Utah has 5 major national parks, known as “The Mighty 5” and very recently I took a 5 day road trip through this state to see them and I highly recommend it.
If you’re looking for road trip ideas through this state, the one I did was very satisfying. So I’ll share exactly what I saw, hiked and explored in each national park, every day that I was on this trip. The beauty is that most of these national parks can each be explored in a single day and I have posted several articles showing this is possible (because I did it).
In addition to that, there’s more than just national parks in Utah worth exploring and that’s exactly what I did when I checked out a popular but less known hike known as Coyote Gulch, which also was part of my itinerary.
Here’s how the 5 day road trip through Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks works:
- Day 1: Zion National Park.
- Day 2: Bryce Canyon National Park.
- Day 3: Capital Reef National Park.
- Day 4: Canyonlands National Park.
- Day 5: Arches National Park.
And these are the mighty 5 parks in Utah by the way.
Here is a map of the Mighty 5 National Parks:
Now if you’re just looking to explore nothing but the national parks in Utah, that’s how you can do it. The best place to start is either from Las Vegas or Salt Lake City. I started my road trip from Vegas which is why my list is in that order.
If you start from Salt Lake City, you just reverse the order and you can do each park in a single day. Of course, you can’t explore every single thing in each park, but you can explore enough to be satisfied by it. I certainly was.
When I did my trip, here is how my 5 day itinerary looked:
- Day 1: Zion National Park (I went back to Vegas and returned a few days later to continue the trip which we’ll call day 2).
- Day 2: Bryce Canyon. I skipped Capital Reef National Park because I wanted to fit in both parks in one day.
- Day 3: Coyote Gulch (not a national park, but it’s a playground for adventure and nature seekers, high recommended).
- Day 4: Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. Yes I explored both in one day and I was VERY happy with what I saw.
- Day 5: I continued west across Nevada to Lake Tahoe. This Utah road trip I was doing was part of an even bigger trip that turned west to the Pacific Coast Highway, and up to Vancouver Island.
So overall, for my first time doing this Utah road trip, I explored 4 out of the 5 mighty parks on this list. But never the less, you can totally do everything I did and more, even if you only have 5 days to do it. I’ll be returning to complete the mighty 5 on a later road trip though.
The details: What you can do in each National Park, each day:
Day 1: Zion National Park.
I started my trip in Las Vegas and the closest National Park in Utah to it is Zion National Park. I personally left my hotel around 4:00 a.m in the morning with the intent to arrive in Zion around 7 a.m.
There’s a lot you can do in Zion National Park in one day, and in my case (this time around), I began by:
- Hiking to Observation Point.
- Then I did a scenic drive through the park.
- And then I finished up with hiking a few miles into the Narrows.
This visit to Zion National Park a very active day for me as by the time I finished coming back from the Narrows hike, it was already dark. Now in this particular case, I had to drive back to Las Vegas and I would continue my road trip with another friend, a few days later. We would actually head straight into the next park which is Bryce National Park, and cut through Zion in the process.
But in your case, you can easily do Zion, and then head into Bryce and start your day 2 hike without going back n forth like I did. Here is a sample of the beauty in Zion (a drive through):
So yeah I hope that convinces you to take a drive through Zion and even if you don’t plan on hiking anywhere, the scenic drive through the park is worth it, and considering the roads between the 5 Mighty National Parks intertwine, I say you should try it!
Day 2: Bryce Canyon.
It takes about 2 hours to get to Bryce Canyon National Park from Zion National Park. When I got there, most of the park’s campgrounds, hotels and so on were closed to the winter season, but most of the park’s hikes were open and I took a 5 mile loop to explore much of the park, from the top and bottom of it.
I did 3 connecting trails:
- I began with the Queen’s Garden Trail which starts from the top of the park and heads down.
- Then I connected with the Navajo Loop Trail to go back.
- At the top I finished and got back to my staring point following the Rim Trail.
This was a very scenic hike that helped me truly appreciate Bryce Canyon. The hike is moderate for most people and can easily be done in a day. Also going during the winter helped a ton since it was very chilly (and snowy).
Because I had so much time left over after this hike, I explored another right outside the park called “Mossy Cave”. It is less than 1 mile and also a beautiful, and simple hike you can do. It’s about a 10 minute drive outside the park.
I’ll put up a scenic drive of Bryce Canyon and the hikes I did there soon.
Day 3: Coyote Gulch (In your case, Capital Reef National Park).
When I originally planned my Utah road trip, I had no idea Capital Reef National Park was on the way, but as I exited Bryce Canyon and was headed to Coyote Gulch, I saw signs for it, but had to skip it due to time constraints. Yet I vowed to do it next time.
So in your case, what you’re going to want to do is after you finish Bryce Canyon National Park, stay at a hotel near that park, and then the next day, head to Capital Reef and explore it there. It’s about 1 hour away from Bryce.
In my case, I headed towards Coyote Gulch which you can also explore in one day. That is not a national park, but it is a scenic area with difficult climbs and adventures you can explore if you’re into that.
This isn’t a place you should visit if you’re concerned about getting lost or are a beginner hiker, because in many cases, you’ll have to drive for over an hour off a dirt road, park your car in one of the major trailheads, walk a few miles, and then either climb down on rope into Coyote Gulch or go around into easier, but WAY longer trails. See more info on Coyote Gulch here.
Day 4: Canyonlands National Park.
The last 2 parks on this list are literally next door neighbors (Canyonlands and Arches) and you can literally explore both in one day, which I did, but I recommend you take your time and do each park, each day and if you finished your previous day’s hike in Capital Reef or Coyote Gulch, then as the trip progresses north, the next park you’ll hit is Canyonlands.
Exploring Canyonlands National Park in one day is easy and the 4 short hikes I did while there were easy to complete in literally just a few hours. Most of the park was closed though, because of winter, but despite that, more than enough options are still open during this time to really get a great first time look and visit at what Canyonlands has to offer.
In my case, these are the 4 spots I explored:
- Mesa Arch.
- Upheaval Dome.
- Grand Viewpoint Overlook (and 1 mile hike).
- Green River Overlook.
And honestly, while I felt VERY satisfied with these 4 places, I still feel like I only got a teaser of what Canyonlands has to offer. I’m pretty sure though that if you do these 4 hikes in one day, you’ll also feel very satisfied.
After you exit the park, stay at a hotel (Marriots there are cheap off season), that is literally in between Canyonlands and Arches, so the next day you won’t need to drive far.
Day 5: Arches National Park.
The roads in Arches National Park are very conveniently designed to help people explore much of the park’s most beautiful places without backtracking a lot and this is why when I went there (on the same I also visited Canyonlands), I saw more than a few arches, scenic views and cool drives that gave me a good taste of everything Arches has to offer the next time I go.
I also visited 4 places and arches in this park (plus 1 scenic drive) and they were:
- La Sal Viewpoint.
- The Double Arch.
- The Turret, South and North Arches (they are next to each other).
- The Garden of Eden with beautiful scenic views and alien looking rock clusters.
- The scenic drive in Arches was also amazing:
Once you’re done with your 5 day trip, you have a few choices:
If you only had 5 days, then I promise you, following this itinerary will be more than enough to give you an adventure that felt like it took way more than 5 days. There’s so many activities packed into each park’s itinerary and because you can so easily do so much each day, in each national park makes it satisfying.
But from here, if you ended at Arches National Park like I did, you have the choice to fly out of Salt Lake City. And if you did this trip backwards and started in Salt Lake City, you would have finished in Zion National Park on day 5 and from there, you can fly out of Vegas.
In my case, as I said before, I continued west across Nevada and continued my trip across the Pacific Coast Highway.
I would also recommend that if you have more than 5 days to spend and only want to do it in Utah, that to explore more than just the national parks there. Like I said, Coyote Gulch was one of the spots I explored and I’m happy I did (can’t wait to go back!).
There are so many other “mini parks” and slot canyons in Utah worth exploring as well as national monuments and other scenic spots. In short, Utah has a ton to offer beyond the national parks there.
Now if you’re looking for road trip ideas, then perhaps you can follow in the same footsteps I did and head to the west coast and/or explore parts of Western Canada like I did last year. There’s a lot of exotic nature in this region of North American and the beauty, landscapes and unforgettable memories are plentiful!
Thank you for reading this article on 5 national parks you can explore on a 5 day road trip in Utah! I hope it’s given you a lot of ideas to put on your own list and if you do go on this trip or have adjustments you made that also made the trip worthwhile, let me know below!