Planning a visit to the Utah national parks? The Utah Mighty Five – Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches and Canyonlands – are some of the most incredible national parks in the United States. Each offers various hiking, camping, backpacking, canyoneering and climbing opportunities, stunning drives, overlooks, and more.
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Plan Your Utah Mighty Five Road Trip
Where should you start and end your Utah Mighty Five national parks road trip?
Flying in and out of the McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas is a great option. If you get an early morning flight, you’ll have plenty of time to pick up a rental car and start the three-hour-drive to Zion National Park. Keep in mind that you’ll lose an hour due to the time difference when you drive from Las Vegas to Springdale.
Flying in and out of Salt Lake City International Airport in Utah is another great option, but you’ll likely want to follow a different itinerary than the one presented here.
You could also consider flying into one of these airports and out of the other, but higher rental car fees may apply. The options are truly endless!
Map of Utah Mighty Five National Parks
Utah Mighty Five National Parks Itinerary
- Day 1: Fly to Las Vegas on an early flight and drive to Springdale
- Day 2: Zion National Park
- Day 3: Zion National Park and drive to Tropic
- Day 4: Bryce Canyon National Park and drive to Torrey
*Bonus: Visit Escalante and hike the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail on the way from Bryce Canyon to Torrey
- Day 5: Capitol Reef National Park and drive to Moab
- Day 6: Arches National Park
- Day 7: Canyonlands National Park
*Bonus: Drive to Monument Valley and stay the night
- Day 8: Drive back to Las Vegas and fly home
*Bonus: if you drove to Monument Valley the day before, visit the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park before driving back to Las Vegas. You could also stay another night in Las Vegas and spend the next day exploring some Fun Things to Do Near Las Vegas for Free.
Note that entry fees vary by park and depend on vehicle type and pass duration. Some of these parks are now implementing timed entry reservation systems. Prior to visiting any of the Utah national parks, be sure to check out the NPS website for the most up-to-date information.
A Broad Recommendation: invest in the U.S. Park Pass instead of paying individual park entry fees. It’s valid for a full year and covers your entry to thousands of national parks, including the Utah Mighty Five, and federally managed lands.
Utah National Parks: Zion
Located in southwest Utah near the Nevada and Arizona borders and the town of Springdale, Zion was Utah’s first national park, and it’s one of the most visited national parks in the United States.
It’s best known for its incredible canyons, and it’s home to some of the world’s most renowned hikes like Angels Landing and The Narrows, the park’s most popular hike.
We recommend spending two to three days here. Here’s How to Plan Your Epic Three-Day Zion Adventure:
- Fly to Las Vegas on an early flight
- Hike the Watchman Trail
- Hike the Emerald Pools Trails
- Have dinner at Zion Pizza & Noodle Co. and order the fire sticks – super yummy!
- Catch a sunrise along the Route 9 switchbacks
- Have breakfast at Oscar’s Café (included with your stay at Bumbleberry Inn)
- Hike The Narrows
- Hike the Pa’rus Trail
- Watch the sunset near Canyon Junction Bridge
- Hike the Zion Canyon Overlook Trail and watch the sunrise
- Have breakfast at Oscar’s again
- Hike Angels Landing via the West Rim Trail (now a permitted hike)
- Continue onto the West Rim Trail toward Cabin Spring
- Drive to Bryce Canyon National Park
If you have more time at Zion National Park, you may consider doing some of the other permitted hikes, like Observation Point or The Narrows Top-Down.
Utah National Parks: Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon National Park is located in southwest Utah near the town of Tropic and is just around a two-hour-drive from Zion National Park. The park sits on a high plateau at the top of the Grand Staircase, giving Bryce the highest elevation of the Utah Mighty Five national parks.
Bryce Canyon is home to the greatest concentration of hoodoos in the world. Hoodoos, also known as tent rocks, earth pyramids and fairy chimneys, are tall, thin, irregular columns of rock that range in size from the height of an average human to that of a ten-story building – woah!
We recommend spending at least a half day here. Here’s our recommendation for How to Spend One Day in Bryce Canyon National Park:
- Park at Sunrise Point
- Hike to Sunset Point in the dark (bring a flashlight)
- Watch the sunrise at Sunset Point
- Hike the Figure 8 Combination Trail from Sunset Point to Sunrise Point
- Have a picnic lunch or eat at The Lodge at Bryce Canyon
- Drive to Capitol Reef National Park
If you have more time, you could hike more of the Rim Trail, in addition to the portion from Sunrise Point to Sunset Point. This trail takes you along the rim of the scenic Bryce Amphitheater and provides a view of the hoodoos from above.
You could also consider driving along Bryce Canyon’s 18-mile-long main road, Southern Scenic Drive, and stop at each of the viewpoints. The four most popular are Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point and Sunrise Point.
Utah National Parks: Capitol Reef
Capitol Reef National Park is a lesser-visited Utah national park, but it certainly still stands its ground as one of the Mighty Five. The park is full of unspoiled gems like natural cliffs, canyons, domes and bridges.
It’s located a few minutes west of Torrey in Utah’s south-central desert, and it sits in the Waterpocket Fold, i.e. a wrinkle in the Earth’s crust, that formed over millions of years. Capitol Reef National Park is a two-hour-drive from Bryce Canyon National Park.
The area has been home to people for thousands of years, and their history is still evident throughout the park. Petroglyphs and painted pictographs remain from the Fremont Culture dating back to around 500 CE (Common Era), and the Fruita Rural Historic District is home to the Gifford House store and museum, an old school house, and one of the largest historic orchards.
We recommend spending at least a half day here. See our recommendation for How to Spend One Day in Capitol Reef National Park:
- Hike the Cassidy Arch Trail
- Drive along the Scenic Drive
- Stop at the Gifford House (and get a pie!)
- Hike the Hickman Bridge Trail
- Visit the Fremont petroglyph panels
- Stop at the Fruita Schoolhouse
- Stroll around the Goosenecks Trail
If you have more time, consider exploring a more remote part of the park called Cathedral Valley, where you can visit the Temples of the Sun and Moon; go for sunrise if you can!
Utah National Parks: Arches
A two-and-a-half-hour-drive from Capitol Reef, Arches National Park is located just north of Moab.
Arches National Park has more than 2,000 arches identified throughout the park; this is the densest concentration of natural sandstone arches in the world – woah! The most famous of the arches, Delicate Arch, has become somewhat of a symbol for the state of Utah. People from all over the world visit the park to see Delicate Arch.
The history and geology of this area is fascinating and ever changing. Over the course of 65 million years, what started as a dry seabed with these red rock features buried thousands of feet below the surface, slowly transformed into the incredible arches that we see today.
We recommend spending at least one day here; even with a full day, you won’t be able to see everything. Here’s our one-day itinerary that highlights The Best Hikes in Arches National Park:
- Hike to The Windows (easy) for sunrise
- Hike to Double Arch (easy)
- Hike the Delicate Arch Viewpoint Trails (easy)
- Stop at the Fiery Furnace Viewpoint (easy)
- Hike the Sand Dune & Broken Arch Trail (easy)
- Hike the Devils Garden Trail to Pine Tree Arch, Tunnel Arch & Landscape Arch (easy)
- Eat lunch at one of the picnic areas in the park
- Hike to Skyline Arch (easy)
- Hike the Park Avenue Trail (moderate)
- Stop at the Visitor Center for souvenirs
- Hike to Delicate Arch (difficult) for sunset (part of the walk back may be in the dark)
*Bonus: if you arrive early enough the night before, hike to Balanced Rock (easy) for sunset.
If you can spend more time at Arches National Park, consider hiking further along the Devils Garden Trail to some of the park’s more secluded arches. However, the trail becomes strenuous beyond Landscape Arch, so make sure you’re prepared for that.
Utah National Parks: Canyonlands
Only a 30 minute drive from Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park is the largest of the Utah Mighty Five, preserving more than 300,000 acres of incredible rocky landscape.
Despite being the largest, it’s often overshadowed by some of the other Utah national parks, but Canyonlands still has a ton to offer!
The park has four districts, but it’s challenging to visit more than one in a single trip. The Island in the Sky district is the most accessible, and thus, the most popular district. It sits atop a huge, level sandstone mesa and offers various overlooks with incredible canyon views, as well as a scenic drive and several hikes, varying in length and difficulty. This district is also home to the infamous Mesa Arch.
We recommend spending at least a half day in the Island in the Sky district. Here’s our itinerary to see The Best of Canyonlands National Park in One Day:
- Sunrise at Mesa Arch Trail
- Grand View Point Overlook Trail
- White Rim Overlook
- Buck Canyon Overlook
- Green River Overlook
- Upheaval Dome
- Shafer Canyon Overlook
- Island in the Sky Visitor Center
- Visitor Center Viewpoint
If you have more than one day at Canyonlands National Park, consider exploring some of the other districts.
There you have it! You can easily visit all of the Utah Mighty Five national parks in one trip.
Utah Mighty Five Itinerary Add-Ons
But wait, there’s more! If you have more time on your Utah Mighty Five road trip, you might want to check out these spots as well:
Lower Calf Creek Falls
Take the route along UT-12E from Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef and Hike the Stunning Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail in Escalante.
Lower Calf Creek Falls is one of the few active waterfalls in the southern Utah desert; and, it’s breathtaking. The waterfall descends from a 126-foot-tall mineral-streaked cliff into a deep pool that serves as a swimming hole in summer months.
You may also consider A Quick Visit to the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park on the way back from Canyonlands National Park to Las Vegas.
Monument Valley, i.e. the “valley of the rocks”, lies within Navajo Nation territory right on the Arizona-Utah state line and is one of the most majestic and most photographed places in the world.
It’s best known for its vast sandstone buttes that formed over hundreds of millions of years; the largest is approximately 1,000 feet above the valley floor – wow!
The best thing to do in the Monument Valley area is visit the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park and do the 17-mile loop drive.
Another spot you won’t want to miss is Forrest Gump Point, which was made popular from the movie – you guessed it – Forrest Gump! The roadside pull-off is located on Highway 163 Scenic Drive in Mexican Hat, Utah and offers one of the most stunning views in the American Southwest.
We hope you enjoy your visit to the Utah Mighty Five and are blown away by the beauty of this area!
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XOXO Travel A-Broads