Julie United States 143 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 Water Pocket 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 four visits to the Mighty 5 in the past few years, 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

Delicate Arch | Utah’s Mighty 5


Devils Garden Hike

Devils Garden Hike | Utah’s Mighty 5


Park Avenue

Park Avenue


Window Arch

North Window 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 Red Cliffs Lodge (highly rated hotel with a beautiful setting next to the Colorado River), MainStay Suites (budget hotel that gets great reviews), or the Hoodoo Moab (beautiful, upscale hotel in the heart of Moab). 

Arches National Park Guide

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 five 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.

The Maze is a remote area of Canyonlands that is only accessible by 4×4. The Colorado and Green Rivers make up the fourth district, where you can go canoeing, kayaking, and white water rafting. Horseshoe Canyon is a very small section of the park. It is here that you can see the rock art of the Ancient Puebloan peoples.

Utah Mighty 5 Road Trip

Mesa Arch | Utah’s Mighty 5


Grand View Point December Mighty 5

Grand View Point at Island in the Sky


View of the Shafer Canyon and the White Rim Road from the Visitor Center


White Rim Road

Driving the White Rim Road | Utah’s Mighty 5


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). 

Canyonlands National Park Information

Capitol Reef National Park

With sandstone cliffs, white domes, slot canyons, and arches, Capitol Reef National Park is an extraordinary place to explore. This park preserves the Water Pocket 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 | Utah’s Mighty 5


Capitol Reef Road Trip

Highway 24

 Capitol Reef Fruita

Overlooking Highway 24 from the Cohab Canyon Trail


Capitol Reef Scenic Drive

Scenic Drive | Utah’s Mighty 5

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 58-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.

Capitol Reef Travel Guide

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 | Utah’s Mighty 5


Best Hikes in Utah

Hiking the Queen’s Garden Trail


Bryce Canyon

Overlooking the Navajo Trail from Sunset Point


Inspiration Point Bryce

Inspiration Point | Utah’s Mighty 5

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.

Bryce Canyon Guide

Zion National Park

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 | Utah’s Mighty 5


Hike Zion National Park

Hidden Canyon


Angels Landing Hike

Angels Landing | Utah’s Mighty 5

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.

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.

Zion National Park Guide

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. To get the full details on how to do this same itinerary, and get suggestions on what to do if you have more time, read our post The Ultimate Utah National Parks Road Trip Itinerary.

  • 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:

Little Wild Horse Canyon

Little Wild Horse Canyon


Dead Horse Point State Park

Dead Horse Point State Park

10 Day Mighty 5 Itinerary

Here is a sample Mighty 5 itinerary, with more time in several national parks and the addition of several great state parks and hiking destinations in Utah.

Day 1: Arrive in Moab
Day 2: Arches National Park
Day 3: Canyonlands National Park
Day4: Goblin Valley & Little Wild Horse Canyon
Day 5: Capitol Reef National Park
Day 6: Capitol Reef or Grand Staircase-Escalante
Day 7: Bryce Canyon National Park
Day 8: Zion National Park
Day 9: Zion National Park
Day 10: Fly home


Mighty 5Get a Digital Download of this Itinerary

Do you want a printer friendly version of this itinerary? How about an eBook version of this itinerary that can be downloaded onto your computer or mobile device?

Our 10-day Mighty 5 Itinerary eBook includes all five national parks, plus Goblin Valley, Little Wild Horse Canyon, and the option to visit Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It is a 21-page itinerary with detailed daily schedules, insider tips, and travel planning resources that you can download to take with you or print at home.

Click here to purchase the eBook on Etsy.com.


Mighty 5 + the Grand Canyon

If you want to visit Utah’s Mighty 5 and the Grand Canyon in one epic road trip, click here to learn more. This 2 week itinerary through the American Southwest is done as a loop from Las Vegas. Not only will you visit 6 national parks but you will also visit Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, and off-the-beaten-path destinations in Utah. 

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), early November (we had a little bit of everything, from high temperatures in the 70’s to snow, all in the same week), 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 November and December visits. 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 Travel 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.

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Comments 143

  1. Avatar for Viji Sri
    Viji Sri

    Hi Julie and family, I stumbled upon your page just googling a itinerary for Utah parks, and planning our entire trip based on your comments. This is so to the point, exactly what will help a traveler.. Going to be cold, yet planning to be there the next 5 days.. For ease of planning, our list of next destinations may be chosen from your destinations.. Happy Traveling and happy blogging .. Cheers, Viji

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
  2. Avatar for Maria Mahoney
    Maria Mahoney

    Thank you for doing this!! We are planning on doing the Mighty 5 in August 2020. Why did you chose to fly into one city and leave from another? Just less driving? We were planning on the doing the reverse of your trip. Flying into Las Vegas, 2 nights in Springdale; one day in Zion, one day in Bryce. Then using Moab as home base for the other 3 parks. Reasonable? Thanks so much!!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Hello Maria. I’m glad you like our site! Yes, two airports so it’s less driving. If you start and end in either Las Vegas or Salt Lake City, you will need to add an extra day get back to your starting point. On the day that you drive to Moab, see Capitol Reef on the way. It’s a long drive to get to Capitol Reef from Moab, so it’s best to see it on the way, to save yourself a lot of time and driving. But Moab makes a great home base for Arches and Canyonlands. I know that it’s another hotel to book, but if you stay in/near Bryce the night that you visit Bryce, again you will do less driving and then you will also have more time in Capitol Reef. Cheers, Julie

  3. Avatar for Stephanie Weiss
    Stephanie Weiss

    Hi Julie! Thank you for your very detailed itineraries and recommendations. I’m planning a family trip with husband, 2 adult sons, and 12 year old daughter May 30 – June 11, Vegas (overnight) to Grand Canyon (overnight) to Monument Valley (overnight) to Arches (overnight) to Capitol Reef and then Bryce (overnight) to Zion (overnight) and back to Vegas. We won’t be doing any of the very strenuous hikes but plan to do some hiking each day up to 5 or 6 miles. Does this sound reasonable to you? If not, where would you recommend adding another day. The end of the trip we plan to stay in a home with a pool and unwind before returning home so we could add another day or 2 in the parks.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Hello Stephanie. Yes, your order sounds good, but if you can, adding a day or two would give you more time in each park. I would add a day in Moab (this will give you a little more time in Arches and/or the chance to visit Canyonlands, plus, it would give you a break from the long driving days). One more day between Capitol Reef and Bryce would give you a full day each for Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon. You just have to decide if you want more time in the parks or more time in the pool. 🙂 Cheers, Julie

  4. Avatar for karen k
    karen k

    Hi, I want to visit the 5 parks but want to fly in and out of the same airport due to the expense of renting a car and dropping off at another airport/state. Do you have any suggestions how I should do this so we aren’t driving to much. We plan to spend about 10 days visiting. I do not care which state we fly in and out of. Thanks!!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      The best airports are either Las Vegas or Salt Lake City. To get back to the same airport, you will have to do a lot of driving. If you choose Las Vegas, you could go Zion -> Bryce Canyon -> Capitol Reef -> Canyonlands and Arches. You could return to Vegas by driving through Monument Valley and Page, making this one big loop. If you really want a whirlwind 10 day tour, you could also add on a one day visit to the Grand Canyon. Cheers, Julie

  5. Avatar for Miriam

    I literally planned my whole Utah trip with your articles. They are so helpful, in-depth, organized, and structured – I love them!
    If all blogs would be like this 🙂

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
  6. Avatar for Art

    Hi – love your posts and your guidance. We are 2 empty nesters, traveling to Las Vegas for a wedding one saturday in mid-october, but plan to arrive on tuesday ~12noon. We are thinking of renting car in LV, driving to Valley of Fire, then on to Zion. Spend Tuesday night in Zion, hike Angel’s landing on Wed, Observation Point on Thursday, then on to Hoover Dam and Lake Mead on Friday. does this sound like a good trip? would you recommend any other stops or alternative destinations?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Hello Art. That sounds like a great plan, however, Observation Point in Zion is currently closed due to a rockfall. Unfortunately, it’s been closed for almost a year, with no set time to reopen (but it doesn’t hurt to check the Zion NP website for updates). In fact, it looks like things recently got worse because not the shuttle stop for Observation Point and Weeping Rock are closed for another rockfall. Instead of hiking Observation Point, you could hike part of the the Narrows from the bottom up. I like this hike more than Observation Point. The water will be cold, but crowds will be low, and you can rent gear in Springdale. Take a look at our post on hiking the Zion Narrows for more info (it’s about the top-down route but there is still valuable info). Alternatively, you could take this day and day trip to Bryce Canyon. It would be a long day but Bryce is amazing and you get to see another national park. As for Hoover Dam, if you want to take a tour, some tours are available first come first serve but the Powerplant tickets are available online. We did not tour Hoover Dam so I’m not that knowledgeable about a visit, so take a look at the official ticket website to learn more. I hope you have a great trip!! Cheers, Julie

  7. Avatar for RJ

    Hi! I love all your travel blogs and find them very useful so thanks for taking the time to share them. I have about 4 or 5 days in Utah and was wondering what you would cut out of the itinerary to accommodate my shorter time there? Thanks in advance!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      With 4 to 5 days in Utah, I would visit Zion and Bryce. This will take up 3 to 4 of your days. You could drive north to Capitol Reef or visit Grand Staircase Escalante. There are some really great hikes in Grand Staircase: Zebra Slot, Spooky Slot, and Willis Creek. This would be going off the beaten path but I like these places just as much as the national parks.

      If you really want to see Arches, then I would do Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef with your time. You could add on Dead Horse Point and Goblin Valley.

      Cheers, Julie

  8. Avatar for Carlana Flynn
    Carlana Flynn

    I love reading your article and suggestions. Very helpful and very interesting.
    I am going on a road trip to the Mighty 5 in the first week of September do you have to stay in a different hotel when you go to the different parks or can I just stay in one hotel while I visit the parks? Are they fairly close to each other?

    Thank you for your time in reading this.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Hello Carlana. Yes, you definitely have to stay in different hotels. These parks are far enough apart that you can’t pick just one or two “home bases” for exploring them. Plus, you’ll have a better experience at each park by getting an early start, which means you’ll have to book a different hotel for each one. Cheers, Julie

  9. Avatar for Eddie

    Hi, thanks for the great post! Would it be necessary to rent out a 4×4 SUV or any mid-size sedan would work for this trip? To be specific, at any part of the itinerary, is there a stretch of rough terrain that would warrant the choice of car with higher clearance? Thanks.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      For the most part, there is no need to rent a 4×4. To go into the backcountry of Canyonlands and Capitol Reef a 4×4 is necessary, however, you can visit some of the best parts of these parks without a 4×4 (for example, the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands). All of the photos that you see in this post were taken from parts of the parks that are accessible without a 4×4. Cheers, Julie

  10. Avatar for Elise

    We just did this trip in 10 days and this post was SO helpful! I kept going back to it as I was planning the trip and while we were on it! Thank you so much! We had an extra day and added in the slot canyons in the Grand staircase based on the advice here and we are SO glad we did – it was our favorite day of the trip!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
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