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Friday, October 30, 2015

A Guide To Utah's Mighty Five

As you probably (already) know, the first thing I did when I moved to Utah was to create a Bucket List.  To me, Utah was such foreign, unknown territory.  I had never heard much about the state besides Park City and Sister Wives (Love the city, hate the show).  Once I started googling, I was amazed at all of the beauty in this state.  

At the top of my bucket list, was the Mighty Five.  No, this isn't some kind of nuance American eating challenge at a diner.  Instead, it is a trip to all five of Utah's National Park.  Yes, there are five in this state.  And they are all gorgeous, different from the next, and worth visiting.

Some people aim to see all five in one week-long trip. ( put together an awesome itinerary for visiting the 5 parks over seven days…with a few extras like Monument Valley and Natural Bridges thrown in there too). You can find that here.  And the best way to do see these 5 National Parks in one epic road trip?  It is absolutely without a doubt in an RV or some type of camper van. You can check out RV Rentals in Utah available through Outdoorsy and pick from an awesome selection of RVs.  It's like Airbnb for campers and it is going to change the way people play outside.  

If you call Utah home, you may have the luxury of seeing these parks over a longer period of time.  Being a temporary resident, this is how I chose to conquer the Mighty Five.  This way, you get to spread your trip out a big and really "get to know" each park and the awesome areas in between them.  I liked this strategy because it allowed me to see each park in what I thought was their “best” season.  Arches and Canyonlands are perfect in the late fall, early spring, or even in the winter as the temperature are cool and there are much fewer crowds.  But Bryce is a bad choice in the winter because of its high elevation and snow locked roads.  Oh and Capitol Reef?  It never gets as crowded as the others! 

Overall, spring and fall are the best times to visit the parks, with summer being the worst in my opinion due to the heat, kids out of school, and the large crowds.  Either way, you do it, in one quick shot or over time, a trip to Utah's Mighty Five should be on everyone’s bucket list.  I highly recommend getting your America the Beautiful season pass where $80 lets you into all National Parks and Monuments for free (some parks are as high as $25 per vehicle).  Let’s get to know each park a little better.

Home to the famous Delicate Arch, fashioned on many Utah license plates and iconic posters featuring the west. We loved the varied landscape and the thousands of arches around the park. Over 2,000 natural stone arches can be found in this park and home to the famous Delicate Arch.  Be warned- this is a popular and very crowded park.  But like any National Park, you can find the trails where the mobs are not! 

Make sure to:  See Delicate Arch
Easy Day Hikes: Double Arch, Broken Arch, Park Avenue and Landscape Arch also 5 Family Friendly Hikes.
Something Different:  Ranger led fiery furnace hike
Avoid the crowds:  Visit early or late in the date. Avoid free days and weekends. 

Read my posts all about Arches: Arches Part I and Arches Part II

Entrance to Arches NP
Rock Formations at Arches 
Delicate Arch in the distance
Various Arches throughout the park 

Canyonlands was a gigantic park in the same area as Arches. Canyonlands has two different sections that are quite far apart, the Needles and Island in the Sky. We went to the popular Island in the Sky section and absolutely loved the amazing geography here in the park. We drooled and dreamed about coming back to bike the famous White Rim Trail. If you plan to visit the Needles section you will need a few days as these two sections are very far apart.

Make sure to:  See Mesa Arch (sunrise is best!).  Also, take a peek at the White Rim Trail.  If you have time, stop next-door at Dead Horse Point State Park
Easy Day Hikes: Mesa Arch, White Rim, Overlook, Grand View Point, Murphy Point, Upheaval Dome, Whale Rock, Aztec Butte, Syncline Loop
Avoid the crowds:  Visit early or late in the date. Avoid free days and weekends. 

Read more about my trip to Canyonlands:  Canyonlands Part I and Canyonlands Part II

Entrance to Canyonlands
Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands NP
Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands NP
Mesa Arch - perfect for sunrise!

 The next park was the most popular here in Utah, Zion National Park.  Read- the most popular, with the most visitors, read the most crowded.  But crowds or not, Zion is so many sorts of beautiful. Between the Virgin River that flows through the park, to the famous hikes like Angels Landing, The Narrows, and the Subway, Zion is on the top of many travelers lists.  This is one of those parks that you have to watch the weather for, as Flash Flooding in certain areas of the park can be very dangerous.  Hikes like The Narrows require a lot of planning for the right gear, and hikes like The Subway will require a permit.  Definitely make sure you camp in the park and the stargazing is some of the best I have ever seen. Don't forget to check out the Kolob Canyons, another section of Zion, if you want to beat the crowds. *Note* There is a mandatory shuttle in the busy season taking you to all the viewpoint and trailheads due to the high number of visitors in the park.  Personal vehicles are only allowed in the park after November 27th. 

Make sure to:  See the entrance to the Narrows, hike Angels Landing even if you don't hike the section of the chains hike the first 2/3 of it to see the amazing view down the canyon, and enjoy the views from Observation Point. 
Easy Day Hikes: Hidden Canyon, Angels Landing (to quitters corner if you are like me). Observation Point, and The Narrows via Riverside Walk (paved trail!) and Emerald Pools
Avoid the crowds:  Visit early or late in the date. Avoid free days and weekends. Visit the northwest section or better yet, visit in the winter! March was perfection. Hike at night under the starry night. Head to Kolob Canyons, another section of Zion.

Read more about my trip to Zion:  Zion Riverside Walk  Zion Emerald Pools   Zion Angels Landing and more Zion Information 

Entrance to Zion NP
Riverside Walk - Virgin River to the Entrance to the Narrows
Riverside Walk - Virgin River to the Entrance to the Narrows
The amazing views from the trail to Angels Landing

The last two stops of the Mighty Five were sort of like Arches and Canyonlands.  Bryce and Capitol Reef were located about 2 hours apart in Southern Utah, separated by the famous Highway 12.  I HIGHLY suggest putting these two parks together in your visit and driving the famous and beautiful Highway 12 between them.  Make sure you stop in beautiful Escalante to hike Lower Calf Creek Falls and explore this amazing part of the state. 

Capitol Reef is one of the least visited, and least known National Parks.  It may also be one of the most underrated.  And it is also the cheapest and so different from the other parks.  Instead of wall to wall red rock, Capitol Reef offers green luscious grass along the Fremont River, with several orchards that are open to the public for picking (I picked apples while visiting this park and bought some local homemade goods at a festival during fall... in a NP!) Capitol Reef is a great spot for solitude and sunshine in grassy fields.  There is a lot of history in the petroglyphs and you can read all about the ancient people who once called this area home. 

Make sure to:  See the petroglyphs, pick whatever is in season at the orchards, take in the views at the Capitol Gorge, and read all about the Fremont Culture that lived in this area. 
Easy Day Hikes: Fremont River Trail (the only dog-friendly trail!), Sulphur Creek, Frying Pan Trail, Golden Throne and Cassidy Arch.
Avoid the crowds:  This park never sees the large crowds like the others!  If you really want it to yourself, go in the offseason or hike during the week.  

Read more about my trip to Capitol Reef National Park 

Entrance to Capitol Reef 
Insite CRNP 

Orchard in contrast with the red rock of Capitol Reef
Petroglyphs in the park

 Bryce was my favorite, I have to say.  From the moment I walked into this National Park, I was in awe of the beautiful hoodoos and gorgeous geography of this park.  Like pick-your-jaw-off-the-ground and holy beautiful, this place is so unique!  Those hoodoos (pinnacle like rock structures) you see down below? You can actually hike among them. 

The 14-mile scenic drive did not disappoint, and the 3-mile hike among the hoodoos was an amazing experience. This park is at a much higher elevation than the other four, so it does get much colder.  Dress accordingly and if you get to see the hoodoos dusted in snow it is an extra treat. *Note* Bryce also has a shuttle system in the busy season, however, it is not mandatory.  If you can opt for the shuttle to avoid parking chaos at trailheads and keep down on the number of vehicles driving through the park.  

Make sure to:  The 3-mile hike among the hoodoos was my favorite part of the park.  Also, make sure you walk between Sunset and Sunrise point for amazing views (the one dog-friendly trail!).  
Easy Day Hikes: Queens Garden/Navajo Loop Trail, Peek-a-boo loop trail, sunset to sunrise point. and the rim trail. 
Avoid the crowds:  Visit early or late in the date. Avoid free days and weekends. Visit the northwest section or better yet, visit in the winter but beware, there will be snow! 

Read more about my trip to Bryce:  Queens Garden/Navajo Loop Trail and Bryce Canyon National Park 

Entrance to Bryce

Walk between sunrise and sunset point
I lived in a beautiful doubts about that.  And rereading and editing this post 2,200 miles away now that I live back east makes me so homesick of Utah.  Parts of me ache to be back in the desert, exploring these National Parks where adventure always awaits.  The Mighty Five is a must for any Utah Resident, or for any traveler with a little bit of time. Checking this off my bucket list (and so many other National Parks) has been such a great experience. Utah... you never cease to blow my mind with your beautiful scenery.  

A few extras by these National Parks
Dead Horse Point State Park by Canyonlands starts to look like sections of the Grand Canyon. It is a state park so dogs are allowed and the price is much cheaper than the National Parks. Driving the famous and beautiful Highway 12 between them.  Make sure you stop in beautiful Escalante to hike Lower Calf Creek Falls and explore this amazing part of the state.  Explore the rest of Moab (the town which houses Arches and Canyonlands- there is so much to hike bike and do in this town- outside of the national parks, Moab is very dog-friendly).  

Need to see more of Utah?  Check out my Utah Travel Guide Page and see all of the sites mentioned today on my interactive map 


  1. Great job! I have been lucky enough to do that tour twice. Each time is a whole new set of missions. Thanks!

    1. Thanks Chris! Congrats on making it through twice already! Loved the way you put that of a set of missions each time you go! So true! so many hikes I want to do I have to go back to them all.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. As a lifelong utah resident it is sad to admit I have never spent serious time in any of these parks ( I don't count my quick drive thrus ). I now have these five on my bucket list for sure. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you for reading! I really loved visiting the parks in the "off season" when they were less crowded! Allowed us to enjoy the hikes a little more! Hope you get to spend some time in your beautiful parks soon :)


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