If Utah is nature’s love letter, then each of its five national parks are chapters in which you can fall for its charm over and over again. That’s right, in the state of Utah alone there are five incredible national parks and all of them are worth a visit. The parks are some of the most popular in the United States, with a range of the most unique geographic phenomena in North America, so much so that they have earned the moniker of the ‘Mighty 5®’.
Allow us to properly introduce you to each member of the Mighty 5®; as you’ll come to learn they each have their own unique personality and style.
Located north of Moab in the south of Utah, Arches National Park stretches some 73,234 acres and is one of the most popular parks in North America. There’s just something so whimsical and loveable about natural archways which return us all to a state of childlike amazement. The park’s idiosyncratic rock formations can be accredited to thousands of years of natural erosion from wind, rain and waterflow. Softer rock formations eroded at faster rates than others and the result is a land of natural land bridges and archways; the stars of the show are Delicate Arch, Landscape Arch, and the Fiery Furnace. If this is one of mother nature’s chef d’oeuvres, just know its taken her thousands of years. So, at least once in your lifetime, visit Arches National Park, walk under its archways, around the sandstone fins and towers, watch the sun rise AND set, or stay for the most incredible stargazing experience of your life.
Bryce Canyon National Park is characterised by natural amphitheatres and forests of those peculiar and striking red rock pillars called “hoodoos”. With it being located at the side of a canyon and having an elevation of 8,000 to 9,000 feet, Bryce Canyon National Park offers sprawling views of the horizon that can be enjoyed from its hiking trails which weave through forested and open areas. Choose to set off before sunrise to start your day with an extra helping of serotonin, or plan to finish your hike at sunset and watch the shadows slow dance over the hill as the hues of the sunset bring your day to a spectacular close.
If you’re an avid hiker, you’ll be familiar with that satisfying sense of achievement after a long day of hiking, only to be rewarded with what feels like a serendipitous encounter between you and one of the best evening skies you’ve ever seen. Except that, in Utah, extraordinary sights like these are to be expected. The other great thing about this national park is that it offers the chance to spot some native wildlife: at dawn and dusk, mule deer graze the forested plateau along the road into Bryce Canyon.
Move over Grand Canyon, the world is discovering Canyonlands National Park. Perhaps you’ve seen desktop images of arches framing a horizon of dramatic canyons and not realised this was in fact Canyonlands National Park, but we’ll forgive you this time. The sheer scale of this national park is humbling to witness. Here, the Green and Colorado Rivers have carved a maze of canyons, mesas, and buttes which demand awe and veneration at every turn.
With over 500 miles of park to explore, there’s so much to do. You can go hiking, off-roading and there’s countless places to set up camp. Or, venture down the adventurous Cataract Canyon with its Class V rapids, or relax as you float in calm waters under impressive cliffsides.
Serving up yet another geographical phenomenon is Capitol Reef National Park with the famous Waterpocket Fold, which is a wrinkle in the earth’s surface that extends for nearly 100 miles. Meanwhile, the deep red, rusty hues which settle over its expansive horizons would have you mistaken that you were standing on the surface of mars, but really Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park is much cooler. And if you weren’t yet sufficiently convinced of the park’s mythical character, then we should let you know that this park holds many ancient petroglyphs etched into its sandstone walls! Fremont and Ancestral Puebloan peopled lived here around 1,000 years ago and these petroglyphs tell their stories and ways of life. Although there’s no translation for these, we think this only adds to the magic, giving you the opportunity to infer your own conclusions about what these people were trying to communicate. To sweeten the deal, you can also go fruit picking in the park’s orchards, with apricots, peaches and apples on offer.
Last but in no means least is Zion National Park. While other Utah parks boast grand vistas and expansive horizons, Zion plunges you into the depths of its narrow, red-rock canyons, with more appearances of greenery than the rest of the Mighty 5®. The Virgin River, with its emerald waters, guides you through the heart of the park and invites you to wade and wander. The park’s iconic Angel’s Landing trail is a thrilling ascent with chain-assisted climbs and is a testament to its unique character, offering a challenging and exhilarating experience unlike any other in the state. However, a more accessible alternative to Angel’s Landing is The Narrows, a hike through a canyon which is at times only 20-30 feet wide but 2,000 feet deep! Interestingly, The Narrows requires you to travel upstream, making it one of the most unique and popular trails in the Mighty 5. In Zion, it’s not just about looking out at nature’s grandeur; it’s about immersing yourself in its intricate details, feeling the ancient stone’s embrace, and ascending to majestic heights – all of which make it a one-of-a-kind destination in the remarkable tapestry of Utah’s national parks.
The National Parks Suggested Activities:
Zion National Park:
Choose from various activities amid the park’s striking scenery – whether a scenic hike, an introduction to the thrills of canyoneering, a dip in a secluded desert oasis or exploring a whacky western ghost town, stopping to refuel with a gourmet picnic lunch.
Bryce Canyon National Park:
Bryce Canyon is made up of multiple natural amphitheatres or bowls, carved into the edge of a high plateau. The most famous of these is the Bryce Amphitheatre, filled with irregularly eroded spires of rocks called hoodoos. Take a guide who will lead you on an exploration of the otherworldly magic of Bryce Canyon National Park by taking a scenic, educational walk along the rim, or hiking down to the bottom of the canyon floor to get a closer look! Your tour will be customised to your level of fitness and interests, and your guide will answer any questions you have about this astonishing national park.
Capitol Reef National Park:
The captivating Capitol Reef National Park boasts around 200 million years of geologic history, evident in its intricate landforms, Navajo petroglyphs and even dinosaur remains. Discover all of this and more on a recommended guided Jeep tour with an ex-park ranger, who will also show you to one of the park’s major highlights– the awe-inspiring elevation summit Temple of the Sun and The Moon.
Arches and Canyonlands National Parks:
Join a private guide/driver to first experience the iconic landforms and scenery of the Canyonlands National Park – from the Island in the Sky mesa (or hill) and the river-view Shafer Trail. Then, sit back and prepare to be dazzled as your guide navigates the incredible red rock wonderland and striking sandstone formations of Arches National Park. Follow your guide to far reaches of the park, enjoying the raw beauty of its monuments – including Devil’s Garden arch.
Colorado River Cruise:
A driver guide is best to take you on a sightseeing river cruise on the mighty Colorado River. Enjoy a mild ride that will allow you to meander deep within majestic sandstone canyons and take in the grandeur of this stunning natural area. Float past Dead Horse Point as you delight in unrivalled views of some of the most photographed scenery in the world, then break for a short hike to see Indian rock art and ruins.