Utah is a premier destination for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers with some of the most spectacular national parks in the United States. Five parks in particular stand out for their impressive landscapes and wealth of outdoor activities. Known as the “Mighty 5,” these parks showcase the diversity of Utah’s natural beauty. From soaring red rock arches to deep, narrow canyons, Utah’s national parks offer unique adventures for all. If you are wondering “What are the big five national parks in Utah”, then continue reading this blog.
What are All the National Parks in Utah?
1. Arches National Park
Arches National Park contains the world’s largest collection of natural sandstone arches. Over 2,000 arches are scattered across the park’s 76,000 acres, along with hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive rock fins, and giant balanced rocks. A few of the most popular arches include Delicate Arch, Double Arch, and Landscape Arch.
The park’s distinctive red rock formations were created over millions of years by a combination of water, ice, extreme temperatures, and underground salt movement. This geologic activity has resulted in an otherworldly landscape of slickrock fins, narrow gorges, and gravity-defying structures.
In addition to arch viewing, popular activities in Arches include hiking, biking, camping, and photography. Notable trails include the Delicate Arch Trail, Devil’s Garden Trail, and Park Avenue Trail. The park is open year-round, but spring and fall are ideal times to visit to avoid extreme summer heat.
2. Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon is popular for its unique geological structures. And, it is called a Hoodoos. These irregular columns of rock were carved over time by wind and water erosion. The hoodoos form natural amphitheaters along the edges of the park’s high plateaus. Sunrise and Sunset Points offer spectacular overlooks of the largest amphitheater containing hundreds of multi-colored hoodoos.
From scenic driving to camping and stargazing, Bryce Canyon offers outdoor recreation amid stunning vistas. Hiking trails wind through the hoodoos down into the amphitheaters.
Notable hikes include the Navajo Loop, Queen’s Garden, and Fairyland Loop trails. The park also offers horseback riding and cross-country skiing in winter. Late spring through early fall are the best times to visit Bryce Canyon.
3. Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands protect a colorful landscape eroded into countless canyons, mesas, and buttes. The Green and Colorado Rivers divide the park into three distinct districts: Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze.
Island in the Sky provides sweeping views from sandstone cliffs rising over 1,000 feet above the surrounding canyonlands. The Needles district is named for its red and orange spires of Cedar Mesa Sandstone. The Maze features a labyrinth of sinuous canyons only accessible by serious 4WD vehicles.
Backpacking, four-wheel driving, rafting, and mountain biking are popular in Canyonlands, which also contains Native American rock art sites. The park offers numerous hiking trails, including the Grand View Point Trail in the Island district. Due to Canyonlands’ desert climate, spring and fall are the ideal times to visit.
4. Capitol Reef National Park
Named for a line of white Navajo sandstone domes resembling the U.S. Capitol building, Capitol Reef encompasses colorful rock layers warped into winding canyons, arches, monoliths, and spires. A dominant geologic feature is the 100-mile-long Waterpocket Fold, a “wrinkle” in the earth’s crust that formed 50-70 million years ago.
Activities in Capitol Reef include scenic driving on the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive, hiking among rock formations and desert landscapes, camping, horseback riding, and climbing.
Fruit orchards planted by Mormon settlers also dot the landscapes near the park’s historic buildings. Due to its middle-of-the-state location, Capitol Reef can be excessively hot in summer, making spring and fall the best times for a visit.
5. Zion National Park
Zion is characterized by massive sandstone cliffs, deep narrow gorges carved by the Virgin River, and a diverse desert landscape. Iconic sights include the Narrows, an impressive gorge with cliff walls rising over 1,000 feet, and Angels Landing, a thrilling hike perched on a narrow rock fin.
Notable activities in Zion include hiking, rock climbing, canyoneering, mountain biking, horseback riding, and camping. Some of the most popular trails are the Emerald Pools trails, Observation Point, and the hike through the Virgin River in the Narrows Canyon. Although beautiful year-round, spring and fall are less crowded seasons to experience Zion’s magnificent scenery and adventures.
FAQs about the best national parks in Utah
1. Where are the national parks in Utah?
Utah’s Mighty Five national parks are all located in the southern half of the state. Arches and Canyonlands parks are in eastern Utah near Moab. Capitol Reef is in south-central Utah, northeast of Bryce Canyon which lies just north of Zion in southwestern Utah.
2. What are the top 5 best national parks in Utah?
The top 5 national parks in Utah are Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion. Collectively they are known as the Mighty 5.
3. What is the best time to visit national parks in Utah?
The best times to visit Utah’s national parks are spring (March-May) and fall (September-November). This avoids the hot summers and potential road closures in winter. Crowds are smaller and temperatures are milder during spring and fall.
4. How many national parks in Utah?
There are 5 national parks in Utah. Besides, Utah has the 3rd most national parks after California and Alaska.