Utah is a magical state. Northern and central Utah is filled with snowcapped mountains, ski resorts, hot springs and wonderful places to eat and drink. Southern Utah has something totally different to offer – a desert landscape with an abundance of national parks to check out.
There are three national parks in particular that are within a few hours of each other in Southeast Utah that are worth making the trip to: Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef, all within driving distance of the popular town of Moab. This is my recommendation for a few days in these awesome national parks, but check out this travel guide from Wild Bum for more details and ideas.
Day 1: Arches National Park | 15 minutes from Moab, UT
Arches was such a treat! We made sure to go in early as this park fills up fast, but we had a blast exploring arch formations around every corner. Delicate Arch is Arches National Park’s most popular landmark, and the arch that many travel to this park to see. However, as stunning as Delicate Arch was, I preferred some of the other landmarks as less touristy, more unique destination spots. Balanced Rock was absolutely stunning at sunset, and the short hikes to Sand Dune Arch and Broken Arch were very cool. Carve out more time for Delicate Arch because of the popularity (or go during the best times, sunrise or sunset), but check out other arches and turnouts as well.
Day 2: Canyonlands National Park | 1 hour from Moab, UT
Canyonlands is a beautiful mix of the deep, overwhelming landscape of the Grand Canyon with the classic snowcapped Utah mountains in the distance. It truly is one of Utah’s hidden gems, a much less popular national park when compared to Arches – but arguably more beautiful. It’s also very drivable and easy to do in one day.
Island in the Sky lookout is the perfect first stop on your trip to see this park, and there are a few great and easy hikes to try, too. Mesa Arch is an easy one with really incredible views of the park. We brought our lunches to this arch and relaxed before driving down to Grand View Point Overlook, which provides panoramic views and canyons. Canyonlands is still one of my favorite national parks to date!
Day 3: Capitol Reef National Park | 2.5 hours from Moab, UT
Truthfully, we spent the least amount of time at this park just because we didn’t know very much about it and had to make it to our next destination rather quickly. I’d recommend looking at Wild Bum’s Capitol Reef Guide to find more specifics and best things to do here. We did spend some time hiking to Capitol Gorge which was absolutely stunning.
This park is a nice one to mix in with Arches and Canyonlands – you still get red rocks and incredible rock formations, but it’s a much different feel. The hike we did felt more like we were in Yosemite, surrounded by cliffs and giant rock formations all around and above us.