Utah is brilliantly beautiful. Every corner of the state is teeming with beauty from the canyons and desert in the south to the mountains in the north. The state runs a smart campaign around its 5 National Parks and for good reason. We have been to 4 of the 5 parks and desperately want to go back. We scheme every year about what a spring break trip to Utah could look like.
This itinerary hits all 5 of the parks and could take as little as a week to do. Remember that most of the time, you'll want to spend more than just 1 day in a park. So any extra days you can add on to your trip will be appreciated. If you're looking for where to add time, I'd suggest Moab because you can choose between Canylonlands and Arches so easily. Zion is also a huge favorite so you might want to spend two nights (or more) in Springdale.
Day 1: Fly to Las Vegas, Drive to Springdale Utah (Drive Time: 3 Hours)
Day 2: Explore Zion. *Note that during the busy season, the main part of Zion may only be accessible by shuttle. Staying in Springdale is really convenient because the shuttle connects right to town.
Day 3: Head to Bryce. You will drive through Zion to get there and we recommend stopping for the Canyon Overlook hike on your way out of the park (info about hikes will be posted separately; Drive Time: 2 Hours). Make sure to catch sunset in Bryce. People rave about sunrise and it is spectacular but both sunsets we saw were just as mesmerizing.
Day 4: Explore Bryce in the morning. Make sure to get up EARLY to catch sunrise. You'll want to be there for the beginning of civil dawn which is much earlier than the sunrise time that gets posted. After a morning in Bryce, drive to Torrey to Capitol Reef National Park. Take a quick afternoon hike in Capitol Reef (Drive Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes)
Day 5: Explore Capitol Reef. Drive to Moab (Drive Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes). Do a short hike in Arches.
Day 6: Explore Arches and Canyonlands. The hike up to Delicate Arch is a must. Both parks are accessible (~30 minutes) from Moab.
Day 7: Head out to St. George, Utah (Drive Time: 5 hours). Kolob Canyon, a region of Zion that is less crowded but quite stunning, is on your way. Take some time to drive through or go for a short hike. Spend the night in St. George.
Day 8: Return to Vegas (Drive Time: 2 hours)
Total Drive Time: 16 hours with ~1000 miles. Spread out over 8 days, that's not bad! A lot of the driving from place to place actually takes you THROUGH the parks. So you'll see parts of Zion as you go to Bryce, and you can access other parts of Zion when you drive from Moab to Vegas.
Things to Consider:
1) Canyonlands has three regions. One of them (Island in the Sky) is quite near Moab. The others (The Needles and the Maze) are more remote. They also involve more hiking and navigating skill.
2) If you want to extend your trip, do so in Moab. There are lots of home rentals there where you can stay and do laundry and some cooking on your own. We'll do separate posts on where to stay as usual, but if you are in a rush to plan, don't wait for us to post.
3) This area of the country can be hot in the summer! This itinerary is pretty adaptable for that situation because you can hike in the mornings and then do your drive and settle in to your next hotel while still having time to head out for a dusk hike. Repeat the process again everyday and you'll maximize your summer adventuring time much more safely.
4) You can do this trip with Salt Lake City as a starting and ending point instead of Vegas . This option saves 1 hour of driving but flights to and from Salt Lake are often much pricier than those to Vegas. If you take this option, we recommend starting in Salt Lake and visiting the Kolob region on your way to Springdale. The rest of the trip can then be followed just as we suggest.
5) You could switch the order of Capitol Reef and Moab if you wanted to spread out the longer drives. This adds an hour of driving to the total trip, though, so take that into account.
6) You might notice that Grand Canyon National Park is in view of this route. It's about 2 hours from Zion to the Grand Canyon. If you have extra time, it's definitely a manageable add-on.