Itinerary: 16-Days Utah Mighty 5

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park

We’ve been home from our Utah Mighty 5 trip for a couple of weeks now… and I must say…. This trip changed our lives. We weren’t expecting it! What started out as one of our usual family vacations ended up being the new motto we live our lives by. 

I’ll explain a little before diving into this amazing itinerary! We’ve been traveling with our kids since they were infants. Every year has brought new challenges as they grow. From babies to toddlers to preschool ages… we were always working around naps and gauging their energy level before planning our day. They are now 7 & 8 and completely amazed us every single day of the trip. 

Our trip began the day after they got out of school for summer. They went straight from “school life” to “van life.” And they transitioned well!  We let them bring one stuffed animal. No toys. And we are always screen-free travelers. No iPads, phones, movies, etc. We want travel to be something new and different. We are already screen light at home and so they do just fine without it while traveling. Yes, even on long flights. After 2 solid weeks of minimal toys and an immense amount of nature we saw the most beautiful change in them! 

So, going forward, our motto? Focus on cutting out the “fluff” so we can spend more time traveling as a family. Minimal spending. More time outside. More time exploring. Getting lost. Wholesome meals. And dreaming of our next destination! The boys have decided they want to see all 63 National Parks before graduating high school. This trip got us to #23. Only 40 to go! 

So, let’s go! The Utah Mighty 5 in 16-days

We always travel out of Dallas and choose to fly Southwest for the ease of the airport and their prices. It’s usually how we pick our next destination – flight prices. In this case we flew into Salt Lake City (airport code: SLC). 

Day 1: Fly in SLC

We flew in early enough to make a few stops before heading to our first big park – Arches. Salt Lake City is a good 4.5 hour drive from Arches so we wanted to break it up a bit. 

We rented a Sprinter van from Moterra Campervans. This was our second time using this company and we can’t recommend them enough! The vans are well-equipped and the perfect way to travel for our family of 4. Note: these vans do not have showers or toilets. So, keep that in mind when going several days off-grid. 

Pro tip: pre-schedule a Walmart grocery pickup! After picking up our van, we drove straight to Walmart where they just loaded our groceries right into the van! I was able to meal plan from home before we left and have everything we needed in 10 minutes. I.e. no kids running through the store or trying to pick random meal items on the fly. 

From there we wanted to check out the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point. Highly recommend! It was a great way to let the kids get some energy out before making a longer trek toward the park. We stopped for lunch at Curry Pizza – also HIGHLY recommend. One of the best places we stopped for food on the whole trip! It’s an Indian food and pizza/wing place mash up. So weird, but amazingly delicious! 

After all of that we were headed toward Arches! Unfortunately, I missed the campsite lottery the first night of our trip (whoops) so we needed a quick spot that first night. In Utah you can boondock, or free camp, in many places. So, we chose a rest stop decently close to the park. We got in close to bedtime so we set up the camper in the parking lot and rested up before our first day at Arches. 

Day 2: Arches NP

The thing about the Utah National Parks is THEY ARE BUSY. They do take a bit of planning if you want to have a better experience. Being from Texas, we were able to use the time change to our advantage and get in before the entry station opened for the day. We drove in around 6:45am and headed straight for Delicate Arch – the most popular hike in the park. Y’all…. Had we been 10 seconds later we would’ve missed one of the last parking spots! We lucked out big time! 

We didn’t eat breakfast before heading here because the goal was to get in, get a parking spot, and then chill and eat. It worked perfectly. We used our spot to our advantage, cooked breakfast, got dressed, and we were ready for Delicate Arch! 

Pro tip: booking campsites in the National Parks requires you to be online 6-months in advance to the day you are wanting to travel. I will let you in on my biggest secret for actually securing a site, reluctantly, haha. Use the world clock on google. As soon as the milli-second hits that 8am click BOOK!  If you are any later than that – the sites are gone. Literally. It’s why I missed our first night. We’ve done this for several of the parks we’ve camped in but Utah is one of the busiest! 

We made reservations for Devils Garden Campground for 2 nights. 

Learn more about Arches National Park here

Day 3: Arches NP

We ended up doing several of the hikes in Arches. One of our favorites being the Devils Garden trail. Our favorite arch? Pine Tree! We hung out there for quite a while and our kids enjoyed the sand. We enjoyed the views. And the quiet. This one isn’t super popular so we had it all to ourselves for a long time!

Day 4: Last morning at Arches NP, laundry day, & Mill Creek Trail in Moab

Arches NP is located near the town of Moab, UT. There is quite a bit going on in this little town. Several restaurants. Places to do laundry & showers. Grocery stores. Several excursion outfitters. We ended up doing showers and laundry at Dowd Flats RV Park. He required cash for showers and he kept plenty of quarters for the laundry. 

Mill Creek Trail was very easy to find. This is a hike that is not in the National Park but just off the road per se. Again, parking was limited. We ended up waiting 15 or so minutes for a spot, we arrived around 10:30am. This hike takes you through the river (in our case it was almost waist deep for the adults) and through some canyons to a series of waterfalls. I highly, highly recommend this hike. Especially if you go during warmer months. After a few days at Arches our kids were very excited for some water play! 

From here we headed to Dead Horse Point State Park where we secured a campsite at Kayenta Campground for the night.

From the campground we did the Big Horn Overlook Trail. It was absolutely incredible. This hike features no railing and deep canyon drop-offs very close to the trail. Little kids need to be kept very close on this trail. In fact, I would put them in a carrier and not let them down. At sunset though… be prepared for the views to take your breath away! We absolutely LOVED Dead Horse Point State Park. 

Big Horn Overlook, Dead Horse Point State Park

Day 5: Morning at Dead Horse Point, Afternoon at Canyonlands National Park

This morning we did the last of Dead Horse Point that we wanted to do. Both of these parks feature massive canyons with steep drop offs. There were not a ton of hikes we wanted to do here, mostly overlooks. The hikes to get into the canyons were too strenuous even for our adventurous family! 

In Canyonlands we did Upheaval Dome and Mesa Arch. Upheaval Dome is another hike that I do not recommend going to the second outlook with very young kids. You could probably make it to the first outlook fine… the second one I just couldn’t look anymore. Haha! There comes a point where in my heart I know my kids are capable, because of course they are! But, it’s still hard to watch them do hard things and not think the worst. 

Learn more about Canyonlands National Park here

After all that, we were wanting a shower and to get some laundry done before heading to our next stops! We stayed at Sun Outdoors Moab Downtown. A resort style RV park featuring a store, showers, laundry, and a POOL! The kids were able to swim while I got some laundry done. 

Day 6: Morning river rafting with Moab Adventure Center, Afternoon at Goblin Valley State Park

Our kids have never white water rafted before this trip! At 7 & 8 they were right at the weight requirement needed to do it. So, we did! During our trip to Utah the rivers were running quite high. 2023 had record snow in many of the mountain areas that feed into the rivers here. This meant some of the rapids were washed out and some were the fullest they’d been. Our guide had never seen the river as high as it was when we were there. It was a thrilling trip and our kids absolutely loved it. I highly recommend Moab Adventure Center if you are looking to raft while in Moab! 

After rafting we started making our way toward Capitol Reef National Park with a stop at Goblin Valley State Park along the way. 

WE GOT LUCKY. We pulled into the park pretty late in the day, 5 or 6pm. The hope was we could possibly snag a campsite. At this point in the trip I left a few days open because I wasn’t sure how quickly we would finish Moab area before heading on. So, we had a free night to play with. Goblin Valley had just had someone cancel for the night. We got the LAST spot. 

This park did not disappoint at all! In fact, it is definitely in our top favorites of the whole trip. The campsites feature hoodoos and formations that our kids played in all night! 

River Rafting with Moab Adventure Center

Day 7: Goblin Valley State Park

We did ALL THE HIKES here! We found this park to be a complete blast. We left the campsite early and took the Entrada Canyon Trail down into the Valley. From here we did the Carmel Loop, Goblins Lair (HIGHLY RECOMMEND), and Three Sisters! We ended up covering 6 miles or so. 

From Goblin Valley we made our way to Capitol Reef National Park where we had campsite reservations at Fruita Campground. We got into the campsite and decided to check out the Fremont River Trail… neither one of us checked the map but 3 miles later we were back! Haha. It was absolutely beautiful. Again, keep young kids in a carrier or very close. Lots of loose rock and steep drop offs. 

Goblins Lair Trail, Goblin Valley State Park

Day 8: Capitol Reef National Park

We spent the full day exploring Capitol Reef. We did the Cohab Canyon Trail to Hickman Natural Bridge. And back. We left our van at the campsite and just hiked everything from our central location. A very long, hard hiking day. But clouds and a rain shower kept it interesting! We had the entire Cohab Canyon Trail to ourselves. Not a single other person. On our way back we tried the famous pies from Gifford Homestead. They were the perfect treat after a long day of hiking!

One of our favorite things to do at Capitol Reef were the Ranger talks they have at night. Our kids thoroughly enjoyed the topics and learning from an actual Park Ranger!

Learn more about Capitol Reef National Park here

Day 9: Capitol Reef and Torrey, Utah

We ventured out to Torrey on this day to check out the town. I was able to get some laundry done while we planned our next few days. We did laundry and picked up a few much needed items at the Chuck Wagon General Store right in Torrey. We tried burgers at Slackers Burger Joint – they were very good! We also had burgers at Capitol Burger in Torrey and they were AMAZING. 10/10 recommend!

We headed back to our campsite for the night. On the way, we let the kids play in Sulphur Creek. A great spot to let them free play and get wet! 

Day 10: Head toward Bryce Canyon with a stop at Lower Calf Creek Falls

This morning we knew we were doing a pretty decent hike so we left early-ish to get a head start. The drive from Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon takes you through Escalante National Forest. My gosh, this place is incredible. I think I’ve said that about 100 times in this post but really… absolutely beautiful. 

Lower Calf Creek Falls is a 6 mile roundtrip hike. You pay a fee to park in the parking area at the trail head. It was starting to fill up when we got there! This hike was full of the most gorgeous wildflowers you’ve ever seen. You hike through a decent amount of sand with some elevation change throughout. Not super difficult, just long. Once you get close to the falls you start to see the beautiful river, lush, green vegetation, and trees. We almost skipped this hike. I am beyond thankful my husband said, “You planned it. We’re doing it!”

After Lower Calf Creek Falls we made our way to our way toward our campsite in Bryce with a stop at Ruby’s Inn Buffet. We didn’t realize our kids have never eaten at a buffet but it was an experience all in itself! They ate EVERYTHING! It was hilarious to witness. 

We camped at North Campground in Bryce Canyon National Park. 

Lower Calf Creek Falls, Escalante National Forest

Day 11: Bryce Canyon National Park

After a great dinner and good sleep we were ready to hit the ground running in Bryce Canyon National Park. This park operates on a shuttle system which we love. We were able to leave our camper parked and take the shuttle from the campsite. No need to worry about finding a parking spot! 

We absolutely loved the Queens Garden and Navajo Loop combo trail. Stunning. All of it. There were a lot more people in this park than we had seen at the other parks though. The trail was pretty packed the majority of the time we were on it. We also did several of the rim trails and stayed out all day hiking and exploring. 

We did showers and laundry at the General Store in Bryce Canyon late in the day. Our kids learned the ways of the pay showers where when the time is up you better be done! 

Learn more about Bryce Canyon National Park here

Day 12: Last of Bryce Canyon – Head toward Zion 

On this day of the trip we did the part of Bryce that requires driving. Past the shuttle system is a loop road with several overlooks and hikes. We stopped at every stop and did the Bristlecone Loop trail where we watched a peregrine falcon fly around for a solid 45 minutes. 

We couldn’t wait to get to Zion! We knew we wanted to get in later in the day to avoid traffic as much as possible. Zion is one of the busiest National Parks in the entire parks system. We reserved several days here to make sure we didn’t feel rushed and we could get it all in! 

We set up camp at Watchman Campground.

Learn more about Zion National Park here 

Day 13: Zion National Park

We wanted to take it easy on our first day in Zion. We wanted to get a feel for the park and see the operation before hitting it hard. With kids, this worked well for us. We hopped on the shuttle and did all of the “easy” stuff first. No rush. No time commitments. 

We entered the lottery for Angels Landing permits several weeks in advance of our trip with no luck. So, we had to start doing the day before entries. We didn’t get it on the first day so our easy day made sense. That afternoon we found out we made the lottery for the next day! It was a perfect day of rest before a very exciting day to come. 

Watchman campground is right on the Virgin River and within walking distance to the town of Springdale. The boys played in the river that afternoon and we had deer walk right up next to us to grab a quick drink. It was a complete blast! 

Day 14: Zion National Park

This was Angels Landing day! We got started very early this day. We had “before 9am permits” meaning we had to be at The Grotto before 9am. That, we were! The trail was very quiet that morning on our way up. My gosh though… those switchbacks the entire way up are not easy! We were on adrenaline with excitement for the chain section of Angels Landing. 

There was a ranger there checking permits before letting people onto the chains. And now I see why they have the lottery system. Too many people is a big problem. We saw a few people get started on the trail and turn around out of fear. We saw at least one panic attack. There was a point where I couldn’t look again. Our kids were having the time of their lives. This was a true challenge for them! Something that isn’t easy to do with 7 & 8 year olds. But, they made it! We made it. And we spent a great deal of time at the top. Chipmunks kept the boys entertained while we soaked in the sights. 

Several people have asked us about this hike with kids. They were the youngest kids we saw on this trail. After traveling extensively with them their entire lives, we felt comfortable bringing them on this trail. I think it is deeply personal if you are comfortable with it or not. It is absolutely dangerous. It requires paying attention…. a very personal choice to do this one. 

After making our way down (we were up in this area hiking for 6 hours) we wanted to treat ourselves to Zion Canyon Brew Pub. It was the perfect way to end our day! We walked right back to our campsite and enjoyed the river before bed. 

Zion also features the nightly Ranger talks at the campgrounds. We did a couple of these and thoroughly enjoyed them! 

The chains at Angels Landing, Zion National Park

Day 15: Zion National Park

This one was another easy day doing the last of the things we hadn’t done. We did the Emerald Pools to the Kayenta Trail. Kayenta was one of my favorites! 

After hiking we decided to go into Springdale and do some laundry at Zion Park Motel and showers at Zion Outfitters. I like to bring back clean clothes from our trips so I can just put everything back in its drawer! My husband says I’m crazy haha. We also ate at Porter’s while our clothes were washing. The food was very good. They have an ice cream shop inside there as well – also delicious. 

We spent our last night watching the boys play in the river. Building sand castles. Painting rocks. Watching deer come right up to the water. We were profoundly changed on this trip. The simple things, and how important they are, all became clear. Our kids were best friends. They didn’t need anything but a rock and stick to stay busy. It really was an amazing trip. 

Day 16: Fly out Salt Lake City

The drive from Zion to Salt Lake City is 4 hours. We grabbed a coffee and breakfast at Perks! And made our way to Salt Lake City! We ended up leaving Zion on a Saturday and this was the best idea I had. The line to get into the park that morning was easily 2-3 hours long. We couldn’t believe it! It reiterated why staying IN the park is the way to go. We never dealt with crowds or long lines the entire time we were there!

That’s it! 16 Days in the desert of Southern Utah. In a camper van. With our 2 kids, ages 7 & 8. 5 National Parks. 2 State Parks. 1 National Forest. 1 off the road hike. 

If you plan on booking a camper van and are new to the concept of a camper van I have a few tips for you.

-Pack light. 

One reason we do laundry is so we can pack extremely light. In 8 years of traveling with kids we have never checked a bag at the airport. If you can’t carry it on, it’s too much. We pack for 3-4 days and do laundry as needed. There is very limited space for storing luggage in a camper van. In fact, there is no space for large suitcases. We were able to pack all of our things out of the way to keep the van tidy and organized. 


I highly recommend packing each person a bathroom bag. I had one for the kids, one for me, and my husband had one. It made it really easy when it was time to get ready for the night to take our bag to the bathroom. It included toothbrushes, toothpaste, and shower toiletries. 

I also recommend organizing your medicines into a bag. I always keep the kids stuff stocked in case we’re in the middle of nowhere and someone spikes a fever or comes down with a tummy bug. Tylenol, Motrin, Pepto, bug itch relief, Benadryl, etc. 

We had a bag for electronic things (cords, chargers, etc). A bag for bandaids and first aid. And I always pack folded up bags to be used for dirty clothes and easily carrying extra things like snacks or water bottles. 

I love my Cotopaxi brand packing cubes found here

-Know your campsite. 

Does it have water? Electricity? Showers? Most of the Utah 5 do not have any hook ups or showers. Laundry is another essential. Make sure you know where you can stop and how you can tend to these things before getting to your site. 

Those are my top tips! Hope you enjoyed reading this far. THANK YOU for checking out our blog and following along! If you do this trip PLEASE share with me!