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The state of Utah is home to five of the most stunning national parks the US has to offer.
Dubbed the “Mighty 5”, these national parks deliver towering canyon walls, out of this world rock formations, and picture perfect views.
So what are the Mighty 5? They’re five parks stretching through the desert landscape of southern Utah, and are perfect for a road trip. From east to west, the parks are: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Parks.
From the first time I heard about these five parks, I knew I needed to visit them, and I think you’ll want to too.
Below I’ve compiled everything you need to know to plan your own Utah Mighty Five road trip. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed!
Best Time to Visit the Utah National Parks
Because the Mighty 5 sit in a desert environment, summer months can be sweltering hot, and winters snowy and cold.
I recommend doing this Utah Mighty 5 road trip in the late spring and early fall months. I’ve personally done this road trip in early October, and found the weather to be perfectly nice and cool.
- Best Time to Visit the Utah National Parks
- Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks Itinerary
- Capitol Reef
- Bryce Canyon
- Utah Road Trip Itinerary (10 Days)
- Additional Stops Worth Making in Utah:
- Plan In Advance
- What to Pack + Bring
- Tips to Save Money on Your Trip
- Save This for Later
- Other Posts You’ll Love
Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks Itinerary
It’s hard to find words to describe the sheer beauty of Arches National Park. The initial drive into Arches is quite dramatic, and perfectly sets up what’s to come as you explore the park.
The winding park road has you climbing up through shimmering red rock formations. You’ll get sweeping views of the red rock canyons that surround the park, and towering rock formations.
The park is home to thousands of Arches, for which the park is named after.
READ MORE: plan your perfect trip with this Arches National Park itinerary!
You might recognize Delicate Arch – the most famous arch in the park that graces Utah’s license plates is located here!
Know Before You Go
- Entrance Fee: $30 per car, valid for 7 days
- Must Do: Make the 3-mile round trip hike to Delicate Arch to see this famous beauty.
- Where to Stay: The town of Moab is the gateway to Arches, and an easy 10 minute drive away. There’s plenty of hotels, like the Hyatt Place. For a more local option, check out this super cute tiny house in Moab.
- Helpful Tip: Try to avoid the midday sun when hiking in Arches. Even in the cooler months, most hikes here offer zero shade and the sun can be brutal. Always pack a hiking hat when going out to explore!
Usually overshadowed by nearby Arches, Canyonlands is no less stunning. At Canyonlands you’ll find deep canyons and sweeping vistas.
The park is HUGE, and left us wishing we had more time for an adventure here.
The drive to the park was surprisingly pretty: we drove through meadows and grassland that looked beautiful in the afternoon sun.
The park is made up of three distinct districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze.
The most popular and accessible area of the park is the Island in the Sky district, and is where most people should plan to start and spend most of their time.
READ MORE: Get the perfect itinerary to spend one day in Canyonlands National Park
Know Before You Go
- Entrance Fee: $30 per car, valid for 7 days
- Must Do: Drive the main road in the Island in the Sky district to get to Grand View Point and enjoy the view. A lot of people recommend Mesa Arch as well. It’s popular for sunrise, but you’ll be sharing the view with tons of people.
- Where to Stay: If you’re visiting the Island in the Sky district, plan to stay in Moab (about a 40 minute drive away). This cute Airbnb provides a good home base for exploring both Arches and Canyonlands.
- Helpful Tip: You have to leave the park to drive to each individual district. The Needles is about a two hour drive from the Island in the Sky entrance. The Maze is even more remote, and offers only backcountry hiking and recreation.
Perhaps the most underrated of Utah’s mighty 5 national parks, Capitol Reef is no less stunning. Located in south-central Utah, Capitol Reef has beautiful cliffs, canyons, and lush greenery.
The park has three distinct areas: the historic Fruita district, Cathedral Valley, and the Waterpocket Fold.
The Fruita area is the most popular and easily accessed. Located right off the highway, this area is home to lush fruit orchards, delicious, fresh baked pies, and beautiful hiking trails.
The Cathedral Valley area is located in the remote, north side of the park, and is home to towering freestanding stone structures.
In the southern end of the park you’ll find the Waterpocket Fold, a big wrinkle in the earth stretching for over 100 miles.
READ MORE: how to plan the perfect Capitol Reef National Park 1 day itinerary!
There’s so much to do in Capitol Reef, you can spend days exploring. The beautiful contrasts of lush greenery with red rocks make this park unlike few others, making this one of my favorite Utah parks.
Know Before You Go
- Entrance Fee: $20 per car, valid for 7 days
- Must Do: Drive the scenic drive past the Fruita district to get pretty views. Back at the visitor center, ask the rangers if any of the orchards are open so you can try the fruit. And don’t leave without stopping at the Gifford House to get some of the best pies around!
- Where to Stay: Stay at a gorgeous home with a large deck and stunning views in the nearby town of Torrey. You’ll only be a short ten minute drive away from the park!
- Helpful Tip: If you’re able to snag a campsite at the Fruita campground, do it! The grass is super green and lush. Some of the best views in the park are located off of dirt roads, so bring a high clearance vehicle if you’re able to!
Bryce Canyon is the smallest national park in Utah, but still packs a punch! The main attraction at this park is the amphitheater made up of orange and white hoodoos, which are thin spires of rock.
The views at Bryce Canyon are one of its main attractions. The hoodoos shine with the sunrise and sunset, and there’s stunning viewpoints from which to watch the dancing light.
Bryce Canyon sits at a higher elevation than most of Utah’s other national parks, giving it significantly cooler weather. The hikes at Bryce Canyon are gorgeous, but strenuous, in part due to the elevation, so keep that in mind when planning your trip.
READ MORE: plan an epic trip with this one day Bryce Canyon itinerary and guide!
The park is located an hour and a half away from Zion, and is an absolute must visit on your Utah national parks road trip!
Know Before You Go
- Entrance Fee: $35 per car, valid for 7 days
- Must Do: Watch the sunrise and sunset over the hoodoos at sunrise and sunset point, respectively. Hike down into the amphitheater on the Queens and Navajo Loop trails, and look out for the hoodoo that looks like Queen Victoria!
- Where to Stay: The Lodge at Bryce Canyon will put you directly in the park, but rooms can be hard to get. The town of Bryce has some good rental options, including this luxe, spacious house and will put you literally right outside the park. The town of Tropic is also nearby, and has some affordable, homey options.
- Helpful Tip: Pack a sweater, even if you’re visiting in the summer months. We visited in early October, and the temperatures at night dropped down to freezing. This fleece sweater is always a good option!
One of the most popular national parks in Utah, Zion National Park does not disappoint! Zion is iconic for a reason: the views and hikes here are drop dead gorgeous.
Zion offers some bucket list worthy activities, including hiking The Narrows and Angels Landing. In The Narrows you’ll be surrounded by thousand feet high canyon walls and wall to wall water. This is one of the most fun hikes we’ve ever done.
At Angels Landing you’ll find a view like no other, but it’s not for those with fears of heights!
READ MORE: get the perfect two day itinerary to Zion National Park for an unforgettable trip!
Zion is in the heart of red rock county. The canyons are a beautiful red and are gorgeous to photograph in the early morning and evening light.
You’ll find large crowds in the main Zion Canyon, as well as a shuttle system that you need to utilize to get around. But fear not, there’s hidden gems in and around Zion where you can find refuge away from the crowds.
The Kolob Canyon sees a tiny small number of visitors compared to main Zion, but the views are still spectacular.
Outside of Zion, check out Southern Utah’s hidden gems, you won’t be disappointed.
The weather in Zion is typical of most of Utah: hot in the summers and cold in the winter. Ideal visiting weather can be found in the late spring and early fall months.
Know Before You Go
- Entrance Fee: $35 per car, valid for 7 days
- Must Do: Plan to spend at least half a day hiking The Narrows for the best experience. Drive through the tunnel to get a stunning view of the canyon, and head over to the Kolob Canyon entrance to enjoy the views without the crowds. The Pa’rus trail is super underrated, but will give you beautiful views without much effort!
- Where to Stay: The town of Springdale is literally right outside the entrance to Zion. Stay at this cute bed and breakfast with a hot tub, free breakfast at a local restaurant, and canyon views. Inside the park, the only hotel is the Zion Lodge, but reservations can be hard to get.
- Helpful Tip: Try to get on the earliest shuttles to avoid crowds in the most popular hikes.
Utah Road Trip Itinerary (10 Days)
While it’s possible to do a Utah Mighty 5 road trip in just one week, the minimum amount of time I’d recommend would be 9-10 days.
If you’re doing this Utah road trip from Southern California, you’ll want to budget one day on each end for the drive.
We stopped at Goblin Valley State Park for dark skies and a hot shower, but you could easily add that day to one of the other national parks.
We started our trip on a Friday and ended the following Sunday. You can modify as needed!
- Day 1: Drive to Moab from Southern California
- Day 2: Arches
- Day 3: Canyonlands
- Day 4: Arches and Moab
- Day 5: Goblin Valley State Park or Grand-Escalante National Monument
- Day 6: Capitol Reef
- Day 7: Bryce Canyon
- Day 8: Zion
- Day 9: Zion
- Day 10: Drive back home
Additional Stops Worth Making in Utah:
If you have more time, consider adding some of the following stops to your Utah road trip. While we chose to focus on the national parks for this road trip, we did manage to spend a bit of time doing some of the below and highly recommend it.
- Explore Moab! There’s a ton of hiking trails in the Moab area that are really pretty. Plus, with additional time you can float down the Colorado River to see the canyons from a different perspective.
- Check out the view from Dead Horse Point State Park. Located near the Island in the Sky area of Canyonlands, Dead Horse Point is best known for the view you can get of the river – it looks a bit like Horseshoe Bend! Plus, there’s miles of mountain biking trail, if that’s more your jam.
- Stop at Goblin Valley State Park. This is an out-of-this world landscape that has weird, tall rock sculptures. Plus, there’s some hidden slot canyons in the area!
- Explore Grand-Escalante National Monument. You’ll drive through the area on your way between Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon. There’s a ton to do in the area, including some famous slot canyons. Our personal favorite was making a detour to Singing Canyon, where the acoustics are incredible!
- Stop at Kodachrome Basin State Park. This one was high on our list, but we ran out of time to see it. Located near Bryce Canyon, Kodachrome has beautiful shades of orange, and tall rock spires. Plus, I’ve heard the showers here are amazing!
Plan In Advance
There’s very little cell service in the national parks, and on many roads between them.
Download an offline map of your destination so you have it ready when you lose service. Or, buy a paper map of the area as a backup. This nat geo map is waterproof and tear resistant.
Similarly, plan your days in advance so you’re not scrambling to figure out what to do while you’re in the parks.
Avoid the Crowds
The national parks in Utah have become incredibly popular, and with that comes large crowds.
The most popular parks we encountered were Arches, Zion and Bryce Canyon. You’ll get a respite from the crowds at Capitol Reef and at Canyonlands.
Having said that, you should still plan to start your days really early to have smaller crowds and better weather.
Get a National Parks Pass
While it’s definitely worth it to pay the entrance fee to each national park, save yourself some money by getting the National Park Pass.
It’s valid for one year, and gives you access to all national parks for free. It’ll cost you $80 for the year, but it’ll pay for itself on this road trip alone!
Be Prepared for the Desert
Whether you’re visiting in the summer months or in the cooler months, keep in mind that southern Utah has desert weather. You’ll want to bring layers for the temperature fluctuations, and plenty of water.
Below I’ve covered what to pack for your Utah road trip, with tips on items you’ll want on hand during your trip.
What to Pack + Bring
This Utah road trip is long enough to require some more thoughtful planning!
You’ll want to make sure you have supplies for the road, as well as everything you’ll need to explore the national parks.
Here are some of the essentials that you’ll want to have with you.
- Hiking boots: there’s so many beautiful hiking trails, you’ll want to have a pair of good, sturdy boots. This is the brand I use, and this is the pair that got me through my own 10 day Utah road trip.
- Hiking socks: having the right hiking socks is key to avoiding blisters and staying comfortable. These socks got me through all the hikes in the Utah national parks.
- Hiking hat: You’ll want to have a cute, affordable hiking hat to create your own shade while on the trails.
- Day pack: One of the best investments I’ve made, a daypack like this is a must to hold all your stuff.
- Sunscreen: this is my favorite brand, it smells like coconuts. The heat in Utah is brutal, so don’t forget your sunscreen!
- Lip balm: I recently started adding lip balm to my packing list, and it was because of this Utah trip. The weather is so dry here, you want to keep your lips moisturised. Get one with sunscreen for extra protection.
- First aid kit: please don’t underestimate the need to have a first aid kit on hand. I rolled my ankle on my first hike in Arches! Pack a kit that includes a wrap, in case you need it.
- Plenty of clothes + underwear: pack more than you think you’ll need, you’ll be hiking and getting sweaty, especially in the summer.
- Reusable water bottle: you need plenty of water in Utah. I have this large one and love it. To keep your drinks cold, this one is amazing!
- Sunglasses: No road trip is complete without some cool sunglasses. Try these cute and affordable ones.
- Flashlights or Headlamps: it’s helpful to have a flashlight or headlamp with you, especially if you’re camping. Even if you’re not, it’s useful in case you find yourself driving in the dark.
- Toiletries: don’t forget to pack the essentials. I have this little travel kit, and had plenty of containers for everything I needed.
- Portable charger: pack at least one so you always have a full battery, these are game-changers.
- Snacks for hiking + the road: don’t forget to bring your favorite snacks! We love these KIND bars for long hikes.
- Jumper cables: in case your battery dies, having jumper cables is a lifesaver. Having some with a battery so you don’t have to ask someone else for a jump is also smart! We had to give a family a jump at Arches, it happens.
- Water jug: when going to the desert, you need to make sure you have plenty of water. We packed one similar to this one for the trip, just in case.
- Camera: the scenery in Utah is so stunning, you need a good camera to capture it all. This is the DSLR I used to shoot my photos on this trip.
Tips to Save Money on Your Trip
Planning a trip to Utah doesn’t have to break the bank! Follow some of these tips to save some money on your next Utah adventure.
Make It a Camping Trip
My trip to the Mighty 5 was a camping trip. Not only did this save us significant money on hotels and Airbnbs, it also allowed me to wake up in each national park, saving me a drive.
Camping spots book up in advance, so plan accordingly. If you’re not able to snag a camping spot at the national parks, check out airbnb for local campgrounds, or plan to rough it by finding some free campsites in federal lands.
Cook Your Meals
We cooked most of our meals over a campfire, which allowed us to save money on eating out. Plan some easy meals for your trip, and bring plenty of snacks!
Plan Free Activities
While taking a guided tour can be a lot of fun, save some money by finding free activities. Take advantage of being out in nature to hike, or check out the rivers.
Save This for Later
Other Posts You’ll Love
- Spend two perfect days in Zion National Park
- Only have one day? See the best of Arches!
- Avoiding crowds? Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Channel Islands re the national parks for you!
- For desert lovers, check out Joshua Tree National Park
- Sequoia offers stunning views of the California Redwoods
- And for an epic road trip, check out this Carmel to Big Sur Road Trip guide