I just got back from one of the most epic road trips! My boyfriend and I rented a van and spent 4 days exploring national parks, state parks, and hot springs between Salt Lake City, Utah and Las Vegas, Nevada! We went swimming in a crater, hiked Angel’s Landing, saw the Valley of Fire light up at sunset, and had one perfect night in the city of Las Vegas. We rented a van for this trip from Wandervans, which was the absolute best way to explore the state of Utah.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about this perfect van road trip from Salt Lake City Utah to Las Vegas, Nevada!
Day 1: Pick up van, explore Salt Lake City or Park City, and Homestead Crater
On the first day, you’ll fly into the Salt Lake City airport and pick up your van from Wandervans.
Picking Up Your Van from Wandervans
If you’ve ever been thinking of taking a van road trip, Utah is the place to do it! No matter the season, you’ll find endless things to do in this state. Renting a van with Wandervans is the best option for this trip, because it allows more flexibility and cheaper prices overall than renting a car and booking hotels would be.
Wandervans makes picking up and dropping off your van extremely easy. All of your paperwork will be handled before you arrive, so all you have to do when you get to Salt Lake City is pick up your van. Fly into Salt Lake City and from the airport, take an uber to the Wandervans office nearby. Your van will be parked right out front and the keys will be inside. Unlock the door using your code and immediately head out for your adventure!
Your van comes with all the necessities: A bed with warm bedding, a fridge, sink, heater/AC, electrical outlets, and kitchen equipment. It’s exactly what you need for a week of exploring Utah, no matter the season!
Explore Salt Lake City
The first stop you should explore on your roadtrip is the city that you’re in of course, Salt Lake City! There’s so much to do in and around Salt Lake City, Utah. Visit one of the many museums or art galleries in the city or opt to explore the outdoors. In the winter, you can ski at one of Salt Lake’s 4 nearby ski resorts or go snow tubing, check out the Olympic Oval, Bonneville Salt Flats, or in the summer go kayaking or hiking at Great Salt Lake. You have about 3 or 4 hours to spare, so choose wisely!
Lunch in Park City
Between Salt Lake City and your next adventure (hot spring!) is a visit to one of my favorite towns in Utah: Park City! Park the van just south of Main Street near the gondola and take a walk around the downtown area. Stop for lunch and beers at No Name Saloon and pop into all the shops along the way.
I was trying to decide on a hot spring to visit in the area near Provo for this evening and there were many great options to choose from but I eventually decided on visiting the Homestead Crater, which was certainly the best choice! The Homestead Crater is a natural geothermal hot spring located inside of a beehive shaped limestone crater. You can swim or dive inside the crater in 1 hour slots to enjoy its warm mineral-rich waters and learn more about the history of the crater. You can also walk on top of the crater at any time! If you’re a diver, the Homestead Crater is unique in the fact that it’s the only warm water dive site in the world. I highly recommend swimming in this unique crater during your road trip!
Sunset and camp at Bryce Canyon
After visiting the Homestead Crater, it’s time to gear up for your one long drive of the trip and head 4 hours south to Sunset Campground at Bryce Canyon National Park. This campground is located right next to the park’s Sunset Point which is an ideal spot to spend the evening and prepare for the following full day of adventure.
Day 2: Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park can easily be explored in a day! Most of the main viewpoints are located right off the main scenic road and then there’s one short hike you can do that will capture all the best sights in Bryce.
As per usual, the orangey color of the hoodoos and other famous landscape in Bryce looks great any time of day, but especially at sunrise and sunset. I’d recommend catching sunrise bright and early at either Sunrise Point or Inspiration Point in the park. Both are gorgeous and located just a couple of minutes from your campsite, though you’d likely have less company at Inspiration Point.
After sunrise, be sure to check out all the viewpoints before your hike so you can get a good look at all of the landscape before checking out the hoodoos up close. Most of the viewpoints are located on the east side of the road, so it’s ideal to drive to the end of the park and then stop at the viewpoints as you make your way back down to Sunset Point.
From the last viewpoint, Sunset Point, you can begin your hike of the day into the hoodoos. Take the Rim Trail to the Navajo Loop Trail. This is where you will hike through the iconic Wall Street portion of the trail and pass by other sites such as Thor’s Hammer and the Two Bridges. From here you’ll come to a junction where you can choose to take the Queen’s Garden Trail to see even more scenic landscape, which I definitely recommend taking. All in all, it’s about a 3 mile round trip with stunning views at every turn!
Free Camping Near Zion National Park
After a day in Bryce Canyon, it’s time to head toward your next adventure (my favorite!): Zion National Park! From Bryce, you have a 2 hour drive down the scenic highway 12. Head to camp for dinner and sunset. You can camp for free at Smithsonian Butte Staging Area. This is a gorgeous area just outside of the town of Springdale, perfect for relaxing and preparing for a full day 3!
Day 3: Zion National Park
Day 3 is my favorite day of the van road trip, which is spent in Zion National Park!
If you only have one day in Zion I’d recommend taking a bike ride through the Pa’rus Trail to the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive in the morning. Stop at all the major viewpoints and pick 1-2 hikes to do on your way back in the afternoon. Be sure to pack a lunch for your day in the park, but stop for dinner in the town of Springdale on your way back to drop off the bikes.
Tip: Rent e-bikes from Greater Zion e-Bikes
No cars are allowed on the main road in Zion National Park. There is a free shuttle that you can use, but if you only have a day or so to check off as many hikes and viewpoints as possible, I’d recommend renting e-bikes from Greater Zion e-bikes for the day. It’s a more fun and scenic option that allows you to explore the park at your own pace without having to cram onto a bus with a bunch of other sweaty tourists. Greater Zion ebikes is also located just outside the park entrance, so you can just bike to the pedestrian entrance as soon as you pick up your bikes!
Temple of Sinawava (Shuttle stop #9)
Big Bend (Shuttle stop #8)
Weeping Rock (Shuttle stop #7)
The Grotto (Shuttle stop #6)
Zion Lodge (Shuttle stop #5)
Canyon Junction Bridge
Court of The Patriarchs (Shuttle stop #4)
Recommended Day Hikes in Zion National Park
If you don’t have a ton of time in Zion, try out one of these day hikes:
West Rim Trail to Scout Lookout
*Permit required, info below
Emerald Pools Trail
*All of the above hikes begin from the Grotto Picnic Area at shuttle stop 6
Summer hike through the Virgin River. Begin at the Temple of Sinewava (the last shuttle stop #9) and hike the Riverside Walk then head upstream to Big Spring. You can either turn around here or get a permit to do the full 16 mile hike.
Applying For A Permit To Hike Angel’s Landing
If necessary, apply for a permit to hike Angel’s Landing! There are two ways to apply for a permit for Angel’s Landing. If you know your travel dates a few months in advance, you can apply for a permit before the season starts. If you don’t get a permit then or just simply don’t plan your trips that far in advance like me, you’re in luck because you can apply for a permit the day before you plan to do your hike! Apply before 3pm Mountain Standard Time and you’ll know soon after whether you have been awarded a permit or not.
Camping: Snow Canyon State Park
Snow Canyon State Park is a gorgeous park located just outside of St. George, Utah. Its landscape is super unique as it features everything from volcanic rock under bright green grass against red Navajo sandstone cliffs and snow capped peaks. Whether you go hiking or camping here, a visit is a must during your van road trip!
Day 4: Valley of Fire State Park and Las Vegas, NV
Valley of Fire State Park is gorgeous any time of day, but especially at sunrise and sunset. I highly recommend waking up early and driving to the Valley of Fire before sunrise this day so you watch the sun illuminate the valley as it rises and see where this truly spectacular landscape gets its name. Drive all the way to the end of the park for your hike, you can’t miss the Fire Wave!
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
After your scenic drive and hike through the Valley of Fire, stop next door to Lake Mead before ending your incredible van journey in the city of Las Vegas! Check out the Hoover Dam or enjoy water activities on the lake such as boating, fishing, paddleboarding, kayaking, or diving. Head to the picnic area to use up the rest of your groceries for lunch, and then make your way to your last stop of the road trip: Las Vegas!
Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas is the perfect spot to end your van road trip! Spend the evening exploring the Strip, Freemont Street, or do a night hike around the city. You can get a hotel for the night or if you have an early flight, park your van right at the airport and sleep there. We parked our van at the airport for drop off and then spent the night on the strip bouncing around to different restaurants and casinos, took a ride on the High Roller, and spent the night in a hotel at the top of Planet Hollywood. It was such a fun night and the perfect way to end an incredible trip!
Top Tips For Your Van Road Trip
Go grocery shopping and bring your own lunches.
The food options are limited in National Parks and you’ll be on the go so much that it’s easier to make and pack your own lunches. Stock up on energy bars, breakfast items, sandwich stuff, and snacks at the grocery store at the beginning of your trip.
Be open to your plans changing due to permits and weather. Everything is realistically close enough together that it’s not a big deal to have to switch days and activities around. For example we applied for an Angel’s Landing permit multiple days and ended up going on the day where we got a permit and we visited Bryce Canyon the day that we had the best weather window there. While this itinerary is the ideal way to do things, it’s not the only way!
Leave No Trace
Of course when camping and hiking, be sure to leave no trace that you were there. Pack it in, pack it out. Leave this world a cleaner place than you found it. Have a great time while still being a positive earth citizen.
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