See iconic national parks and taste America’s best fry bread as you cruise through movie sets between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.

Salt Lake City

Day One – Experience history in Salt Lake City

Start your Utah experience in its capital, Salt Lake City (SLC). Despite its name, this friendly city is just small enough to feel like a big country town. 

Begin in its heart: Temple Square, a five-block area of gardens, museums, and historic sites like Salt Lake Tabernacle, that mark the headquarters of the Mormon Church.

Then drive 15 minutes east to Emigration Canyon, where you can sample the famous Mile High Biscuits and Country Gravy at Utah’s second oldest restaurant, Ruth’s Diner

Bonneville Salt Flats

Head two hours west to Bonneville Salt Flats. Forget mountains and spires, here the terrain’s so flat you see the curvature of the planet on crusty salt flats from the I-80 Highway. World speed records have been set here for over a century on a speedway for car racers. 

Log Haven Utah

Head back and drive 20 minutes east of SLC for a romantic dinner at a 102-year-old Log Haven, built from Oregon logs in a canyon in the mountains. Continue the journey through history, sleeping downtown at one of SLC’s oldest hotels, Peery Hotel.

Arches National Park

Day Two – Marvel at natural sandstone arches 

Head south-east for 370 kilometres to one of the world’s most iconic national parks. Home to the largest concentration of sandstone arches on earth – there are over 2000 – Arches National Park is easy to navigate: take a 72-kilometre return trip on Arches Scenic Drive to see the park’s best natural features. 

Arches National Park

Stop for short hikes and spot where Hollywood filmed Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade. Or, head to Canyonlands National Park – Utah’s largest park – to see canyons and buttes carved out by the Colorado River. Next door is the Dead Horse Point State Park where you will witness stunning views over Canyonlands (it’s also where they filmed the closing scene from Thelma & Louise). 

Under Canvas, Utah

Utah’s adventure city, Moab, is only eight kilometres south of Arches National Park, buzzing with thrillseekers dining al fresco on its main street. Order a woodfired pizza from Antica Forma then drive 25 minutes north to Under Canvas. Book a Stargazer safari-style tent: Utah has the highest concentration of Dark Sky Parks on the planet and you’re in one now.

Monument Valley Road

Day Three – Visit the locations of Hollywood films

Don’t miss sunrise and hit the road early. If you thought the landscape looked red already, just wait for what the rising sun does to it as you drive the 283 kilometres south to Monument Valley through high desert plains. 

Monument Valley Road

Take the 27-kilometre loop road through the park. Look familiar? That’s because this is what Hollywood’s Wild West looks like. John Ford filmed nine cowboy movies here, and John Wayne was another regular. Easy Rider, Forrest Gump and 2001: A Space Odyssey were also shot here. 

Sandstone towers rise around you, surrounded by pinnacles and windblown sands. For millennia the Hopi, Zuni, Ute and Navajo lived here. It’s now one of the most culturally significant landscapes in the US, packed with rock art and burial sites. 

Take a guided hike with Navajo guides at Ancient Wayves (tourancientwayves.com) through Bears Ears National Monument – a pair of buttes that rise to elevations over 2700 metres – to understand their ancient culture. Drive south for 90 minutes and stay in Desert Rose Inn in Bluff, a tiny settlement in the desert, home to a handful of cheery restaurants.

Bryce Canyon

Day Four – Explore cliffs and canyons at Capitol Reef National Park

Today you’ll discover some of Utah’s best landscapes far from other travellers. Start the day early, driving 30 minutes to Moki Dugway, a mining road that climbs nearly 400 metres in five kilometres. At the top, turn left for Muley Point, for views across Goosenecks National Park, Valley Of The Gods and Monument Valley. 

Drive north for three hours past Moab, then turn left for Capitol Reef National Park, stopping on the banks of Green River at Tamarisk Restaurant for the best Navajo fry bread in Utah. 

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park is another two hours south-west. Don’t bring your mask and snorkel – it gets its name from its Waterpocket Fold, a wrinkle in the earth that extends for 150 kilometres. 

Spend the hours before sunset exploring its cliffs, canyons, domes and bridges. Then drive 10 minutes west to Torrey to sleep within sandstone in the lodge at Cougar Ridge.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Day Five – Hit the highway and wind through canyons 

Strap yourself in, today you’re driving one of the world’s great highways. Scenic Byway 12 is a 193-kilometre journey through the most diverse landscape in America. Wind your way through deep canyons, red rock cliffs, mountains, alpine and aspen forests, national parks and quaint country towns. 

Lower Calf Creek Falls

Drive south for an hour to Lower Calf Creek Falls for a five-kilometre hike to a swimming hole at the bottom of a waterfall surrounded by greenery. Double back 10 minutes to Boulder for one of Utah’s highest-rated restaurants, Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm, where produce is grown organically on-site. 

Drive south-west for 120 kilometres to Bryce Canyon National Park. Explore a park famed for its red rocks, pink cliffs and one of the largest concentrations on earth of irregular columns (called hoodoos) along a 29-kilometre road which takes you to the park’s highest elevation. 

Yonder Escalante

Watch the colours melt with sunset then take an after-dark telescope tour in another of Utah’s 24 Dark Sky Parks. Drive 50 minutes east to sleep in cabins in the grounds of what was an old drive-in movie theatre at Yonder Escalante.

The Watchman at Sunrise

Day Six – Hike through Zion National Park

Drive two-and-a-half hours south-west to Zion National Park. There’s a free shuttle through the park for nine months of the year (or drive between December and February). 

Zion National Park

The landscape’s dominated by massive canyons but there are buttes, mesas, slot canyons, natural arches and monoliths all split by a slow-moving river. Check out sandstone cliffs of cream, pink and red against a bulging blue sky in a landscape that changes from desert to coniferous forest to woodland. Home to 79 species of mammal, watch for big-horned sheep by the roadside. 

The Narrows

Hike The Narrows – a walk in a river through the narrowest section of Zion Canyon where 400-metre-high gorges tower above. Or explore the lesser-known Kolob Canyons, on hikes from 1.6 kilometres to 22 kilometres, which take you through finger canyons under cliffs of red Navajo sandstone. 

Don’t forget gateway town, Springdale: fuel up on tasty Tex-Mex on the patio at Oscar’s Café. It’s just under three hours’ drive south-west to the world’s most famous party town, Las Vegas. Wander its iconic 6.7 kilometre-long boulevard where you’ll find some of the most famous nightclubs, casinos and resorts in America.  

Contact your local travel professional for assistance on any customised Utah self-drive road trip or visit www.visitutah.com to plan your own. Intrepid Travel is offering Qantas Travel Insider readers 15% off their next Utah holiday. Learn more.

Image credits: Bailey Made (Under Canvas), Aleks Danielle Butman (Yonder Escalante).

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