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. They are some of the best places to visit in Utah. There are so many great things to do at Utah’s national parks. Here are the highlights of the Mighty 5 parks and how you can plan your Utah road trip.
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Utah National Parks
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 see including lookout points and hikes.
Arches National Park is located in southeast Utah and is known for its many rock formations and sandstone arches. The park is beautiful and easy to navigate since there is only one main road.
The entrance fee to this park is $25 for private vehicles. 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.
Looking for the best arch in the park? Delicate Arch is the “most famous” arch. 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.
The 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 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.
Canyonlands National Park is known for its canyons, hence the name. The entrance fee to this park is $30 for private vehicles or use your annual park pass. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Capitol Reef is a diverse park that you’ll find is very different compared to its neighbors. This park was 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 $20 for vehicles or you can use your annual park pass if you have one. Read on for things to do in Capitol Reef National Park.
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.
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.
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.
Stargazing at Capitol Reef
Capitol Reef is a part of the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) which makes it perfect for stargazing. . If you’re staying in the park or nearby don’t forget to look out and enjoy the billions of sparkling stars.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is the smallest park of the “Mighty 5.” This compact park is easy to get around and can be enjoyed in a day. The entrance fee to this park is $35 for private vehicles or use the annual park pass if you have it.
Viewpoints and Points of Interest
There are many viewpoints that are accessible via a short walk. Of course, if you enjoy hiking there are many trails to enjoy as well. Be sure to check out Thor’s hammer, Natural Bridge, Inspiration Point, and Sunset Point.
Top Hikes at Bryce Canyon National Park
Zion National Park
Zion National Park is the most popular of the “Mighty 5.” This park is Utah’s business so plan your visit accordingly, arrive early, and opt for weekdays or going off-season. The entrance fee to this park is $35 for private vehicles and of course, you can use your annual park pass. The park is easy to navigate and there is a shuttle service (March – November) that takes you to the park and around the park.
If you’re a hiker you can easily spend a few days exploring the park. The main attractions at Zion National Park are two of Utah’s most famous hikes: Angels Landing and the Narrows. Angels Landing has been called one of the most dangerous hikes in the United States. It’s not for the faint of heart but proper footwear is necessary and sticking to the trail is an absolute must. It’s a five-mile, out and back, strenuous hike. However, you are rewarded with breathtaking views at the top.
The Narrows is the most popular of Zion National Park. The trail runs through the Virgin River and into a slot canyon and you will absolutely get wet so it’s a good idea to gear up. The summer months are an ideal time to do this hike however this is when the trail is the busiest.
Most day hikers will take the “bottom up” trail, which is 10 miles, out and back although you can turn around at any time. Depending on the time of year and the water level the hike will become more difficult towards the end and the canyon becomes more narrow. The “top down” hike is by permit only. It’s 16 miles however the permit allows you to backpack. You’ll need to plan this in advance and arrange for a shuttle as the trailhead is outside of the park. Check out more information on hiking The Narrows here.
Plan Your Trip
If you’re visiting the Mighty 5 national parks you can stay in either a hotel, an Airbnb, or opt for camping or if you have an RV, stay at an RV park.
Book Your Stay
Arches and Canyonlands National Parks
If you’re visiting Arches and/or Canyonlands, opt to stay near Moab
Need A Car?
Check out RentalCars.com for affordable rental cars.
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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