Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks
Now that I am officially a Southwesterner, I can’t help but get excited about all the regional destinations that are right in my backyard! Whether it spots like Las Cruces or Santa Fe, new explorations in Tucson, or planned trips to Albuquerque and Page, we are going to have plenty to do and we will be spoiled! Another area that I feel truly blessed to be near is the wonderful state and national parks in Southern Utah including its Mighty 5.
During our year on the road, we spent over 45 days in Southern Utah which allowed us to visit the Mighty 5. Utah is graced with a multitude of beautiful state and national parks, but these 5 are standouts: Zion National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Capitol Reef National Park. The best part of all is that they are in relatively close proximity to each other. If you are starting in Zion and finish in Canyonlands, the total drive is 10 hours. That can be done in a week, less if you push it.
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Whichever one of the Mighty 5 you choose, you will not be disappointed! Be sure to pack a National Park Annual Pass to save money on entrance fees!
Zion National Park
We’ve been to Zion National Park twice, once in May of 2012 when we spent 2 days and then again this past January for 2 weeks. Zion has great hikes including the famous Angel’s Landing and Subway, along with the Overlook Trail; a great scenic drive where you can see spots like the Checkerboard Mesa; and stunning vistas and rock formations inside Zion and from Kolob Canyon. It’s beautiful all year round with plenty to photograph.
More with Zion National Park:
– Zion National Park in the Winter
– Weekly Wanderings #53 – Zion
– Weekly Wanderings #54 – Zion & On the Road
– Things to do while Staying near Zion National Park
Locations: Entrances at Springdale, UT 84767 OR State Route 9 West (24 miles after the Mount Caramel Junction). There is a separate entrance for Kolob Canyons which is at Exit 40 off of Interstate 15.
Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands is another park we visited twice, the first time in 2012 (when we suffered from dust storms) and then again last year. This is the largest park in all of Utah and is broken up into 3 districts: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, and The Maze. I think it’s safe to say that most people visit the Island in the Sky because its entrance is the one closest to Moab plus you need a 4×4 off-road vehicle to visit the Maze.
We visited all 3, but would love to see more of the Maze, it takes 15-20 days with no services to get through the whole thing, so you have to pack in your own fuel, water, etc. Highlights in the Island in the Sky: the Mesa Arch, Grand View Point, Green River Overlook, Shafer Canyon Overlook (or drive a bit of it as we did!), and Upheaval Dome. In Needle don’t miss Elephant Hill, Wooden Shoe Arch Overlook, Cave Spring, and Roadside Ruin.
More with Canyonlands National Park:
– Canyonlands National Park
– 7 Things To Do in Moab
Locations: Island of Sky entrance: From US 191 turn onto UT 313 and drive 22 miles, (you will also pass Dead Horse Ranch State Park which is really cool!) the park is 40 minutes from Moab. Needles District: from US 191 take UT 211 for 35 miles, it’s 90 minutes from Moab. Directions to the Maze are considerably more difficult, first, you have to get to the Hans Flat Ranger Station, a turn-off just past Goblin Valley State Park, which turns off is a dirt road that goes for nearly 50 miles. Once you get there, the canyons of the maze are another 3-6 hours on high-clearance 4×4, so you really have to know what you are doing to get there!
Arches National Park
If you are visiting either the Island of Sky or Needles areas of Canyonlands National Park, it’s an absolute must to also visit Arches National Park, particularly if you are staying in Moab since the entrance is only 5 miles from town! It’s one of the smallest parks and totally doable in a day, but if you have more time, you should make it. We did a few sunrises there, sunsets are a lot more crowded, but there are great moderate hikes for just about anyone. Highlights of the park include Delicate Arch (and many other arches), the Three Gossips, Balanced Rock (and many other rocks), Fiery Furnace and so much more including off-road drives (when they are open) on Potach Road.
More with Arches National Park:
– Arches National Park
– 7 Things To Do in Moab
Location: Right off of Highway 191, 5 miles north of Moab.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Granted, we visited Bryce Canyon in March so it was cold, but the burnt orange peaks covered with snow were absolutely spectacular from the Rim Trail and Inspiration Point. And the cold, crisp air made hiking a breeze, as long as we bundled up! We had warmer days that allowed us to really enjoy the Queen’s Garden Trail and the Navajo Loop Trail. There is a wonderful bike trail running from the Lodge just outside into the park that is very family-friendly. The vistas will blow you away!
Location: From US-89 take UT-12 East until UT-63 south to the park.
Capitol Reef National Park
Last but not least, because it’s my favorite, is Capitol Reef. To me, this park had a little bit of everything. Red canyons and rock formations, small arches, great off-road trails, and pie. Maybe that’s what did it. The park hosts an exhibition in the Fruita Historic district depicting how Mormon pioneers settled the area and one of the things they did was grow fruit. The orchards are still there today and used in the pies sold in the park! I can still picture the monoliths we visited on the Cathedral Valley Scenic Backway in my head. It was such a heady experience (a) driving to them and (b) standing at the bottom of them. And the sunsets from the overlooks? Stunning!
More with Capitol Reef National Park:
– Offroad Capitol Reef
– Weekly Wanderings #12 – Capitol Reef
Location: You can access the park from either I-70 or I-15, the directions are a bit link, so I’m going to link you to the NPS site, but basically the park entrance is off of UT-24.
More on our National Park:
– Happy 100 Years to the National Park Service!!
– America’s Treasure – National Parks
How much I loved Utah. When the universe was handing out pretty landscapes to the states, I think Utah got back in line a few times. Southern Utah in particular. And best of all it's only a hop, skip, and a jump away from our new home in Phoenix!
How about you? Have you been to Utah's Mighty 5 National Parks? Do you have a favorite? Do tell!
For a visual summary of this post, check out my Mighty 5 web story!
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My husband and I want to get a camper and take our kids all over the country to see all the national parks and all the beautiful sight. These parks are gorgeous.
I have never been to Utah, but I do love visiting & supporting National Parks. I think we will have to plan a road trip some day to Utah because it just looks so beautiful.
Breathtaking view, gotta visit one day.
I have actualy never visited a national park. These look amazing and I would love to visit one day!
I would love to explore all five national parks with my family someday. If I had to choose just one on your list, I would probably pick Zion National Park.
I’ve never been to Utah before but I would love to go one day! I would actually love to visit the Arches National Park. It looks really cool! Although Zion National Park looks great too!
Utah is certainly a place of beauty. Five National Parks, what a great summer vacation they would make.
I been to Utah sorry I did not get to go to this beautiful place
Oh wow, I still have a lot of traveling in the US to do. I had no idea Utah had 5 national parks.
I love the Utah National Parks and I love the word Mighty for them. It fits so well. They are so big and stunning and beyond your imagination if you have never been there. I love you pictures of Bryce in the winter and the light in Arches.
Andi, these pictures are stunning!! I would have never thought about trying to see all of these parks, but now feel like I have to! And I’ll need a good camera because I want to capture it as well as you did. 🙂
I’ve only been to Zion but heard great hints about Bryce and Arches National Park seems like my kind of place! I’d love to go back and do just a Utah trip!
Want to visit them all…
Someday I will be visiting this area! Definitely on my “Bucket List”!
They all look wonderful. Would love to visit them all.
These are so very beautiful. I’m going to have to make some time when I next to through there.
I have never been to Utah. But I would love to see it. The pictures look beautiful.
My husband has been bugging me to visit the national parks in Utah – he swears it’s the most beautiful part of the country. After seeing pictures like you posted here, I believe it! The geography looks varied and sometimes otherworldly. Would love to do a road trip here!
I’ve heard so many of these national parks before, but have never been myself! Your pictures make me wanna visit on my next US trip! I’d love to check out Capitol Reef as you’ve suggested, and catch the beautiful sunset there!
I wanna go to all of these! What’s the best time of year to go? Thinking about going somewhere for the Easter long weekend and Utah’s not that far away from BC… wonder if it’ll be ridiculously crowded though since it’s the holidays?
You are so lucky to have all those amazing national parks right at your backyard! I’d love to visit the Zion National Park one day too!
It’s one of my daughters and my bucket list to visit as many National Parks as we can!
So beautiful! You’d think Utah would be a bigger travel destination than it is.
I have always wanted to visit Zion National Park. The others I haven’t heard of. I would be good to visit “The 5”.
Utah looks absolutely stunning & it is on our list if states to visit- Thanks for the pics & ideas!
I have been to Zion, it was beautiful and your pictures make me wish I had spent more time in Utah.
I visited Bryce Canyon, Zion Canyon, Grand Canyon.
It was the most beautiful moments of my life.
My husband and I have been to all these parks!Very beautiful,we enjoyed our trip!
I’ve not been to any of the Mighty 5. I’m in awe at how breathtakingly beautiful they are, now I want to see for myself!
The only place I’ve been in Utah so far is Park City, but clearly I’m missing out. Zion has been on my bucket list since my sister-in-law conquered the famous Angels Landing in the past year or so. Is it possible to see the Mighty 5 all in the same trip? I wonder how much time you’d need to do all five parks…
We’ve only been able to visit Bryce and Zion National Parks and really want to explore all of these to be able to do a lot of hiking. We definitely need to get back to the US.