If you’ve ever wanted to visit all five National Parks in Utah, this is your guide to making it happen. Seeing Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands, makes for a roadtrip you’re sure to never forget. Starting from Los Angeles, I’ll be writing this guide as a journey from West to East, but it’s very easy to do it in reverse if you’ll be starting your journey on the eastern side of the state. For each park, I’ll list a few “things to do” and provide links to full page write-ups. The beauty of Southern Utah is absolutely incredible, and can be enjoyed year round. We visited the Mighty 5 over Thanksgiving break, where temperatures were pretty cold, but the crowds were sparse. On more than a few occasions we got to explore these National Parks in solitude, which made them feel like our own playground. Keep this in mind when planning your trip, as crowds can be pretty thick in the summertime.
Getting There: Los Angeles To Zion
Zion National Park is 430 miles away from Los Angeles. From anywhere in Southern California, you just need to make your way to the 15 N, and you’re good to go. This drive goes right through Las Vegas, if you’re looking for a nice overnight stop to break up the trip. St. George is the first large city in Utah, and the last place to stop along the 15 before heading east on HWY 9 towards Zion. St. George is 42 miles away from Zion National Park. Springdale is the support town to Zion, and is located just 1 mile outside of the park. This is where Julia and I stayed, and we would highly recommend at least one night in Springdale.
Zion National Park
If you’re visiting Zion during the peak season, you’ll need to park at the visitor center and use the shuttles to visit each destination in the park. After Thanksgiving weekend, you can drive your own vehicle to each destination. A great place to begin your adventure in Zion is at The Grotto Trailhead for Angels Landing. Angels Landing is the most popular hike in Zion and for great reason, as it offers some of the best views in the park.
If you want to hike the famous Narrows, you’ll need a permit for the top down hike from Chamberlain’s Ranch. You don’t need a permit for a bottoms up hike from the Temple of Sinawava.
After hiking Angels Landing, Julia and I made our way over to The Emerald Pools Trail. This is another popular hike, and offers up some pretty incredible views. If you only have one day in Zion, I would suggest hiking Angels Landing and Emerald Pools.
After spending a day in Zion National Park, head back to Springdale and grab some dinner at Oscar’s Cafe. Julia and I had had some burgers, but they have a great menu with a little something for everyone.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is 73 miles and about 1.5 hours driving time away from Zion National Park. Julia and I woke up before sunrise to make this drive, which I now regret because of how beautiful I’ve heard the journey is. We arrived to Bryce at 7am and it was 7 degrees. We embraced the cold weather and hopped on the trail to begin the Queens Garden Loop hike. If you only have the time or energy to do one hike in Bryce, this is the one to do.
Capitol Reef National Park
Since we only had 4 days to visit 5 parks, Julia and I decided to combine Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef into one day. Capitol Reef is 112 miles and about 2.5 hours away from Bryce. The town of Torrey is right outside of the park, and makes for a great place to stop and have lunch. Capitol Reef is the least visited park of the Might 5, which is unfortunate, because it really is a beautiful place. As soon as Julia and I arrived, I felt pangs of remorse, wishing we had an extra day to stay and explore. Alas, we took advantage of the afternoon we did plan for, and began hiking towards the Hickman Bridge.
Visiting Moab for Arches and Canyonlands
Moab is an incredible little town in in it’s own right, and I would suggest taking half a day or even a full day to to explore it if you have the time. There a lot of great little cafes, boutiques, art shops, and restaurants to accompany the miles of biking and hiking trails the surround the city. Moab is also just a short 10 minute drive away from the gates of Arches National Park.
Arches National Park
Arches was probably my favorite National Park in the Mighty 5. There are so many great hikes, iconic views, and diverse landscapes, that I could have spend a week here and not come close to seeing enough. I will definitely be returning to Arches in the near future. The only downside to Arches being such an incredible park is that it’s not a secret! Be ready for crowds on all of the popular trails. Luckily, we were visiting in the off season, and things weren’t too bad. I’ve read accounts of summer visits that have the feel of Disneyland. Plan accordingly. We made our way to the most popular hike, Delicate Arch, first thing in the morning to have some solitude and time to ourselves. I would recommend this as a first stop in the park if you can get there early enough.
After visiting Delicate Arch, we made our way over to hike and see Balance Rock, Garden of Eden, Double Arch, and The Windows. These are all very short hikes, but give yourself a lot of time to take in the views. The arches in this section are simply spectacular.
After seeing Delicate Arch, Double Arch, Balanced Rock, and the Windows, we were feeling pretty content. Amazingly enough, there is still more to see in Arches National Park. Julia and I decided to break the day up though, and drove back to Moab to have a great lunch at the Moab Diner. After relaxing in Moab for a little, we returned to the park, and this time explored the back end of things with Devil’s Garden to Landscape Arch and final stop at Sand Dune Arch.
Sand Dune Arch was our final stop for the day and capped off an incredible visit to Arches National Park. We returned to Moab that evening, and enjoyed dinner at an Italian restaurant called Pasta Jay’s. We made sure to get to bed early, as the next morning would have waking in the dark to catch sunrise at Canyonlands National Park.
Canyonlands is only a short drive away from Moab, and Julia and I arrived about 30 minutes before sunrise. Photographing sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands is one of the most popular activities for a Mighty 5 visit. I didn’t realize how popular it was until we made the short hike out to Mesa Arch and found we were two of a group of nearly 20 people. The crowd continued to swell as the sun inched up on the horizon. Still, the morning hike was well worth it and one I’d highly recommend.
After catching sunrise at Mesa Arch, we made our way to Upheaval Dome, and finished off the trip with the views at the White Rim Overlook.
Moab to Los Angeles
The journey home is usually not much to mention, but cutting across Utah was one of the more beautiful drives I’ve ever done. Never have 11 hours flown by so quickly. With the sites, sounds, and smells of Utah deep in my blood, it was hard for me to leave. It took me long enough to finally visit the Might 5, but I know it won’t be long before I return.