The drive from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles is around 10 hours, and the journey through Utah, Nevada, and California is lined with national parks, historic landmarks, and much, much more. Sure, you could make the drive straight-through, but do you really want to pass up a chance to spend a little time in Las Vegas? In addition to a few well-known destinations, the route from Salt Lake to LA is also packed with smaller—yet equally compelling—stops that make the drive prime road trip material.
If you’re planning to travel from Salt Lake to LA, you don’t want to miss out on all of the swoon-worthy (not to mention Instagram-worthy) sights and attractions that are along the way—keep reading to learn more about some of our favorites!
A little under an hour outside of Salt Lake City, the city of Provo is the hometown of Brigham Young University—which means that you’ll have your pick of university museums to visit when you’re making your first stop on your way to LA. There’s the Monte L. Bean Life Museum, the Museum of Art, the Museum of Peoples and Cultures, and of course, the Museum of Paleontology. Established in 1976 to house the fossils collected by notable American paleontologist Dr. James A. Jensen (also known as “Dinosaur Jim”), BYU’s Museum of Paleontology features remains that Jensen and his team found in Utah, Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming.
The collection at the museum plans over 17 thousand specimens, and the facility is an official fossil repository for the State of Utah. Open Monday through Friday from 9 am to 5 pm, the museum is a family-friendly spot to learn about this region of the country and its long history. While the institution is fairly modest in size, its collection is diverse, and the detailed exhibits provide visitors with extensive background information. Plus, there’s no charge for admission! (Donations are appreciated, though.)
Driving from Salt Lake City to LA will take you straight through the country’s national park territory, and Arches National Park, just outside of Moab, presents visitors with the opportunity to marvel at Mother Nature’s sheer awesomeness. With over two thousand natural stone arches, Arches National Park features seemingly out-of-this-world landforms that are incredibly rare, not only in shape but also in texture and color.
The top formations in the park include Balanced Rock, the Window Section (Double Arch, Turret Arch, and North and South Windows), Devils Garden, and Delicate Arch, the most famous natural arch in the world. Hike on the many trails throughout the park, and make sure to stop by Wolfe Ranch, the remains of a homestead built in the early 1900s. If you want, you can also camp in the park overnight. Due to its distance from major cities, Arches National Park is excellent for stargazing and is even a certified international dark sky park.
The small town of Meadow, Utah, boasts a not-so-secret hidden gem: three natural soaking pools with temperatures are constantly at about 100 degrees. Though the springs are located on private property, the owners of the land welcome visitors to come enjoy Meadow Hot Springs whenever they want and ever camp out in the area. Accessible year-round, the hot springs are Meadow’s claim to fame, and as word spread, Meadow Hot Springs has become a popular destination for travelers from all walks of life.
Meadow is about 20 minutes south of Fillmore, and the hot springs are another 10 minutes from town. You can find Meadow Hot Springs by taking the Meadow Exit (Exit 158) on Interstate 15 South and down Meadow Maint Street. Many visitors bring goggles because the pools are quite deep and many mysteries lie at the bottom (including fish!). Treat yourself to a toasty dip for free, and admire the mountain views that surround you as you soak in the warm water. But remember that it is private property and to be respectful of the area—no one wants to lose the gracious privilege that allows the public to access these springs!
About 250 miles from Salt Lake City and 170 from Las Vegas, you’ll find Cedar City, known for its internationally-acclaimed Utah Shakespeare Festival. But even if you’re not in town during the festival, Cedar City is still worth a visit, especially if you make a trip to Frontier Homestead State Park Museum. With a mission to make learning about the history of Southwest Utah engaging, interactive, and fun, Frontier Homestead explores the heritage and traditions that have made Utah the dynamic state that it is today.
Wander through Utah’s pioneer and early industrial history as you explore its horse-drawn carriage collection, historic buildings, Paiute native camp, antique sawmill, and blast furnace replica, and watch as history comes to life when you take part in one of Frontier Homestead’s hands-on activities, interpretive programs, and specialty events, like the Sheep-to-Shawl workshop or the Frontier Folklife Festival.
Having opened to the public in 2003, Sand Hollow State Park is a relatively new state park, but it’s already risen to being one of the most-visited destinations in the Utah State Park System. Spread across 20 thousand acres (15 thousand of which are sand dunes and a little over one thousand of which are surface water), Sand Hollow is host to an array of outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, boating, and horseback riding.
Around 15 miles east of the city of St. George and less than 10 miles east of Hurricane, Sand Hollow is easy to get to from Interstate 15, and six thousand acres of the park can be used for offroading in an off-highway vehicle. Thanks to Sand Hollow Reservoir, you can enjoy the park both on land and in the water. Plus, the park has kayaks, paddleboards, ATVs, and more available for rent.
Like we mentioned earlier, the drive from Salt Lake City to LA will take you right through Las Vegas—and if there was ever a place that you simply can’t pass up on a road trip, it’s Vegas! But don’t worry, Sin City has a lot more to offer than gambling, and the Neon Museum is just one example of Vegas’s family-friendly side.
Paris isn’t the only place that’s known as “The City of Lights”—the epithet is also frequently used to describe Vegas, and once you see the city at night, it’ll be clear why. The Neon Museum has been collecting, preserving, and, in some cases, restoring Vegas signs. Perhaps the best-known exhibition at the Neon Museum is its Neon Boneyard, which features over 200 retired signs. At night, the museum uses ground lighting to bring the signs to life
When Ugo Rondinone’s Seven Magic Mountains first made its debut in 2016, the colorful piece was only scheduled to be on display for two years—but due to the work’s immense popularity, its permit has been extended for at least another three years (through the end of 2021). As its title suggests, Seven Magic Mountains is comprised of seven pillars, each of which is made up of a stack of differently colored boulders. The pillars stand more than 30 feet high, and the brightly painted rocks form a pronounced contrast with the desert landscape behind them.
Originally from Switzerland, Rondinone currently lives and works in New York, and he is known for experimenting with a wide range of media. Rondinone has described Seven Magic Mountains as symbolizing the juxtaposition of the natural and the artificial, and this component of the work is emphasized by its location: though positioned in the midst of the desert, the installation is found by a heavily-trafficked highway, only a short distance outside of Las Vegas, the Entertainment Capital of the World.
Next on our list is another outdoor art exhibition—but hey, there’s no such thing as too much art, especially when it’s free! The Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum is a sculpture site that features an eclectic blend of folk-art assemblages. Built where they stand by Purifoy, the pieces are as bizarre as they are insightful and were constructed using materials like castoff metals, burnt wood, and blown-out rubber tires.
Noah Purifoy lived from 1917 to 2004, and he specialized in repurposing discarded objects, which he called “environmental sculpture.” As time passes, the pieces at the Outdoor Desert Art Museum are continuously weathered by the natural elements that surround them, exactly as Purifoy intended them to. He had no interest in perfectly preserving his creations and believed that deterioration would only serve to transform his work and give it heightened meaning.
Palm Springs, California, is around two hours outside of Los Angeles, and about a mile and a half from Downtown Palm Springs, you’ll find Moorten Botanical Garden, an arid wonderland with one of the most comprehensive collections of desert plants that you’ll probably ever see. Plants—some of which include agave, bombax, aloe plants, and, of course, cactuses—vary in size and are arranged geographically according to their origins.
Originally built by Chester “Cactus Slim” Moorten and his wife Patricia, Moorten Botanical Garden is now overseen by Clark Moorten, the garden gurus’ son, and while most visitors opt to walk around by themselves, guided tours are available if you book in advance. Admission is $5 for adults, $2 for kids 15 and under, and free for children under the age of 5. In addition to plants, the Moortens also collected crystals, fossils, and historical relics. If you’ve got a green thumb yourself, make sure you check out the Garden’s nursery where plants are available for purchase.
One of the best parts of a road trip is falling in love with a new place, whether it’s one you planned to see or one you just happened to stumble across. Don’t get us wrong—LA definitely isn’t short on its own spectacular attractions (neither is Salt Lake City, for that matter!). But sometimes, the real treasures are the ones you come across unexpectedly or even by accident. From big cities and tourist-laden points of interest to quietly beautiful areas of desert and secluded paradises, the stops along the road from Salt Lake to LA will leave you with a camera roll of amazing photos and memories that will last a lifetime. It might be a long road to the City of Angels, but it sure is rewarding!