Utah’s mighty 5 national parks road trip

  • Post last modified:October 18, 2021
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Over and over again Utah is mentioned as one of the most beautiful states in America. The state in western United States is blessed with 5 national parks. Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce and Zion National Park are all fantastic places to visit on the mighty 5 road trip. To make the mighty 5 national parks road trip is to make a dream come true.

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The mighty 5 national parks road trip guide

You find the destinations on the itinerary marked out on the Utah mighty 5 road trip map below.

Salt Lake City – The Utah national parks road trip begins

Start the epic mighty 5 national parks road trip in Salt Lake City, Utah. If you have limited time for your Utah road trip it’s a good idea to leave town as soon as you can. After all, the road trip is about Utah’s mighty 5 national parks.

But if you have time to spare Salt Lake City is much more than just a city where you begin or end your Utah national parks road trip.

Salt Lake City was founded by Mormons in 1847. And no matter if you’re religious or not, Temple Square in the downtown area with the astounding gothic style Salt Lake Temple is worth visiting before you take off for the mighty 5 national parks road trip.

If you visit in winter you won’t miss that the locals like to brag about having the greatest snow on earth. And the mountain area offers great skiing opportunities less than a 45 minute drive away from the city during the colder months of the year. In the mountains more than one foot snow falls every five days from December to March.

A popular year-round activity is to make a trip to the Great Salt Lake that has given name to the city. There you can go hiking, swimming, boating or just enjoy the scenery while you have a picnic at a less elevated level.

Salt Like City marks start of mighty 5 road trip
Salt Lake City, Utah.

Arches National Park – Eye-catching arches on the Utah road trip itinerary

Arches National Park is a cocktail of beautiful reddish rock formations in various shapes on the Utah mighty 5 road trip itinerary. The most famous structures are, like you might already have guessed, the glorious sandstone arches.

The national park located northwest of the city Moab contains more than 2,000 signature arches waiting to be explored. The most recognizable arch in the park is the Delicate Arch.

You can park your car at the Delicate Arch Trailhead and hike to the Delicate Arch for a close-up view. The round trip of 3 miles (4.8 km) is great at any time during the day, but beware of the heat and lack of shade especially if you visit in summer.

The arches are undoubtedly the main attraction in Arches National Park, but neither miss the sandstone fins, towers and hoodoos. Arches is truly a great mix of unusual rock formations, some of them you wouldn’t even think could exist.

Where to stay

When you explore Arches on the Mighty 5 road trip it’s perfect to pick the town of Moab for Arches National Park places to stay. It’s only about 5 miles (8 km) from Moab to Arches National Park Visitor Center.

Delicate Arch on mighty 5 road trip
Delicate Arch, Arches National Park.

Canyonlands National Park – A Utah park with many sides

The next stop on the Utah mighty 5 road trip itinerary is Canyonlands National Park. Canyonlands is divided into three separate areas that are Island in the Sky, the Needles and the Maze.

Island in the Sky is located closest to Moab. From Island in the Sky you get beautiful rim-side views over the vast canyons that dominate the environment in the district. Island in the Sky is by far the most popular area in Canyonlands National Park.

In Island of the Sky you find the spectacular park highlight Mesa Arch. The Mesa Arch Trail is less than a mile long and shows you some of the best scenery on the entire Utah national parks road trip.

The Needles district is popular for hiking and that section of Canyonlands National Park is recognized for the rock spires, or needles. It’s more remote than Island in the Sky but less remote than the Maze.

The Maze section of the national park is the most remote and great if you look for solitude, adventurous maze like hikes and of course more amazing scenery. But the Maze is so remote that visiting is much more demanding.

Sometimes the district Rivers of Canyonlands is also mentioned as an additional district. It’s the green and shady part of the national park where you can go kayaking, canoeing and rafting.

Where to stay

Moab is the ultimate base for both Arches and the popular Island in the Sky district in Canyonlands National Park. So the best places to stay near Canyonlands National Park are the same as for Arches National Park. It’s 30 miles (48 km) from Moab to Island in the Sky.

Mesa Arch in Canyonlands of Utah's mighty five
Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park.

Capitol Reef National Park – Great nature and interesting history in the mighty 5 park

Without question Capitol Reef National Park is one of the lesser known parks on the mighty 5 road trip itinerary. But it’s also one of the Utah national parks that surprise the most with how rewarding it is to visit. In the the park you can both explore the amazing nature and indulge in some interesting human history.

For the hiker there are numerous hikes of different lengths and levels to do to explore the diverse Utah landscape. From easy, short and well-marked trails up to some real backcountry hiking if you’re up for something more challenging.

But Capitol Reef is not only a hiker’s dream. The Fruita Historic District is the heart of Capitol Reef National Park. A visit here adds a historic perspective to Utah’s mighty 5 national parks road trip.

The fruit orchards in the valley gave Fruita its name and an income to the pioneers that once lived here. Today the fruit orchards in Capitol Reef National Park are preserved as historic landscape.

A highlight in Fruita is the Gifford Homestead where you can learn more about the early pioneers. Fruita Schoolhouse is also well worth a stop. Here the children of Fruita once attended the one-room school.

Where to stay

When you visit Capitol Reef National Park on the mighty 5 road trip in Utah it’s great to stay at Capitol Reef hotels in the town of Torrey. From Torrey it’s only an easy drive of 11 miles (18 km) to Capitol Reef Visitor Center.

Lonely barn in Utah national park
Fruita Valley, Capitol Reef National Park.

Bryce Canyon National Park – Eccentrically shaped rock hoodoos wherever you look

Bryce Canyon National Park is number four out of five mighty national parks in Utah. But Bryce Canyon is certainly not like the other destinations on the mighty five national parks road trip itinerary.

The most significant aspect of Bryce are all the rock hoodoos that the park is filled with. The rock hoodoo is a tall and thin spire of rock that stands out from the bottom of a terrain. Typically the hoodoos consist of softer rock further down and less easily eroded stone higher up.

And on the Utah national parks road trip you notice that the eccentrically shaped rocks exist in thousands in Bryce Canyon National Park.

Sunrise Point, Inspiration Point, Bryce Point and Sunset Point are beautiful overlooks where you can take in the beautiful views. Bryce is so compact that you easily can visit all the most popular viewpoints in less than a day when you visit on the mighty 5 Utah road trip. But it’s still a good idea to give Bryce Canyon at least a full day or two when visiting on the mighty five national parks road trip.

Where to stay

Bryce Canyon Lodge offers lodging within Bryce Canyon National Park. For more hotels near Bryce Canyon you can also stay in the town of Bryce just minutes away.

Rock hoodoo in Utah
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.

Zion National Park – The last and oldest park on the mighty 5 road trip itinerary

When visiting Zion National Park you are at the oldest national park on the mighty 5 road trip. The park was established already in 1919 and is known as Utah’s first national park.

The national park in Southern Utah is also one of the most visited parks in America with millions of visits each year. And it seems to just keep getting more and more popular.

It’s easy to understand the hype of Zion when you visit on the Utah national parks road trip. The red sandstone cliffs are among the tallest in the world, and here in the middle of the desert it’s actually pretty lush.

The huge red rock formations and the green canyon together create a stunning contrasting landscape.

Three of the most breathtaking hikes in Zion are Angels Landing, the Narrows and Observation Point. They show the best of Zion National Park, but are rather strenuous to see out. A more family friendly option to consider on the mighty 5 Utah road trip is the Riverside Walk that takes you to the beginning of the Narrows.

Where to stay

When you visit Zion on the Utah national parks road trip it’s very practical to pick Springdale for Zion accommodation. Then you can either walk or take the shuttle to get the short distance into the park.

Green valley in ZNP
Zion National Park, Utah.

Finishing the Utah national parks road trip in Las Vegas

Nicely done! You completed the Utah mighty 5 national parks road trip and arrived to Vegas with new impressions and memories that will last for a lifetime.

Sin City is a great city to have some fun whenever you visit.

Much of the entertainment with shows, musicals and concerts is centered around the Las Vegas Strip. The stretch of South Las Vegas Boulevard is just packed with thing to do, eat and drink.

But if you have time to explore Vegas after finishing the Utah national parks road trip you should check out Fremont Street as well. At Fremont street the boom that really put Vegas on the map took place in the 1930s.

Even though the mighty 5 road trip now is over, there are many ways to extend the classic travel route with some additional stops. Continue reading for more road trip destinations.

Las Vegas sign in Nevada
Welcome to Las Vegas, Nevada.

Mighty 5 road trip routes

There are a number of different popular ways to do Utah’s mighty 5 national parks road trip. To make a one way road trip requires least possible driving time, while the mighty 5 Utah loops are a few hours longer.

Option 1: Mighty 5 national parks one way road trip (non loop)

The mighty 5 national parks one way road trip means that you start in either Salt Lake City or Las Vegas and finish in the other of the two. That way you minimize driving time during the road trip in Utah.

A one way route is feasible as it gives you less miles to to drive and more time for the parks. On the other hand if you plan to rent a car for the Utah road trip it’s possible that the rental fee might be higher because of the one way extra.

  • Route from SLC: SLC – Arches – Canyonlands – Capitol Reef – Bryce – Zion – Vegas
  • Route from Vegas: Vegas – Zion – Bryce – Capitol Reef – Canyonlands – Arches – SLC
  • Driving time: 13 hours
  • Driving distance: 767 miles (1234 km)
Where to stay near Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

Option 2: Mighty 5 national parks road trip loop from Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City is a popular starting point for the Utah mighty 5 road trip loop. If you start in the Utah city you can have your first mighty 5 stop in Arches National Park or Zion National Park.

However, the recommended route when you make the mighty 5 road trip from Salt Lake City is to start out with the longer drive to Zion. By going directly from Salt Lake City to Zion you save all the parks for the way back.

  • Route: SLC – Zion – Bryce – Capitol Reef – Canyonlands – Arches – SLC
  • Driving time: 15.5 hours
  • Driving distance: 919 miles (1479 km)

Option 3: Mighty 5 national parks road trip loop from Las Vegas

From Las Vegas the Utah mighty 5 road trip loop is slightly longer compared to if you begin the journey in Salt Lake City. On the other hand it’s often easier, especially for international visitors, to find flights to Las Vegas.

Also when making the mighty 5 national parks road trip from Las Vegas the recommended route begins with the longer drive. If you make Arches your first park stop you save all the fun for the way back to Vegas

  • Route: Vegas – Arches – Canyonlands – Capitol Reef – Bryce – Zion – Vegas
  • Driving time: 16.5 hours
  • Driving distance: 1000 miles (1609 km)
Road trip in Utah among red cliffs and green vegetation
Road trip in Utah.

Additional destinations to the mighty 5 national parks road trip

Southern Utah and Northern Arizona are home to even more great places to visit on a road trip. So you can effortlessly extend the road trip to the mighty 5 national parks in Utah.

Other amazing places in the area are Monument Valley, Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon and Grand Canyon National Park.

All these places can easily be added to the the Utah mighty 5 road trip itinerary. Or you can make the ultimate Southwest USA road trip, which cherry picks and combines Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park from Utah’s mighty 5 with Monument Valley, Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon and Grand Canyon.

Monument Valley – An out of this world extension to the mighty 5 road trip

Monument Valley sits on the border between Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. The out of this world like valley is characterized by the huge buttes standing on the floor of the valley colored in red.

The valley is easily explored by car and the Tribal Park Loop, also known as the Valley Drive, is an extremely scenic drive that you shouldn’t miss when you visit Monument Valley.

And of course you have to stop at Forrest Gump Point. Take your time when you visit and make sure that you get that iconic picture as you extend the mighty 5 road trip.

A memorable option for where to stay in Monument Valley is to book a room with valley views. Then you get great access to Monument Valley and effortlessly can take in the grand views from the comfort of your own hotel room.

Red valley with huge buttes in Utah during daytime
Monument Valley, Utah.

Horseshoe Bend – More road trip fun across the border in Arizona

The beauty that Utah is so known for doesn’t end just because you cross the state border to Arizona. Another breathtaking experience to add to the Utah national parks road trip is visiting Horseshoe Bend.

Sometimes Horseshoe Bend is referred to as Grand Canyon East. Actually, it’s not part of Grand Canyon National Park. Horseshoe Bend belongs to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

But that doesn’t make the overlook less stunning. Enjoy the impressive overlook as you have Colorado River beneath you. Just make sure that you have steady feet, the drop down to the river is 1,000 feet (300 m).

Horseshoe Bend at sunset
Horseshoe Bend, Arizona.

Antelope Canyon – A convenient and spectacular destination to add

Just 7 miles (11 km) away from Horseshoe Bend you find another Arizona gem. Visiting Antelope Canyon is another spectacular experience.

The unique rock formations in Antelope Canyon continue to stun people year after year. And if you visit during the golden months from the second half of March to early October you might even get to see the famous light beams.

However, you can only visit Antelope Canyon with a tour guide. So make sure that you make your tour reservation as early as you can for your extension to the mighty 5 national parks road trip.

Light beam in Arizona canyon
Antelope Canyon, Arizona.

Grand Canyon National Park – The ultimate extension to the mighty 5 national parks road trip

Last but not least we have Grand Canyon National Park. The national park that maybe is the most famous of them all.

You can hike Grand Canyon National Park from either North Rim or South Rim. Grand Canyon South Rim is the most popular option, but North Rim is an equally amazing alternative to add to the mighty 5 national parks road trip. And there are many great Grand Canyon hotels where you stay near the spectacular rim.

Grand Canyon South Rim overlook
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.

Utah mighty 5 hotel search

Use the booking tool below to find the perfect accommodation for your Utah mighty 5 road trip. Browse the map for options in various areas, or click on the search button to start with Zion National Park.

Booking.com

Utah’s mighty 5 national parks road trip FAQ

You find the answers to some frequently asked questions about the Utah mighty 5 national parks road trip below.

Where should I stay when visiting the mighty 5 in Utah?

Moab is the best choice for where to stay when you discover Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. For Capitol Reef National Park the town of Torrey is the nearest option for lodging. When you visit Bryce Canyon you can stay at Bryce Canyon Lodge within the park or in the town of Bryce for more options. For Zion you can stay inside the park at Zion Lodge or in Springdale just a stone’s throw away for many more options.

What is the best time to visit Utah’s National Parks?

Summer is the peak season in Utah with most visitors and the hottest temperatures. The shoulder months April and May in spring and September and October in autumn bring moderate temperatures and smaller crowds. For even smaller crowds it’s great to make the Utah national park road trip in winter.

How many days do you need for the Utah national parks road trip?

It’s recommended to have at least 7 days for Utah’s mighty 5 national parks. For more time for hiking it’s wise to have 10 days for the Utah trip.

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