Welcome to our image and video gallery of the mighty five national parks in Utah that you must see.
Discover the Mighty Five National Parks in Utah
The desert state of Utah is home to five amazing national parks which harbor some of the most incredible and extraordinary landforms on earth, a true representation of the American frontier.
A visit to any of these parks makes for an unforgettable Wild West experience that only the American West can provide. Each park showcases the outstanding landscape of the Colorado Plateau, an ancient Sahara that has now turned into stone. The dramatic arrangement of arches, hoodoos, alcoves and majestic canyons is so otherworldly that you may feel like you are in a different planet.
The five national parks of Utah attract millions of tourists each year who come to marvel at the wonderful scenery, landscape and wildlife as well as to take part in the many fun activities found there.
A trip to “The Mighty Five” could mean watching the morning sunlight over the prominent depths of Canyonlands National Park or admiring the sunset through a delicate, finespun bow in Arches National Park.
It means standing next to ancient petroglyphs in Capitol Reef National Park, getting amazed at the steepness of slot canyon trails in Zion National Park or gazing down at the rock hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park.
Once you visit any of these sites, you will immediately feel an almost irrepressible urge to go back. Here is our elaborate guide on the five national parks in Utah that you just have to visit.
1. Zion NP Utah
Even with your eyes shut, the names of the mountains and valleys that are found in Zion National Park are enough to intrigue you – the Court of the Patriarchs, the Organ, the Great White Throne and the Tabernacle Dome. Mount Moroni carries the name of the angel who Mormons say appeared to the founder of their religion almost 200 years ago.
The Court of the Patriarchs Zion NP
The Great White Throne Zion NP
The area’s religions are not forgotten, with the Temple of Sinawava, which is a natural amphitheater that is about 900m deep.
Temple of Sinawava Zion Canyon
Zion NP is the midway point in a declension through geological time that is referred to as the Grand Staircase. Bryce Canyon, located 64km to the northeast, is the topmost step, its rocks said to be almost 60 million years old. At the bottom is the Grand Canyon, 96km to the south, thought to have been formed more than two billion years ago!
Many places around the Zion are rightly out of man’s reach, although bighorn sheep and mountain lions tread easily. Perhaps the only animals that know Zion’s true extent are the highly endangered California condors which can sometimes be spotted soaring above the peaks.
Endangered California Condors
In a state in which parks are more than cities, Zion towers above the rest as Utah’s first and most visited national park. The valley floor can have a lot of people, but private vehicles are restricted and free shuttles offered instead, and this greatly helps to reduce the chaos.
Most of the park cannot be seen from the road – this place is suited for explorers. More than 160km of trails stretch from the valley down to the constricting river canyons to the north and up the lofty red walls of Navajo sandstone to the east as well as to the west.
The otherworldly rock formations found in Zion make it a favorite for canyoneers and rock climbers. If you are up for the challenge, hiking up the Angels Landing is worth every giddy step. For those interested in camping, there are lots of developed campgrounds with great backcountry camping facilities.
2. Bryce Canyon NP Utah
One popular tale among the Paiute people of Utah is that many years ago, the To-whenan-ung-wa , also known as the Legend People, lived here. According to these tales, the To-whenan-ung-wa were animals of various kinds with the ability to take on human forms. However, their arrogance and misuse of the land caused the coyote god – referred to as a prankster by the Native Americans – to punish them by turning them into stone. Perhaps the thousands of rock formations at Bryce Canyon NP are really stone-dead To-whenan-ung-wa!
Bryce Canyon Landscape National Park Utah
This park may be one of the smallest in the United States, but the concentration of these totem-pole-like rock formations, also called hoodoos, is unmatched. During the evenings, the densely-packed, sunset-colored hoodoos create a hypnotizing effect, as is often the case when a shape repeats itself everywhere the human eye turns to.
Bryce Canyon Rock Formations
The park is more of a big plateau nibbled into many amphitheatres through strata of siltstone, mudstone and limestone. It is named after Ebenezer Bryce, a Mormon pioneer born in Scotland. He once observed that grazing cows easily got lost in the maze of hoodoos, and herders would spend long hours searching for them.
At Bryce Canyon Park, the best views are below. While you can stand at the edges of the canyon and enjoy the hoodoos and the natural amphitheaters, descending into the canyon is by far the best way to experience this incredible scenery.
Most of the hiking trails are not that difficult to navigate, so you too can conquer the famous Peekaboo and the Navajo Loop Trails. On the way you will see Thor’s Hammer, the Wall of Windows and other breathtaking natural formations and slot canyons.
Hiking Thor’s Hammer Bryce Canyon
If you drive out to Rainbow Point, you can find a safe road leading to the tops of the hoodoos. The time that you will be perched on top of one is when you will realize just how incredible they are. Just like Zion, there is a lodge, restaurant and general store within the park.
3. Arches NP Utah
Not many natural phenomena look quite as unlikely as rock bridges and natural archs, and this park in Utah, 320km southeast of the Great Salt Lake, has more than 2000 of them.
The scientific explanation behind this gravity-defying feat of stones in Arches National Park is that parallel fissures in rock pavements widen over time resulting a series of thin walls. If erosion is faster in the middle than at the top of the walls, there is hollowing out from either side, resulting in a single big hole.
Perhaps the most extreme arch of them all is Landscape Arch, almost 90m long but less than 2m in thickness at some points. You will also find several double arches and other rocky outcrops with hilarious shapes. The symbol of the park, however, is Delicate Arch, and it is inscribed in Utah license plates.
Delicate Arch – Arches NP, Utah
Landscape Arch – Arches National Park Utah
In the 1950s, there was a debate on whether to coat this rock with a chemical so as to slow down the process of erosion.
People were worried that future generations would be robbed of this wonderful sight. In truth though, arches have existed and crumbled for thousands of years even before humans came into the picture, and all we can do is to enjoy them while they still have their glory.
While the tranquility of the park creates the impression that there are not many animals present, the opposite is actually true. You will see lots of animals such as birds, lizards and small mammals, though their visibility is determined by seasons and the prevailing weather.
Due to the high temperatures present in the Arches, most animals only appear at night. They include kangaroo rats, woodrats, skunks, foxes, ringtails, mountain lions, bats and owls.
There is also a category of animals which are active in the mornings and evenings, and they are called “crepuscular”. These times are not as hot as mid-day, and the half-darkness is also a form of camouflage.
Such animals include the Mearns coyote, songbirds, desert cottontails, porcupines and mule deer. A few animals such as squirrels, lizards, snakes and eagles are active during the day.
The Mearns Coyote, Utah
Source : WikiPedia
Arches National Park is a red rock wonder that will fill you with shock and awe. The world’s largest concentration of natural arches is found here, and you are bound to be intrigued by these sublime spans of stone.
There are also many hiking trails of different difficulty, leading you to even more impressive sites.
You will also find many desert plants growing here including prickly pear cactus, bunch grasses, moss, Mormon tea, evening primrose, sacred datura, cheatgrass and many more.
4. Capitol Reef NP Utah
Capitol Reef is the least known of the national parks in Utah, perhaps because it is the most remote of them all. It covers the 160km-long Waterpocket Fold, a wall-like upthrust from the Earth’s core that defied all but the most intrepid of pioneers.
Those who did not give up found a wonderful oasis hidden among the Reef’s Capitol-like domes, spires, slot canyons and naturally-occurring ridges – and you can too.
Capitol Reef Park Utah
Tourists can visit the historic town of Fruita, tour the pack by road or try out the established trails. Capitol Reef is actually the longest exposed “monocline” in the whole world, but you can still appreciate the park’s amazing rock even if you are not a geologist.
The park got its name from the series of domes and cliffs that have been eroded into white Navajo sandstone. In fact, they have a striking resemblance to the Capitol building in Washington DC.
During the pioneer days, the reef forced the explorers and the settlers to go all the way round the Waterpocket Fold. It is still impassible even today.
Chimney Rock Capitol Reef NP Utah
There is a good road that leads into the park, but the Reef is best explored on foot. Begin at the visitor centre and head north to Cathedral Valley. Alternatively, you can walk southward into the Waterpocket Fold area. There is a campsite as well as rooms in the nearby Torrey and also along highway 12, towards Boulder.
The visitor centre is open throughout the year, and you can get free backcountry permits there. If you want something more challenging, hiking along the Upper Muley Twist Canyon makes for a rugged but stunning 24 km overnight expedition.
For a taste of the authentic taste of Mormon pioneer living, don’t miss the park’s 1908 Gifford Homestead. The museum-like displays will captivate you, but the locally baked mini-apple pies sold in the gift shop will make your visit even more worthwhile.
5. Canyonlands NP Utah
The south-west desert is famous for its out-of-this-world features – some parts do look like the moon or Mars – but Utah’s Canyonlands is another place altogether.
Countless canyons, buttes and mesas dot the topography in such an intricate way that you may find yourself walking in places having names such as the Maze, the Needles or Island in the Sky.
Island in the Sky is a 20km-long mesa that branches off in to multiple spindly fingers. On one fingertip is Upheaval Dome, where scraggy rocks at the middle of a circular void could be the evidence of a meteorite strike that occurred more than 60 million years ago. Island in the Sky is located in the northern part of the park which is also the most accessible. At one of the clifftops located in the eastern side, Mesa Arch towers over valleys and chiseled rocks that lead down to the Colorado River.
Canyonlands NP is Utah’s largest. You could spend your whole life exploring the area between the Colorado and Green rivers and still not cover all the park’s red depths. The Grand View Point at the edge of Island in the Sky is 200km long and 3 hours by car! Instead of prominent mesas, the scenery here is more recluse, with clusters of hoodoos crowned with stout borders that protect them.
See the Milky Way at Canyonlands Park
In this park you will also find the remains of ancient civilizations that existed here even before the Spanish and the English settlers; from a stone granary constructed by the Puebloan peoples to red-colored rock art showing ancient peoples and the animals they hunted. In the Horseshoe Canyon, life-size figures on display at the Great Gallery could very well be more than 4000 years old.
Horseshoe Canyon – Great Gallery Panel
Source : WikiPedia
There are tour companies based in Moab offering Jeep tours, hiking, rafting, rock climbing, canyoneering, mountain biking skydiving and many more. You name it, and Canyonlands has it. Most animals that live here are active in the night – kangaroos, mountain lions, bats, ringtails, owls and others. Others include chipmunks, rock squirrels, lizards, eagles and snakes with are active during the day.
These are the “mighty five” national parks in Utah. To make your trip even more memorable, plan to visit all the five of them, one after the other. You can set aside about 2 weeks so that you have ample time to soak in all the goodness of nature. There are many touring companies which offer such packages at an affordable price. Have fun!