Experiencing all of Utah's Mighty Five National Parks in just five days is an ambitious itinerary, but with the help of an itinerary and a fast-pace spirit, it can certainly be done.
Day 1: Zion National Park
Enjoying Zion National Park in just one day is a challenging task as the park offers numerous breathtaking hikes and places to see but if you have only one day to spend, you can make the most of your visit with the following itinerary:
To maximize your time, aim to enter the park as soon as it opens. During peak season, parking can be limited, so arriving early will help you secure a spot and avoid much of the crowd that trickles in throughout the day.
Drive along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, which is the main road through the park. We recommend staying on the east side of Zion and enjoying the incredible drive through tunnels and switchbacks with stunning views before your day has really even begun.
The Narrows: If you enjoy hiking, start your day with a hike in The Narrows, one of the park's most iconic trails. You can do a shorter version of the hike, the Riverside Walk (1-2 hours round trip) or venture deeper into the Narrows (up to 8 hours) if you're well-prepared. Learn more about how to prepare for the Narrows.
Lunch: The Zion Lodge is a great place to grab a bite to eat. Zion is one of the Mighty Five that has a some great food options inside and nearby the park itself. The Zion Lodge is located along the scenic drive. There's a restaurant there where you can enjoy a meal and take in the beautiful surroundings.
Angels Landing: If you have the energy and are up for a challenging hike, consider hiking to Angels Landing. This trail is steep and strenuous but offers incredible views of the canyon (about 4-5 hours round trip). If you prefer not to do the strenuous hike to Angels Landing, consider one of the following options:
Emerald Pools: The hike to the Emerald Pools offers a combination of moderate hiking and beautiful scenery.
Weeping Rock: This is another easy to access hike that highlights hanging gardens, incredible views of the surrounding trails, landscape, and of course, a weeping rock.
Watch the Sunset: Zion Canyon offers some beautiful sunset views. Consider heading to a viewpoint like Canyon Overlook or the Court of the Patriarchs to watch the sunset.
Keep in mind that Zion National Park is incredibly popular, and crowds can be significant, especially during peak season. Planning your visit during the shoulder season or on a weekday can help you avoid some of the crowds. Be sure to check for any park alerts, road closures, or changes in park services that may affect your visit.
Consider staying on the east side of Zion National Park both the night before Zion and after visiting. In East Zion you will find incredible options like those found at Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort. Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort has a wide variety of accommodations; tent camping, RV accommodations, Conestoga wagons, vacation home rentals, cabins, and glamping. This area offers the quickest access to Highway 89 and the next stop on the list, Bryce Canyon National Park.
Day 2: Bryce Canyon National Park
Experiencing Bryce Canyon National Park in one day is very doable. A well-planned itinerary will offer freedom to see many of iconic features of Bryce Canyon. Morning: Bryce Canyon is a 1.5 hour drive from Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort and the eastern entrance of ZION NATIONAL PARK.
Start your visit at the Bryce Canyon Visitor Center. Here, you can pick up maps, get information from rangers, and learn more about the park's geology and hiking options.
Bryce Amphitheater: Explore the main Bryce Amphitheater, home to some of the park's most famous hoodoos and trails. Consider hiking the Queen's Garden and Navajo Loop Trail, which offers a fantastic way to descend into the heart of the amphitheater (2-3 hours round trip).
Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy at one of the park's designated picnic areas or at Sunset Point, which offers fantastic views.
Rim Trail: Take a leisurely stroll along the Rim Trail. You can walk sections of this trail and enjoy various viewpoints. It's a less strenuous way to appreciate the unique landscape of Bryce Canyon.
Bryce Point: Drive or take a shuttle to Bryce Point for more stunning vistas and photo opportunities.
Natural Bridge: Visit Natural Bridge, a prominent arch formation in the park, located on the park's scenic drive. You can walk to viewpoints for different angles of the bridge.
Sunset Point: Bryce is known for incredible lighting on hoodoos at sunrise and sunset. Making sunset at Sunset Point a perfect end to your day.
Stargazing: If you're interested in stargazing, Bryce Canyon is a designated International Dark Sky Park. After dark, you can join ranger-led astronomy programs or simply enjoy the incredible night sky on your own.
Day 3 Capitol Reef National Park
The drive from Bryce Canyon National Park to Capitol Reef National Park is about two hours. The closest food option to Capitol Reef is Torrey. If you want to make the most of your time in the park, be sure to grab some grub before you head in. Here's a suggested itinerary to make the most of a one-day visit at Capitol Reef National Park:
Cassidy Arch: Consider the Cassidy Arch Trail, a moderate 3.4-mile round trip hike that takes you to an impressive natural arch. This has an option to add the Grand Wash.
Fruita: Stop in the Fruita Historic District, an orchard oasis that offers a glimpse into the area's pioneer history. If the season is right, you can pick and eat fruit (cherries, apricots, apples, etc.) if not, you can always stop by Gifford Homestead - the fruit pies are a must. This is a great place for a picnic lunch. There are picnic tables and frequent visitation from the deer and other wildlife of the area.
If you have time and are looking for more hiking opportunity Hickman Bridge Trail is 2 miles round trip. It’s an awesome natural bridge.
Scenic Drive: Drive the scenic route through the park. The main road is Highway 24, and it offers fantastic views of the park's unique geology. This scenic drive is a great way to explore more of the park's landscape, particularly the Waterpocket Fold, which has made Capitol Reef famous.
Panorama Point: Make a stop at Panorama Point for wide vistas of the Waterpocket Fold and surrounding canyons.
If there is time at sunset, Sunset Point is the perfect way to finish a day at Capitol Reef.
There are food options in Torrey Utah as well as accommodations or you can continue on your way toward Arches and stay/eat in Hanksville, Green River, or make it all the way to Moab for a full day in Arches, the next stop on our agenda.
Day 4 Arches National Park
Arches is approximately 2 hours from Capitol Reef National Park. Like most national parks, you could spend several days but one day in the park can really offer a great taste of Arches National Park. A good portion of the year a permit is required to enter the park, see the National Park Service for more information on timed entry.
An absolute must of Arches National Park is Delicate Arch. Delicate Arch can be seen from a distance at Delicate Arch Viewpoint or up close and personal with a 3 mile out-and-back Delicate Arch Trail.
Balanced Rock: This is a fun, easy to access rock formation. You can walk a short loop around it or simply view it from the parking area.
The Windows Viewpoint and Trail: The Windows section of the park is loaded with arches to see, this one mile trail leads to Turret Arch, North Window, South Window, and Double Arch. The Window Section could be a great place to take some photos and enjoy a picnic lunch.
Devil's Garden: If time allows, drive to the Devil's Garden, the northernmost section of the park. Here, you can hike the Devil's Garden Trail, which can be as short as one mile roundtrip to see Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch, or you can venture farther to see other impressive arches, such as Landscape Arch, Partition Arch, and Navajo Arch.
If the timing is right, Park Avenue Viewpoint can be a great place to enjoy the sunset.
Be sure to check the park's official website for any current conditions, road closures, or alerts. While this one-day itinerary allows you to see many of the park's highlights, there is still plenty to see and do at Arches National Park. Moab is close by and also offers a great variety of recreation, dining, and lodging. It is a great place to stay and load up on supplies for the next stop on our Mighty Five itinerary, Canyonlands National Park.
Day 5: Canyonlands National Park
Experiencing Canyonlands National Park in just one day can be a bit challenging due to the park's vast size, diverse landscape, and four districts. Most people will never see all that Canyonlands has to offer because of the equipment and skill required to do so. Canyonlands is quite remote and it is important to come prepared with necessary supplies, food, and water.
For this one day itinerary we suggest beginning your day at the Island in the Sky Visitor Center, this is the most accessible section of the park. Get maps, information from rangers, and check for any park updates or alerts.
Mesa Arch: Begin the day by driving to Mesa Arch, one of the most iconic spots in Canyonlands. This short, easy trail (0.5 miles roundtrip) offers breathtaking views. If you can make it for sunrise, this a spectacular for an unforgettable sunrise experience.
Green River Overlook is a birds eye view of a gooseneck bend of the Green River carving its way through a canyon.
Grand View Point picnic area or Green River Overlook picnic area is a great place to enjoy a picnic lunch.
Take a drive to Shafer Canyon Overlook, which offers a different perspective on the park's landscape. If you have a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle, consider taking the Shafer Trail Road to take the adventure to the next level.
If time allows, consider a drive to the Upheaval Dome Overlook.
Sunset at Grand View Point: End your day by watching the sunset at Grand View Point which provides spectacular panoramic vistas of the canyons. Here you can even take a short walk along the canyon rim. The changing light on the canyons during sunset is a remarkable sight.
Remember that Canyonlands is a large park with multiple districts, and you'll be visiting only the Island in the Sky district in this one-day itinerary. To fully explore all of Canyonlands would require more time. Always check the park's official website for any current conditions, alerts, or important information. Additionally, be aware of weather conditions and road closures, and plan your visit accordingly.
This itinerary allows you to visit each of the Mighty Five parks in five days, but keep in mind that it will be a fast-paced trip, and you may have limited time for extended hikes or in-depth exploration of each park. To make the most of your visit, it's essential to plan your accommodations in advance, be prepared with necessary provisions and have a good understanding of each park's highlights and trails. Additionally, check for park entrance fees and any park-specific regulations that may be in place during your visit. Most of all, bring your camera and adventurous spirit, seeing these parks is something you won’t soon forget.