From the remote roads that wind through otherworldly canyons, Utah feels like a foreign land. When you drive deep through its countryside, you can encounter rock formations with colors and shapes that look like they’re from another planet. You also find terrain that rivals anywhere on Earth. In short, you will be mesmerized by Utah.
The Big 5 National Parks in Utah are Arches, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Zion National Park. Moab, near Arches, is a must see for outdoor adventurists as well, offering stunning canyon views along the Colorado River. You can make a quick trip of it in one week, but you may want to spend more time here. You can fly into either Las Vegas or Salt Lake City. Some people also choose to fly into Durango, Colorado.
Arches National Park
Arches is full of natural wonders. From rocks that balance on their own to delicate or double arches, it is one of the best parks in the state. It is possible to stay in nearby Moab when you explore Arches. You will find large arches like Double arch, immense structures when you see them up close. The most popular arch is the delicate arch, with a long hike to go see it. Make sure to make time for this signature feature.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon is closer to the southern end of the state and is in a fairly remote area. The national park hotel is the only one around and there are only a couple of restaurants to choose from. The Canyon trails start from the Rim Trail, similar to the Grand Canyon, and as such are simple to hike down but can be unexpectedly more difficult to hike out of.
Explore the Fairy Land Loop Trail to go from rim to floor, about a 900 foot drop which will take you amongst the rock formations on a long hike. Called hoodoo’s and spires, these formations can be deceiving, they look about the size of a person from far away and are instead hundreds of feet high – this adds an optical illusion when judging distance. Areas of the park can appear much closer than they rally are. The park is set in a desert so bring plenty of water before attempting a loop trail hike.
Zion National Park
If Arches & Bryce are known for their distinctive rock formations, Zion is known for its natural beauty. It is also on the southern end of the state, one of the first encountered when traveling from Las Vegas. Take a leisurely hike through Zion or pursue its most famous hike – the Narrows, a canyon hike whose trail is the Virgin River. For the majority of the hike the river is less than knee deep.
Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands is named for its towering red rocks, cut by rivers into a canyon. It is in Moab and most get started with a medium hike to Mesa Arch. Other popular areas are the easily accessible Islands in the Sky with its cloudy mesa plateaus offering scenic views. Many explore the more back country Needles with tis towering sandstone spires. Fewer attempt the time consuming Maze, more of a remote adventure for very experienced adventurers.
Capital Reef Park National Park
Named for the white domed rock formations which resemble government buildings, and the rocky cliffs which prevent access, this park’s attraction is the Waterpocket Fold – a large area of geologic history described as a wrinkle in the Earth. You will see stunning, stand-alone formations that rise out of the ground and tower above the scorched sand and petrified trees.
Visit Utah’s Tourism Video on “The Mighty 5”