A Utah road trip takes you to the centre of US’ geological wonders. Both Arches National Park and Monument Valley are known worldwide, at least from viral pictures and movies. From Colorado, this is a Utah road trip that you can fit in just 3 nights.
Geologists are in for a treat. Star seekers are in for a treat. And Western Movie lovers are in for a treat.
Part of our Feasible Road Trips from Denver, Colorado in 6 hours a day or less series
Each region of the US mid-west is weaved from a complex amalgamation of history, geology and the immigrants it attracted during different eras. We’ll show you the best of Colorado and the towns marked and populated by the Gold Rush. Then Utah a region swamped in fossils and landscapes dreamed up from ski-fi movies. Moving up through the farms and planes of Nebraska and the Dakotas and Southwards to the adobe architecture of New Mexico (which only become a US state in 1912!).
We’ve been lucky enough to venture out of Denver in almost all directions and this is your short guide to 5 feasible road trips from the Mile-High City. Let’s take a drive to the Beehive State, Utah.
Check out our other roadtrips:
When, Where, How Long to take a Utah Road Trip
When to Go?
Utah is mostly a desert or semi arid land and access is available year round. July and August are hot and popular months with temperatures reaching the high 30s celcius (90 fahrenheit). Always pack jackets and long trousers, however, because temperatures plummet at night.
Bear in mind that the route to Utah takes you through the Colorado mountain passes, which are subsceptible to heavy snowfall throughout winter. The roads are well maintained, but you need a 4×4 car or chains to use in case of a snow storm (State Law). Generally from May to October there will be little snow.
Where to Stay?
Moab (1-2 nights to see Arches National Park and Canyon Land if you have time).
Gouldings Lodge in Monument Valley (1 night to visit Monument Valley by car).
Aspen or Glenwood Springs (stop off on the drive back to Denver to drastically reduce driving time).
How Many Days for Your Utah Road Trip?
The Utah road trip from Denver will take at least 3 nights and 4 days. We break down the trip below.
Day 1 – Drive to Moab
You can drive down to Arches National park and Moab in just 6 hrs. We suggest getting accommodation in Moab and stuffing your face on Mexican cuisine. We went to Miguel’s Baja Grill. The margaritas were divine.
Day 2 – Visit Arches National Park and Drive to Monument Valley
Early the next morning you can drive to Arches National Park. Going before 8:00 AM means you’ll skip the queue and the crowds. From Arches to Monument Valley is 2hr30. Sleep in Gouldings Lodge, which has both a hotel and small cabins situated on Navajo Native American Land. The cabins are weaved between the signature rock formations. So, you’ll wake up with the sandstone columns towering above you. There is also an unobstructed view of the entire Monument Valley. From this perspective you can see the shapes that Native Americans named each unique rock formation.
Day 3 – Drive through Monument Valley and Return Via Aspen or Glenwood Springs
Take the Valley Drive, where admission is $20 per vehicle paid to the Navajo Native Americans. There are designated pull-offs for each view. You could spend up to 3 hours perusing Monument Valley, so get breakfast or lunch at Gouldings lodge. They prepare typical Native American dishes and there’s also the Historical Old Trading Post and artesan shop.
It’s a good idea to use a guide driving through the Valley to spot the different shapes. This website highlights the main rock shapes in Monument Valley, named by the Navajos.
After Monument Valley return via Aspen or Glenwood Springs, which is 6 hrs away.
Day 4 – Hike around Aspen then Drive to Denver
From Aspen to Denver is a 3hr 30 mins drive. You have time to hike or brunch in the morning, then drive through the mountain passes in the afternoon.
Utah Road Trip Highlights
The quintessential Western movie backdrop, Monument Valley’s unique horizon used to be the seafloor. The towers are made of sandstone that accumulated over millions of years, and were later chipped away by wind and other elements to leave the impressive 1000 ft (300 metres) high formations we see today. There’s not much else around, but we recommend exploring the Navajo Tribe’s facilities at Gouldings lodge. They have traditional food and fair-priced artesenal goods.
Arches National Park
You could explore Arches National park for days and by all means do. However, to budget your time you can bypass many stops and head to one of the most spectacular hikes called Devil’s Garden. Landscape Arch photographed at the top of this post is the first stop. After you will scramble up huge boulders to reach a higher plateau. Veer off to the left for a side hike to Partition Arch, adding less than 2 miles to the hike.
Finish by treking to Devils Garden, where an impressive sea of “fins” of rock crowd together below. The route takes you along a ledge that peaks just above this rock garden. Also pictured above, please read photo captions.
Although we didn’t reach Delicate Arch, the symbol of Utah and featured on the State’s car plates, you can also hike to Delicate Arch. Here’s the instructions for reaching Delicate Arch.
Some argue Moab is just a tourist trap, but we’ve eaten excellent food in this little hub. It’s vastly different from Denver with a mixture of Mexican and Native American culture so it’s worth browsing the restaurants and stores.
This is the place to see the Milky Way. Firstly, dry desert skies offer clearer views of stars. Secondly, these areas are usually far from significant light pollution. The National Parks are fuller at sunset, but unless you specifically want to photograph the arches or rock formations you can set up shop anywhere to see the stars.
Tips for Utah
- Drinking laws are different in Utah. Fill up the car with some beer packs to avoid dissappointment.
- Read There There by Tommy Orange for a story on Native American’s struggles in modern day USA.
- If you have an extra 2 days you can take a detour to the Grand Canyon. Some of the entrances are closed due to COVID-19, get Grand Canyon updates here.
- Stash snacks. Outside the cities there aren’t many places to eat.