Utah draw several million visitors from around the world each year to marvel at surreal scenery and unforgettable activities. A trip to The Mighty 5 means watching the sunrise over the towering depths of Canyonlands National Park, then watching the sunset through an impossibly delicate rock bow in Arches National Park.
It means standing nose-to-nose with ancient petroglyphs in Capitol Reef National Park, then lying on your back as a beautiful meteor shower streaks across the Milky Way. It means gazing down at coral-hued rock hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park, then gazing upward at the steep walls of slot canyon trails in Zion National Park. It means hiking, river rafting, biking, picnicking, walking, mule riding, exploring and stargazing.
There's more than one way to visit the Mighty 5. Select the adventure that's right for you below or sample our recommended park itineraries at the bottom of the page. To experience Utah's national parks during peak solitude, visit our national parks in winter page.
It is believed the first people to explore what is now Zion National Park entered the canyon looking for food. Thousands of years later more than 4 million people come from around the world to feed more than their bodies. Most visitors today come to nourish their souls with the sight of the verdant valleys and vermillion cliffs of Zion, one of the most visited national parks in the United States.
Get the most of your time in Zion by doing homework and figuring out what goals you have while visiting the park. Be realistic about the time it will take to complete your list by considering delays due to crowds. Be clear about your own physical limitations and don’t push yourself to exhaustion — there are plenty of strenuous hikes, canyoneering routes and other activities that can wear out even the fittest person. Recognizing these challenges will make your trip more memorable for all the right reasons. Don’t let poor shoes, sunburn or dehydration ruin your long-planned adventure.
At dawn and dusk, mule deer graze the forested plateau along the road into Bryce Canyon. The alpine environment is home to dozens of species of mammals and birds, all acquainted with a spectacular truth: this is no ordinary forest. Water and wind over millions of years of freezes and thaws have carved into the plateau endless fields of the park's distinctive red rock pillars, called hoodoos, into the park's series of natural amphitheaters. Seek out the canyon floor on foot or stick to the overlooks by car.
Every year, Bryce Canyon National Park awes visitors with spectacular geological formations and brilliant colors. The towering hoodoos, narrow fins, and natural bridges seem to deny all reason or explanation, leaving hikers gazing around with jaws agape in wondrous incredulity. This surreal landscape is what brings people from around the world to visit Bryce Canyon National Park.
For day hikers and backpackers, Canyonlands National Park is a dream come true. The Needles district has more hiking trails (about 74 miles) and a better variety of trails than the Island in the Sky and Maze districts but Island in the Sky offers a variety of well-maintained trails including some family-friendly hikes and the famous Mesa Arch.
Two paved roads lead into the park: UT 313 from the north and UT 211 from the east. (There are also many dirt roads to explore for those who are equipped with four-wheel-drive vehicles and prepared for the rigors of desert travel.)
Camping, Cycling, Rafting Although it feels like an entirely separate trip, Canyonlands boasts some of the west's best whitewater rafting through the 14 miles of Cataract Canyon, which includes up to Class V rapids. There are also flat water sections. Visit the National Park Service Canyonlands page for information on all boating in Canyonlands, including how to obtain permits.
Behind the Arches National Park visitor center, craggy sandstone rises like a castle’s curtain wall between towers and turrets. The 18-mile scenic drive (one way) climbs high onto the plateau and crosses a vast and glorious landscape of panoramic views with distant snowcapped mountains. At sunset, you’ll swear photographers coined “magic hour” here as the red rock becomes saturated with the radiance of the sun. At sunrise, rays of light break over dramatic horizons. A new day in Arches begins. Let’s get hiking.
Even considering Utah’s many impressive national parks and monuments, it is difficult to rival Capitol Reef National Park’s sense of expansiveness; of broad, sweeping vistas; of a tortured, twisted, seemingly endless landscape; of limitless sky and desert rock.
While Bryce and Zion are like encapsulated little fantasy lands of colored stone and soaring cliffs, the less-visited Capitol Reef is almost like a planet unto itself. Here you get a real feel for what the earth might have been like millions of years before life appeared, when nothing existed but earth and sky.
Capitol Reef National Park is an evocative world of spectacular colored cliffs, hidden arches, massive domes, and deep canyons. It’s a place that includes the finest elements of Bryce and Zion Canyons in a less crowded park that can offer a more relaxing experience than either of those more-famous Utah attractions.