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Utah National Parks Road Trip: Explore the Mighty Five

Zion – Bryce Canyon – Capitol Reef – Arches – Canyonlands
Trip Length
7-14 days
Route Distance
450 mi
Stops
5

"Mighty Five" is no exaggeration: Utah is the proud home to a bucket list-worthy group of amazing and different national parks – and close enough to each other that visitors with a week or two can experience them all. This is the desert, but there is nothing bland about these areas. Red, white, and golden sandstone is carved by millions of years of erosion and buckling of the earth’s crust to create one of the most beautiful and dramatic landscapes anywhere in the U.S. Arches, spires, mesas, cliffs, and canyons populate each park. Hiking trails of all difficulties and stunning scenic drives are common in all five parks. Moab is a good starting place for both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Hike Arches’ Delicate Arch and tour the Islands in the Sky area of Canyonlands. Capitol Reef has red and white sandstone rock formations as well as Native American rock petroglyphs. Bryce Canyon's brightly colored red rocks come alive at sunrise and sunset. Zion, meaning “promised land,” is perhaps the most peaceful scenery with sheer sandstone and juniper dotted cliffs and waterfalls. It is hard to decide which one is more beautiful and dramatic. The Mighty 5 are the perfect RV trip!

Who Will Love This Trip
Everyone – you can decide how active or relaxed you want to be. Hikes vary from beginner to expert. Scenic drives and overlooks appeal to those seeking less activity.
Stop 1: Zion National Park, UT
2 day stay
Description - Zion

Established in 1919, Zion National Park was the first of Utah’s “Mighty 5” and sees more than 3.5 million every year, ranking it third among all U.S. National Parks for visitors. It boasts sheer sandstone cliffs dotted with juniper and waterfalls. You will enjoy hikes, scenic overlooks, and incredible picturesque scenic drives, among the many recreational opportunities.

Top Things to Do - Zion

Zion National Park is a "bucket list" park both for its beauty and its many recreation opportunities. Here are some of the many popular things to see and do in the park:

Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway – this 26-mile scenic drive starts in Springdale, UT, and passes through Zion National Park. The 5,000-feet, narrow, historic Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel remains an engineering feat today. Larger trucks and RVs can arrange a special passage through the tunnel where traffic is stopped both ways to allow egress. There are dozens of scenic overlooks, views, and hikes along this road through Zion. Just past the tunnel is a parking lot for the Canyon Overlook Trail – an easy one-mile hike to one of the best and most photographed views of the valley.

Zion Human History Museum – this informative museum looks at how water has impacted the area – from erosion to allowing human settlers to survive for thousands of years. The museum covers science, survival, geology, plants, animals, and community.

The Narrows – this famous area of Zion is a gorge flanked by thousand-foot walls with the narrow Virgin River running through it (and which provided the erosion to create the gorge). This section of Zion is one of the most popular. Expect to get wet because you will be in shallow water for some portion of it (depending on when you visit). The Temple of Sinawava hike (via the Riverside Walk) is ADA accessible and easy. The more strenuous Narrows-Big Spring hike is for the more seasoned hikers.

Lower Emerald Pools Trail & Weeping Rock Trail – these trails are both easy and popular walks.

Zion Canyon Scenic Drive – the most dramatic parts of the park are on display on this 54-mile drive. This drive includes a view up to Angels Landing and ends at The Narrows. There is a park shuttle bus that will drop you at spots along the way for hiking or exploring. Hearty adventurers can also bike this road.

Zion National Park, UT Activities
  • Cayoneering
  • Rock climbing
  • Photography
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Stargazing
  • Horseback Riding
  • Rafting Trips
  • ATV tours
  • Golf
RV Campgrounds Near Zion National Park, UT

Zion National Park has three in-park campgrounds: Lava Point, South, and Watchman (these can fill up months in advance and may have size and amenities limits, so book reservations early and check limitations). Outside the park, amenity-rich St. George, Virgin, or Springdale offer many private RV parks. Use AdventureGenie to help you find a great campground near Zion National Park.

Stop 2: Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
2 day stay
Description - Bryce

Red, orange, and pink cliffs and spires dominate the landscape of Bryce Canyon National Park, with views that are most brilliant at sunrise and sunset. It is dotted with giant red-orange amphitheaters. You cannot miss Bryce’s many "hoodoos" – tall, thin spires of rock that protrude from the bottom of arid drainage basins – since Bryce has the most in the country and even the world. Located at over 8,000 feet, Bryce is a mere 35,000 acres and punches above its weight in terms of dramatic landscapes and beauty. Many will regard this as their favorite of the Mighty Five.

Top Things to Do - Bryce

Bryce is a treasure trove of beauty and recreation. Here are a few of the most popular things to see and do:

Queens Garden/Navajo Loop Trail – this popular 2.9-mile hike leads you to rock formations reminiscent of Queen Victoria and her gardens.

Sunset Point Overlook – considered by many the most beautiful overlook in Bryce, this red and purple vista showcases tightly packed hoodoos.

Bryce Point overlook – this overlook is considered one of the most spectacular places to view sunrises. There is the 5.5-mile (and steep!) Peek-a-Boo Loop trail past the Wall of Windows and Three Wisemen rock formations – well worth it for the fit and adventurous. Expect to encounter horse and mule riders along the way.

Rim Trail – this 5-mile popular hike is relatively flat and affords views of the Main Amphitheater below.

Inspiration Point – with a vista of the Frozen City, you will see hundreds of seemingly frozen spires resembling an urban skyline at Inspiration Point. It truly does inspire!

Bryce Canyon National Park, UT Activities
  • ATV Tours
  • Stargazing
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Helicopter Tours
  • Photography
RV Campgrounds Near Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

Bryce Canyon National Park has two campgrounds – North and Sunset campgrounds – located near the Visitor Center. The North Campground is reservation-based May 27th through October 1st, and is on a first-come/first-served basis October 2nd through May 26th. Sunset Campground is first-come/first-served April 15th through October 31st, so make sure you are prepared. There are private campgrounds in surrounding communities such as Bryce Canyon City, UT. Use AdventureGenie to help you find a great campground to explore Bryce Canyon National Park!

Stop 3: Capitol Reef National Park, UT
2 day stay
Description - Capitol Reef

With its white domes, arches, narrow canyons, bridges and sandstone cliffs, Capitol Reef boasts rugged beauty. It is the least visited of the Mighty 5, so look forward to relatively empty hiking trails and sparse crowds. The Waterpocket Fold, a warp in the earth’s crust, is the defining geological feature of the park. It runs 100 miles north to south, and the west side is 7,000 feet higher than the east side. Erosion has further crafted the geology. The park gets its name from the white domes of Navajo sandstone which resemble the U.S. Capitol Building. The park is long and narrow – 60 miles long and only 6 miles wide.

Top Things to Do - Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef is easy to explore since it is generally less crowded than the other four. Here are a few of the most popular things to see and so:

Capitol Reef Scenic Drive – this 8-mile paved road (with a few nice dirt spurs) takes about 90 minutes and is a great starting point for seeing Capitol Reef. There is a $20 fee for accessing this road. It starts in Capitol Gorge and ends in Fruita.

Scenic Highway 24 – this no-fee road runs 16 miles through the park, along the Fremont River, and includes popular Sunset and Panorama Points. Sunset Point is accessed by an easy 0.8 mile walk to this stunning overlook. There are also ancient petroglyphs along Highway 24 that are worth a stop.

Cathedral Valley District and Temples of the Sun and Moon – consider seeing this scenic backcountry area with some of the most dramatic vistas. The 60-mile loop road in the rugged but beautiful northern section of the park requires a high-clearance vehicle.

Popular hikes – consider hiking Cassidy Arch, Hickman Bridge, Chimney Rock, Cathedral and Cohab Canyon.

Fruita Historic District – at the end of Highway 24, is the heart of the park with its visitor center, trailheads, and historic buildings. See the Fruita Schoolhouse and learn about the native and pioneer people through the ages. Stop at the Freemont petroglyphs and Gifford Homestead, an historic Mormon homestead used to exemplify the lives of Mormon settlers in the 1900s. Local artisans sell their wares here. In Fall and Spring, visitors can pick fruit from the orchards.

Pioneer Register – historic graffiti of Mormon settlers in the late 18th Century adorn these canyon walls. This canyon also has ancient Native American petroglyphs. Access this on the Capitol Gorge trail.

Capitol Reef National Park, UT Activities
  • Hiking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Rafting
  • Biking
  • Stargazing
  • Photography
RV Campgrounds Near Capitol Reef National Park, UT

The park offers only one developed campground, Fruita, with 71 sites, which fills up quickly (so reserve a site early). You can also stay in nearby Torrey, UT which has several RV parks. Use AdventureGenie to help you find a great RV park to explore Capitol Reef.

Stop 4: Arches National Park, UT
2 day stay
Description - Arches

Spanning 85,000 acres, Arches National Park is a wonderland of strange rock spires and arches. In fact, the park has more than 2,000 window arches, tower spires, hoodoos, and monoliths. This is a great park to drive, and there are many short and long hikes. The iconic Delicate Arch is the most popular attraction in the park. Like some of the other parks on this trip, off-roading is permitted in certain areas. Note that Arches may have timed entry passes which are released three months in advance.

Top Things to Do - Arches

Arches is a relatively small and manageable park. Here are some of the most popular things to see and do:

Arches Scenic Drive – take this 19-mile scenic drive and try to count the number of times you stop to take a photo! The park sells a self-guided tour app which is informative about the many stops. You can spend a half day on this road with stops, photos, and viewpoints.

Petrified Dunes Viewpoint – showing the rocks' strata, this viewpoint is located between Courthouse Towers and the Windows Area.

Fiery Furnace, Skyline Arch, Sand Dune Arch and Broken Arch – these popular hikes in Arches are worth the effort. Rangers and trail maps can help you find other great hikes to suit your timing and level.

Popular Sites – some of the most popular sites and arches to see include: Balanced Rock, Windows and Turret Arch, Double Arch, and the Garden of Eden.

Arches National Park, UT Activities
  • Stargazing
  • Photography
  • River Rafting
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Mountain Biking
  • Fishing
  • Golf
  • Horseback Riding
RV Campgrounds Near Arches National Park, UT

Inside Arches, Devils Garden Campground is the only formal campground – RVs are welcome but there are no hookups. Reservations are recommended six months in advance (for visits March-October) as the campground fills up quickly. Nearby Moab with its restaurants, bars, and shops, has multiple RV parks. Use AdventureGenie to help you find a great RV campground near Arches and Moab.

Stop 5: Canyonlands National Park, UT
1-2 day stay
Description - Canyonlands

Formed by the erosion of the Green and Colorado Rivers, this red rock park, has towering mesas, pinnacles, spires, and cliffs throughout its 330,000 acres. Canyonlands National Park is divided into five distinct districts, with the Island in the Sky District being the most popular.

Top Things to Do - Canyonlands

Be sure to check out some of these popular things to see and do in Canyonlands:

Scenic Overlooks – some of the best scenic overlooks are Grand View Point, Upheaval Dome, Wooden Shoe Arch, Pothole Point, Schafer Canyon Overlook, Buck Point, and Green River.

Scenic Drive – take the White Rim Road which takes you past the Island in the Sky mesa and the canyons formed by the Green and Colorado Rivers. It is 100 miles but well worth it for the spectacular views.

The Needles – this gorgeous and rugged area is for exploring and hiking, with its skinny, pointy spires.

The Maze – check out this remote area for exploring in a four-wheel drive vehicle.

Stargazing – check out the stars in this dark sky park.

Canyonlands National Park, UT Activities
  • Stargazing
  • Photography
  • ATV tours
  • River Rafting
  • Hiking – Biking
  • Mountain Biking
  • Fishing
  • Golf
  • Horseback Riding
RV Campgrounds Near Canyonlands National Park, UT

There are two tiny in-park campgrounds, none of which have hook-ups. Campsites are by reservation only from March 1 – October 31 and then on a first-come/first served basis. Nearby Moab, UT, (near the Islands in the Sky district) has many wonderful private campgrounds and amenities. Use AdventureGenie to help you find a great RV park to explore Canyonlands National Park! 

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Utah National Parks Road Trip: Explore the Mighty Five
Zion – Bryce Canyon – Capitol Reef – Arches – Canyonlands
Length
7-14 days
Distance
450 mi
Stops
5

"Mighty Five" is no exaggeration: Utah is the proud home to a bucket list-worthy group of amazing and different national parks – and close enough to each other that visitors with a week or two can experience them all. This is the desert, but there is nothing bland about these areas. Red, white, and golden sandstone is carved by millions of years of erosion and buckling of the earth’s crust to create one of the most beautiful and dramatic landscapes anywhere in the U.S. Arches, spires, mesas, cliffs, and canyons populate each park. Hiking trails of all difficulties and stunning scenic drives are common in all five parks. Moab is a good starting place for both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Hike Arches’ Delicate Arch and tour the Islands in the Sky area of Canyonlands. Capitol Reef has red and white sandstone rock formations as well as Native American rock petroglyphs. Bryce Canyon's brightly colored red rocks come alive at sunrise and sunset. Zion, meaning “promised land,” is perhaps the most peaceful scenery with sheer sandstone and juniper dotted cliffs and waterfalls. It is hard to decide which one is more beautiful and dramatic. The Mighty 5 are the perfect RV trip!

Who Will Love This Trip

Everyone – you can decide how active or relaxed you want to be. Hikes vary from beginner to expert. Scenic drives and overlooks appeal to those seeking less activity.
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