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The Mighty 5 Utah gets its name because Utah is home to five of the country’s most beautiful national parks, like Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon all located in a small geographical area. Although each one is very different from its neighbors all offer some of the unique landscape and rock formations that can’t be found anywhere else. Mighty 5 Utah is a perfect destination for a road trip through the South West United States.
Mighty 5 Utah
Utah is heaven for anyone that loves the outdoors. From some of the most iconic national parks in the south to the beautiful Wasatch Mountain Range in the north, Utah literally has it all, but this road trip is all about the national parks in the south, Utah’s Mighty 5 road trip.
Zion National Park
For this trip, I would fly in and out of Las Vegas and head east right away. The first stop on the road trip through The Mighty 5 Utah would be Zion National Park, the most visited park in Utah by far. Spend a night or three in Springdale just outside of the park or in Hurricane if you’re on more of a budget. Get up early to get hiking the next day. Climb the famous Angel’s Landing. Splash through the towering Narrows. Get off the beaten path and explore Hidden Canyon. Finish the evening off enjoying a sunset over the Watchman.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Next up on this loop is Bryce Canyon, which I think is actually a little underrated. Most people skip it for nearby Zion or just drive through without really hiking in it at all. Whether it’s hot and sunny or cold and foggy, I would recommend hiking the Navajo Loop/Queen’s Garden Trails in the Bryce Amphitheater. Make sure you stop at the other viewpoints along the scenic drive, and if you have time, check out the Mossy Cave Trail on Highway 89.
Joining a group trip is a great way to see the highlights of this area!
Capitol Reef National Park
Right in the middle, we’ve got my personal favorite, Capitol Reef. It may not be the least visited national park in Utah, but I think it gets overlooked a lot since it isn’t right next to another park, like Arches and Canyonlands or Bryce and Zion. This park has so much to offer, it’s crazy. Later in the summer and fall, you can pick fruit in the park orchards, which was super fun! You can see petroglyphs and the names of the first Mormon Pioneers to pass through the area. There are aches to admire, creeks to splash through, and don’t forget to admire the stunning night sky.
Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands claims the title of the least visited national park in Utah, but it doesn’t help that it’s overshadowed by its neighbor, Arches. Canyonlands has three districts: easy to get to Island in the Sky, less visited, The Needles, and tough to navigate, The Maze. If you only have one day, I would recommend Island in the Sky. It’s closest to Moab but is my favorite so far. It has some of the best canyon views in the area and tons of awesome hiking trails. If you want a good place to watch the sunrise, head to the Mesa Arch Trail. It will be busy in the morning. If you want to see it with fewer people, consider a visit at sunset.
Canyonlands is also a great place to try canyoneering!
Arches National Park
Finally, we’ve got my second favorite park in Utah and my first ever national park, Arches. This is Moab’s crown jewel and for good reason. It’s extremely easy to visit, but that also means it’s extremely busy in the summer. Head into the park first thing in the morning or you’ll face a line of cars waiting to get in. Make sure you hike to Delicate Arch, the symbol of Utah, It’s the one on all the license plates, and if you want it to yourself, a sunrise trip is perfect. If you want to feel like you’re in an old Western movie, hike Park Avenue before enjoying the sunset on the Windows.
While the main draw in Utah might be the national parks, there are tons of other parks and trails that are worth visiting. I will say, I haven’t been impressed with some of Utah’s state parks, but there are a few that have blown me away making up for the others. Goblin Valley is pretty much a playground for grown-ups with the little goblin rock formations all along the valley floor. If you feel confident enough, you can climb up into the formations on the outer wall of the park, too.
While there, why not try canyoneering through the Goblin’s lair.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes and Snow Canyon are two parks in Southeastern Utah, not too far from Zion National Park. Snow Canyon is almost like a mini Zion with a million fewer visitors. My expectations were pretty average, but they were blown out of the water almost as soon as we got there. Coral Pink Sand Dunes is tucked away just outside of Kanab, Utah and is perfect for hikers and OHV’ers alike. While there may not be as much to do here other than climbing the dunes, it’s still a really pretty park to visit if you’re nearby.
Finally (I may be biased on this one after working here for three summers) is Lake Powell straddling the Utah Arizona border. Almost all of the lake is in Utah, but the Arizona end gets way more visitors. This is probably the coolest lake that is actually a reservoir in the US. It is in the middle of the desert after all. It is a controversial lake, but the scenery is mind-blowing. Canyon walls tower above you. You can look for native ruins, petroglyphs, caves, and even dinosaur tracks around the shore, which it has more of than the entire US west coast. Renting a boat will be the most expensive activity on this list, but it’s totally worth it to get back into the canyons.
While exploring this area, why not treat yourself to a 30-minute flight over Lake Powell and Horseshoe Bend?
If you love the outdoors and visiting national parks, road tripping through Might 5 Utah is perfect for you! Not only is it a scenic route to drive but there are tons of other fun stops and things you can do along the way.
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Megan is afraid of the dark, drinks too much coffee, enjoys watercolor painting, and loves maps, but can’t read them.
She is a Wisconsin native turned American Nomad. In the fall of 2014 she started Red Around The World mostly for funsies to share pictures from previous and future travels and it’s evolved into something a little more helpful than just pictures. She works seasonal jobs full time and blogs on the side about all her adventures. Her blog focuses on all things outdoors, road trips, hiking, and national parks.
She loves looking for wildlife (especially moose,) but has a huge fear of mountain lions and will think of them every time she wakes up in the middle of the night camping. You can probably find her reading, napping, drinking coffee, or all three if she’s not out enjoying the trails.