Utah National Parks Road Trip

For those of you who love adventure, the outdoors and U.S. National Parks, the Mighty Five in Utah is a road trip of a lifetime. The Mighty Five is made up of Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches National Park. Each park is unique and full of amazing viewpoints, trails, sights and more. To experience the Mighty Five one should not be rushed and give each park the time it deserves. However, if you don’t have a lot of time but want to see multiple parks I recommend planning your visiting accordingly. With only three days I decided to visit Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef during my Utah National Parks road trip. Keep reading and I’ll show you my highlights of the three parks and how you can plan your Utah road trip.

Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park

How to Choose Which National Parks to Visit

Zion is the largest national park in Utah and I decided to leave that one out of my trip because that park really needs at least three to four days to properly explore it. With epic hikes such as Angels Landing and The Narrows, Zion wasn’t a place I just wanted to drive into just to tick it off my list. So that left the other four to chose from and since I was flying into Salt Lake City I decided it would make the most sense to either drive from Bryce Canyon and work my way northeast or start at Arches and go southwest.

So I decided to go southwest because Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park are only a 45-minute drive from each other and there weren’t any long hikes that I absolutely wanted to do at either of those parks. This made the parks manageable for me to do in the amount of time. So that’s something to keep in mind. Looking at the route and amount of time you want to spend at each park is key. Review what you want to do at each park and that will give you a better understanding of how long you should spend there.

And Capitol Reef was added to the itinerary because it was only two and a half hours away from Canyonlands and a three and a half hour drive from SLC Airport. Plus, I’m a fan of more underrated places and Capitol Reef along with Canyonlands are the two least frequented national parks in Utah.

Arches National Park

Things to Do At Each Park

There are a ton of things to do at Utah National Parks so I consolidated a list of some highlights from each one of the parks I visited. Below are just some things to do and a see including lookout points and hikes.

Arches

Arches National Park is the second largest national park of the Mighty Five and known for its many rock formations and sandstone arches. Arches is a beautiful national park and the first one I visited on this Utah National Parks trip. The entrance fee to this park is $25 for private vehicles, $15 for a motorcycle and its riders, and $10 for individual pedestrians or bicyclist, and can be paid at the entrance station. However, if you’re visiting four or more national parks each year it’s worth it to invest in a National Parks Annual Pass, which is also called America the Beautiful Pass and is $80. The pass is good for an entire year from the date you purchased it. You can learn more about the pass here

Delicate Arch
Delicate Arch, Arches National Park

Delicate Arch is the “most famous” arch at the park. You can hike to the arch itself or go to one of the Delicate Arch viewpoints. The hike to get up close to it is three miles so if you have the time and are up for a walk then get that close up with this beauty.

Delicate Arch Viewpoint, Arches National Park
Balanced Rock
Balanced Rock, Arches National Park

Balanced Rock is another rock formation that is camera-worthy. It’ll have you wondering how something that weighs so much hasn’t tipped over. This one is a quick walk to get to.

The Windows

The Windows at Arches National Park are also known as The Spectacle (can you tell why?) and are a set of two side-by-side window arches. Park at the trailhead and enjoy a hike to and around The Windows. Then don’t forget to check out the other formations, such as Double Arch, Turret Arch and Parade of Elephants. There are signs in the immediate area that point you to some of the formations.

The Windows, Arches National Park
North Window, Arches National Park

Canyonlands

If you’re looking for things to do in Canyonlands National Park you’re in luck because that was the second stop. The entrance fee to this park is $25 for private vehicles, $15 for a motorcycle and its riders, and $10 for individual pedestrians or bicyclist, and can be paid at the entrance stations and visitor centers. There are three “districts” to this park including Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze. You’ll have to visit each separately as there are no bridges or roads that connect them together.

Mesa Arch

The famous arch of Canyonlands is none other than Mesa Arch. This arch is a busy spot for people to stop and take photos. While snapping a photo don’t forget to also take a look through the arch and into the valley of canyons.

The famous Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park
Shafer Canyon Overlook

If you’re stopping at the Island in the Sky ranger station you’ll find the Shafer Canyon Overlook across the way. The overlook gives you a view of Shafer Canyon Road which is 18 miles long and is known as one of the most dangerous roads in the United States.

Shafer Canyon Overlook, Canyonlands National Park
Buck Canyon Overlook

Like many of the overlooks in Canyonlands, Buck Canyon Overlook provides a breathtaking view over Buck Canyon. You’ll be close to other viewpoints in this area so make some stops along the way.

Buck Canyon Overlook, Canyonlands National Park

Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef is a diverse park that you’ll find is very different compared to its neighbors. Some of the rock formations that helped form. This park was also inhabited by the Fremont people (named after the Fremont River) who left behind petroglyphs that are still at the park today are as young as 80 million years old (that’s right YOUNG, the park has much older rocks, as old as 200 million years old). The park also has rich soil, so rich that there’s a fruit orchard. The entrance fee to this park is $10 for vehicles and $7 for individual pedestrians or bicyclist and can be paid at the ranger station. Read on for things to do in Capitol Reef National Park.

Capitol Gorge

Take the scenic drive through Capitol Gorge, it’s a breathtaking adventure. Then, enjoy a short 1-mile hike to discover more of Capitol Gorge. Check with the ranger station to ensure that the roads are safe. At times a high-clearance vehicle is needed.

Capitol Gorge Hike, Capitol Reef National Park
Hiking Capitol Gorge, Capitol Reef National Park
Fremont Petroglyphs

There’s something cool about seeing petroglyphs that date back approximately 2,000 years. Petroglyphs are hand carved into the rock itself a typically depict people, animals and other forms. They tell a story and you can see what the Fremont people left behind. Walk the boardwalk to view this interesting piece of history.

Fremont Petroglyphs, Capitol Reef National Park
Panorama Point aka Sunset Point

For those who love dreamy sunsets with a view, Panorama Point at sunset is a must! The Rangers actually recommended we go there for sunset. It gives you a 360 view of the park and does not disappoint.

Panorama Point, Capitol Reef National Park
Stargazing at Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef is a part of the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) which makes it perfect for stargazing. The IDA is dedicated to protecting the night skies for present and future generations. If you’re staying in the park or nearby don’t forget to look out and enjoy the billions of sparkling stars.

I hope this helps with the planning of your Utah National Parks road trip. Enjoy your next trip to the stunning National Parks of Utah!

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