Utah National Park Road Trip
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Utah National Park Road Trip – A Guide To The Mighty 5

Are you planning a national park mighty 5 Utah road trip? Awesome, this is going to be a trip you won’t forget.  These West Coast national parks are amazing! 

The 5 Utah national parks are often referred to as the big 5 Utah national parks.  I am a Utah resident and we call them mighty 5.  I will use these terms interchangeably.  You know which parks I’m talking about!!! 

In this post, we will discuss starting points, Big 5 Utah national park itineraries, and some of the highlights of each park. 

Utah is my home state and I have visited the 5 national parks Utah has to offer many times.  I’m excited to share with you some of the best things to do and see on your Utah mighty 5 road trip!

If you did not know Utah is home to 5 national parks and 7 national monuments. Visiting the national parks in Utah is an adventure you are going to love.

Let’s explore the 5 National Parks Utah has and plan a Utah mighty 5 road trip! 

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Best Time to Visit Utah National Parks

Mighty five road trip Utah National parks

You might be asking, “what is the best time to plan a Utah national park road trip?”  All parks are open year-round but anytime from March – to October is the best time depending on which park you visit. 

Arches National Park

Arches National Park is really busy from March – to October.  Spring and Fall are the best times to visit.  In the summertime temperatures exceed 100 degrees.   Temps are lower in the morning and at night.  

Canyonlands National Park

The best time to visit Canyonlands National Park is similar to Arches National Park, so anytime from March – to October is a great time to visit.  Temperatures are the same as Arches National Park. 

Capitol Reef National Park

The best time to visit Capitol Reef National Park is March – October. Although it is still pretty cold until May.   

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park has great weather all summer long.  The high is about 79 degrees in the heat of summer.  The park is open year-round. However, May- September is the best time to visit Bryce.  May is still a little chilly.  

Zion National Park

The best time to visit Zion National Park is Spring and Fall.  The temperatures are perfect.  In summer it gets hot, close to 100 degrees.  The shuttle that takes you to destinations throughout runs from March through October. 

My Favorite Time to Visit the 5 Utah National Parks

Spring in Utah is my favorite time to visit the Big 5 Utah National Parks.  A close second is Fall in Utah.  

Utah winter is not my favorite time but I have friends that put on their spikes and love hiking during this time of year.  Summer is pretty hot but if that is the only time you can visit, it is still worth visiting.  

Admission to Utah National Parks - National Park Pass

Utah National Park road trip - National Park Pass

The entrance fees to the big 5 Utah national parks, per vehicle, are as follows:

  • Arches National Park $30
  • Canyonlands National Park $30
  • Capitol Reef National Park $20
  • Bryce Canyon National Park  $35
  • Zion National Park $35

National Park Pass

If you are planning on visiting more than 3 parks in the next year the pass is worth it.  We have had this pass this last year and it has been worth it to us.  

Do You Have a 4th Grader?

Just a reminder if you have a 4th grader you can get a free annual  pass

Where to Start your National Park Utah Mighty Five Road Trip

Best hikes at Arches National ParkUtah national parks delicate arch

When starting your big 5 Utah national park road trip realize, that there are five national parks spread out across Utah.  It is a lot of driving! 

If you live close to Utah then perfect, no big deal you can start your journey from your current location.  If you do not live close by I recommend flying in and renting a car or RV.

What Airport Do I Fly Into to See the Big 5 Utah National Parks?

You have four options.

  • Salt Lake International Airport
  • St George Regional Airport
  • McCarren International Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Grand Junction Regional Airport in Colorado

Advantages and Disadvantages 

The advantages of flying into the international airports are that car rentals will be less expensive.  The disadvantage is the extra distance you will have to drive to get to your first Big 5 Utah national park.  

St. George is 45 minutes away from Zion National Park.  This is the closest airport to any Utah National Park.  

Grand Junction is about 1 hour and 40 minutes away from Arches and Canyonlands National Park. 

The regional airports will save you time but they will cost you a little more.  

Car and RV Rentals for your Big 5 Utah National Park Road Trip

Easy Road Trip

Renting a car at any of the airports listed above is very easy and convenient.  Most of the car rental companies are located onsite.  I typically use Priceline to book my car rentals.

In Salt Lake City and Las Vegas your inventory may be larger to choose from and slightly less expensive than the regional airports.  

Rent an RV

If you have thought about renting an RV for your Utah national park road trip, that is a great idea.  You have lodging and transportation set up all at once.

There are few companies to check out. If you want to experience something more like Airbnb where you rent your RVs from individuals RVShare and Outdoorsy are great options.  This is a fun way to visit the big 5 national parks Utah has.

Plan Your Big 5 Utah National Park Itinerary

Family Vacation in Utah

Once you have arrived in Utah and decided what transportation option you want, the next step is to plan your Mighty 5 Utah national park itinerary. 

You can either start north to south or vice versa depending on which airport you fly into or the direction you are coming from. 

Mighty 5 Road Trip

 The Utah national parks are called the Mighty 5 or Big 5 which include:

  • Arches National Park
  • Canyonlands National Park
  • Capitol Reef National Park
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Zion National Park

This list is the order I would take if choosing the option from north to south.  If you plan to go from south to north, this list can be used from the bottom to the top.

In this post, we will start the Utah national park trip beginning north to south starting in Arches National Park. 

Plan a Trip to Moab Utah

Jeep in Moab

Your first two parks to visit will be Arches and Canyonlands.  They are 30 minutes apart from each other.  Before we discuss the parks, let’s explore the area so you know what to expect.

Moab, Utah is the main town near both of these parks. There is a ton of outdoor activities in this area such as:

If you want to plan a trip to Moab make sure to check out my Moab itinerary.  I also highly recommend going on a Hell’s Revenge 4X4 trail adventure.

Best Place to Stay

Moab is actually really nice and has lots of options for lodging.  There are camping options of all kinds such as tent sites, yurts, cabins, and RV spots. 

If camping isn’t your thing no problem!   The Marriott has three really nice hotels in Moab with amazing pools. 

 

Arches National Park

PLAN A TRIP TO MOAB

Starting your Big 5 Utah national park road trip at Arches National Park is a great place to start if you are coming from the north.

If you look at the license plates in Utah you will see an arch on many of them.  This Arch is called Delicate Arch and is located at Arches National Park.

Most Known For

The Delicate Arch hike is the most famous hike at Arches. It is short and family-friendly.  There are also many other natural arches located throughout the park.  

How Much Time Should I Spend at Arches National Park

1-2 days inside the park is what I recommend. It really depends on how many hikes you want to do. 

Canyonlands National Park

Utah National Parks Canyonlands Mesa Arch

Canyonlands is a short drive from Arches National Park.  Canyonlands does have some arches but is really known for its beautiful panoramic overlooks and dramatic desert landscape.  

Most Known For

The Islands of the Sky is the most popular area in Canyonlands followed by Mesa Arch and Grandview Point. 

Canyonlands is also really nice because you can enjoy most of it in your car.  As you drive through the park there are many stopping points where you can get out and check out the views and participate in short hikes. 

How Many Days Do I Need At Canyonlands?

Plan to spend at least a few hours, and as much as 2 days in the park.  There are some incredible camping sites at Canyonlands.  If that excites you than you will want to enjoy a little more time in the park.  However, you can easily get a taste of Canyonlands with a short visit as well.  

 

 

 

State Parks Nearby

Hiking in Goblin Valley

On your Utah national park road trip I highly recommend visiting two state parks that are near Arches and Canyonlands.

Both of these parks are amazing and not too far away.  Goblin Valley is actually on your way to Capitol Reef National Park which is the next stop. 

Capitol Reef National Park

Best hikes in Capitol Reef

As you continue on your Big 5 Utah road trip, your next stop is Capitol Reef.  One reason we love Capitol Reef is that it is not as busy as the other national parks in Utah.

Most Known For

We loved hiking at Capitol Reef because of the Canyons.  The echo is amazing! It also has a historic flare that is unique.  In the middle of the park, there is an orchard, bakery, as well as historic sites.  It is really cool.

How Much Time Do I Need At Capitol Reef National Park

1-2 Days is a good amount of time to spend.  We were able to do everything we wanted in 1 day.

Places to Stay Near Capitol Reef

The town of Torrey, Utah is a good place to stay.  There are plenty of camping sites and hotels alike.  The Capitol Reef Resort is incredible! You can stay in teepees, covered wagons, or luxury accommodations with great amenities

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park Utah Spring Break

Bryce Canyon is the next stop on your big 5 Utah national park road trip.  It is full of hoodoos!  These are rock formations that are tall and thin. 

Most Known For 

The hoodoos are the highlight of Bryce Canyon.  There are many viewpoints with spectacular overlooks.  Sunrise Point is probably the most popular.  Bryce is a great park to drive around but you can also get down and explore the Garden of Hoodoos at your own pace. 

How Much Time Do I Need At Bryce Canyon National Park?

Bryce Canyon is a compact national park.  You can easily do everything within 1 day.  

Places to Stay Near Bryce Canyon

There are a few hotels nearby but Bryce Canyon is pretty isolated.  We have stayed in Duck Creek on a Utah family reunion and loved the cabins and ATV trails in that area.  

National Monuments Near Bryce Canyon

Cedar Breaks utah

After you visit Bryce, Escalante National Monument and Cedar Breaks are both worth a visit. Entrance fees are included in your National Park Pass. 

Escalante National Monument

Escalante National Monument is about 24 minutes from Bryce.  This park is known for its slot canyons.  You could spend a day exploring the monument.

Cedar Breaks National Monument

We love Cedar Breaks.  It is an easy stop on your Big 5 Utah national park road trip.  It is beautiful yet not time-consuming.  You can walk the rim and have breathtaking views and be done in about an hour or two.  I love this quick stop.  

Zion National Park

Zions national Park

Save the best for last (depending on which direction you start)!  Zion is my favorite Utah national park.  It is so beautiful and has so much to offer.

Most Known For

Zion is one of the best climbing areas in the world.  Don’t be surprised to hear more foreign languages than English.  People come from all over the world to experience this park.

The two most famous hikes are Angels Landing ( a hike that you literally have to hold a chain to ascend to the top)  and the Narrows (which is a slot canyon with water running through it.)  A permit is needed for the Narrows.

How Much Time Should I Spend at Zion?

I would recommend 2-3 days at Zion but plan more time in this area to explore.

Important Information

There is a shuttle that takes you around the park. You will need to reserve a ticket to use the shuttle on the park website.

Things to Do Near Zions National Park

There are lots of other amazing things to experience in this area as well such as:

Where to Stay Near Zions National Park

St George is a great place to stay. It is the largest city in southern Utah, and as such there are lots of accommodations which include hotels, vacation homes, and camping. 

You can also stay east of the park. My favorite place to camp is the Zion Ponderosa Resort

 

Important Tips About Big 5 Utah National Parks

Grand Wash Best hike in Capitol Reef National Park

Flash Floods

Slot canyons are formed from flash floods.  These flash floods still happen today.  When you are hiking in these beautiful canyons be aware that if there is any sign of rain, or you hear thunder, get out!  

This can occur at any of the Utah national parks however it is most common at Capitol Reef National Park, Escalante, Bryce, and Zion.  The main reason you need a permit for the Narrows hike at Zion is because of the danger if a flash flood occurs.  

Drop Offs

Be careful! Many hikes at the Utah national parks have 1,000 foot drop offs.  Certain hikes are not okay for kids.  Angels Landing is intense with complete drop offs.    

Stay on the Trail or Path

Don’t wander off! Stick to the path and you will be safe.  A lot of people get in trouble when they start exploring on their own.  

Bring Water

Southern Utah is hot!  There are extreme temperatures over 100 degrees during the summer months.  Always pack enough water for your day.  

Are You Ready For A Big 5 Utah National Park Road Trip?

Best Hikes at Capitol Reef National Park

You are going to have an amazing time on your Mighty 5 road trip!  The 5 Utah national parks are out of this world!  I would love to hear which one you love the most.  

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58 Comments

  1. Such a fun area! We went to Utah for the first time last summer, and I loved it! We didn’t get to see everything, so I hope we can make it back someday. Of these parks listed, we only did Arches and Canyonlands, and at Canyonlands we only got to do Island in the Sky. We have so much more to do!

    1. Utah’s landscape is so spectacular, I love it! Your info is very complete, and I’m keeping it for future reference about Utah’s parks – thanks!

  2. Utah has been on my list for a while now. It would be an amazing experience to visit some of the parks.

  3. This is such an epic guide to do a road trip to Utah’s national parks! This will definitely be my go-to resource!

  4. What a fun road trip this would be, through Utah! I’ve only passed through this state. I need to make it a destination.

  5. A couple of the parks are on my list of must see when we get to Utah. Depending on how long we road trip for, we would definitely look into getting a park pass. They are so worth it!

  6. These are the best parks that all can be seen on one vacation! I love the Utah National Parks.. they are the best!!

  7. These all look so stunning. What a great way to try and hit them all. I can’t wait to visit Bryce Canyon sometime!

  8. Utah is definitely toward the top of my national park bucket list. Lots of gorgeous scenery!

  9. This is so informative. All of these national parks are very much on my bucket list! Thank you!

    1. Yes, I have used it a ton this year but even better next year I will have a 4th grader so we will get a free pass!

  10. This looks like so much fun! We were just talking about taking a road trip to Utah but we had no idea where to go or what to do. So many neat things to choose from.

  11. I think this is going to be the Year of the Road Trip! My husband and I are debating between Utah’s Big 5 and the Badlands in South Dakota. Your photos have convinced me that we need to go to Utah!

    1. Oh good! There are some incredible sites in Utah. I have been to South Dakota and I really loved it but you will get those breathtaking views in Utah that you don’t get in South Dakota.

  12. This is one epic road trip guide to the mighty national parks in Utah! Great resource for when I visit!

  13. What a comprehensive guide Lisa. Best way to learn more about the place than from a local. I didn’t know that Utah has 5 national parks and 3 of them are on my roadtrip list.

    I will definitely keep your post for future reference.

  14. You’ve done a great job compiling so much information about the National Parks in Utah. I spent my honeymoon at some of these but still have never been to Zion’s. I really hope to go there someday!

  15. There’s so much I want to see in Utah. It’s really stunning. And when we go, I know we’ll be doing it all via road trip! So I’ll definitely be referring to this!

  16. I really need to get to Utah. This Utah National Park road trip guide is so extensive and helpful. I will use it once I get out to Utah.

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  18. I’m always game for a Utah Road trip! These are great National Parks. I’ve been to Zion and Bryce Canyon, but I’m not sure if I’ve spent enough quality time in the others yet. Must go back!

  19. Wow! The Bryce canyon picture is mind blowing. Never been to Utah on a road trip before, your post is inspiring.Thank you, for sharing.

  20. Love this post! Utah has so much to offer travelers and adventurers! We just went to Capitol Reef for the first time this past weekend and I was blown away!

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