If you have never visited Utah, you really don’t know what you are missing! Referred to as the Beehive State, Utah is spoiled for choice when it comes to breathtaking scenery and memorable landscapes. Utah is famous for having the ‘Mighty 5 National Parks’ and after visiting three of them on our recent trip around the state, I am left awe-inspired and almost speechless as to the beauty that we experienced.
Based on our experiences and also thanks to some of our friends that have experienced the two national parks that we have yet to visit, we want to share an overview of Utah’s Mighty 5 and hopefully convince you that a trip to this part of the world is needed sooner rather than later.
Let’s take a look at each of the following national parks individually and see why each one is unique and may tempt you into exploring first:
- Zion National Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Arches National Park
- Capitol Reef National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
The map below shows an overview of Utah and shows exactly where each of these national parks are geographically located in relation to each other. You should be able to map out a pretty interesting road trip to explore one or more of these. We did exactly this on our recent trip to Utah taking in Zion, Bryce and Arches but there are many different routes you can take to see this beautiful state.
Our journey saw us explore Zion before staying in Cedar City and then heading east through the Dixie National Forest to Bryce Canyon. From there we headed north through what I would term ‘Utah’s wilderness’ until we reached I-70 and then we headed across to Arches which is close to the Colorado state line.
Zion National Park
If you are looking for a national park that oozes history, breathtaking views and challenging hikes, look no further than Utah’s oldest national park – Zion. Located in the south-west corner of the state, Zion offers visitors a number of options to explore, starting with the gorgeous scenic drive that we opted for after entering Zion from the east entrance.
Some of the key landmarks along this drive include Checkerboard Mesa and passing through the Zion Canyon tunnel which is a cool man-made experience.
The real beauty at Zion is accessed from the many hiking trails, either from the scenic drive route or from the private shuttle that transports visitors to a number of trailheads scattered around the park. Notable hikes include a viewpoint that overlooks the Great White Throne which is possibly the most popular and infamous of all landmarks throughout Zion.
Hiking the Narrows is a challenging yet incredibly rewarding experience and other significant attractions include Weeping Rock, Emerald Pools and the Courtyard of the Patriarchs.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Words alone may never do any of the national parks in Utah justice, but this is certainly true with Bryce Canyon. Prior to visiting here on our recent trip, I had little knowledge of this part of Utah and honestly had no real expectations.
However, I was truly blown away as soon as we arrived at Inspiration Point and gazed across the beautiful amphitheaters covered in geologic wonders.
If you know very little about Bryce Canyon, the first thing worth noting is the iconic ‘hoodoo’, or the towering spire that is scattered across the landscape. This geological phenomenon is an eye-catching landmark that really highlights the stunning views that you see from spots such as Inspiration and Bryce Point.
Throughout the climb from the foot of Bryce Canyon to the summit at Rainbow Point, there are numerous attractions that you won’t want to miss. Natural Bridge for example is a unique landmark not to be missed with visitors seeking the eye-catching view of the sunlight shining through the ‘natural archway’ portraying the gorgeous landscape in the background.
Bryce Canyon is definitely my favorite of all the Mighty 5 national parks. The scenery is just so so unique and different from anything you could ever imagine. Relaxing here at one of the various overlooks is certainly a worthwhile experience.
Arches National Park
Mind-blowing arches, vibrant red sandstone monoliths and a huge rock perched delicately on the edge of a towering stack. All of these attractions along with much more can only be found at Arches National Park in Moab, Utah.
Situated on the edge of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, Arches attracts visitors from the around the world because of the stunning landscapes that are present here. Popular landmarks include Delicate Arch, the Windows section and a number of other daredevil hiking trails that lead to unforgettable views overlooking an almost untouched wilderness.
With over 2000 natural attractions including hoodoos similar to what you see at Bryce Canyon, arches like no other location in the world and an array of pinnacles that characterize this location, Arches National Park is a must visit for any travelers interested in unique phenomena.
Our journey around Utah’s national parks ended after we left Arches, but there are still two other gorgeous attractions out there worth exploring.
Are you convinced yet that Utah’s national parks will take your breath away? We are delighted to welcome a few of our fellow travel blogging friends who have visited Capitol Reef and Canyonlands, and they have kindly offered to provide their opinion on why you should experience these national parks.
There is nothing quite like hearing about first-hand experiences and we would like to thank both Jennifer Melroy and Jane Pelusey for contributing on Capitol Reef, and Lucy Dodsworth for her insight into Canyonlands National Park.
Capitol Reef National Park
Thanks to Jane Pelusey from Pelusey Photography on highlighting some of the key reasons why you should never forget Capitol Reef National Park when planning a road trip in Utah!
Capitol Reef is one of the Mighty five National Parks in Utah, but seems to be situated in the shadow of its grand siblings. Don’t let this fool you to leaving it off your itinerary. Capitol Reef is a mix of towering cliffs, monumental domes, ancient and modern history.
The tiny town of Torrey is the gateway to Capital Reef. The nature of the landscape means that whichever way you drive in, you are tantalized by dramatically changing rock formations.
From Arches, the drive is around and through the park itself. From Bryce Canyon, Highway 12 is a spectacular ever-changing road trip, so either option will provide a beautiful scenic route.
To get an overall impression of the area take the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive, 25 miles in length, which encompasses the highlights such as Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge. Grand Wash is a short drive between towering smooth rock walls.
At the end car park, walk trailheads entice. The Grand Wash (2.25 miles one way) and Cassidy Arch (1.25 miles one way) wind their way through the towering sandstone walls along a stony creek bed.
After the grandeur of the first four Utah National Parks, we found we hadn’t allowed enough time in Capitol Reef. We were surprised by the different landscape and history. So next time we will allow a few more days to explore this fabulous park.
Ready to explore Capitol Reef? Need just a little more convincing? Don’t worry, we have another great contribution which I am sure will make you want to add Capitol Reef to your bucket list. Jennifer Melroy from Made All The Difference Travel Blog shares her thoughts.
I stopped at Capitol Reef National Park as part of my Utah national park roadtrip. Capitol is the least visited and most underrated of the Utah parks.My favorite hike was through Capitol Gorge. I loved hiking down the Gorge and imagining trying to drive my car through it. I am not sure my car would have made it, although the pictures from the 1930’s show it’s possible.
Another unique aspect of Capitol is the Fruita Settlement. Fruita was a small town in the park that was home to large fruit orchards. The orchards still remain and are open to the public for fruit picking.
Also, I loved eating fresh apple pie and peach pie that was available at the Fruita visitor center. The pies were made using apple and peaches from the Fruita orchards.
After my two days exploring this park, I feel sorry that it is in Utah. It is a park with a lot to offer that gets lost in the shadow of Zion, Bryce, Arches, and even Canyonlands. I can’t wait to return to pick more fruit and hike more of these amazing trails!
Canyonlands National Park
Lucy Dodsworth from ‘On the Luce travel blog’ shared her amazing encounter at Canyonlands and what better way to encourage folks to visit this part of Utah than by sharing her first hand experience.
Given that Canyonlands was one of the Mighty 5 we have yet to explore, we would like to thank Lucy for offering her opinions on why you should take time to check this out.
Utah’s biggest national park, Canyonlands takes your breath away in so many ways. It was the park I knew the least about and had the least expectations of, but it ended up being the most memorable. The park is amazingly diverse, with three main districts each with a totally different feel.
There’s the Needles and the Maze if you want to wild hike and rough it on the dirt roads in your 4WD. Or for an easier ride you can make the climb up to the Island in the Sky. The road wound its way slowly uphill until we emerged out onto a wide, flat plateau. Thousand-foot-high drops all the way around the edge made it really feel like we were on an island, floating way above the land below.
A road around the plateau rim takes you to a series of outlooks, where way below we looked down on tiny pinnacles, arches and gorges carved out by the Colorado and Green Rivers. Up close these can be 1000 feet tall but from way above you lose all perspective – it’s the closest you can get to feeling like a giant.
Utah is THE state to visit if you are looking for a plethora of natural attractions to explore. This place is inundated with gorgeous scenery, breathtaking viewpoints and challenging yet rewarding hiking trails. We were extremely fortunate to have time to explore Zion, Bryce and Arches, but after reading all of the great experiences from our fellow travelers, there is just as much beauty in Capitol Reef and Canyonlands National Parks.
Consider purchasing the ‘America is Beautiful’ annual national park pass and this will not only save you A LOT of money, it will convince you to explore many more parks around the United States.
Which of these national parks intrigues you the most? Is it even possible to pick one of these over the other? Here is my recommendation – check out all of them! Organize a road trip that allows you to visit all of the Mighty 5 national parks, because I highly doubt you will leave disappointed.