Utah's Mighty 5 National Parks

Updated: Dec 26, 2020

Utah is home to some of America's top national parks. They are nicknamed the "Mighty 5" and usually a top bucket list item for anyone traveling around the U.S. Let's take a deeper look into each park:

Zion National Park

This has been my absolute favorite national park for the past couple of years. Just the drive along Zion-Mt. Carmel Hwy will absolutely take your breath away- not to mention all the other amazing sights and hikes.

Time to spend here: 2-3 days

Popular hikes:

  • The Narrows (Up to 16 miles RT, moderate-strenuous)

  • Angels Landing (5.4 miles RT, hard)

  • Upper Emerald Pools (3 miles RT, easy)

Read more here.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Only 75 miles east of Zion is this beauty. A smaller park that consists of a large canyon filled with hoodoos. It's definitely a unique park to see!

Time to spend here: 1-2 days

Popular hikes:

  • Navajo Loop to Queens Garden (3.2 miles RT, moderate)

  • Rim Trail (1-11 miles RT, easy)

  • Mossy Cave (0.8 miles RT, easy)

Read more here.

Capitol Reef National Park

About a 2.5 hour drive northeast of Bryce, you'll stumble upon this tiny park. It definitely still has some unique features, but you can easily explore the park in a matter of hours.

Time to spend here: 1 day or less

Popular hikes:

  • Chimney Rock Trail (3.3 mile loop, moderate)

  • Cassidy Arch Trail (3 miles RT, moderate-strenuous)

  • Sunset Point Trail (0.8 miles RT, easy)

Read more here.

Canyonlands National Park

About a 2.5 hour drive east of Capitol Reef is where you'll find this wonder. This park is split up into sections which are hours apart from one another, but the most popular section to explore is the Island in the Sky section. This section actually kind of reminded me of the Grand Canyon, Bryce, and Zion all wrapped into one. It's extremely unique!

Time to spend here: 1-3 days based on how many parts of the part you're exploring. (If you're just doing Island in the Sky region, you'll only need a couple of hours.)

Popular hikes:

  • Mesa Arch (0.5 miles RT, easy)

  • Grand View Point (2 miles RT, easy)

  • Upheaval Dome (1.6 miles RT, easy)

Read more here.

Arches National Park

And last but not least, just a short 30 minute drive east of Canyonlands you'll arrive at Arches National Park. This park is pretty spread out, so you'll be driving a lot throughout the park to get to all of the hikes and viewpoints. But the drives are always gorgeous.

Time to spend here: 1-2 days (depending on how many hikes you feel comfortable squeezing in!)

Popular hikes:

  • The Windows (1 mi RT, easy)

  • Double Arch (0.5 mi RT, easy)

  • Landscape Arch (1.6 mi RT, easy)

  • Delicate Arch (3 mi RT, moderate-strenuous)

Read more here.

Road Trip Itinerary

Most people who are making the effort to go out to Utah want to see all the national parks in one trip, so that calls for a road trip! You either want to start in the SW corner with Zion and make your way NE to finish in Arches, or vice versa. It's nice that they're reasonably close to one another, so a road trip to see the Mighty 5 in one trip is definitely doable.

My Ranking

After visiting the Mighty 5 parks of Utah, I've decided to rank them in order of my favorite to least favorite. This isn't to say you shouldn't try to visit all 5, because I definitely think you should. But if you don't have the time, make sure to check out my top picks.

#1 Zion

Honestly this has been my favorite national park in the entire country for years. I can't describe the feeling you get when you are driving the Zion-Mt Carmel Hwy through the park. The huge red rocks surrounding you, with all the intricate details... wow. It makes you feel so small. So insignificant. But in the best way possible. And when you hike the Narrows you can't believe a place like this exists on earth. You don't need to hike the entire 16+ miles to get a feel for it. You just see these towering rock walls around you as you walk through the thin opening, wading in the river. It truly is such a unique hike and experience you'll never forget. Mother Nature was truly showing off when she created this place, let me tell ya. I've been to Zion 4 times now, and I truly never get sick of it.

My highlight: Zion-Mt Carmel Hwy drive & The Narrows

#2 Arches

You know that amazing red arch you see on the Utah license plate? Well, that can be found here. I was kind of expecting the park to just be filled with arches that kind of looked the same, but I was completely wrong. Although the park is just filled with arches everywhere you look, they are all so unique and different. Double arch is pretty self-explanatory: two arches that share the same base- it's awesome and massive. Landscape arch is this paper thin arch that spreads extremely far and wide- you really look at it and think, how has this thing lasted all these years? And the absolute show stopper: Delicate Arch (from the license plate). Although the hike is pretty challenging to get up there and see this arch, it is absolutely worth it. We sat and watched the sunset up at the top and just seeing all the different colors of the sky surrounding this arch... it was a feeling I'll never forget.

My highlight: Delicate Arch

#3 Bryce

The hoodoos displayed in Bryce Canyon are truly unique. I remember the first time I saw them thinking how is this even real? Absolutely gorgeous. The only negative thing I'll say is that it's just the canyon filled with hoodoos to look at. So every viewpoint and hike starts to feel the same after awhile. But regardless, it's all still extremely beautiful. And the navajo loop/queens garden trail is awesome. You start at the top of the canyon looking down, and then suddenly you're immersed into the canyon completely surrounded by all the hoodoos. That's definitely the highlight of the park for me!

My highlight: Navajo Loop/Queens Garden Trail

#4 Canyonlands

I was only able to explore the Island of the Sky district of this park since the Needles district is about a 2.5 hour drive away. But even so, it's still super beautiful. Like I mentioned earlier, it kind of reminded me of a combination of parks like the Grand Canyon, Bryce, and Zion. There are some true geologic wonders at this park. My only complaint is that the section of Island in the Sky is so small, you can do the whole thing (hikes included) in about 4 hours. And since the other sections are such a far drive away, it's hard to explore the entire park instead of just one section. I hope to explore the Needles section one day and maybe that'll bump it up the list!

My highlight: Mesa Arch Trail

#5 Capitol Reef

The only reason why this one is last on my list is because of its size. It's so small, you can thoroughly explore the park in a matter of hours. It's still beautiful and has some notable things to see, but I love going to a place where I feel like I have infinite exploration possibilities. And I didn't really feel that here. The good thing is that since Zion & Bryce are so close to one another in the SW corner, along with Canyonlands & Arches in the east, Capitol Reef provides a nice resting spot in the middle of the two areas when driving. So you might as well explore the park for a couple hours!

My highlight: Cassidy Arch Trail

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