What a HUGE bucket list accomplishment I achieved this summer! I’ve now been to all five of Utah’s National Parks, and let me tell you: they’re amazing. They’re also all close enough to each other that you can make an epic road trip out of these, visiting all five in a week or two, depending on how much time you wanted to stay at each park.
Let’s take a look at the parks.
All five are located in southern Utah, an area of the state packed with national parks, forests and monuments. Aside from the five national parks, there are a plethora of other things to see and do here, so I know I’ll be back!
On this post, I’ll be starting at Arches and working my way down to Zion. This is a popular route for anyone flying in and out of Denver or Salt Lake City. If you fly into Las Vegas, you’ll start at Zion and work your way east. You definitely need to drive out or rent a car, as most of the parks won’t be accessible without one!
Deciding when to visit is arguably one of the most important parts of planning a long trip. The parks are open all year round, but the seasons are divided into three categories:
Low Season – This is June–August. This is when I visited all five of the parks, and it definitely has its perks and its setbacks. The low season means less tourists, but it’s also incredibly hot and has highest chances of storms and flash flooding. Looking back on my trip to Capitol Reef, my day was cut short because of a thunderstorm!
Mid Season – This is November–March. If you are planning to travel during this time, watch for road closures and winter storms. It can be beautifully sunny during the day, but night time is freezing, making camping difficult and dangerous. If you like winter sports, you have some cool activities awaiting you during the colder months.
High Season – This is April–May & September–October. The spring and fall is arguably the best time to visit weather-wise. Aside from some spring showers, you should have gorgeous weather on your entire visit. However, the parks will be packed with people and the campgrounds will be booked months in advance.
Before you head off for a week of camping, hiking and exploring, you’ll want to gather some supplies!
As for your day-to-day supplies, this is what you need to pack in your day pack:
- Travel medical kit
- Water bottle with filter
- Moleskin (for blisters)
- Good hiking shoes (I always go for my Chacos!)
- Snacks like nuts, oranges and bars
- Map of the park
Getting Here: Take highway 70 west to 128 and head south to 191. Going north at this intersection will take you to the park and heading south a few more miles will take you to Moab, an awesome little town you should also check out while you’re here.
Arches National Park is pretty incredible. It has over 2,000 red sand-stone arches throughout the park, which has been drawing in visitors for decades.
It became a national monument on April 12, 1929 and then transitioned into a park on November 12, 1971. In 2010 Arches reached 1,000,000 visitors in a year for the first time, and it’s been rocking those numbers ever since.
There is so much to do here, but my favorite is the hiking. There are over 15 day hiking trails, along with opportunities for photography, camping, horseback riding, biking, rock climbing, stargazing & ranger-led tours.
My Favorite Trail: Broken Arch Loop
The Coolest Arch: Double Arch
How Much Time To Spend Here: Two Days
Where to Camp: Devil’s Garden Campground (March 1 – October 31)
Where to Lodge: Moab, Utah
Something Unexpected: How large this park is! There are tons of great trails, so you definitely need more than one day here.
Getting Here: Leaving Arches, head north on 191 then head east on 313. In 30 minutes you’ll arrive!
Canyonlands National Park is one of my favorite parks in Utah. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a canyon, and I couldn’t believe how much the geography changed at each lookout point.
The park opened on September 12, 1964 making it Utah’s fourth national park. The stunning land has deep canyons with purple hues, views of the Colorado River and the Green River. This park is best explored by car as you drive around to different lookouts.
If you like difficult hikes there are plenty switchbacking down into the canyon. There are also quite a few easy, 1-2 mile hikes at the lookouts, so there is something for everyone.
My Favorite Trail: Upheaval Dome
The Coolest Viewpoint: Green River
How Much Time To Spend Here: 1 Day
Where to Camp: Island in the Sky Campground
Where to Lodge: Moab, Utah
Something Unexpected: How different each viewpoint is. The landscapes change drastically throughout this park!
Getting Here: Follow 131 north to 191 north until you hit 70, then travel east to highway 24 and take that south all the way into the park. It takes 2 hours & 15 minutes.
Capitol Reef National Park is definitely and underrated park. Whenever people mention Utah’s national parks, this never seems to be one to fly off the tongue, but it was amazing!
It has a neat history, with restored historic sites that set itself apart from other parks. While people have been living in this area for thousands of years, mormon settlers came through in the 1800s and founded Fruita Rural Historic District, planting orchards and farming the area. You can see the old school house and even buy a delicious pie at the little cafe!
Capitol Reef became a national park in 1971, making it the newest park in Utah, but people have been visiting the area since the 1930s when it was a national monument.
It’s huge just like the other parks, with countless incredible hikes. I certainly didn’t see everything I wanted to. The added splendor is how empty this park is. I went hiking on one of the most popular trails here and had an entire archway to myself for 15 minutes. I sat in the shade under it on a cool rock and hydrated while taking in the spectacular views. You don’t want to miss it!
My Favorite Trail: Hickman Trail
The Coolest Viewpoint: Cassidy Arch
How Much Time To Spend Here: 2 Days
Where to Camp: Fruita Campground
Where to Lodge: Torrey, Utah
Something Unexpected: How empty the park was in June. I loved the vastness of the land without having to share it with hoards of tourists.
Getting Here: *THIS DRIVE IS NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART*
From the Visitor’s center at Capitol Reef, head west on 24 until you reach highway 12. Then you’ll head south for 2 1/2 hours until you almost at the park, and the UT 63 south will take you the last 3 miles into Bryce Canyon. This drive is pretty spectacular, but there is a lot of mountain driving with steep grades, and extreme drop-offs as you travel through Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. If you need a break (like I did) stop at Kiva Koffeehouse for a cappuccino with a spectacular view!
Bryce Canyon National Park is my favorite park I’ve ever been to. That’s a pretty big statement! This canyon is jaw-dropping at every turn and I loved my day spent here.
People have been admiring this park since 1924! It’s even been enlarged to preserve more of this cool land, making it 35,835 acres of serene beauty. What’s been drawing people to this canyon is not only the beautiful coloring of the rocks, but the unique rock formations called hoodoos that jut up from the ground. They are all over the canyon, along with arches and “windows”.
This park is best enjoyed by hiking down into it. There are a few trails to choose from, but the best hike starts at Bryce point and connects multiple trails, ending at Sunset Point.
Read all about the Best Hike at Bryce Canyon!
My Favorite Trail: Bryce Point to Susnet Point through Peek-a-Boo loop
The Coolest Viewpoint: Bryce Point
How Much Time To Spend Here: 1 Day
Where to Camp: Ruby’s Campground or Sunset Campground
Where to Lodge: Bryce, Utah (the Best Western has a shuttle stop in the parking lot!)
Something Unexpected: How convenient the shuttle system was. We actually parked outside of the camp and shuttled all the way to Bryce Point so we didn’t have to worry about parking.
Getting Here: Head north out of Bryce Canyon and hop back onto UT 12 West. Take this road to US 89 South. In Mt Carmel transfer to UT 9 and follow the signs into the park. It’s about 1 1/2 hours and the drive inside the park is spectacular.
Plan to arrive early! The first shuttle starts running at 6 a.m., especially if you want to hike Angel’s Landing. This way you’ll beat some of the head and try to avoid the crowds. If you’re not here by 9 a.m. you’ll have to park in town and take a shuttle into the park because there’s not enough parking. In the high season it’s even worse!
The best way to tackle Zion is to shuttle out to the farthest shuttle stop early on, and then slowly make your way back to the visitor’s center. In the high seasons you can be waiting over an hour out of the visitor’s center, and the shuttles run every 5 minutes.
Zion is special for many reasons. It was Utah’s first national park, founded in 1919! It also has tons of greenery, making it feel like an oasis in the desert. There are many unique hiking trails like the Narrows, Emerald Pools and, most famously, Angel’s Landing.
My Favorite Trail: Watchman Trail (Many of the trails I wanted to hike were closed, but this was a cool substitute!)
The Coolest Viewpoint: Riverside Walk
How Much Time To Spend Here: 2 Days – take one day for Angel’s Landing, then spend another day exploring the shorter hikes
Where to Camp: Watchman Campground or South Campground
Where to Lodge: Springdale, Utah
Something Unexpected: How much greenery is in the park. The canyon walls are full of vegetation!
Travel Tip: When camping, it’s ideal to stay in the park because you save a lot of time and effort trying to get there and park on the days you want to hike. However, these sell out of spaces months in advance. Campendium is a cool website I used to find free & cheap campsites in the areas.
For more photos and details of my trips, make sure to check out all of my posts from Utah! It’s one of my favorite spots in the United States, and I highly encourage everyone to head out west immediately and get their hike on.