Utah is the ultimate playground for outdoor enthusiasts. This Mars-like state is home to five of the most popular National Parks in the country, and I’ve had the absolute pleasure of visiting every one of them. See how they rank (in my opinion) below!
5. Canyonlands National Park
Coming in last on my personal list is Canyonlands National Park. Why? Probably just because it reminds me of the Grand Canyon which isn’t my favorite park. However, that’s likely a huge draw for many of those who choose to visit Canyonlands!
However, there are a lot of cool things offered by the four distinct districts that the park is broken up into: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the rivers that weave their way through the three other districts. That being said, you can have four completely unique experiences during your visit.
Recommended Must-Sees in Canyonlands National Park
- See the sunset at Dead Horse Point.
- Take a short, easy stroll out to Mesa Arch.
- Explore ancestral Puebloan structures on the 1.7-mile Aztec Butte trail.
- Drive the 34-mile scenic drive along the canyon rim.
4. Arches National Park
The more than 2,000 natural arches and hundreds of other unique rock formations are going to be your main attraction in Arches National Park. The name really says it all.
While natural arches do occur throughout the world, this park gives you a one-of-a-kind experience because it has the most naturally occurring arches per square mile in the entire world, according to the National Park System.
Plus, you’ll have plenty of other natural phenomena to behold within the park as well like balanced rocks, sky-reaching pinnacles, and rock windows.
Recommended Must-Sees in Arches National Park
- Set out for stargazing as Arches is now an official International Dark Sky Park.
- Take the 3.2-mile hike out to see the Delicate Arch up close.
- Get a panoramic view of Park Avenue before taking a 1.8-mile stroll through it.
- Take a stunning photo under the incredibly rare Double Arch.
3. Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park, or Cheeto-land as I like to call it, has some of the coolest topography I’ve ever seen. You see, I fondly named it Cheeto-land for the sky-reaching hoodoos that litter just about every inch of the canyon.
What are hoodoos, you might ask? These are towering sandstone sculptures that have been shaped by rain, ice, and wind over thousands and thousands of years. Like Arches with its, well, arches, Bryce Canyon holds the densest collection of hoodoos in the world making it a must-see in the southwest.
Recommended Must-Sees in Bryce Canyon National Park:
- Bike the Rim Trail to the Bryce Amphitheater overlook.
- Stroll less than a mile out to Mossy Cave.
- Hike the 2.9-mile Queen’s Garden Navajor combo loop.
- Take a scenic drive down 18-mile main park road.
2. Zion National Park
Zion was the first national park in the state of Utah but its recorded history spans back more than 12,000 years. Here, you’ve got a little bit of everything: high canyons and expansive plateaus, desert climate and stunning water features, extreme backpacking and breezy scenic drives… the list goes on.
With such a large range of elevations and climates within the 200+ square miles of the park comes a variety of flora and fauna. Within the park, you’ll find wildflowers, hanging gardens, big horned sheep, and nearly 300 species of bird including the endangered California condor.
This is my second favorite of the Mighty 5 as well as my third favorite park of all the parks I’ve ever seen because there’s truly nowhere like it.
Recommended Must-Sees in Zion National Park
- Wade down the The Narrows from the top down.
- Get your adrenaline pumping hiking up to Angel’s Landing.
- Take the bus tour through the whole park.
- Get a panoramic view at Weeping Rock.
1. Capitol Reef National Park
Ranking #1 on my list is, no question, Capitol Reef National Park. Not only are some of my fondest national park memories in this park, but it’s also the most unique of the Mighty 5 (in my opinion).
Utah is mostly one big desert, and you get a lot of that in Capitol Reef. But you also reap the benefits of an extremely rare geological phenomena that occurred millions of years ago. The Waterpocket Fold is essentially a wrinkle in the landscape that formed the above-water reef-like formation of the park and inspired the second part of the park’s name.
The Waterpocket Fold provided an oasis in the desert with its ability to catch and retain water in the region making it easy to farm crops. In fact, the area sustained ancestral Puebloan civilization for more than 1,000 years.
Today, that valley is known as the Fruita District where nearly 2,000 fruit trees flourish year after year providing visitors and locals with some of the best damn pies, jams, and preserves money can buy.
That blip of life in the hard, expansive desert of Utah is what draws me to this park.
Recommended Must-Sees in Capitol Reef National Park
- Take a scenic 1.7-mile hike out to Hickman Bridge.
- Visit the Fruita Orchards for some seasonal fruit picking.
- Stop by the Gifford House for a dose of history and a fresh pie.
- Take a stroll to Sulphur Creek Waterfall on this 1.8-mile trail.
- Get up-close and personal with the Fremont Petroglyphs.
The Consensus? They All (Red) Rock
In all reality, these rankings mean nothing because each park is uniquely incredible and I’d recommend any one with great enthusiasm. No matter which one you choose to visit, you have incredible red rock formations, stunning desert topography, and incomparable exploration opportunities.