San Francisco is the heart of California, with so much to see and do you could spend days - even weeks - exploring this remarkable city. It is the place to be, but don't forget that there are many other magnificent adventures to enjoy along the way.
The 1,237-mile road trip from Salt Lake City to San Francisco takes about 21 hours to complete, passing Old Irontown, Las Vegas, Fishlake National Forest, Bryce Canyon, Mojave National Preserve and Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.
There are many sights to see and places to visit along the way, from long stretches of open land to bustling cities and mountains, there is something for everybody. Read further to find out the best routes to take and the extraordinary places you will find along the way.
How far is Salt Lake City from San Francisco and how long will the road trip take?
|The Cowboy Corridor Route||830 miles||13 hours 32 minutes|
|The Red Rock Route||1,237 miles||20 hours 53 minutes|
A road trip from Salt Lake City to San Francisco stretches over 1,237 miles and takes about 21 hours of uninterrupted driving without any stops or sightseeing. You will travel through the glamorous city of Las Vegas as well as have an opportunity to visit Red Rock Canyon.
A much better and far more exciting option would be to take at least four days to really enjoy all the amazing sights and attractions the trip has to offer.
If you are pressed for time, there is a shorter 830-mile alternative which will take you 13 hours and 30 minutes to drive. The Cowboy Corridor Route will take you through the imposing mountains of Nevada and the lush national forests of California.
Whichever route you decide on, you will get to travel through some beautiful places. The landscape will vary from rugged mountains to scenic flatlands with expansive views and magnificent national forests.
There is always the option to make a longer trip by visiting more cities on the way. If you are following the Red Rock Route, you can consider adding an extra day to visit Los Angeles, which is an adventure on its own!
Best road trip route from Salt Lake City to San Francisco
The best road trip route from Salt Lake City to San Francisco depends on your expectations and time constraints, as both routes vary in distance and the attractions they offer.
The Cowboy Corridor Route passes through some impressive vistas and is much quicker, but you will be driving on Interstate 80 for most of the way. The Red Rock Route, on the other hand, will take much longer, leading you to places such as Las Vegas and Reno.
How to drive from Salt Lake City to San Francisco
The map above shows our suggestions for the best road trip routes between Salt Lake City and San Francisco. Keep reading for detailed descriptions of both routes, where to stay on either, and the best things to do on the way.
The Red Rock Route
Take Interstate 15 (I-15) past Big Cottonwood Canyon as you exit the city and take Exit 188 for US-50 to visit Fishlake National Forest, where you can take a hike along the lakeside.
From here, take UT-62 towards Bryce Canyon, where you can marvel at the famous Natural Bridge and enjoy some beautiful views.
Follow UT-12 and turn right onto US-89. Make your way to Cedar Breaks National Monument, taking UT-143. Turn left to merge onto I-15 towards Cedar City and take Exit 59 for UT-56.
Drive past Old Irontown and into Nevada where you will get onto US-93. Stop at the Alien Research Center along the way and then continue down the road until you get to Las Vegas Boulevard.
Take in the magnificent sights from the top of High Roller and then make your way through the Las Vegas Strip to the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.
After your visit to Sin City, take Exit 36 and keep left for I-215 East, which will take you to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Here you can take a detour to visit the famous Death Valley if you follow NV-160.
Follow the same route back to get back onto I-15, which will lead you into California past Mojave National Preserve. Keep Sequoia National Forest on your right and merge onto I-5.
Keep left to continue on I-580 West, which will take you to your destination, San Francisco.
The Cowboy Corridor Route
Take Interstate 80 (I-80) past the Great Salt Lake and Black Rock historical landmark. Make sure to stop at The Knolls Recreation Area to take some photos and stretch your legs before continuing along the road.
Continue on I-80 and enjoy some history at the Historic Wendover Airfield Museum. You will pass by the Pilot Peak historical marker after crossing the border into Nevada.
Take Exit 303 and use left 2 lanes to turn onto NV-227 to reach South Fork State Recreation Area for a hike. Follow the same route back after your visit and turn left onto NV-535.
Continue past the Northeastern Nevada Museum before getting back onto I-80. Stop at Battle Mountain Cookhouse Museum on the way.
Following the interstate will take you directly into Reno, where you can visit the Nevada Museum of Art. After your visit, follow I-580 out of the city and continue onto US-50 West into California.
You can stop at Eldorado National Forest and enjoy the breathtaking views. This is where you can also make a detour to visit Yosemite National Park. Take Exit 44A for CA-49, driving past Diamond Springs and San Andreas. Turn right into CA-120 to reach the park.
If you aren't making the detour, follow US-50 into Sacramento and get back onto I-80 which will take you to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom for a thrilling adventure before heading to San Francisco.
Best places to stop Between Salt Lake City and San Francisco
There are so many awe-inspiring landmarks and exciting attractions to see and experience on this road trip from Salt Lake City to San Francisco. Whichever route you choose, we suggest breaking it up into a few days and enjoying your journey to the fullest.
Here are some of our top choices to visit on each route.
Enjoy an evening out in Sin City (The Red Rock Route)
Located about 6 hours from Salt Lake City along our Red Rock Route, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area lies within the Las Vegas area, but is a complete contrast to the city with its breathtaking views and scenic atmosphere.
Spend the day here by taking a hike and having a lunchtime picnic or doing some rock climbing and horse riding if you are feeling adventurous.
After a day outdoors, enjoy the glamorous nightlife of the Las Vegas Strip and spend the night at the luxurious Four Seasons Hotel, located right in the heart of the city. With its competitive prices, stunning rooms, and fabulous amenities, this five-star resort has it all.
While visiting Las Vegas, visiting a casino for a round or two of games is a must. Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino is adjacent to the hotel, and you can see if it is your lucky day by trying your hand at the tables.
If gambling is not your thing, you can enjoy a relaxing day in the poolside cabanas or head out to visit the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens for a fresh breath of air and beautiful scenery only a few blocks away from the hotel.
Las Vegas is known as the entertainment capital of the world for a reason and the options on the Strip are endless. Many of these fantastic attractions like Pinball Hall of Fame, the House of Blues and the High Roller are only within walking distance of the accommodation.
Enjoy a night in Reno
Nicknamed "The Biggest Little City in the World" Reno is situated 4 hours away from San Francisco (along the Cowboy Corridor Route), close to Lake Tahoe, which is famous across the world. Why not have some fun exploring Sand Harbor State Park while you are here?
You can take a swim in the lake or take your kayak out on the water before having a picnic and then heading to Reno for the night.
There are many accommodation options in the city, but we suggest staying at Best Western Plus Sparks-Reno Hotel. This modern, industrial style hotel is this immaculate, and a great space to recharge, with outdoor fireplaces and terrace to unwind after a busy day.
Take advantage of the seasonal outdoor swimming pool, hot tub and fitness center, and hotel shuttle service taking you to local shops and outlets.
A short distance to many local sites including Sparks Marina, John Lillard Park and Sparks Heritage Museum all less than a mile away, it's in a great location, plus right off the Interstate to make continuing your road trip then even easier.
Where to stay once you reach San Francisco
With so much to do and see, an overnight stay in San Francisco will allow you to take in this iconic city, aptly nicknamed "The Golden City", in all its glory.
Whichever route you might have chosen, you will want to rest and recharge when you reach the city and Hotel Emblem San Francisco offers all of the top amenities to help you unwind. This literary-themed hotel has everything you didn't know you needed covered-including a book butler!
Located in the heart of Union Square, you will find many points of attraction within walking distance of the hotel, like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the iconic Coit Tower, where you can enjoy a panoramic view of this city famous for its skyline.
You can head over to Fisherman's Wharf a few blocks away if you are feeling energetic to take in the views of the Golden Gate Bridge, a symbol of the city. You can also take a ferry here and explore Alcatraz Island.
After an exhilarating day filled with excursions, you can relax at the hotel's fabulous Obscenity Bar & Lounge with your favorite cocktail. Don't forget to check out the nightly live jazz session before you call it a night.
Things to see on a road trip from Salt Lake City to San Francisco
The list of things to see and do on a road trip from Salt Lake City to San Francisco is endless. Take as much time as you can to enjoy the natural wonders along the way as well as all the exciting man-made thrills.
Here is a list of the best places to stop between Salt Lake City and San Francisco.
The Red Rock Route
- Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah - A stunning canyon that is home to two fabulous ski resorts.
- Fishlake National Forest, Richfield - Take in the beautiful waterfall views while hiking along the lakeside.
- Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah - This stunning park features not a single canyon, but a series of natural amphitheaters carved into a high plateau and you can see the famous Natural Bridge here.
- Cedar Breaks National Monument, Brian Head - Enjoy the scenic mountains and canyons at this historic park.
- Old Irontown, Iron County - An eerie ghost town that features an impressive charcoal kiln.
- Alien Research Center, Hiko - Learn everything about Area 51, UFO, paranormal and the military in this center.
- High Roller, Las Vegas - Enjoy a ride on this 550-foot Ferris wheel and watch the sunset over the city of lights.
- Pinball Hall of Fame, Las Vegas - Be amazed by this display of the world's largest pinball collection,
- The House of Blues, Las Vegas - A legendary music venue and restaurant on the Strip.
- Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Las Vegas - Enjoy awe-inspiring seasonal displays of flowers, plants, and trees in this urban oasis.
- Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Las Vegas - Take a scenic drive through the park or be more adventurous and do some rock climbing and horseback riding. You might need to make a reservation for a timed-entry slot, so check the official website before traveling.
- Death Valley National Park, Nevada and California - Adventurous visitors will enjoy America's lowest, hottest, and driest national park.
- Mojave National Preserve, Essex - Home to the Death Valley, this preserve is a breathtaking display of canyons and mountains.
- Alcatraz Island, San Francisco – You can take a ferry ride to the island and enjoy an informative tour through the museum, which was once a real prison that housed Al Capone.
- Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco – Take a drive across this iconic 1,7-mile bridge.
- Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco – Enjoy a variety of restaurants, famous museums, and the beauty of Pier 39.
The Cowboy Corridor Route
- The Knolls Recreation Area, Great Salt Lake Desert - Marvel at nearly 36,000 acres of sand dunes, hills, and mud flats.
- Historic Wendover Airfield Museum, Wendover - Explore some of the most remarkable military history and tour masterfully restored World War II-era buildings.
- Pilot Peak Historical Marker, Wendover - Enjoy the gorgeous views of the peak from this marker.
- South Fork State Recreation Area, Spring Creek - A state park that boasts gorgeous meadows and rolling hills, where you can spot mule deer, badgers, beavers, and kit foxes.
- Northeastern Nevada Museum, Elko - A history and art museum that features local exhibits as well as wildlife dioramas.
- Battle Mountain Cookhouse Museum, Battle Mountain - Learn about the local history in this restored historic ranch cookhouse from the 1860s.
- Nevada Museum of Art, Reno - The state's only accredited art museum houses exhibitions that focus on human interaction with the land and the protection of nature.
- Sand Harbor State Park, Incline Village - A picturesque state park by Lake Tahoe that features clear waters, sandy beaches, rocky coves, shady forested areas, and panoramic lake views.
- Lake Tahoe, Nevada and California - You can swim, kayak, scuba dive, boat, water-ski, and fish in the biggest alpine lake in North America.
- California State Railroad Museum, Sacramento - Home of the Polar Express, this museum is dedicated to teaching the public about the history and the role of the "iron horse".
- Eldorado National Forest, Placerville - Your next adventure awaits in this national forest that features miles of hiking trails, as well as fishing and skiing.
- Yosemite National Park, California - Home to majestic attractions and fantastic lodging options, this park is a worldwide icon of natural beauty.
- Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Vallejo - An animal theme park with exciting rides for guests of all ages.
- San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco - One of the largest museums of modern and contemporary art in the world that houses more than 33,000 works of art.
- Coit Tower, San Francisco - Visit this iconic tower and enjoy a panoramic view of the city and the bay.
Best time to go on a road trip from Salt Lake City to San Francisco
The best time to go on a road trip from Salt Lake City to San Francisco depends on what you are looking for in a vacation and what you would like to do along the way. There are plenty of attractions on both routes that offer activities during the winter and summer months.
If you are looking for some fun in the sun it is best to plan your trip for the summer vacation. You will be able to fully enjoy all the hiking trails along the way and get to spend peaceful days relaxing on the beach and cooling down in the ocean.
Summer months tend to get hot, with the average highs reaching 90 degrees Fahrenheit, especially in the desert regions. If you would like to avoid the heat, you can consider visiting in the winter months.
There are quite a lot of snow resorts along the way like Adventure Mountain Lake Tahoe and Sugar Bowl Resort in California. The temperature in the coldest months drops below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, so make sure to pack accordingly.
Spring and fall are great times to visit, especially if you are looking to avoid the crowds and steep hotel prices. If you are visiting in April, you can celebrate the new season with the fantastic activities Cherry Blossom Festival in San Francisco's Japantown has in store for you.