Navigating Utah’s “Mighty Five” National Parks

If you find yourself in Utah this summer we highly recommend that you stop by at least one of its five national parks. The ancient desert biomes found in Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion are both beautiful and thought-provoking. Whether you’re planning a road trip to all five parks or just swinging by one, it is always a good idea to do some research ahead of time so that you can make the most of your outdoor experience.

Zion National Park

In the southwestern corner of the state lies Zion National Park. Famous for its ancient canyon carved 2000 feet into the earth’s crust by the Virgin River, Zion is often the first park Utah visitors explore due to its proximity to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. Surrounding Zion Canyon, striking desert landscapes such as arches, mountains, buttes, mesas, and monoliths can be found. The Park is also home to the Kolob Canyons, which offer a quieter, more secluded park experience.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Just about an hour and a half drive North East of Zion, explorers can visit Bryce Canyon National Park. Bryce houses the largest forest of hoodoos, intricate pillars of rock chewed out of the earth by eons of frost and rain, on the planet. Interestingly, Bryce Canyon isn’t actually a canyon at all, but rather a great plateau covered by coniferous woodland. This park can get fairly crowded during the summer months, but the panoramic views of sunrises and sunsets make a trip worthwhile at any time of year.

Capitol Reef National Park - Photo: Tom Tash/Chimani
Capitol Reef National Park – Photo: Chimani

Another two-hour drive further to the northeast of Bryce Canyon and you will find Capitol Reef National. If making the journey, you would be cheating yourself if you didn’t drive along Utah’s Scenic Byway, route 12. The Byway is magnificent in its own right and can turn what might have been a monotonous transit into an unforgettable adventure. Capitol Reef’s Ridgeland was formed 50 to 70 million years ago when tectonic movement created a monocline known today as the Waterpocket Fold. Spanning over 100 miles, the park protects innumerable ridges, buttes, monoliths, spires, canyons, and arches. In the northern, more remote section of the park, the remarkable Cathedral Valley is a must-see. While much of Capitol Reef is backcountry, there is an 8-mile scenic drive through the park and a developed campground, which visitors of all skill levels can enjoy.

Canyonlands National Park - Photo: Tom Tash/Chimani
Canyonlands National Park – Photo: Chimani

75 miles due east of Capitol Reef, as the crow flies, sits Canyonlands National Park. Carved up by the Colorado River and the Green River, Canyonlands is divided into four main districts: Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the Rivers. The Needles is a region of the east end of the park with tall sandstone pinnacles, while the Maze is a remote section of canyons to the west; a primitive backcountry area accessible only by 4WD. Kayaking and canoeing are popular on the two rivers, including the challenging whitewater in Cataract Canyon. Also worth a visit is the separate Horseshoe Canyon Unit of the park, where a 6.5-mile hike is rewarded with the Great Gallery: large, painted rock-art figures that are at least 2,000 years old.

Arches National Park - Photo: Tom Tash/Chimani
Arches National Park – Photo: Chimani

Finally, just a half-hour drive from Canyonlands, is its sister park, Arches National Park. As its name suggests, the national park holds over 2,000 natural sandstone arches, which seem to defy both gravity and logic. You’ll also find many other amazing natural red rock formations in this 76,000-acre high-desert environment, including pinnacles, fins, walls, and balanced rocks. Hiking, biking, or rock climbing in Arches National Park reveals a layered landscape shaped by millions of years of geology and erosion. An 18-mile scenic drive through this park offers visitors an easy overview of the park’s riches, including the famous Delicate Arch, which appears on the Utah license place and is a favorite spot for watching the sunset. Short loop trails lead to sites like Balanced Rock, Double Arch, and spire groupings like the Garden of Eden.

Though you can’t go wrong by visiting all of Utah’s national parks, don’t feel pressured to experience them all in one go! You can use the Chimani app to plan your next excursion at your own pace and comfort level. Each Chimani guide allows you to plan your trip, and navigate in the park without the need for a cell connection. The Chimani app works using GPS-enabled maps to ensure that you’re always in the know and able to navigate around the parks. No matter which sites you choose to visit, you are sure to be impressed by the magnificence of this beautiful state.

Plan for your visit to all of Utah’s “Mighty Five” with travel guides by Chimani, available in the Apple App Store, Google Play Store and online.