Best Utah National Parks: How to Plan a Mighty 5 Road Trip

As someone who has seen the best Utah National Parks through many road trips, I have a lot of experience in understanding how to properly plan an itinerary to see all the Mighty 5, as well as spots in between each area that most people don’t even know about and in this post, I’m going to show you how to plan a perfect visit there too.

There are 5 Utah national parks which are also known as The Mighty 5:

There are other names like “Utah Mighty 5” that it goes by but overall, here is a list of them and my personal rating for each:

  1. Zion National Park: 10 out of 10, my favorite out of the Mighty 5.
  2. Bryce Canyon National Park: 8.5 out of 10.
  3. Capitol Reef National Park: 9 out of 10.
  4. Canyonlands National Park: 9 out of 10.
  5. Arches National Park: 9.7 out of 10 (my second most favorite park on this list).

Every park on the Mighty 5 list is worth visiting and it just so happens that you can actually do that, even in a single road trip which I would recommend taking 5 days to do.

The important thing is knowing where to start and plan the right itinerary to be able to see each park, on each day and get the most amount of exploration in each one so you are able to have an amazing trip and this is where I want to share how that’s done:

How to plan a Mighty 5 road trip itinerary through the best Utah National Parks:

utah mighty 5 national parks road trip

There’s actually 3 ways to do a Utah National Parks road trip:

I’ve done all 3 versions throughout the years and it all depends on where you want to start and stop. Here are the 3 main options with the closest major cities you can fly into to start the road trip:

1) Start in Las Vegas, end in Salt Lake City (5 days):

  • Day 1: Zion National Park.
  • Day 2: Bryce Canyon National Park.
  • Day 3: Capitol Reef National Park.
  • Day 4: Canyonlands National Park.
  • Day 5: Arches National Park.

2) Start in Salt Lake City, end in Las Vegas (also 5 days):

  • Day 1: Arches NP.
  • Day 2: Canyonlands NP.
  • Day 3: Capitol Reef NP.
  • Day 4: Bryce Canyon NP.
  • Day 5: Zion National Park.

3) Start in either Vegas or Salt Lake City (follow the respective order above), but see these additional places too:

  1. Red Canyon. It is close to Bryce Canyon NP and well worth seeing.
  2. Grand Staircase Escalante (Coyote Gulch). In between Bryce NP and Capitol Reef NP.
  3. Factory Butte. It’s in between Capitol Reef NP and Canyonlands NP.
  4. Kanab. Great town with many awesome hikes and it’s close to Zion National Park.
  5. Page Arizona. It’s a few hours from Kanab.
  6. Monument Valley. The closest Mighty 5 park is Canyonlands NP (4 hours away).

These are additional spots between (or in some cases further away from the Mighty 5) that are just as amazing to check out as the Utah national parks themselves (I’ll add links to my experiences there below), and I would only explore one or more of these spots if:

  1. You have more than 5 days to check them out.
  2. You are experienced with hiking and driving in remote areas.
  3. You have seen one or more of the Utah National Parks already and want to mix it up.

Here is Utah National Parks map (and how to navigate all Mighty 5):

This particular map uses the 1st example above (starting in Vegas, and ending in Salt Lake City):

utah national parks map new 01

If you choose to do option 2 (Start in Salt Lake city, and end in Vegas), then just reverse this map order. As you can see, just seeing all the Mighty 5 National Parks is a very long trip (nearly 800 miles), which is why 5 days is a perfect amount of time to see them.

What about option 3 (seeing more than just the Mighty 5)? Well I have the same map with where the other spots are:

map of utah national parks and more places to see

All the other recommended spots are technically underneath all the 5 Utah National Parks and there are roads that take you to all of them, which also meet up with one or more of the national parks too, but again you will need more than 5 days to see them all.

Where to stay when you’re traveling through the 5 Utah National Parks:

1) Zion National Park: There’s many hotels and lodging areas right outside the west end of the park. Also east of the park (Kanab) has tons of spots too.

2) Bryce Canyon: There is a Best Western 10 minutes from the park.

3) Capitol Reef: The closest town is 10 minutes from it, called Torrey.

4) Canyonlands National Park: Stay in Moab (30 minutes away). It’s a huge town with many hotels, restaurants and more.

5) Arches National Park: Same thing, stay in Moab (the park is 5 minutes away).

When is the best time to do a Utah National Parks road trip?


That’s very subjective, but in my opinion, it’s best to go when the crowds are low and the weather is cool/cold. For that, I would recommend going anyway from January right up until March hits.

utah mighty 5 national parks infographic 01

Once March hits, not only does the weather get significantly warmer, but the crowds start to rise and the shuttle service becomes mandatory in parks like Zion for example and in places like Arches National Park, they even have a reservation system to make sure there aren’t that many people.

That to me is very annoying (and understandable) but I prefer going when it’s much colder, less crowded, no shuttle service is present and that really only happens when it’s off season in all of these parks (January-March typically is the best time).

The details of my road trip through the Mighty 5 National Parks of Utah:

The following follows how I explored all Utah Mighty 5 Parks (via the first option) and what I recommend seeing in each park:

Day 1: Zion National Park

utah mighty 5 national parks day 1 zion

I started my trip in Las Vegas and the closest National Park in the Utah Mighty 5 lineup 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:

  1. Hiking to Observation Point.
  2. Then I did a scenic drive through the park.
  3. And then I finished up with hiking a few miles into the Narrows.
  4. You can also try doing the Angels Landing hike if time permits (you do need permits for it, they are easy to get).
  5. One more recommendation: Finish the day hiking to Canyon Overlook (easy hike with incredible views).

This visit to Zion National Park was a very active day for me as by the time I finished coming back from the Narrows hike, it was already dark. I should also mention that I did that particular hike in the winter and the sun was setting a lot earlier (see more on Zion National Park weather). I likely could have done more if it were in the spring.

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.

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 National Park

utah mighty 5 national parks road trip 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:

  1. I began with the Queen’s Garden Trail which starts from the top of the park and heads down.
  2. Then I connected with the Navajo Loop Trail to go back.
  3. 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. Also do note I explored this hike in the winter and I can promise you this: It gets very cold since this park is at such a high elevation. Fortunately, I wore the REI Co Op Stormhenge 850 Down Jacket during my hike here, which was more than enough to keep me warm.

Day 3: Capital Reef National Park.

utah mighty 5 national parks road trip day 3 capital reef

Capital Reef National Park is considered by many to the best looking national park in the Mighty 5, but that’s subjective. I personally found it an astounding place and in my case, what I did was I traveled through the park on the scenic drive (it’s amazing) and did a small hike to a natural bridge area above.

I didn’t have much time to do other hikes, but this will be a park I will be returning to!

For me, I did the scenic drive and hiked up to Hickman Natural Bridge. Both experiences were amazing despite the short trip here and I do plan on returning to get more destinations in!

Day 3 (optional): Coyote Gulch (it’s in between Bryce and Capitol Reef).

utah mighty 5 national parks road trip side trip coyote gulch

When I originally planned my first Utah road trip, I had no idea Capitol 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. And instead what I did was went for Coyote Gulch and did Capital Reef the next time I did a road trip in Utah.

I decided to share this info on Coyote Gulch because frankly, I found it an amazing spot to check out and it’s very different than any of the Mighty 5 National Parks on this list, and is far more secluded too. But the adventure you can do there is one of a kind!

Coyote Gulch is not a national park, but it is a very scenic area with difficult climbs and adventures you can explore if you’re into that. It’s also part of an area of Utah known as Grand Staircase Escalante and you’ll find tons of amazing hiking trails there. They are much more remote than anything you’ll find in the National Parks of the Mighty 5, so if you do go here, plan ahead and be an experienced hiker.

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.

Day 4: Canyonlands National Park

utah mighty 5 national parks road trip day 4 canyonlands

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, there are several spots I explored:

  1. Mesa Arch.
  2. Upheaval Dome.
  3. Grand Viewpoint Overlook (and 1 mile hike).
  4. Green River Overlook.
  5. The Needles area of the park (I haven’t gone there yet).
  6. Optionally, there is also the White Rim trail (100 miles on the surface of Canyonlands National Park).

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

utah mighty 5 national parks road trip day 5 arches

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 5 places and arches in this park (plus 1 scenic drive) and they were:

  1. La Sal Viewpoint.
  2. The Double Arch.
  3. The Turret, South and North Arches (they are next to each other).
  4. The Garden of Eden with beautiful scenic views and alien looking rock clusters.
  5. Explored Devils Garden.
  6. The scenic drive in Arches was also amazing.

Here is a full Utah Mighty 5 road trip itinerary map:

utah mighty 5 road trip itinerary 03

Keep in mind that every location I listed in each day’s hike is an option. In most cases, it’ll be nearly impossible to do so much in a single national park in one day, but you at least have options with these lists.

Questions about the Mighty 5 National Parks:

What is the Mighty 5 in Utah?

It’s the 5 main national parks in the state. They are Zion, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce and Capital Reef National Park.

How long does it take to visit the Mighty 5 Utah?

5 days is enough to visit the Mighty 5 in Utah if you keep a fast pace going, but if you want to take your time it is recommended to spend at least 7 days exploring these parks.

Which of the Mighty 5 is the best?

In my opinion Zion National Park is the best of the Mighty 5, but every other one in the state is also amazing and just as well, so are the none national park regions in the state including Grand Staircase Escalante.

Should I go to Zion or Arches?

Both Zion and Arches are incredible parks but completely different in views. They are both worth visiting and the better one to go to depends on where you start. If you’re closer to Salt Lake City, go with Arches. If you’re closer to Las Vegas, go to Zion instead.

Even more places after your Mighty 5 National Parks road trip:

1) If you only had 5 days to do your Utah National Parks road trip:

Then I promise you, following the itinerary above 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.

2) If you ended at Arches National Park, and going to Salt Lake City, then see Nebo Loop Scenic Byway:

It’s in between Arches and Salt Lake City and is a beautiful 30 mile trail with lots to see. I have an article about the Nebo Loop Scenic Byway here.

3) If you want to see even more of Utah, then the Mighty 5 are honestly just the start:

Like I said above, Coyote Gulch (and the greater Grand Staircase Escalante area) was one of the spots I explored and I’m happy I did (can’t wait to go back!).

In addition, it’s not just many awesome spots like this that Utah has. There’s also many scenic drives in Utah to check out as well (great in between places to see.

4) Want to check out awesome hikes in Utah?

Here is a list of the best hikes in Utah you’ll find and that mixes together hikes inside and outside of the Mighty 5.

5) Utah state parks (not national parks):

There’s dozens of them to check out and they are incredible and often less crowded than the Mighty 5. Here’s a link to the best state parks in Utah to at least 13 of them.

6) Visit Kanab Utah:

I mentioned it earlier, but this place is truly worth checking out. Kanab is a small city not far from Zion National Park, but the reason it’s such an amazing spot to explore is because there are many stunning, yet none national park regions to explore there like Vermilion Cliffs, natural bridges and caves.

7) Page Arizona:

If you’re visiting Kanab, I would strongly recommend you also visit Page Arizona. This is a place you can easily do another 5 day road trip through itself!

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