Arches National Park staircases.

Utah’s National Parks – Plan your visit now!

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Utah is home to many natural wonders, 5 of those being National Parks. In this post, you’ll learn all about Utah’s national parks and decide which one you want to visit first!

A red rock arch in Arches National Park
Arches National Park. Photo credit: YayImages.

The Beehive State features breathtaking landscapes ranging from mountains capped with snow to rust-colored rock formations resembling Mars’s surface. After you’ve visited all of Utah National Parks, you’ll have had the opportunity to admire them all.

I’ve visited Utah a few times now, and I must say late spring is my favorite time to go. The weather was perfect, not too hot or cold, and since school was still in session, the parks weren’t packed!

On my most recent visit, I went with my dad on a cross-country trip in my converted sprinter van. We didn’t sleep in the van; we opted for comfy hotels instead. This was his first time ever doing a cross-country trip and visiting national parks, so we made the most of it!

Van with mountains in the background

One of the best ways to admire the state’s awe-inspiring natural beauty is by escaping into the great outdoors. Here’s what you need to know about visiting the Mighty Five Utah National Parks.

Utah’s national parks are tucked into the state’s southern region. Because many people start their national park adventure in Salt Lake City, this guide shows you how to visit all five Utah national parks by traveling in a loop from Utah’s capital city.

From the otherworldly rock formations of Arches and Bryce Canyon to the towering cliffs of Zion and the vast expanses of Canyonlands and Capitol Reef, Utah’s national parks showcase the beauty of nature in all its forms. It’s no wonder visitors are drawn to these iconic destinations for hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, and photography.

Additionally, Utah’s relatively mild climate and accessibility make it an ideal year-round destination for outdoor enthusiasts seeking adventure and natural beauty.

Ready to choose your Utah park?

Rocks piled high at Arches National Park.

Arches National Park

The first stop is Arches National Park. Located about 3 ½ hours southeast of Salt Lake City and just under an hour from the Colorado border, it’s home to over 2,000 natural stone arches, including the iconic Delicate Arch.

The hike to the base of Delicate Arch is on a 3.2-mile round-trip trail with an elevation increase of 480 feet. But, if you’re not in the mood for the full-on hiking experience or are short on time, hit the Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint Trail instead. It’s just a half-mile jaunt and still delivers jaw-dropping vistas of this world-renowned rock star.

Arches National Park staircases.

But Arches National Park is more than Delicate Arch, so be sure also to visit The Fiery Furnace, a maze-like area filled with narrow passages, and Landscape Arch, an impressive arch that spans roughly the length of a football field.

“As full-time RVers, we’ve spent a lot of time in Utah and one of our favorite campgrounds is Dead Horse Point State Park. The campground is along a canyon rim near Moab, Arches National Park and Canyonland National Park. There are plenty of biking and hiking options everywhere you turn and the sunsets over the canyon are incredible.”

— Rebecca Blackwell, A Little and a Lot

Arches National Park was my first national park in Utah that I ever went to. I went with my best friend Erica and her husband back in May 2019. We had flown to Salt Lake City for a food blogging conference and then decided to visit Arches and the northern rim of the Grand Canyon.

My first national park ever was the Grand Canyon. My aunt and uncle lived in Arizona, and I visited when I was very young. Check out this post for National Parks near Phoenix if you happen to be in the area.

girl at arches national park.


The next stop is Canyonlands National Park. Less than an hour south of Arches National Park, it’s the largest Utah National Park, spreading across nearly 338,000 acres. Comprised of a labyrinth of buttes carved by the Colorado River, it’s like visiting the Grand Canyon but much less crowded.

Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park. Photo credit: YayImages.

One of the most incredible experiences at Canyonlands National Park is watching the sunrise through Mesa Arch. Following a relatively flat, half-mile loop trail, you can watch sunbeams dance around the underside of the arch while the sun’s glow illuminates it from behind. You’ll also enjoy a wide range of beautiful hiking trails in the Islands in the Sky and the park’s Needles and Maze sections.

Capitol Reef

Located at the halfway point of this five Utah National Park experience, Capitol Reef National Park is often overshadowed by its more famous siblings. However, don’t skip this unique Utah national park. Named after its most distinctive feature, it’s a hidden gem worth discovering.

So what is it? Known as the Waterpocket Fold, it’s a unique geologic monocline — a wrinkle in the earth — that stretches for nearly 100 miles. For the ultimate picture-perfect shots of this fascinating fault, hop in your car and drive the Burr Trail. Once it intersects Scenic State Route 12, prepare to be wowed. You’ll find viewpoints that offer a jaw-dropping, bird’s-eye perspective of the craggy landscape and, of course, the star of the show — the Waterpocket Fold.

Bryce Canyon National Park.
Bryce Canyon National Park. Photo credit: YayImages.

Bryce Canyon

Ebenezer Bryce, a farmer and cattle rancher, and the ‘founder’ of this canyon, is often credited with building the first irrigation canal in the region and for his role in bringing attention to the area’s stunning natural beauty. He was a Mormon settler who homesteaded in the area in the late 1800s.

Ever heard of a hoodoo? You’ll find plenty at Bryce Canyon National Park. These spire-shaped rock formations create a surreal landscape that looks like it’s straight out of a fantasy novel. The park’s most famous viewpoint, Sunrise Point, offers a panoramic view that makes you feel like you’re on another planet. For a different perspective, take the Navajo Loop Trail down into the amphitheater and walk among the hoodoos. The experience is nothing short of magical.

During winter, enjoy cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on marked trails, or join a ranger-led snowshoe hike to explore the snowy landscape in Bryce Canyon.

girl standing in a Utah National Park.


Last but certainly not least, Zion National Park is the pièce de résistance of Utah’s Mighty Five. The park is best known for The Narrows, a slot canyon where you can wade through the Virgin River.

Zion National Park

“Hiking all 16 plus miles of the Narrows in Zion is my most memorable experience in any National Park. It’s not for the faint of heart and requires a long, full day with appropriate packed supplies, but it’s a breathtaking journey to watch a small little stream unfold into the awe-inspiring canyon at the bottom.”

— Gina Matsoukas, Running to the Kitchen

If you’re up for a challenge, Angels Landing offers breathtaking views worth the strenuous hike. The spot got its name from Methodist minister Frederick Vining Fisher, who proclaimed in 1916 that only an angel could land there. If you’re looking for an easier option, the Riverside Walk is a relatively flat, 2.2-mile, paved round-trip trail that offers stunning views without the climb.

Pro Tip: When you’re ready to take a break, be sure to relax on the large lawn outside the Zion Lodge. It’s a beautiful spot for an unforgettable picnic.

Driving through Zion National Park.

While there’s no official rule that Zion should be the last park you visit in Utah, by visiting other parks and attractions in Utah first, you build anticipation for Zion. This will heighten your excitement and appreciation for its beauty and grandeur.

Just keep in mind the dates that you will be visiting because it gets crowded especially during peak season, around June to August. But still, this is worth every step because summer is just perfect for longer daylight and warm hours.

I visited Zion in late December of 2021 on a cross-country road trip with my dad. It wasn’t crowded at all and there had recently been snowfall, but none was on the ground and it didn’t impact our trip at all.

Man by wall at Zion National Park.

On the road again

Traveling between these parks is an adventure in itself. The drive from Arches to Zion takes you through some of the most scenic landscapes in the country. Think winding roads, open skies and the occasional roadside attraction for that perfect photo. Just remember, the journey is as important as the destination.

You can explore local shops and visit art galleries at Moab, taste local regional goodies such as homemade pies and Navajo tacos at roadside cafes, and even stop by other nature parks while on the way. Take scenic drives at the Scenic Byway 24 through Capitol Reef or the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, which offers breathtaking views of Zion Canyon.

Arches National Park rock formation.

Pro tips for planning your Utah National Park adventure

  • Arriving by air: If you plan on flying to Utah, your best bet is to travel in and out of the Salt Lake City International Airport.
  • Pack smart: Utah’s weather can be unpredictable. Layering is key. Also, remember sunscreen and a hat for sunny days.
  • Adjusting to altitude: You can experience altitude sickness with a change in altitude of just 1,000 feet, so give yourself time to adjust.
  • Stay hydrated: The dry climate can sneak up on you. Always carry water, especially on hikes.
  • Leave no trace: Keep Utah national parks beautiful for generations by packing out what you pack in.
  • Timing is everything: Consider visiting during spring and fall shoulder seasons for fewer crowds and milder weather.
  • Out in the cold: Many of the roads, hiking trails, accommodations and restaurants near the Utah national parks are closed during winter.
  • Know your limits: These parks offer a range of activities, from easy walks to challenging backcountry routes. Choose wisely based on your fitness level.

Utah’s National Parks are not just a destination; they’re an experience that will leave you with a newfound appreciation for the natural world. Are you ready to hit the road?

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