Utah Mighty 5 - BookitList

Utah Mighty 5

Utah has become a popular road trip destination and it’s not hard to see why, when there are five national parks all within a few hundred miles of each other. Also known as “The Mighty Five”, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Arches National Park are all stunning with their own unique features and reasons to visit anytime of the year!

But which airport should I fly to? What is the best hike within the park? And how many days do I need to explore them all? All these questions and more will be talked about in this blog post.

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When should I visit and what airport should I fly into?

The national parks in Utah are open year round, but during the winter, trails are likely to be icy or even snowy. Check the weather and call the visitor center to see what conditions are like at the park before visiting in some of the colder months. However, visiting in the colder months and seeing the red rock with snow is a very unique experience and if you can bear the cold, definitely worth it! If you’re not keen on the cold, the best time to visit the national parks are between May and October.

As for which airport to fly into, depends on the parks you’d like to visit. If you’d like to spend most of your time in Zion and Bryce, the Las Vegas airport is the closest. If you’d like to spend more time in Arches and Canyonlands, the Salt Lake airport is the closest. I would advise flying into one and out the other airport to minimize driving.

How many days should I spend visiting the parks?

This question depends on how many hikes you’d like to do. Most of the parks can be done in a day or even half day if you are just driving to overlooks. If it were my first time visiting, I would spend a day in each park and do at least one hike in each of the parks. With that being said, the minimum time I would suggest to explore the five national parks would be 5-7 days.

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Which parks should I devote more days to if I decide to stay a week?

This question depends on your fitness level. Some of the parks have a lot of short hikes you could cram into a day, while other parks have only a couple short hikes and more long hikes. Or if you didn’t want to hike at all you could just stop at the overlooks and drive through the park, but which parks are perfect for just driving through? Well, let’s get into it and find out!

Zion National Park

Let’s start with Zion National Park. It is the most accessible from the Las Vegas airport and from visitors who just came from the Grand Canyon National Park. In the summer months, Zion has a shuttle that stops at the hiking access points. Arrive early to get a parking spot where the shuttle starts as the parking lot fills up early.

Some of the easy hikes include the Upper Emerald Pools trail, the Weeping Rock trail, and the Canyon Overlook trail. The more well known hikes in Zion such as the Narrows, Angel’s Landing, or Observation Point are known to be strenuous because of the elevation gain, long miles, or the fact that you’re in water the whole time.

However, if you have the hiking experience and are not afraid of heights, I would recommend the Angel’s Landing trail. It is my favorite hike in Zion. Even if you cannot do the saddle to the top, there are still wonderful overlooks along the way.

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Bryce Canyon National Park

The closest park from Zion National Park is Bryce Canyon National Park. This national park could be done just by driving through and stopping at the overlooks. In the summer, this park also has a shuttle so plan to get there early as well. This park is at a higher altitude and looks into the canyon below so you can see everything from the overlooks but if you can hike down into the canyon, I would recommend the Navajo Loop Trail. There are a lot of switchbacks so beware, however far you venture down, you have to come back up all those switchbacks! But hiking up close among the hoodoos is incredible and you won’t get that from the overlooks!

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Capitol Reef National Park

After Bryce National Park, is the least visited national park in Utah, Capitol Reef National Park. This one is farthest from an airport and is not right next to a large city so finding lodging is not as easy and accessible as the other parks. This National Park has a lot of variety, from petroglyphs, rustic barns and cabins from Utah’s history, to overlooks, arches, slot canyons, and more. It is great for a scenic drive if you’re short on time and want to spend more days in other parks, but my favorite trail is a short one! The Hickman Bridge Trail is only two miles round trip and has an impressive natural bridge at the end. A bonus tip for Capitol Reef National Park, visiting in the early spring you might be able to catch the cherry blossoms or visit in the late fall to catch the changing leaves.

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Canyonlands National Park

The last two national parks on the Mighty Five are within an hour drive of each other, Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. Tourists visiting these two parks usually stay in Moab, Utah. Canyonlands National Park is one most people just drive through and look at the overlooks. If you have an off road vehicle, you could also continue your scenic drive down into the canyon! There is a short hike that I recommend doing and that is the Mesa Arch trail. This arch sits at the end of the canyon and has a drop off on the other side, making the pictures absolutely breathtaking. If you have the time, do not miss it!

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Arches National Park

Arches National Park can also be done by just driving through the park and stopping at some of the overlook areas. There are some very short hikes from the overlooks to get closer to the rocks or arches, including Balanced Rock, Double Arch, and the Windows. But of course, my favorite hike is the classic Delicate Arch trail. This trail is known to be strenuous due to the elevation gain and exposure. There is no shade on this trail and the desert heat is very unforgiving. Be sure to start this trail as early as possible so that you are not hiking in the heat of the day.

The parking lot to this hike is very small and fills up by 8 am in the summers. If you don’t think you can do the hike to the bowl of Delicate Arch, there is an overlook trail that is only 0.7 miles out and back. However, this trail is all uphill on rocks. So prepare for stairmaster extreme and watch your footing!

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The Mighty Five are incredible and worth putting on every bucket list. As a Utah local, I visit all the national parks at least once a year if not more. If I were a tourist and looking to complete this itinerary in 5-7 days, I would fly into the Vegas airport and out the Salt Lake airport and do the parks in the order that I listed them!


Hi I’m Nicole! I’ve been traveling since I can remember. Started in an RV with my parents to cruising around the world, I love local and international travel. I love to photograph my experiences whether it’s hiking or experiencing another culture. Nice to meet you!

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