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You Could Easily Spend A Day Hiking In Natural Bridges National Monument

Utah Road Trip: Sights Between Moab & Capitol Reef

Anytime is a great time for a Utah road trip though in spring and fall temperatures are comfortable – warm during the day and cool enough at night that you need a sweater. And the crowds haven’t arrived yet so it’s a perfect time to visit some of the most beautiful national parks in the United States.

Our group of four did a Utah road trip between Moab and Torrey near the west entrance of Capitol Reef National Park.  We stayed in both towns for four nights and used them as a base for daily hiking excursions.

There's not a lot of traffic to deal with on Highway 95
There’s not a lot of traffic to deal with on Highway 95

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Where to stay in Moab and Torrey

In Moab we stayed at one of my all-time favourite inns, Sunflower Hill. I’d also recommend the Best Western Canyonlands Inn.

In Torrey the B&B we stayed in is now closed. But there are lots of worthwhile options. Capitol Reef Resort near the entrance to Capitol Reef National Park is rated fabulous. 

The Sunflower Inn, Moab
The Sunflower Inn, Moab

Utah road trip – what can you see if you start in Moab?

We took the better part of the day to drive between Moab and Capitol Reef National Park – mostly because there are so many gorgeous places to stop. The route covers 260 miles via Highway 191, 95 and Highway 24 through Capitol Reef National Park. We took the better part of 7 hours to do the drive with stops.

If you don’t have the time and are interested more in just getting to Capitol Reef you can drive it in 2.25 hours by going back to I-70 from Moab and then taking Highway 24 through Hanksville.

Take a picnic lunch with you as there aren’t very many places to pick up food once you get past Monticello.

If you haven’t been to the Needles District in Canyonlands National Park, I recommend allowing at least a few hours for some of the easy hikes. It’s almost a 90 minute drive to the Visitor Centre from Moab but after you’re finished, it’s just a short drive to Monticello. If you’re planning to camp, consider an overnight in Natural Bridges National Monument so you don’t have to rush to get to Capitol Reef National Park.

Views from the slickrock trail in the Needles District
Views from the slickrock trail in the Needles District

Monticello for caffeine

Our first stop less than an hour into the drive from Moab was a colourful café in Monticello for a much needed caffeine fix. 

Our first break from the car on our Utah road trip - The Peace Tree Juice Cafe in Monticello
Our first break from the car – The Peace Tree Juice Cafe in Monticello

West of Blanding, Utah

There was nothing marked on the road west of Blanding but when we saw these gentled angled rocks we knew we had to get out and hike them. We spent the better part of an hour just wandering around. There are no marked trails.

On the Utah road trip we had to get out and explore the rocks north of Highway 95, slightly west of Blanding
We had to get out and explore the rocks north of Highway 95, slightly west of Blanding
Unique outcropping of rock
Unique outcropping of rock
My geologist husband loving these rocks
My geologist husband loving these rocks

Hike and camp in National Bridges National Monument

It’s 120 miles and a 2.5 hour drive to drive from Moab to the National Bridges National Monument. We spent a few hours hiking the trails but you could easily chew up a day or two – if you hiked all of them. In addition there are plenty of places where it would be great to pull off and just wander around.

You can camp in relative solitude in the National Bridges National Monument – on a first come, first served basis. The campsite is open year round. You can find more information here.

Notice the natural bridge in the middle of the photo
Notice the natural bridge in the middle of the photo
The Natural Bridges blend into the landscape
The Natural Bridges blend into the landscape
You could easily spend a day hiking in Natural Bridges National Monument
Owachomo Bridge is particularly striking
Loads of trails to explore in Natural Bridges National Monument
You could easily spend a day hiking in Natural Bridges National Monument
How the Natural Bridge fits into the landscape
How Owachomo Bridge fits into the landscape
Two prominent buttes called The Bears Ears - an area that is sacred to many Native Americans
Two prominent buttes called The Bears Ears – an area that is sacred to many Native Americans

Stop at the Colorado River

Continue for another 90 minutes from the National Monument to reach Hite Crossing Bridge and the Colorado River. Just after you cross the bridge pull off in a turnout and go for a walkabout.

The 1,450-mile-long Colorado River is one of the main rivers in the southwest United States. It is the river that winds through the Grand Canyon. The landscape is especially beautiful around Highway 95.

Heading for the bridge across the Colorado River
Heading for the Hite Crossing Bridge across the Colorado River
Looking up the Colorado River from the bridge on Highway 95
Looking up the Colorado River from the bridge on Highway 95
Big, beautiful views of the Colorado River
Big, beautiful views of the Colorado River seen on our Utah road trip

Revel in the views

It’s an further 76 miles and 90 minutes of driving time from the bridge over the Colorado River to the entrance to Capitol Reef National Park. There are no formal stops though you could pick up a cold drink and something to eat in Hanksville – population around 200.

Beautiful country as you approach Highway 24 near Hanksville
Beautiful country as you approach Highway 24 near Hanksville
On a Utah road trip watch for cows along the highway
Watch for cows along the highway
One of the first mountains you see to the north on Highway 24, just west of Hanksville
On the Utah road trip one of the first mountains you see to the north on Highway 24, just west of Hanksville

Goblin Valley State Park – a great stop on a Utah road trip

I wish we’d had time to make the side trip to Goblin Valley State Park about an hour’s drive north of Hanksville. Keep this place in mind if you’re in the area.

It’s known for its thousands of uniquely shaped sandstone “goblins”. In the park enjoy hiking on five marked trails as well as lots of mountain biking. Night skies here are inky black and star-studded.

On a Utah road trip try and stop in the Goblin Valley
Goblin Valley, Utah

Heading west towards Capitol Reef

It’s a gorgeous drive to Capitol Reef along Highway 24, especially when the angle of the sun is low. Even well outside the park the views of eroded rock formations are swoonworthy.

Drive through the park to reach Torrey. It’s about six minutes from the west entrance.

Our Utah road trip on route to Capitol Reef National Park
On route to Capitol Reef National Park
Our Utah road trip driving through Capitol Reef National Park late in the afternoon with good light
Driving through Capitol Reef National Park late in the afternoon with good light
Utah road trip filled with beautiful rock formations that make it difficult to keep your eyes on the road
Beautiful rock formations that make it difficult to keep your eyes on the road
Looking east on Highway 24 from just outside of Torrey
Looking east on Highway 24 from just outside of Torrey
Our Utah road trip ends with a beautiful moon in Torrey, Utah
A beautiful end to the day in Torrey, Utah

There are some decent restaurants in Torrey including The Saddlery Cowboy Bar Steakhouse and Cafe Diablo.

One night we did the stunning drive to Boulder, Utah so we could eat at Hell’s Backbone Grill. I highly recommend the drive and the fantastic food – the best in the area.

Scenery on our drive to dinner in Boulder, Utah
Scenery on our drive to dinner in Boulder, Utah

Further reading on things to do in Utah

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

Utah Road Trip- Moab to Capitol Reef National Park via the scenic route

 

 

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you…..I am so excited that you made this post….my husband and I are headed to Moab, Arches and Capitol Reef the end of October….so now I have to add more to our list…..appreciative!

  2. Hi Leigh! Though I’m still on a leave from blogging I wanted to stop by and say hi! It’s ironic that I’ve been all over the Western U.S. yet south of SLC has still evaded me. Not intentionally. Some really beautiful country. I hope you are having a great day, my friend! 🙂

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