm.
2.Staycation beyond the National Parks of Utah
When someone says Utah, the first thought to brush your mind is the national parks, but that’s just one part of Utah’s countless must-visit spots. The landscape of northern Utah is very diverse from Utah’s southern terrain. Don’t limit your Utah staycation to just national parks, move to the north, east or southwest to explore untouched and remote spots, incredible places, and marvels of this amazing state. Though following the national park trail will allow you to cover several things in the state, don’t limit yourself to just south Utah.
Key things to explore in North Utah:
Bear Lake, Waterfall Canyon, Bonneville Salt Flats, Uinta Mountains and Mirror Lake Highway, Flaming Gorge Reservoir, and much more.
3. How much in advance should you apply for permits?
The thing you must consider before planning and packing your bags is applying for a national park permit. Most travelers plan their trips, book flights only to find out that their backcountry permit application is rejected. Apply for the permits on the earliest date possible—especially for popular hikes in parks that attract a lot of backpackers. Also, submit permit applications in multiple parks for a range of potential dates. Look for updates on official websites such as https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/passes.htm or https://www.recreation.gov/.
4. The best route for a road trip to all national parks in Utah
If you want to explore the national parks of Utah, the most preferred route is from Arches to Zion. You can fly into Salt Lake City or Las Vegas and drive directly to Arches National Park. You can also start with Zion National Park. and end with Arches. Here’s quick route information to help you understand the national park circuit
- Start your trip from Salt Lake City or Las Vegas
- Arches National Park (3.5 hours/ 5 hours)
- Canyonlands National Park (30 minutes)
- Capitol Reef National Park (2.5 hours)
- Bryce Canyon National Park (2 hours)
- Zion National Park (1.5 hours)
- Salt Lake City/ Las Vegas (4.5 hours/ 3 hours)
Best time to travel to Utah
Utah holds something special for every traveler every season. Each season brings out a unique side of this phenomenal land. Depending on what you want to do and how you want to travel, you can choose your travel months.
Visiting Utah in Winter (December to February)
Visiting Utah in Winter means being prepared for the below-freezing temperatures at night and 20-25℉ during the day. Although if you can brave the cold, you get to explore the place without the crowd, you may even find snow and you will get better deals on accommodation in a popular destination like Moab. Some national parks are closed during winters and hiking trails are impassable, so if you’re looking for hiking adventures in Utah, winter may not be the best season for your staycation.
You can explore destinations and trails such as the Zion narrows, Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon, and Canyonlands on a winter trip.
Visiting Utah in Spring (March-May)
April and May are the busiest months due to mild temperatures, outdoorsy weather, spring blooms, and scenic clear skies. Spring is one of the best seasons to visit Utah for activities like Jeep Week in Moab (April), hiking in the national parks, and road trips. Planning a trip in spring means being prepared for crowded trails, booking way in advance, and higher accommodation prices.
Visiting Utah in Summer (June to August)
Because of the harsh temperatures of the desert, summer is not the best time to visit Utah. However, there are still plenty of things to do in summer. The days are long and perfect for stargazing, lakeside camping, and water sports.
Visiting Utah in Fall (September- November)
Fall is one of the best times to plan a staycation in Utah. The beautiful weather and spectacular fall foliage during the period are perfect to plan a trip. Avoid the crowds by exploring off-beat trails or finding travel windows with lesser crowds.
How to reach Utah
Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) is located 5 miles from Salt Lake City. If you are planning a staycation in Moab, Canyonlands Field Airport (CNY) is an option you can consider. It is located 18 miles north of Moab. Another option is to fly into Las Vegas (LAS) and starting your trip from there.
Traveling to Utah by rail is an interesting experience. Amtrak Utah serves unstaffed train stations at Green River, Helper, and Provo, Utah, and a staffed station in Salt Lake City.
This is one of the most preferred ways to travel to Utah. Utah is well-connected to some of the major American highways, including the iconic I-70 through the Rockies from Denver and I-15 from Saint George to Salt Lake City.
Where to stay for a Staycation in Utah
1. Best Camping spots in Utah’s National Parks
Camping spots in Arches National Park
If you would like to be close to parks but still have easy access to the city, then camping spots in the Arches National Park are your best pick. Some top camping spots in Arches are:
- 261 Parking Lot
- Yellow CircleRoad Dispersed Camping
- Ken’s Lake Campground
- Devils Garden Campground
- Willow Springs Trail Dispersed Camping
Camping spots in Canyonlands National Park
If you want to get deeper into the wilderness, Canyonlands is the better place for you to camp. There are designated spots close to both Canyonlands and Dead Horse Point State Park.
- Willow Flat (Island in the Sky) Campground
- Squaw Flat (Needles) Campground
- Horseshoe Canyon
Camping spots in Capitol Reef National Park
The park plays host to three major campgrounds where you can camp and park your RV. For those who don’t get a spot there, there’s an overflow area just outside the park’s western entrance for bigger RVs.
- Cathedral Valley Campground
- Fruita Campground
- Capitol Reef Overflow Dispersed Camping
- Pleasant Creek Campground
Camping spots in Bryce Canyon National Park
Both North and Sunset Campgrounds in Bryce Canyon are more accessible than camping grounds in other mainstream national parks. Sunset Campground is easier to get into due to lack of cell service while North Campground is crowded, as it is a walkable experience that includes trails, the rim, and access to the visitor center.
- North Campground
- Sunset Campground
- Tom’s Best Spring Dispersed Camping
- Bryce Canyon Pines Store & Campground
Camping spots in Zion National Park
One of the most popular national parks in Utah, Zion, is one of the most sought-after spots for camping. While South Campground and Watchman are the official campgrounds in the park, there are various other campsites along the river with gorgeous views of the park.
- Lava Point Campground
- North Creek Dispersed Camping
- Smithsonian Butte Dispersed Camping
Camping spots en-route National Park
The spots between the routes of the national park are just as grand as the big boys themselves.
- Snow Canyon State Park
- Goblin Valley State Park
- Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 55-56
2. Salt Lake City
Nestled at the foot of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains, Salt Lake City is a lively city filled with history, art, culture, entertainment, and recreation. Salt Lake City is often just a pit-stop for most people before their national park adventure begins, but a staycation in Salt Lake City brings out a different side of Utah. The city has a range of activities, both indoor and outdoor, making it a perfect starting point for your Utah staycation.
If you want to spend a few nights in Salt Lake City, Capitol hill loft is a beautiful modern-chic and retro property. The big windows, wooden paneling and the spacious indoors, and proximity to the downtown area make it an ideal pick for a staycation.
Moab is blessed with a perfect setting, surrounded by artistic sandstone formations and the enormous Colorado river, marvelous national parks, and delightful weather. Moab is the ultimate destination if you want to explore the essence of Utah and soak in the most of it. Staycation in Moab gives you access to two of the most phenomenal national parks- Canyonlands and Arches National Park. You can spend days exploring both the national parks. The quaint town and amazing hiking trails are perfect for a staycation.
If you are planning a stay in Moab for your staycation in Utah, here is a rustic & snug Airbnb to make your staycation more romantic, picturesque, and beautiful.
This small guest studio is hidden in a quiet country neighborhood, only 3 miles from the Moab city center, is the cutest nest to rest and relax after your adventures.
4. Las Vegas
Las Vegas is usually the crashing place after the Mighty 5 adventure. The lively buzz of the city of lights and casinos gives it a weekend vacation vibe but Las Vegas is a great city to plan a staycation after an adventure-filled trip to Utah. If you’re flying out of Las Vegas after visiting Zion National Park, you can book your stay at the luxurious yet affordable Penthouse near the Strip. It’s a studio suite redesigned for staycations with a kitchenette, Wi-Fi, jacuzzi, and more.
Things to do on a Staycation in Utah
Places to visit in Central and Eastern Utah
1. Calf Creek Falls
Calf Creek Falls is on the flatter side of hikes as compared to other trails in Utah. At the end of the trail is a stunning waterfall. This 6.7-mile trail with an elevation gain of 521 ft. is an easy hike and tends to get crowded during the season.
2. Goblin Valley State Park
The land of rugged terrain flooding with goblins, gnomes, and mushroom-shaped desert creatures, Goblin Valley State Park, is one of the coolest places to visit in Utah. If you plan well, you could stay in the yurt, which is an exceptional experience on a staycation.
3. Mystic Hot Springs
A location from the fantasy land, Mystic Hot Springs is one of the most sublime locations in the world. Located in Monroe, Mystic Hot Springs is the most unique and least crowded hot springs of all. Mystic Hot Springs has been around for nearly 100 years and has water flowing into 6 large bathtubs, and two smaller, shallow pools.
4. Reflection Canyon
Located off the Hole in the Rock Road, Reflection Canyon has one of the most picturesque views. Getting there is a little tough, plus it is a day-long hike to the canyon (1873 ft elevation gain). If you’re in the mood for an adventure, Reflection Canyon is the place for you.
5. Monument Valley
The iconic spot featured in some of the most famous cartoons and movies, Monument Valley is an absolute must-visit place in Utah. Along with sandstone structures, colossal mesas, and panoramic views, the drive to the valley is enthralling.
Places to visit on your Mighty 5 Road trip
1. Arches National Park
One of the most sought-after destinations in Utah Arches is the wonderland of the USA. The highlights of the Arches are Delicate Arch, Devil’s Garden, Park Avenue, the Windows, and Double Arch, and Fiery Furnace.
2. Canyonlands National Park
Some highlights of Canyonlands are The Needles, Island in the Sky, Mesa Arch, Whale Rock, Upheaval Dome, and the Grand View Point. Take the Newspaper Rock route to the Needles.
3. Horseshoe Bend
Horseshoe bend may be the place you have seen on every blog but it is still worth mentioning and visiting. Hike down to Horseshoe Bend at sunset for the best views.
4. Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon offers the perfect opportunity to enjoy the orange hoodoos, fantastic scenery, and recreational opportunities such as hiking, horseback riding, biking, and ATV tours.
5. Capitol Reef National Park
With the fusion of history and hiking, Capitol Reef National Park offers the best of both. Hike at the Hickman Bridge, Sulphur Creek trail, Pioneer Register, and the Tanks. Visit the schoolhouse and the historic Gifford Homestead.
6. Lake Powell
Lake Powell is one of the popular house boating destinations in the USA. The serene lake, colossal canyons, quaint houseboats, and its unique setting make it a brilliant spot for staycationers.
7. Zion National Park
In the main area of the Zion National Park explore the Narrows, Angels Landing, Observation Point, Hidden Canyon, and Canyon Overlook. There are hiking trails, camping grounds, and off-beat tracks to explore.
8. Antelope Island
The largest island in Utah’s Great Salt Lake, Antelope Island is an exciting place to spend the day outdoors. You can rent a kayak, go hiking, biking, or wildlife watching on the island.
Places to visit in Northern Utah
1. Bear Lake
Split between Idaho and Utah, Bear Lake boasts the most splendid colors. The Caribbean feel of the waters and the serene surroundings make it one of the most dreamy spots in Utah.
2. Bonneville Salt Flats
Bonneville Salt Flats look different in every season, making it one of the best places to visit all year round. The summer brings out its snowy appearance, and the spring brings out the most stunning reflections. You can plan a day trip from Salt Lake City.
3. Midway Ice Castle and Crater
This winter wonderland is the work of ice artist Christensen. Professional ice artists create the experience using hundreds of icicles. The castles include breathtaking LED-lit sculptures, frozen thrones, ice-carved tunnels, slides, and fountains.
Budget for a Staycation in Utah
Utah may not be the cheapest place to visit but if you plan it right and in advance, you can get some great deals. Travel during shoulder season to save on accommodation costs. Save on accommodation by camping along the national park trail. Take permit costs into account and book online to save additional fees. If you’re planning a road trip, consider the cost of fuel, backup batteries, etc.
|Items||Average Daily Expenses|
|Accommodation||$56 to $66|
|Total expense per day||$90- $100|
Planning a staycation to Utah is one of the easiest yet one of the most confusing things. There’s so much to do that you can never have enough time to cover it all. Decide for how long you want to travel, the activities you want to do the most, the right season to do them, and then get ready for the most amazing adventure of your life!