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This is going to be a whopper of a post and the first in my little series of shorter Utah itineraries broken down into specific areas. The three days will be packed full of hikes but I made the areas small so you’ll be able to do as much as possible in that time.
First up is seven different three-day Utah road trip ideas. I’ve been wanting to do this for so long but I just knew it was going to take FOREVER but here we are. The day has come and I’m super excited to share all of this with you!
I know when people are planning short trips they want to pack in as much as possible but visiting Arches and Zion in one three-day trip just won’t work. I mean, it will, but it’s not worth doing.
I definitely recommend for such a short visit to just pick one of these areas to really explore so you’re not spending the entire time in the car. There is minor overlap between a few of these but it’s nothing more than one activity if it’s central to a few places (I think mostly Zion.)
I’ve done almost everything on this list and if I haven’t done it yet, it’s on my own Utah bucket list, which could also help you plan your trip.
It’s pretty much all broken down into specific hikes, but a few include a general national park with suggestions on what to do with that time there. I’ve also included time frames for each thing to give you an idea of what you can do on the same day. This can also help you find things to squeeze into spare time throughout your day.
It’s probably going to be overwhelming but you can always navigate with the table of contents to make it a little easier. The areas I’ve broken this Utah road trip, three day itinerary into are: Moab, Cedar Mesa, Kanab, St. George, Zion, Escalante, and Hanksville.
What to bring hiking in Utah
Things to know about slot canyon hiking
Flash floods are a huge risk in slot canyons and people die from that far too often. In May 2020 a 7-year-old girl and her 3-year-old sister died in a flash flood in Little Wild Horse Canyon, a popular slot canyon in the San Rafael Swell. This isn’t even a super narrow canyon. And it’s popular. It can happen anywhere.
In 1997, 11 hikers died in a flash flood in Antelope Canyon (the storm was 15 miles away) and that’s a huge reason you need to go with a tour now.
Flash floods are no joke kids. I haven’t seen one in a slot canyon but I did see one right as it was starting in a more open canyon and it really picked up fast. I also saw one in Zion along the Mt. Carmel Highway this summer. It was small but they just happen so fast, please be safe.
- DO NOT ENTER THEM IN THE RAIN
- DO NOT ENTER THEM WITH RAIN IN THE FORECAST
- DO NOT ENTER THEM IF IT’S NOT RAINING IN THEM BUT NEAR OF THEM TOO
- If you don’t feel comfortable with any climb or narrow squeeze and can turn back, do that! You don’t want to get hurt or stuck and need to be rescued. I linked tons of stories of this below.
- Make sure you’re following the right fork. A lot of slot canyons have multiple forks or are close to other ones and ending up in the wrong one can have dire consequences (especially in the North Wash area of Utah.)
Things to know about rock art and ruins
- Do not touch the rock art (pictographs or petroglyphs) because the oils on our fingers can degrade them.
- If you find artifacts, do not take them. Leave them where they are and just take pictures.
- If there are structures (rooms, kivas, anything like that) don’t enter them unless it is stated that you can. Most places you can’t but national and state parks will have restored structures you can enter. Mesa Verde, Edge of the Cedars, and Anasazi Museum all have ruins you can enter.
- And finally, don’t carve in or write on the rocks! I don’t want to have to say this, but I need to fo sho.
3 Days in Moab
We’re starting this list off with Moab, easily one of the best and most popular places to visit in Utah, and for good reason. This is going to look like a lot of stuff to do and like you might not be able to do it all in three days, but I’m pretty confident that it can be done, especially if you don’t mind hiking a lot in one day.
A lot of it is also close to each other making it super easy to combine these things into one day. You can always take things out or swap them around, but this should help give you an idea of some awesome things to do in Moab with limited time.
I’ve just included hikes, but you could take some hikes out and add an ATV or canyoneering tour or skydiving if you want to do something a little more adrenaline-pumping.
Where to stay in Moab
The Delicate Arch hike is probably the most iconic hike in Utah. It’s so iconic it is the license place. It’s a three-mile round-trip hike in Arches National Park and if you’ve never been to it, it’s a must-do.
Start your day here first thing in the morning to beat the heat (and the crowds) before doing some other hikes. This is a moderate hike with a very steep and long slick rock section and one section that makes some people with a fear of heights a little wary.
This is another hike in Arches National Park at the end of the scenic drive. The whole area is called Devil’s Garden at the end where this trail is and is also right by the campground.
While the primitive trail is around seven miles, you can just do the first part to see Pine Tree, Tunnel, and Landscape Arches. This would be about two mile round-trip and totally worth it. Landscape Arch is the one on the park brochure.
This is the last hike I have in Arches National Park on here and it will make you feel like you walked right into an old western movie. It’s two miles round trip into the bottom of a canyon valley thing with shockingly impressive rock formations on both sides.
Start your next day at Canyonlands National Park’s most iconic view: Mesa Arch. This is an easy hike and just one-mile round-trip. Sunrise is the most popular time to do this hike, so an alternative to avoid this crowd is to end your day here instead.
This is a 3.6-mile round-trip hike in Island in the Sky at Canyonlands as well. It’s not as popular as some of the other trails so it will be great for avoiding some of those crowds. You’ll pass an old corral on the mesa and be treated to stunning panoramic views.
Really, you should stop at all of the overlooks in Canyonlands but this is the big end overlook and one of my favorites. The Green River Overlook is another favorite of mine.
You get to see amazing panoramic views of the White Rim Road, prominent buttes, and rivers far below. These really are incredibly impressive views and it’s hard to grasp just how high up you are from the river.
Dead Horse Point State Park
This is right on the way up to the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands. It’s not a personal favorite of mine, but it is pretty popular and great for mountain biking. I can’t deny, though, that the views from here are pretty fantastic.
If you’re feeling adventurous, there are yurts here that you can stay in for maximum adventure, as long as you can get a reservation. If you want to do this, I’d book pretty far in advance.
This can easily be visited on your way to or from Canyonlands or in addition to rock art another day. There are some great rock art sites in the area if you want to see those.
One of the best hikes in Moab outside of the national parks is Corona Arch down Potash Road. This is a three-mile round-trip hike to a natural arch. Two arches, actually.
I would say it’s mostly easy but has a couple moderate sections. We did see a dog hiking this thought and the people got it up the ladder OK. I don’t think it’s too terrible especially if you’re careful and don’t rush that part.
I really liked this hike and would definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a great hike outside of the parks. It is popular though, so go early or in the evening.
There are so many rock art sites around Moab, you could spend weeks, months, just looking for those. Luckily for you though, I went to some of the best ones to help you figure out which to see.
I listed them below in the order that I would go see them. This isn’t the most efficient route to see them all but the order of coolness. The first two are good to see on the way to Canyonlands or Dead Horse Point.
The third is great to see on your way to or from Moab since it’s one exit away on the interstate. Birthing Rock is a short drive from town and you can see the Moonflower Canyon petroglyphs on the way, too.
The golf course ones are basically in town, just on the edge of town, and easy to visit anytime with a spare half hour. Finally, Newspaper Rock is a little further away but if you’re going to The Needles district of Canyonlands, it’s on the way there.
Walk around town
Finally, and this can of course be done any time, but wander around town a little bit. If you want to do some shopping or even just window shopping, you’ll probably want to do this during the day. There are tons of cute little shops to check out!
I would also highly recommend checking out the food truck park for lunch. Quesadilla Mobilla and Tacos El Gordo are some of the best food in town!
3 Days on Cedar Mesa
Next up is Cedar Mesa which could use Bluff or Blanding as a base for. This is a great place for people that love history and archaeology and want to get off the beaten path a little bit. It’s still popular but much less-visited than areas like Moab and Zion.
Like Moab, and everywhere else on this list, you’ll easily be able to combine some of these things into one day packed full of outdoor adventures.
Where to stay in Blanding
House on Fire
First up we have one of the coolest hikes near Blanding: the House on Fire ruin. This is down Texas Flat Road and best done in the morning, so you get to the ruin between 10-11AM. This leaves the rest of the day for other adventures like Natural Bridges. Or Butler Wash.
This hike is right around two miles round-trip and easy and if you want a longer hike there are actually eight ruins in this canyon and you can make a longer half-day hike if you want. House on Fire is the first ruin and as far as I’ve gone here.
Natural Bridges National Monument
Next up is Natural Bridges National Monument which is just a few miles from House on Fire down Highway 95. This is the perfect way to spend the day after that hike, seeing the natural bridges in the park and doing some hiking.
Some of the hikes to individual bridges are more difficult than others but if you want a real challenge, you can do a loop to all three.
Butler Wash Ruins
Finally in this area we have the Butler Wash Ruins. This is a short hike to a ruin overlook right off of Highway 95 and makes for the perfect quick stop on your way back to Blanding. I love this little ruin and would recommend it even if you’re just driving through the area.
Upper Sand Island Petroglyphs
First up for the next day is the Upper Sand Island Petroglyphs in Bluff nearby. This is an easy, flat hike along the river to see tons of different styles of petroglyphs. I really loved this hike and there is actually a second set of petroglyphs to the right of the entrance (these are to the left.)
I haven’t been to River House Ruin yet but really want to. If you want to drive all the way to the site, you will need high-clearance, 4WD, but it’s only five miles from the highway so if you really want, you can hike it. Or drive as far as you can and hike the rest.
If you do drive, this is a super short like, less than half a mile round-trip. This is a smallish site but still impressive with multiple structures and some rock art as well, right by the San Juan River.
Hovenweep National Monument
A good alternative to the River House Ruin that doesn’t require 4WD is Hovenweep National Monument. It’s in Utah but right by the Colorado border. This is in the middle of nowhere but the ruins are very easily accessible and make a great little day trip from Blanding paired with Upper Sand Island.
Edge of the Cedars State Park
Finally, for your last day in Blanding, you can stick close to town. Just on the edge of town is Edge of the Cedars State Park. This is a museum packed full of artifacts from the area with some restored ruins out back that you can go into.
Five Kiva Pueblo
Next, just a short drive from the state park is the Five Kiva Pueblo Ruin on the edge of town. You can either stop just to see it across the small canyon or you can hike over to it. There isn’t really an official trail but you can see where people go to get over there.
You can also hike up to a ruin on the side of the canyon that you started on to see a second ruin. If you hike of to Five Kiva, you can see it to your right on the opposite side of the canyon.
If you have time after these two and didn’t make it to Butler Wash the other day, you could make the short trip out to see that, too.
Books to read before visiting the Four Corners area:
3 Days in Kanab
Next up we have Kanab, a great base for exploring some pretty remote areas of the Vermillion Cliffs and Coyote Buttes. There are plenty of great hikes that aren’t super remote closer to town, too, though, so no matter what you’re looking for, you can probably find it here. As long as it’s desert.
Everything I’ve included is stuff you can do on your own, but you could easily take some of these out to do a tour to the White Pocket, slot canyons, or rock art in the area. There are tons of great tours, but there aren’t any I’ve done personally.
Where to stay in Kanab
This is a fun little hidden gem just outside of Kanab. The Moqui Caverns, also sometimes known as the Sand Cave, NOT Moqui Cave, is actually a man-made cave that used to be used to store sand, but now it’s just a cool cave you can hike up to.
This is a super short hike, less than half a mile round-trip, but is a little steep on the rock. You have to do some minor route finding by going way to the left of the caverns then up along the sort of ridge into the cavern.
If you just try to go up right under the cavern openings, you won’t be bale to or at least not easily. I have full directions in my Moqui Caverns post.
Belly of the Dragon
Next up, just a short drive from the caverns, right by the Mount Carmel Junction, is the Belly of the Dragon. I was super excited to see that but was pretty underwhelmed. I know a lot of people love it though and it’s a super quick stop, like, 30 minutes.
It’s actually a man-made storm drain going under the highway but it feels like you’re walking into that giant worm in Spongebob. There is basically no hike to this, just a super short walk from the parking area. It’s not my favorite but it’s still interesting and can easily be done with lots of other stuff.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
Finally, for this day, finish it up running around and climbing the dunes at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. This is about 30 minutes from Kanab is a fun way to spend a few hours of your day. There aren’t really any specific hiking trails here but you can go all over the dunes.
The next day head the other direction towards Page, but not all the way there. Head down Houserock Valley Road and do the 4ish mile Wire Pass slot canyon hike. This will take you to Buckskin Gulch, one of the longest slot canyons in the world.
This is a really cool slot canyon hike in the area, but it is popular so it can get busy. It’s a mostly easy hike but does have an 8-10 foot rock scramble area. Sometimes there is a ladder there but if not and you don’t feel comfortable doing that, you can go over and around it.
I won’t lie, I hated this trail, but I also know this is popular and people love it, so I’m including it here. It’s a short trail, about two miles round-trip and mostly flat. It’s a short drive from the turn off to Wire Pass along Highway 89.
It’s a short trail to some hoodoo formations right on the side of the road. You don’t need any special car to get here, which is good. This is a great hike for families. You could easily do this before or after Wire Pass.
Zion National Park
Finally, for your last day, a day trip to Zion is perfect since it’s pretty close to Kanab. You could hike to Angels Landing or do the Narrows, the two most popular trails, or you could go big and hike Observation Point.
Some other options are Hidden Canyon, Canyon Overlook, East Rim trail, Emerald Pools, or Pa’rus trail which is great for biking, too. There is certainly plenty to choose from to keep you busy here. I would personally do Canyon Overlook and Hidden Canyon (as long as it’s open.)
3 Days in St. George
Now, St. George. This is a great base for exploring not just Zion National Park, but state parks and other trails in the area. Another alternative base for this area is Cedar City, which is also close to all of this.
This is an area I want to explore more of but just don’t get to very often. I’d like to change that over the next year and will update this if I find even cooler things todo, but these are still pretty great activities.
This isn’t quite broken down by specific days like the others but is more of possible combinations on what you could do or alternate ideas.
Where to stay in St. George
Snow Canyon State Park
One of my favorite state parks in Utah so far is Snow Canyon and it’s great for hiking and escaping some of the Zion crowds. There are plenty of hiking trail options here to stay busy for a good portion of the day, then finish it off at Coral Pink Sand Dunes. They’re not super close but are two good partial day activities.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
End your day by running around and climbing the dunes at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. It’s just under an hour and a half from St. George or Snow Canyon but is the perfect way to end your day. There aren’t really any specific hiking trails here but you can go all over the dunes.
When most people visit Zion National Park, they really only go to the main canyon but it actually has two other sections you can visit that are way less busy!
The first is Kolob Canyons just outside of Cedar City. This is a smaller area but still gorgeous. I would recommend doing the Taylor Creek Trail here. It’s pretty easy without tons of elevation gain but is about five miles of hiking. I really liked this one though.
You could spend a whole day here if you wanted or combine it with Kolob Terrace Road below.
Kolob Terrace Road
Next up is Kolob Terrace Road. This isn’t quite as exciting as Kolob Canyon or the main canyon but it’s still really pretty. This is where the Subway trail is (you need a permit for that though.)
You could just do this as a nice drive stopping at the lookouts or you could do the six-mile Wildcat Canyon trail. We did part of this (a small part) and I really liked it. I’d like to do the whole thing.
This is another hike I haven’t done but have wanted to for years. This is a great water hike in Utah and a pretty popular one in the area.
Permits are required for this moderate 4.8-mile hike. You will be partially walking through water and climbing a ladder or two, so be prepared for that.
Zion National Park
It’s hard to say go to St. George but don’t go to the main canyon in Zion National Park, so a day to do that will be really great. Like above, you could do any combination of Angels Landing, The narrows, Hidden Canyon, Canyon Overlook, Emerald Pools, or Observation Point.
This is yet another place over here I haven’t been to yet but have wanted to see. There are tons of hikes here for all skill levels so you could easily spend a whole day here.
3 Days in Zion
That’s right. I’m giving Zion three whole days because there are so many amazing things to see and do there that it can be hard to narrow down for just one day.
An alternate to this could be two days in Zion and one in Bryce because it’s not that far and that way you still get a little variety in what you’re seeing.
Where to stay in Springdale
- Zion Under Canvas
- Desert Pearl Inn
- Cliffrose Springdale
- Red Rock Inn
- The Driftwood Lodge
- Zion Wildflower Resort
If you ever ask what to do in Zion on a Facebook group, you’ll get like, 50 people telling you to do this and the Narrows. Like, duh, everyone knows that. But, here it is because it’s such an iconic hike.
I surprisingly still haven’t done the whole thing yet, but I’m sure I will eventually. It’s not for the faint of heart, and by that I mean people with a strong fear of heights.
Next is the Narrows. You can do this and Angels Landing in a packed full day or do one each day with shorter hikes after. You could easily spend a whole day just doing this hike, too.
This is a water hike. You’ll be walking in the Virgin River so if you’re not comfortable with that, skip this one. You can hike half a mile or ten miles here.
Hidden Canyon is one of my favorite hikes in Zion and is great if you want a little taste of Angels Landing without the sheer drop-offs on both sides of the trail. You get a pretty great view of the canyon below and hike into a sort of slot canyon area.
This is a moderate 3.1 mile hike with just under 1,000 feet of elevation gain. Once you’re up the switchbacks it gets easier but scarier. It is currently closed though as of April 2021.
Canyon Overlook is my other favorite hike in the park but it much easier than Hidden Canyon. It’s just a mile with almost 500 feet of elevation gain. It sounds like a lot but it’s not bad.
There is one section, a little bridge, that could be a little sketchy for someone with a fear of heights, but it’s super short. You’re rewarded with one of the best views in the park, rivaling Angels Landing.
Emerald Pools Trail
This is a pretty easy trail that can be added after any of the other trails I’ve mentioned. It’s three miles to see all three pools with 620 feet of elevation gain.
This isn’t the most impressive trail out there but it is nice. It’s popular and I’d choose Canyon Overlook as a filler trail over this one, but this one is in the main canyon which makes it easy to get to.
Finally, this could take most of the day to do as it’s a strenuous 6.8 miles round-trip with almost 2,700 feet of elevation gain. It’s not for the faint of heart as far as difficulty goes but you’ll be rewarded with, arguably, the best view in the park.
From here you’ll actually be look down over Angels Landing and the entire canyon below. This is probably the top of my Zion bucket list.
3 Days in Escalante
Ahh, Escalante. A place I love but don’t visit nearly enough. This is a great place to visit if you want to see slot canyons. I didn’t include the classic slot canyons (spooky, peek-a-boo,zebra, etc.) but most people already know about those.
I also haven’t included some of the more difficult, long hikes that require a lot of route finding and desert hiking experience. I haven’t done them yet and don’t want to suggest them without knowing what they’re actually like.
But there are so many amazing hikes and things to do in Escalante and nearby, you could stay plenty busy for a very long time.
Where to stay in Escalante
Lower Calf Creek Falls
You can’t go to Escalante and not hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls. Unless you’ve already been there, only have an hour, or hate waterfalls. It’s six-miles round-trip with about 500 feet of elevation gain.
The trail itself isn’t super impressive but it’s definitely worth it to see the towering waterfall and hidden desert oasis. There are even pictographs on the way there, see if you can spot them!
I would do this in the morning and 100 Hands after or vice versa. We did Calf Creek in the evening and the lighting was really good for photography. But if you want to swim there, I’d go earlier in the day. It can be cool by the water.
100 Hands Pictograph
This is a pretty unknown hike in Escalante to some pretty cool rock art. This starts at the Escalante River trailhead and is one-mile with about 300 feet of elevation gain. It’s pretty easy but has no shade so in the summer, it’s hot.
The trail can be a little confusing in some spots but I have full directions in my post about the 100 Hands Pictographs here. You can even see where people tried to steal some of the rock art. Please don’t steal the rock art here or anywhere.
Willis Creek Slot Canyon
The next day, head down Skutumpah Road and hike the Willis Creek Slot Canyon. This is an easy 3+ mile trail. If you just do the narrows sections, it will be about three miles but you can go past that if you want.
I would plan 2-3 hours for this hike and I would do it earlier in the morning because it can get busy. We went early-ish and didn’t see tons of people on our way in but passed a lot as we were leaving.
Most cars should be able to get here, but that will depend on the road conditions and a high-clearance 4WD may be necessary. You could call the Escalante Visitor Center to see if they know the road conditions before going.
Kodachrome Basin State Park
After you hike the slot canyon, visit the nearby Kodachrome Basin State Park. This is a cool little park, one of my favorites but I do forget about it a lot.
There are a few hiking trails in the park to keep you busy. Unfortunately, Shakespeare Arch collapsed in April 2019 so you won’t be able to see that but the hike is still nice. This park is a good way to fill a few hours in the area.
Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
Next up is the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. I would keep this as an alternate and do Kodachrome Basin and Willis Creek before this. But this is an easy park to just spend 1-2 hours hiking the Petrified Forest Trail and Rainbow Loop.
It’s about two miles round-trip and easy, maybe a little moderate. It’s a cool place if you like or have never seen petrified wood, but I would do other things before this.
Finally, take a day trip over to Bryce Canyon. If you only do one trail here, it should be the moderate 3.5-mile Queens Garden/Navajo loop hike. It’s definitely one of the best and most popular in the park, but for good reason: it takes you down into the canyon, among the hoodoos.
After that, or before, head over to the short and easy Mossy Cave trail to see the little cave and a pretty nice waterfall. Also make sure to stop at all the overlooks on the scenic drive in the park.
This is more of an alternate activity in case you want to do a scenic drive or have done some of the other things mentioned. You can take this 38-mile mostly dirt road over Boulder Mountain to the town of Boulder. This will take 3-4 hours.
You most likely won’t need high-clearance 4WD but I would be cautious with a regular car. If you do this, make sure to eat at Burr Trail Grill in Boulder. You could also visit the Anasazi State Park Museum while you’re there.
3 Days in Hanksville
Finally, we have good ol’ Hanksville. This is a middle of nowhere tiny town between Bullfrog on Lake Powell and Capitol Reef. It’s kind of the most central place to everything I have listed and you would be able to see a lot of cool stuff from here.
It’s a tiny little town though so don’t expect big city living here. Do expect lots of awesome outdoor adventures though!
Where to stay in Hanksville
Goblin Valley is my favorite state park in Utah. It’s so fun, even as an adult. There aren’t really hiking trails here, just the Goblins Lair Trail, but it’s pretty much a hiking free-for-all in the valley.
This is a must-do if you’re staying in the area or even just passing through. While the park is pretty popular it’s absolutely worth visiting and will make you feel like you’re on another planet. There are tons of amazing hikes in this area.
Little Wild Horse Canyon
After Goblin Valley, or before, head over to Little Wild Horse slot canyon. This is just a short drive from the park. To do the whole loop it’s just under eight miles but if you just want to do a smaller part of it, you can just hike to the right at the fork into the narrows and turn around anytime. That’s what we did.
This is a great slot canyon hike that is easily accessible and not particularly difficult. It’s a good beginner slot canyon and good for families. Just make sure you check the weather before going in and do not enter if it’s raining, could be raining, or is raining nearby.
If you want to do a really cool most-day hike, Sulphur Creek is great. If you want to do a slot canyon hike that’s off the beaten path, Headquarters and Surprise canyons in the Waterpocket Fold are perfect.
Leprechaun Canyon is another slot canyon hike that is pretty cool. I would add this one into your trip if you have some spare time or do this then go to Lake Powell and possibly do the other stuff. That will be a pretty busy day though, so I would keep this as the alternate or switch this with Pedestal Alley.
You can just drive down to Bullfrog to see the lake, rent a boat, hang out on the beach, or kayak. If you’re not going out on the water, there isn’t much to do in Bullfrog itself but it’s still cool to see the lake and if you’re going to do the next two hikes you might as well see the lake, too.
Pedestal Alley is a three-mile round-trip hike about ten miles from the Burr Trail turnoff. While this isn’t the coolest hike ever, it is a nice hike in this area to some weird shaped rock formations. I wouldn’t recommend this one when it’s windy though. If it was between this and Leprechaun Canyon, I’d Leprechaun.
Halls Creek Overlook
If you keep driving down Burr Trail, you’ll see a turnoff for Halls Creek Overlook. You can either turn down here and drive to the overlook (or hike the road, you will probably need high-clearance for this) or you can drive to the T, turn left, and take the first left.
Park at the little animal pen thing and then walk the road. I have specific directions for this route in my Halls Creek Overlook post here.
Well, there you have it, Utah road trip ideas for three days, not matter what part of Southern Utah you want to see. You can always mix and match these ideas but it will be tough to do like, Zion and Arches in one three day Utah road trip.
I would love to hear if you have any other ideas or suggestions on three day Utah road trips or stops you would include.
Have you done any of these Utah road trips in three days? What is your favorite short Utah road trip?