The best guide to Utah’s Mighty 5 national park road trip. Utah is an underrated state to explore when people think about vacationing in the US. Popular areas like California, Florida, and New York are more common. However Utah offers something no other state does – Utah’s Mighty Five is a collection of five national parks: Zion, Bryce, Capital Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches.
The mighty five are some of the most beautiful national parks in the country, each unique in its own special way – the parks draw millions of visitors annually from across the globe. Zion National Park is the most popular which is no surprise seeing that it is the closest to an airport. Las Vegas Airport (LAS) is just a short 2.5-hour drive to the national park, which makes it an easy day trip from the city. You can also start your road trip in Salt Lake City and hit Arches first, making your way back towards Zion.
In February 2023, Logan and I took a week and went on a road trip through Utah’s mighty five starting in Las Vegas. I’m going to walk you through our trip and provide insights into each park, and some of the top highlights not to miss. Here is the road trip itinerary we followed along our journey.
First Stop: Zion National Park
Drive approx. 2.5 hours from Vegas to Zion
Zion National Park encompasses some of the most scenic canyons in the United States. The park’s 232 square miles encompass high plateaus, a maze of narrow, deep, sandstone canyons, the Virgin River, and its tributaries. Zion also has 2,000-foot Navajo Sandstone cliffs, pine- and juniper-clad slopes, springs, and waterfalls supporting lush and colorful hanging gardens.
Must See Spots in Zion National Park
Get an early start with your mighty five national park road trip so you can get to Zion early and have the whole day to explore. Departing from hotels on the Las Vegas Strip, this tour spends an entire day exploring these two beautiful natural wonders. Explore them on small group hikes with a guide who knows the terrain and can tell you about the park.
Where to stay in zion national park
Second stop: Bryce Canyon National Park
Drive approx. 2 hours from Zion to Bryce
Bryce Canyon is home to the largest collection of hoodoos (irregularly-eroded rock spires) IN THE WORLD! Located along the east edge of a plateau, the park has one main 18-mile north-to-south road and only one entrance/exit. Once you enter the park, all viewpoints and hikes are on the left.
“You can perhaps imagine my surprise at the indescribable beauty that greeted us, and it was sundown before I could be dragged from the canyon view” – J.W. Humphrey
Must See Spots in Bryce Canyon National Park
- Pink Ledges Trail
- Fairyland Point
- Highway 63 Scenic Drive
- Rainbow Point
- Bryce Natural Bridge
- Sunset Point (best for sunrises despite the name)
- Scenic Tour
Want to visit the Utah Mighty 5 National Parks in style? Check out this Limousine Tour from St. George, UT (Las Vegas Area)
Where to stay in Bryce Canyon National Park
Utah’s Mighty 5 National Park Road trip
Third Stop: Capitol Reef National Park
Drive approx. 2 hours from Bryce to Capitol Reef
Capitol Reef became a national monument in 1937 and a national park in 1971. The park preserves unique geologic features, important archeological evidence, diverse plant and animal communities, and the homesteads and stories of early pioneer settlers.
Must See Spots in Capitol Reef National Park
- Drive the Scenic Drive (1-2 hours round-trip); there is a tour guide available at the bookstore
- Stroll the Goosenecks trail and enjoy the geology along State Route 24
- Watch the park movie at the visitor center
- Hike a shorter trail like Sunset Point, Grand Wash, or Hickman Bridge
- Have a picnic by the Fremont River
Where to stay in capitol reef national park
fourth stop: Canyonlands National Park
Drive 2.15 hours from Capitol Reef to Canyonlands
Canyonlands National Park preserves 337,598 acres of colorful canyons, mesas, buttes, fins, arches, and spires in the heart of southeast Utah’s high desert. The park is broken up into four districts, which are divided by the Green and Colorado rivers. Island in the Sky is closest to Moab and is the most popular district to visit. The Needles is the furthest away and is best done in one day for hiking and backpacking.
But The Maze is the most remote and rugged district, so much so that you need a four-wheel drive high clearance vehicle to reach it. Then last is The Rivers, which separates the other districts and is known for different types of boating. You might want to go on a river-rafting tour down the Colorado River at Fisher Towers during the summer.
Utah’s Mighty 5 National Park Road trip
Must See Spots in Canyonlands National Park
Island in the Sky
- Drive the 34-mile scenic drive to Grand View Point and Green River Overlook
- Hike to Mesa Arch (at dawn), Upheaval Dome Overlook, Whale Rock, Grand View Point
- Drive to the Big Spring Canyon and other overlooks along the scenic drive
- Hike Chesler Park Viewpoint, Cave Spring, Pothole Point, or Wooden Shoe Arch (best at sunset)
- Trails in The Maze are primitive, so it’s recommended you have a topographic map
- All overnight trips require a permit
- Go mountain biking, camping, or backpacking
- Take a flatwater trip like kayaking, or canoeing down either of the rivers as far as The Confluence or Spanish Bottom
- In a remote area, your river trip must be self-sufficient
Where to stay in Canyonlands National Park
Fifth Stop: Arches National Park
Drive approx. 30 minutes from Canyonlands to Arches
Arches National Park has the densest concentration of natural stone arches in the world. There are over 2,000 documented arches in the park, ranging from sliver-thing cracks to spans greater than 300 feet (97 m). The rock layers you see in the park today were once buried by over a mile of other rock that had to erode first to expose what lay beneath.
Must See Spots in Arches National Park
- Drive the Scenic Drive spending around 10 minutes at each stop
- Hike up the sloping slick rock to see Delicate Arch. (avoid this trail in the midday summer heat)
- Get a permit and hike the Fiery Furnace
- Arches National Park 4×4 Adventure from Moab
- Hike a shorter trail like Sand Dune Arch, Broken Arch, and Tapestry Arch
- Go stargazing at night or take a night photography tour
Where to stay in Arches National Park
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