utah mighty 5 national parks road trip

How to Plan a Perfect 5 Day Utah National Parks Road Trip

If you’re looking to do a Utah National Parks road trip, then this article is going to make that simple for you and that’s because over the past few years I’ve personally traveled through these areas more than once and I’ll show you the exact template/plan that I’ve followed to see the Mighty 5. 

This road trip takes anywhere from 5 days to possibly a week depending on all the sights you wish to see and for most people 5 days will be enough to do this trip. I’ll also be including “bonus” places to see alongside your Utah National Parks road trip and if you choose to check them out too, then it’ll be better to add an extra day or two to do that (because there’s tons of incredible sights in between the Mighty 5 that are also worth checking out).

Quick info about the Mighty 5 National Park of Utah:

There are 5 Utah national parks which are also known as The Mighty 5. Here’s a list of them and my personal rating for each one:

  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 you may find that your ratings for each one may be different than mine (which is another reason why you’d want to see them all). 

Here is Utah National Parks map (where all Mighty 5 Parks are located):

utah national parks map new image 01

As you can see, all Mighty 5 National Parks are in the southern area of Utah and I’ve drawn a red line that represents the roads which take you through all these parks. The good news is that navigating between the parks is easy.

How to plan your Utah Mighty 5 National Parks itinerary (flexibly):

utah mighty 5 national parks road trip

There’s 2 main ways to do a Utah National Parks road trip:

  1. You’ll either start in Las Vegas and end in Salt Lake City.
  2. Or you’ll start in Salt Lake City and end in Las Vegas.

This is great because you will have more flexible options for which airport to land into, and which parks to see in what order. I’ve done both versions throughout the years and there really is no better order, it’s all about preference, prices and where you want to land (although most people start in Las Vegas). Here are the details:

Option 1 Utah Mighty 5 road trip itinerary (Start in Las Vegas, end in Salt Lake City):

option 1 las vegas to salt lake city utah mighty 5 road trip itinerary

  • 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.

Option 2 Utah Mighty 5 road trip itinerary (Start in Salt Lake City, end in Las Vegas):

With this option, you are just reversing the above map and in that order, here is how your Utah Mighty 5 rood trip itinerary will look like:

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

There are few advantages to doing either option (starting Vegas or starting in Salt Lake City). Most people start in Las Vegas and Zion National Park is 3 hours away so your trip itinerary begins faster here but if you’re finishing in the next city anyway, then it won’t matter. 

There is also a 3rd option which is starting in Vegas, exploring the Mighty 5 in 5 days, and then going back to Vegas (takes about as long as it would to get to Salt Lake City), but if you find yourself in a position where you get better prices, or logistically it’s more convenient, this is another way to go.

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

  1. Zion National Park: There’s hotels and lodging areas right outside the west end of the park. Also east of the park (Kanab).
  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 has lodging.
  4. Canyonlands National Park: Stay in Moab (30 minutes away). 
  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). If you see my Zion National Park weather article, you’ll notice that after May-August, the weather in this (and the other Mighty 5 parks) is ridiculously hot so I don’t recommend going then.

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

The following follows how I did a Utah Mighty 5 road trip from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City (option 1 from above):

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. 

Here’s what to do when you get to Zion National Park:

  1. Hike to Observation Point (6 miles) or an easier option would be Canyon Overlook (under 1 mile).
  2. Do a scenic drive through the park (Road 9 and Zion Canyon Road).
  3. And then I personally finished up with hiking a few miles into the Narrows.
  4. You can also try doing the scary Angels Landing hike if time permits (you do need permits for it, they are easy to get).
  5. Another thing I recommend is seeing my Zion National Park photos article where you can see more pictures of the above places (and more) and that can help you isolate which 2-3 different attractions you wish to check out.

Now for people doing the full Mighty 5 road trip, once you end you will either stay somewhere in Zion or drive up to Bryce Canyon and stay at the hotel there. I recommend the latter because you won’t have to drive so far the next day. 

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 (which is why I recommend you do that drive the same day you finish exploring Zion). 

Here’s what to do when you get to Bryce Canyon National Park:

  1. Do the Queen’s Garden trail (5 mile loop).
  2. Drive all the way to the end of Bryce Canyon (scenic drive).
  3. Check out the overlooks near the entrance of the park (by Queens Garden loop trail).
  4. Be sure to check out my best Bryce Canyon National Park photos so you can look for the same locations when you get there!

Now because Bryce Canyon is smaller than Zion, you may find yourself with more time available after you finish exploring it which is why you can either take more time to do the activities above or a few bonus hikes and if you choose the latter, then here’s what I recommend:

  • Check out Mossy Cave which is 15 minutes from Bryce Canyon (it’s a short hike with a cave and waterfall).
  • You can also check out the amazing Willis Creek slot canyon 45 minutes away (It’s 6 miles in and out, but requires an all wheel drive to reach).

Whatever you decide to do, after you finish your day 2 trip, I would recommend going to Torrey the town closest to Capitol Reef National Park and staying there so you don’t have to drive all the way there the next day.

Day 3: Capitol 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, there’s a lot to do here too.

Here’s what to do when you get to Capitol Reef National Park:

  1. Do the main scenic drive in the park.
  2. Hike to Hickman Natural Bridge (2 mile in and out hike).
  3. Do the very short Halls Creek Narrows hike (it’s also 2 miles in and out).
  4. Check out Cassidy Arch (5 mile hike).

Once you’re done with that, you can then head up to Moab (2 hour drive) but the good news is that for the next 2 parks on the list, they will be close to this town so you can stay there for the next 2 nights. 

Day 4: Canyonlands National Park

utah mighty 5 national parks road trip day 4 canyonlands

This is only about a 30 minute drive from Moab but I would still get here early regardless. Canyonlands National Park can be accessed from multiple parts and explored in 3 different sections. The idea section to explore on a Mighty 5 road trip in my opinion is the upper area where you can see into the Canyon and do a lot of hikes and see a lot of sights in one day.

Here’s what to do when you get to Canyonlands National Park:

  1. Start by going to Mesa Arch.
  2. Hike to Upheaval Dome (1.5 mile in and out hike).
  3. Hike to Grand Viewpoint Overlook (1 mile hike).
  4. Green River Overlook (right next to the road overlook).
  5. If there is time, drive a little bit of the White Rim trail. It’s the road at the bottom of the park and it’s 100 miles long. Plan to drive a little bit in and then turn around and go back (don’t do the whole thing because the other end is at another section of the park).

After you’re done, head back to Moab for the last day’s trip.

Day 5: Arches National Park

utah mighty 5 national parks road trip day 5 arches

The final park on your Mighty 5 road trip (if you’re doing it via option 1 that is) is literally 10 minutes from Moab and 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.

Here’s what to do when you get to Arches National Park:

  1. Stop by La Sal Viewpoint.
  2. Hike to Double Arch (under 1/4 mile hike).
  3. The Turret, South and North Arches (1 mile loop hike, they are also next to each other).
  4. Stop at the Garden of Eden with beautiful scenic views and alien looking rock clusters.
  5. Explored Devils Garden (3 mile trail).
  6. Make sure to enjoy the scenic drive in the park too!
  7. And just as well, be sure to also see my separate post on Arches National Park photos for previews of all of the above activities. 

Here is a full Utah Mighty 5 road trip itinerary map (with the options above):

utah mighty 5 road trip itinerary 03

Keep in mind that every location I listed in each day’s hike is through option 1. If you’re doing option 2, then just reverse the list.

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.


Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *