Julie United States 35 Comments

Stretching across southern and central Utah are five stunning National Parks. Called the Mighty 5, these parks contain some of the most thrilling hiking trails and iconic landscapes in the United States.

Stand atop Angels Landing in Zion. Gaze across a wonderland of hoodoos at Bryce Canyon. Explore the Waterpocket Fold at Capitol Reef. Watch the sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands. And watch the sunset at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park.

If you like rugged, desert landscapes, it is hard to beat the beauty of Utah. If you are a hiker, there are enough trails in these parks to keep you busy for weeks. And if you like a good road trip, Utah is the perfect place to explore from behind the wheel of a car.

We can’t get enough of this part of the United States. After three visits to the Mighty 5 in the past two years (with hopefully a fourth visit in the not too far off future), here is our guide to the National Parks. I hope you enjoy them just as much as we do.

Utah’s Mighty 5

Arches National Park

Arches National Park is a wonderland of strange rock formations, short hiking trails, and you guessed it, arches. Not only will you find over 2,000 arches here, but you will also see hoodoos, fins of sandstone rocks, massive mesas, and balanced rocks.

Delicate Arch Mighty 5

Delicate Arch

Hike Devils Garden Arches Mighty 5

Devils Garden Hike

Double Arch Mighty 5

Double Arch

Plan Your Visit

Cost: $30 per vehicle, valid for 7 days

Top Experiences: Hike to Delicate Arch, see Balanced Rock and the Fiery Furnace, visit Double Arch, Turret Arch, and Windows Arch, hike Park Avenue

Ultimate Adventure: Hike the Devils Garden Trail. To reach Landscape Arch, one of the most iconic arches in the park, it is only 1.6 miles round trip. But for the ultimate adventure, continue past Landscape Arch to Double O Arch and Dark Angel and return on the Primitive Trail.

Arches National Park in One Day: If you like the idea of hiking the Devils Garden Trail, go here first to beat the crowds (and the heat during the summer months). Midday, visit Balanced Rock, Double Arch, The Windows and Turret Arch. End with sunset at Delicate Arch.

Cool Fact: The Olympic Torch was carried under Delicate Arch for the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Where to Stay: Moab is just 10 minutes away by car. We recommend the Castle Valley Inn (highly rated hotel with a variety of room types, including cottages that can accommodate up to five people) or Red Cliffs Lodge (suites can accommodate 4 to 6 people). 

Canyonlands National Park

Compared to its smaller and more popular neighbor Arches National Park, Canyonlands feels more rugged, more remote, and a whole lot larger.

Canyonlands National Park is enormous in size. Over 330,000 acres are filled with canyons, arches, buttes, mesas, dirt roads, hiking trails, campgrounds, and overlooks.

This immense area of land is divided up into three districts. Island in the Sky, the closest district to Moab, is the most popular section of the park to visit. This is where you will find Mesa Arch, Grand View Point, and a collection of short and long hikes to choose from.

“Around the corner” from Island in the Sky is The Needles, where sandstone pinnacles form unique landscapes. To get here, it is over an hour away by car from Moab.

Finally, The Maze is a remote area of Canyonlands that is only accessible by 4×4.

Utah Mighty 5 Road Trip

Mesa Arch

Grand View Point December Mighty 5

Grand View Point

Canyonlands in Winter Mighty 5

View over Canyonlands while hiking Upheaval Dome

Canyonlands

View from the Visitor Center

Hike Utah in Winter

Gooseberry Hike

Plan Your Visit

Cost: $30 per vehicle, valid for 7 days

Top Experiences: See the sunrise at Mesa Arch, visit the overlooks (Grand View Point, Buck Canyon Overlook, Shafer Canyon Viewpoint), hike around Upheaval Dome, and hike the Druid Hill hike in The Needles.

Ultimate Adventure: Rent a 4×4 or bring your mountain bike and go on a multi-day adventure, driving (or cycling) the 100-mile long White Rim Road. This rough, dirt road twists and turns along the White Rim. You will need a permit and camping gear to do this.

Canyonlands in One Day: Visit Island in the Sky district. Start at sunrise at Mesa Arch. Visit Grand View Point and Buck Canyon Overlook, hike to the White Rim Overlook and Upheaval Dome, take in the view from the Green River Overlook, and consider the short hike up Aztec Butte or Whale Rock. Don’t miss Shafer Canyon Viewpoint or the view from the Visitor Center as you exit the park.

With More Time: Visit The Needles, take your pick from longer hikes in Island in the Sky, and/or consider spending 2 or more days driving the White Rim Road.

Cool Fact: Two rivers carved out the canyons that you see at Canyonlands National Park, the Green River and the mighty Colorado River, which also worked its magic and carved out the Grand Canyon.

Where to Stay: Moab is 45 minutes away by car. Check out the Castle Valley Inn (highly rated hotel with a variety of room types, including cottages that can accommodate up to five people) or Red Cliffs Lodge (suites can accommodate 4 to 6 people). 

Capitol Reef National Park

With sandstone cliffs, white domes, slot canyons, and arches, Capitol Reef National Park is a extraordinary place to explore. This park preserves the Waterpocket Fold, a rippling of the Earth’s crust that is 100 miles long.

One of the things that makes Capitol Reef so easy to visit is that you can see quite a bit of it right from your car. With a highway that runs through the center of the park and a scenic drive that tops the list of the best things to do, you can visit some of the most dramatic spots in Capitol Reef without ever stepping out of your car.

Hickman Bridge Mighty 5

Hickman Bridge

Capitol Reef Road Trip

Highway 24

Sunset Point Capitol Reef Mighty 5

Sunset Point

Plan Your Visit

Cost: $20 to drive the Scenic Drive, valid for 7 days. It is free to drive through the park on Highway 24.

Top Experiences: Drive the 16-mile round-trip drive along Scenic Drive, drive Capitol Gorge Road, hike to Hickman Bridge, and watch the sunset from Sunset Point. Cassidy Arch is another popular hike to add to the list.

Capitol Reef in One Day: Drive the Scenic Drive and consider taking the optional detours along the way on Capitol Gorge Road and Grand Wash. Hike Hickman Bridge and then visit the Goosenecks, Panorama, and Sunset viewpoints.

With More Time: Explore the backcountry. Drive the 57-mile loop through Cathedral Valley and visit the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon.

Cool Fact: Capitol Reef is the least visited park of Utah’s Mighty 5.

Where to Stay: Torrey is the closest town with the best selection of hotels. Check out the amazing Capitol Reef Resort and the Noor Hotel. If you are driving south from Capitol Reef, the Canyon Country Lodge in Escalante may also be a good option.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park is a fantasyland of hoodoos, bizarre rock formations, and sandstone pillars.

Hoodoos are tall, thin spires of rock that protrude from the bottom of an arid drainage basin. They are found all over the world but occur in the most abundance in Bryce Canyon. These hoodoos are the main ingredient in creating the unique landscape you see at Bryce Canyon.

Mighty 5 Bryce Canyon

Sunset Point

Best Hikes in Utah

Hiking the Queen’s Garden Trail

Bryce Canyon

Overlooking the Navajo Trail from Sunset Point

Inspiration Point Bryce

Inspiration Point

Plan Your Visit

Cost: $35 per vehicle, valid for 7 days

Top Experiences: Some of the best viewpoints are right along the rim, which is easily accessible by car or the shuttle: Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point, and Bryce Point. Hike the Queens Garden and Navajo Loop, a 3-mile hike past some of the best scenery in the park. Rainbow Point and Yovimpa Point are also nice viewpoints.

Ultimate Adventure: Hike the Fairyland Loop Trail, an 8-mile strenuous hike. Leave the crowds behind on this low-traffic hiking trail.

Bryce Canyon in One Day: Watch the sunrise from Sunset Point (we liked the sunrise views better here than from Sunrise Point, ironically). Walk along the rim, hike the Queens Garden and Navajo Loop Trail, and visit Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Rainbow Point, and Yovimpa Point.

With More Time: Add on the Fairyland Loop or the Peekaboo Loop Trail.

Cool Fact: Bryce Canyon sits at 8,000 to 9,000 feet. It will feel cooler here than in the other Mighty 5 parks. In fact, there are roughly 200 days a year where the park can get below freezing.

Where to Stay: Bryce Canyon Lodge is the only lodging within the park. In the town of Bryce there are several more hotels to choose from. We stayed at the Bryce Canyon Inn, which is located in Tropic, 15-minutes away from the park.

Zion National Park

Finally, it is time for our favorite national park of the Mighty 5.

Zion National Park is one of the best places in the United States to go hiking. Angels Landing and the Zion Narrows are two bucket-list worthy hikes that attract thousands of visitors every year. But there are also short, family-friendly hikes to choose from, as well as multi-day backpacking adventures and hikes that require canyoneering experience.

Zion National Park

The View from Observation Point

Zion Narrows Hike

The Narrows

Hike Zion National Park

Hidden Canyon

Angels Landing Hike

Angels Landing

Plan Your Visit

Cost: $35 per vehicle, valid for 7 days

Top Experiences: Hike Angels Landing, Observation Point, Hidden Canyon, Riverside Trail, Emerald Pools, Weeping Rock, and Canyon Overlook. One of the best experiences in the park is hiking the Zion Narrows. Expect big crowds on Angels Landing and the Zion Narrows, so start first thing in the morning to beat the crowds.

Ultimate Adventure: There are several to choose from. Hike the Zion Narrows from the top-down as a long day hike or a two-day backpacking trip. The Subway is another strenuous but gorgeous hike, and you will need canyoneering experience for this one. The West Rim Trail is a great two-day backpacking trip or a one day mega-hike.

Zion in One Day: If you have plans to hike Angels Landing or the Zion Narrows from the bottom-up, do this first thing (ideally, be on the first shuttle of the day). Pick a shorter hike to do in the afternoon, such as the Canyon Overlook Trail or Emerald Pools. Learn more here.

With More Time: Three days is a nice amount of time to spend in Zion National Park. You can do three big hikes (one each morning) or use two of the days for a multi-day backpacking adventure. This also gives you time to explore Kolob Canyons at the northern section of the park.

Cool Fact: This isn’t so cool, but it’s important to know before you go. For most of the year, the only way to get around Zion National Park is by shuttle bus. Mid-morning lines can be frustratingly long, so roll out of bed early and try to catch one of the first shuttles of the day.

Where to Stay: Zion Lodge is the only lodging in the park. Springdale is a wonderful little town that sits near the entrance to Zion. It is filled with lots of hotels and some very good restaurants. We always stay at the Holiday Inn Express.

Read More: We have loads of information about Zion National Park. A good starting point is our article 10 Best Hikes in Zion, Which One Will Be Your Favorite? Or, visit our Utah page for the full list.

Mighty 5 Road Trip Itinerary

If you only have one week, here is a whirlwind road trip through Utah to visit all five National Parks.

  • Day 1: Arrive in Salt Lake City, drive to Moab
  • Day 2: Arches National Park
  • Day 3: Canyonlands National Park
  • Day 4: Drive to Capitol Reef, visit Capitol Reef, sleep in Torrey or near Bryce Canyon
  • Day 5: Bryce Canyon, drive to Zion, sleep in Springdale
  • Day 6: Zion National Park
  • Day 7: Drive to Las Vegas, fly home

How to Use This Map:  Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers (national parks and the driving route). You can click the check marks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest. 

If you click the star, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list. 

This is very, very fast. Plus, you will drive 900 miles in 7 days, not to mention the little bit of driving you will do in each park. If you can, consider adding on a few more days.

If you can, add 3 days to this itinerary, making this a 10 day itinerary.

Here are some things you can do with more time:

  • Add 1 to 2 days to Zion so you hike more of the trails
  • Add 1 day to Capitol Reef to explore the backcountry
  • Add 1 day to Canyonlands Island in the Sky for longer day hikes
  • Add 1 day to visit The Needles in Canyonlands
  • Add 2 to 3 days to drive White Rim Road in Canyonlands
  • Add 1 day to visit the Valley of Fire on the drive from Zion to Las Vegas
  • Add 1 or more days to explore Grand Staircase-Escalante
  • Add 1 day to visit Goblin Valley State Park on the drive between Moab and Capitol Reef
  • Add 1 day to visit Dead Horse Point State Park from Moab

Things to Know Before You Go

Best Time to Visit the Mighty 5

The spring and fall months are the best times to visit. Weather conditions are pleasant and you can avoid the big crowds that flood the park in the summer.

During the summer months, expect soaring temperatures, large crowds, expensive prices for hotels, and lots of traffic at viewpoints and on hiking trails.

In the winter, the parks are much less crowded, but temperatures can get below freezing and snow is likely (especially in Bryce Canyon).

We have been to Utah in May (midday temperatures of 75 – 95°F with clear skies), late October (midday temperatures of 65°F and gorgeous fall colors and low crowds in Zion), and late December (freezing temperatures, snow, but somewhat low crowds, even for it being a holiday week).

October was my favorite time to visit. The temperatures were wonderful, crowds were light, and the fall colors in Zion made the park look even more beautiful than it normally does.

Surprisingly, I also really liked our winter visit. Temperatures were cold, but while hiking we never got hot or needed to bring much water. Plus, like the fall colors in October, the snow was an added bonus.

Arrive Early to the Parks

From our experience, the majority of people arrive between 8:30 am and 10:30 am. This causes long traffic delays at the ticket booths which can add up to many minutes or even an hour waiting in line. And if you are in Zion, you’ll wait another hour to board the shuttle.

We usually get into the parks around 7 am (or earlier in the summer). Finding parking spots is easy, hiking trails are empty, and the park feels peaceful and quiet (at least for a little bit). It might be painful getting out of bed early, but it’s worth it for a better experience inside the parks.

If you have plans to hike the Zion Narrows or Angels Landing, try to be on the first shuttle bus of the day.

National Parks Pass

If you have plans to visit at least three of the Mighty 5, save yourself some money and purchase the National Park Pass. This pass (also called the America the Beautiful Pass) costs $80 and gets you into more than 2,000 recreational sites in the USA. The pass is valid for one year, so if you have plans to visit more National Parks, you will save even more money.

Learn More About Utah

Visit our Utah Destination Guide to read all of our articles about Utah. Not only does this cover the Mighty 5 but it also includes information about state parks and off-the-beaten-path destinations in Utah.


Do you have plans to visit Utah’s Mighty 5? Comment below if you have any questions or if you would like to share your experience.

You Might Also Like:

 

Utah Mighty 5 Road Trip Itinerary

 

Note: This post contains affiliate links. When you make a purchase using one of these affiliate links, we get paid a small commission at no extra cost to you.

All rights reserved © Earth Trekkers. Republishing this article and/or any of its contents (text, photography, links, etc.), in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.

Comments 35

  1. Thanks so much for this helpful info. You mentioned if you can, to make it a 10 day trip. What would you personally prioritize in those 3 extra days? We have a 5 and 7 year old that will be making the trip with us, but they’ve both tolerated up to 6mi hikes so far.

    1. Post
      Author

      Hello Dan. That’s impressive that your young kids have hiked 6 miles! Since you are traveling with kids, I recommend adding one day in Goblin Valley. We haven’t been yet, but it has short hiking trails, hoodoos, and I’ve heard it is a great place take kids. Dead Horse Point State Park is amazing, you only need a half day here, so you could spend more time in Canyonlands or do something else in Moab for the second half of the day. Valley of Fire is another great state park, well worth it if you will be going to Las Vegas. And there is also Red Rock Canyon just outside of Las Vegas. This is a fourth option, but Zion it is worth having at least 2 full days in Zion. Just take a look at the National Park website because a lot of trails have been closed in the past year due to rockfalls. So, it might not be worth putting the extra time into Zion if you take this trip this year, but hopefully the trails will be restored in 2021. Cheers, Julie

  2. Hello Julie:
    This is a fantastic blog and you lead a wonderful life.
    We are planning a trip March 8-14.
    I love Sedona, but have always wanted to see Antelope Canyon or at least a slot canyon.
    Is there a way to fly in to Phoenix, see Sedona and do a slot canyon?
    Any help would be appreciated.
    Thank you.

    1. Post
      Author

      Yes, you can do this, but not all in one day. Actually, I guess you could, if you arrived very early to Phoenix. It takes just over 4 hours to drive from Phoenix to Page, Arizona (one of the closest places to Sedona to see slot canyons). You could drive through Sedona, seeing it quickly from car, and then arriving in Page for a mid-afternoon tour of either Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon. But, with more time, here’s what I recommend. Arrive in Phoenix, hopefully early, and hike one or two trails in Sedona and sleep in Sedona. The following morning, get up early, go to Page Arizona, and see Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon. And then you can continue into Utah. Another post that might help you with your planning is our Southwest Itinerary, just to give you a few more ideas. Cheers, Julie

  3. What a great blog. Lot’s of useful information and recommendations. A few questions, my wife and I are planning our fall trip to the Mighty 5 and were looking at starting and ending in Vegas. We’re thinking of renting an RV, would this restrict any of the movements around the parks? Also, if we can get tickets for the Wave, where would if fit into the loop?

    1. Post
      Author

      I’m glad you like our website!! With an RV, you can get to the main places in each national park without any issues. To explore beyond the main roads in Capitol Reef, I think that you need a 4×4. Bur for the most part, you can do visit the majority of each park by RV. To add in The Wave, you can do so before or immediately after Zion/Bryce, or add it when you drive back to Las Vegas. Good luck getting tickets…it’s on our bucket list too! Cheers, Julie

  4. We are following your itinerary for Utahs Mighty 5. We want to do a day at Antelope Canyon after Bryce. Can you give me information and should we fly out if Phoenix in stead of Vegas to Toronto??

    1. Post
      Author

      Do you plan to skip Zion? Either way, you can drive to Page, Arizona after Bryce/Zion. I takes just over 4 hours to drive from Page to Phoenix and to Las Vegas, so either airport will be fine. I would pick the airport with the best flight options back to Toronto. If you flew out of Phoenix, you could add a quick stop to the East Rim of the Grand Canyon (Desert View Point) on your drive to Phoenix. Cheers, Julie

  5. My parents visited all these park in the 70’s and 80’s . I’m planning a visit for my family in the next two years . I just stumbled on your site and you provide excellent description of the parks. You provide exactly the kind of information I was looking for. Thanks a lot. Keep on trekking !!

  6. Julie, your blog is amazing, I just discovered it this afternoon and already want to start planning. My husband and I are going to fly into Vegas in September and drive through the parks in Utah and then hopefully end up at the Grand Canyon. Is this too much to end there? If we only have one day at the GC? We will probably drive to Sedona and end our trip there. One of the things we would like to do is rent Mountain Bikes and either venture ourselves or join a tour. Have you done this, do you recommend a park to do this at? We will also do some hikes, but biking is a little easier on my hips/back. I have heard of renting paddle boards through Antelope Canyon…have you done this? ATV tours? I could ask a million questions, but I’ll leave it at that. Thanks for any advice you can give.

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Julie! I’m glad you like our blog! I think that visiting the parks and Utah and ending at the Grand Canyon sounds wonderful. You need a minimum of 10 days to do this, especially if you also want to add in Antelope Canyon. Go Vegas -> Zion -> Bryce -> Capitol Reef -> Canyonlands and Arches -> Page -> South Rim of the Grand Canyon -> Sedona.

      We have not rented mountain bikes at any of the national parks. The best park, that I can think of, is Canyonlands. In Moab, there are a lot of outdoor adventure companies and Moab is a great place to go mountain biking. You can look into tour companies here (I don’t have a specific company to recommend but you can look at reviews on Trip Advisor) for mountain bike tours. On our bucket list is a multi-day mountain bike trip on the White Rim road in the Canyonlands. You might be able to do a small part of this with a one day tour. You can also rent bikes and bike along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. You can’t paddle board at Antelope Canyon (since it’s a sandy bottom) but you might be able to at Horseshoe Bend, which is just down the road. Haven’t done this either. For paddle boarding and ATV tours, look for tour companies in Page, Arizona. Sedona is gorgeous…check out our Devils Bridge post and we have a great hotel and some restaurant recommendations on this post. And another place to look into mountain biking is in Flagstaff, Arizona.

      Have fun planning your trip and don’t hesitate if you have more questions!

      Cheers, Julie

      1. Thanks for the reply, we have decided not to drive south and make that a different trip all together.
        Right now I haves driving from Vegas and hiking a little bit through Valley of Fire then head to Zion for two nights, drive to Bryce and hike for the day, then that same day drive to Capitol Reef (wanted to stay at Capitol Reef Resort) for one night, then head over to Moab and stay for three nights while we visit Moab, Arches and Canyonlands. Do you think this is a good idea to be stationed at Moab and visit these parks? Is it enough time? and doing Bryce in one day (hoping to get in the Willow Creek Slot while we’re there). I feel like that day might be pushing it, but again wanted to stay in Capitol Reef. Would you suggest more less time at these parks? We’re flying back to Portland from Salt Lake. Thanks again for your time.

        1. Post
          Author

          Yes, everything in your plan works. It’s very fast, but it sounds similar to the amount of time that Tim and I had in several of these places. It doesn’t take long to hike a trail and see the viewpoints in Bryce, so seeing it in one day works. As far as Willis Creek goes, you will just have to see how you are doing on time that day, to see if you can also fit in Willis Creek. Moab is a great place to stay to visit Arches and Canyonlands. It’s a bit of a drive to get to Canyonlands, but there are no hotels out that way. You can camp or stay in a yurt at Dead Horse State Park but Moab is great because there are lots of hotels and restaurants. Add on Dead Horse to your visit to Canyonlands (maybe hit it at sunrise before you head back to Moab). It’s amazing…just as great as Canyonlands, only on a smaller scale. Cheers, Julie

  7. You don’t mention what routes you took between the various parks. Did you stick to the small roads that wandering thru the country side? In which case – how mountainous are they? Are there hairpin curves and steep drop offs when trying to connect between the various parks?

    1. Post
      Author

      Hello Jill. You can use Google to map out the route between the parks. We recommend using the main roads. For the most part, I don’t recall hairpin turns or drop-offs on these roads. There are a few hairpin turns in Zion but the road is wide and easy to drive. Cheers, Julie

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *