The Mighty 5: Explore Utah's National Parks
If you're contemplating a road trip that takes in multiple national parks, there's probably no better place in the United States to pick than Utah. The breathtaking desert landscapes of Southwestern Utah is out of this world, not only because of its beauty, but for the sheer sense of scale involved. It's home to five world-renowned National Parks, known as Utah's Mighty 5!
The Mighty 5 consists of Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion National Parks, which together create a geological playground of deep canyons, towering limestone ridges and winding rivers. They are the ultimate destination for outdoor enthusiasts and adventurous travelers.
Here is a guide for those adventure seekers looking to explore and possibly conquer Utah's Mighty 5 — let the adventures begin!
UTAH'S MIGHTY 5 ITINERARY
Day 1 | SALT LAKE CITY — ARCHES NATIONAL PARK
Start your adventure in Utah's capital and largest city, known for its Mormon Churches, Salt Lake City and head southeast towards Arches National Park. Prepare to drive anywhere from 3 1/2 to 4 hours before arriving to the park, which is located just outside of the quaint little town of Moab.
Once you arrive and ascent into the park you'll notice a landscape of contrasting colors, landforms and textures unlike any other in the world. The park has over 2,000 natural stone arches, in addition to hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins and giant balanced rocks. This red rock wonderland will amaze you with its formations, challenge you with its trails, and inspire you with its sunsets. A wealth of beauty that has more than enough scenery to awe any park visitor.
Day 2 | ARCHES — CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK
Still in awe from witnessing some of the most beautiful and surreal looking natural arches in the world? Well, it's time to explore a wilderness of countless canyons and buttes that were formed by the waters of the Colorado River. Luckily for you it doesn't involve driving hours away to visit the Grand Canyon, instead it's only a roughly 45 minute drive to Canyonlands National Park.It's Utah's largest national park — offering views thousands of feet down into the Green and Colorado Rivers and thousands of feet up the red rock pinnacles, cliffs, and spires.
Rivers have divided the park into three districts: Island in the Sky is the northern section where visitors can look down into the Colorado River on the east and the Green River on the west; The Needles District is named for its profusion of red rock spires and sandstone fins; and the Maze District is a remote and jumbled stone playground that requires a backcountry permit year-round. These areas share a primitive desert atmosphere, but each offers different opportunities for sightseeing and adventure.
Day 3 | CANYONLANDS — MONUMENT VALLEY
Although not part of Utah's Mighty 5, this next stop should not be overlooked. It's well worth the three-hour drive southwest from Canyonlands National Park. Located on the border between Utah and Arizona is Monument Valley. It's considered one of the most majestic and photographed places on earth. Its valley of sandstone masterpieces that tower high into the sky are an iconic symbol of the American West and the sacred heart of the Navajo Nation.
Day 4 | MONUMENT VALLEY — CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK
After capturing the famous "Mittens" as the sun sets over Monument Valley, it's time to head northeast towards Capitol Reef National Park. This hidden treasure is filled with cliffs, canyons, domes and bridges situated in the Waterpocket Fold — a geologic monocline, or wrinkle on the earth. Capitol Reef National Park is filled with never-ending colors that extends for 100 miles through an inviting wilderness of sandstone formations, rock art petroglyphs, and large fruit orchards of Fruita.
This park may be overlooked by the immensely popular Bryce and Zion National Parks; but its remnants of old civilizations, from the petroglyphs carved in the sandstone to the buildings left behind by the early Mormon pioneers who first settled in the area, make it a unique park to visit.
Day 5 | CAPITOL REEF — BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK
There is no other place in the world like Bryce Canyon National Park, for reasons you'll have to see to believe. It may very well be one of the strangest and most beautiful places known to man. This park is most famous for its spectacular collection of "hoodoos." These colorful formations awe millions of visitors each year from all around the world. If you have some time, make sure to find yourself a nice viewpoint during sunrise or sunset to capture some of the most beautiful photographic scenes you will ever see.
Day 6 | BRYCE CANYON — ZION NATIONAL PARK
It's time to say goodbye to the hoodoos and hello to the last stop on the trip — Utah's first national park of it's Mighty 5! Located just 2 hours away is "The Promise Land," literally! Zion National Park meaning the promise land, is a place where you can follow the paths that ancient native people and pioneers once walked.
Gaze up at massive sandstone cliffs of cream, pink, and red that seem to soar endlessly into the bright blue sky. Zion also offers a unique array of plants and animals that are sure to enchant you as you absorb the rich history of the past and enjoy the excitement of present day adventures.
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About The Author
In 2015, Founder of TMDE Paul Martinez left a career in sales for a life of exploring. In just a matter of months he had visited over 10 countries, 30 cities, 10 states, countless national parks, taken thousands of photographs, and did a ton of soul-searching. His search uncovered a deep passion for exploration; which he now believes to be the essence of the human spirit, and led to the birth of The Modern Day Explorer. You can follow him on his personal journey by visiting his Instagram, and hopefully continue to support TMDE by following us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.