Utah is home to five incredible National Parks known as the Mighty 5.
Utah’s Mighty 5 span across southern and central Utah, making for an epic road trip route over some of the world’s most unique and confounding landscapes.
It would be impossible to choose just one park to visit, as each one of the Mighty 5 National Parks boasts its own captivating terrain and iconic adventures.
A Utah Mighty 5 road trip can be done in as little as a week. Although, a longer trip would allow you to fully see and experience even more of the parks’ natural wonders and surrounding highlights.
In this guide, I suggest a Utah Mighty 5 road trip itinerary, outline must-see stops within each park, and cover things to know before hitting the road.
Utah’s Mighty 5
Utah’s Mighty 5 refers to some of the most sought-after National Parks in the U.S.:
- Zion National Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Capitol Reef National Park
- Arches National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
In the same week, you can scale the chains of Angels Landing, weave through the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, sunbathe along the bank of the Colorado River in Capitol Reef, watch the sunrise peek over an arch in Arches, and explore the needles of the Canyonlands.
After completing your Utah Mighty 5 road trip it’s likely you’ll need a vacation from your vacation. The road trip is equally exhausting as it is phenomenal.
While this itinerary allows you to experience the highlights of each park, you’ll be eager to return for more, time and time again.
Where to Start Your Utah Mighty 5 Road Trip Itinerary
There are three prime options for where to begin your Utah Mighty 5 road trip itinerary: Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, or Denver.
The Mighty 5 road trip can be completed as a loop or a one-way route, arriving and departing from different airports. Likewise, the itinerary can also be done in the order it’s presented or in reverse sequence.
Utah National Parks Road Trip Map
We began and ended our trip from the Las Vegas airport, adding several stops to nearby State Parks and National Monuments.
Las Vegas is a great starting point as it is notorious for having cheap flight deals and affordable car rental options. Not to mention, the city is conveniently located just over two hours from the first road trip stop: Zion National Park.
As I mentioned earlier, the road trip can easily be done from any of the suggested starting points. Each National Park stop is relatively close to the next, requiring minimal driving time between adventures.
Commonly Asked Questions
How Long Does it Take To See the Mighty 5?
The trip can be executed in just over one week. Here is a suggested Utah Mighty 5 road trip itinerary:
Day 1: Drive to Zion National Park
Day 2: Explore Zion National Park
Day 3: Drive to Bryce Canyon National Park + Explore the park
Day 4: Explore Bryce Canyon National Park + Drive to Capitol Reef National Park
Day 5: Explore Capitol Reef + Drive to Arches National Park
Day 6: Explore Arches National Park
Day 7: Explore Canyonlands National Park
Day 8: Drive to Las Vegas
While this itinerary spans eight days, your Utah Mighty 5 road trip itinerary could easily be squeezed into seven days if need be. Just as easily, your trip could be stretched over the course of three weeks.
When Is the Best Time to Visit Utah’s Mighty 5?
As long as you are prepared and know what to expect there is a wrong time to visit Utah’s Mighty 5, in my opinion.
While most people try and avoid southern Utah during the summer, we took our road trip during the month of July and had an absolute blast.
If you’re like us and don’t mind 100+ temperatures summer is a great time to experience Utah parks. We were grateful for the long hours of daylight and used the impending heat as motivation to get up for sunrise hikes.
The parks were busy but nothing we didn’t already expect. Truthfully, I think high temperatures deter many park-goers during the summer months.
Spring and Fall
Spring and Fall are both great times for visiting the Mighty 5. Prices for lodging begin dropping and crowds start thinning as shoulder season nears.
The temperatures are also more moderate during the Spring and Fall, creating perfect conditions for all-day adventures.
I can’t imagine anything more beautiful than witnessing the vibrant red rocks of Utah dusted in snow. If you can’t swing a Utah Mighty 5 road trip during the peak months, the winter time would warrant just as magical of an experience.
However, keep in mind there will be some road and trail closures during the winter.
Things to Know Before Starting the Utah Mighty 5 Road Trip Itinerary
Park Entry Fees
Each one of Utah’s Mighty 5 parks requires an entry fee. Entry fees range from $20-$35 per vehicle, per park, for 7-day entry.
Before setting out on your road trip, I recommend purchasing an $80 America the Beautiful Pass which allows annual access to all National Parks.
Annual passes can also be purchased directly from the park entrance booth upon arrival.
Permits and Timed Entry
Some parks like Arches National Park and hikes such as Angels Landing require some pre-planning. Make sure to plan ahead and obtain all necessary permits before arriving to ensure your trip itinerary runs smoothly.
Arches National Park Pilot Timed Entry System
In 2022, Arches National Park piloted a timed entry system that restricted the number of cars entering the park at one time. Reservations were required for all visitors planning a trip to the park during the dates of April 3, 2022 – October 3, 2022, from 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
While information regarding the timed entry system for 2023 has not yet been released, it’s wise to periodically check the status of reservation requirements and plan accordingly for your trip.
You can learn more about the timed entry system here.
Angels Landing Pilot Permit Program
With the appeal to conquer the infamous Angels Landing only getting more enticing each year, a permit system was implemented in 2022.
The permit system aims to control foot traffic, preserve the trail, and increase safety. You can apply in advance for the seasonal lottery or apply for the day-before lottery.
Learn more about the pilot permit process and apply here.
If you’re planning to backpack at any of the stops along the Utah Mighty 5 road trip itinerary, make sure to acquire all necessary permits.
Permits purchased in advance are not required but are highly recommended. Depending on the area, some permits are extremely competitive, whereas others can be easily purchased the day of.
To be safe, plan ahead, purchase, and print your permit before setting out on your road trip. Permits must be carried with you at all times during your backpacking trip.
The Ultimate Utah Mighty 5 Road Trip Itinerary
Stop #1: Zion National Park
Zion National Park is bursting with adventure — hiking, biking, canyoneering, climbing, you name it. While the park itself feels relatively small, you could spend days here and still not cover all there is to do.
For your one day in Zion, prioritize Angels Landing and the Narrows. While knocking out both quintessential attractions in one day is tough, it’s totally doable. Start your morning by hiking Angels Landing at sunrise, immediately followed by exploring the Narrows.
If you’re down to rent e-bikes, I suggest biking around the park to trails rather than taking the shuttle. It’s more fun and scenic and allows you to avoid shuttle lines.
For tips on knocking out both iconic hikes in Zion on the same day, check out my guide How to Hike Angels Landing and the Narrows in One Day.
There are a plethora of incredible hikes in the park. Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly stroll, jaw-dropping views, or a unique adventure, Zion National Park has something for you.
Below are some of my favorite adventures in Zion:
- Angels Landing Trail
- The Narrows Trail
- Canyon Overlook Trail
- Emerald Pools Trail
We had just enough time to do one overnight trip while in Zion. We backpacked Kolob Arch via La Verkin Creek Trail and it was my favorite thing we did during our visit. If you have the time to explore an off-the-beaten-path in Zion and away from the crowds, do it.
- Kolob Arch via La Verkin Creek Trail
- West Rim Loop Trail
- The Narrows Trail (Top Down)
Activities (Other Than Hiking)
While Zion is most known for its hiking trails, there are so many other incredible ways to enjoy the area. If you’re interested in exploring Zion but not keen on hiking, make sure to check out my guide Epic Things to Do in Zion National Park That Aren’t Hiking.
- Rock Climbing
- Mountain Biking
- Scenic Drive
Zion National Park is extremely busy. Maximize your time in the park and minimize your crowd interaction by starting your adventures in the park early.
Keep in mind that personal vehicles are not allowed on Zion Scenic Canyon Drive from March to November. All visitors will have to use the free shuttle to enter the park.
Be warned that shuttle lines within the park are notorious for long wait times. Plan accordingly and consider exploring the park via e-bike.
Stop #2: Bryce Canyon National Park
Of Utah’s Mighty 5, Bryce Canyon National Park exceeded our expectations the most. There is something undeniably spellbinding about the vibrant orange hoodoos of Bryce Canyon.
Start your morning early with a sunrise hike on Fairyland Loop Trail, followed by nearby hike Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden Trail. After you finish up your hikes, find a great picnic spot along the Rim Trail and soak in the views.
To finish your day, take a scenic drive at sunset through the park stopping at any overlooks that pique your interest.
- Navajo Loop Trail
- Queen’s Garden Trail
- Fairyland Loop Trail
- Peek-a-Boo Loop Trail
- Wall Street Trail
- Rim Trail
- Under-the-Rim Trail
While we couldn’t fit a backpacking trip in during our first trip to Bryce Canyon, you can bet we will be returning to backpack the Under-the-Rim Trail.
Activities (Other Than Hiking)
- ATV Tour
- Ranger Programs
While one day is enough to appreciate the beauty of the park, I highly consider spending two days in Bryce Canyon National Park if your schedule can swing it.
On the last note, don’t make the too-often mistake of choosing between Zion and Bryce Canyon. The two parks are incredibly unique and different in their landscapes and activities, and both are worth a visit.
Stop #3: Capitol Reef National Park
In comparison to the rest of Utah’s Might 5, I had heard the least about Capitol Reef National Park prior to our road trip. Truth be told, we almost skipped it.
In retrospect, I’m so grateful we didn’t as Capitol Reef boasts all of the beauty of the surrounding parks with a fraction of the crowds.
For your one day in Capitol Reef, check out the lesser-known Sulphur Creek Trail. We surprisingly enjoyed this hike even more than the Narrows. This trail is packed with adventure, canyon views, waterfalls, wading sections, and most likely very few other hikers.
After your hike, check out the petroglyphs before making the drive to end your day at Cassidy Arch.
- Sulphur Creek Trail
- Hickman Bridge Trail
- Grand Wash Trail
- Cassidy Arch Trail
One of my biggest regrets for our time in Capitol Reef is that we didn’t do more research prior to arriving. We had no idea about the opportunities available to backpack throughout the park.
- Pleasant Creek Trail
- Spring Canyon Trail
- Lower Muley Twist Canyon Trail
- Upper Muley Twist Canyon Trail
- Burro, Cottonwood, and Sheets Gulch Trail
- Halls Creek Narrows Trail
Capitol Reef, we will be back, backpacks in tow.
Activities (Other Than Hiking)
- Goosenecks Overlook
- Petroglyph Trail
- Fruit Orchard
- Temple of the Moon
- Scenic Drive
While Capitol Reef isn’t as popular as the other parks in this Utah Mighty 5 road trip itinerary, that’s half of the allure. Fewer people, more off-the-beaten-path adventures.
Stop #4: Arches National Park
Arches National Park completely lived up to the hype. While we came for the iconic Delicate Arch, we fell in love with the park because of its lesser-known trails.
To maximize your one day in the park, I recommend checking out Delicate Arch for sunrise, then making the difficult choice between Tower Arch Trail and Devils Garden Trail for your mid-day adventure.
Choosing between the two trails is tough. It’s hard to say which hike was our favorite. Decide for yourself with the help of my guides: Tower Arch Trail: The Best Hike in Arches National Park and Devils Garden Trail: Epic Hike in Arches National Park.
After your hikes, pull over for a picnic lunch at either Park Avenue Viewpoint or the Windows. End your day, by driving into nearby Moab for a beer at Moab Brewery.
- Delicate Arch Trail
- Tower Arch Trail
- Devils Garden Trail
- Partition Arch Trail + Navajo Arch
- Windows Loop and Turret Arch Trail
Unfortunately, we didn’t realize you could backcountry camp off of Devils Garden Trail or we totally would have jumped on the opportunity to backpack and explore more of the incredible area.
- Devils Garden Trail
- Courthouse Wash Trail
Activities (Other Than Hiking)
- Scenic Drive
- Rock Climbing
- SUP or Rafting
Arches National Park has exploded with tourism over the last couple of years so be prepared for crowded trails and parking lots.
While it’s tempting to get frustrated with crowds, keep in mind that public lands are for everyone and everyone equally deserves to enjoy them.
Stop #5: Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park is the last stop on this Utah Mighty 5 road trip itinerary and another park that completely surpassed our expectations.
It’s important to note that Canyonlands is divided into four districts by rivers: (1) Island in the Sky, (2) The Needles, (3) The Maze, and (4) the rivers themselves.
The Island in the Sky district is the most popular and accessible of the four districts. However, if you’re up for the drive, The Needles district is the most spectacular, in my opinion.
Spend your one day in the Canyonlands by either exploring the Island in the Sky district or hiking in the Needles District. If you have two days you could spend one day in both.
For a day in Island in the Sky, start your day by visiting Mesa Arch for sunrise. Following this short hike, head to the Gooseberry Trail. It’s a longer trail, steep, and packed with views. Spend the rest of the afternoon driving to various lookouts and soaking in the views. End your day by watching the sunset at Grand Viewpoint.
For one day in Needles District, I suggest connecting the three best hikes in the park: Elephant Hill, Chesler Park, and Druid Arch Trail. These three trails can be looped into one epic adventure, easily making it the Best Hike in the Needles District.
- Mesa Arch Trial (Island in the Sky)
- Gooseberry Trail (Island in the Sky)
- White Rim Overlook Trail (Island in the Sky)
- Druid Arch Trail (The Needles)
- Elephant Hill Trail (The Needles)
- Chesler Park Loop Trail (The Needles)
- Lower Red Lake Canyon (The Needles)
- Salt Creek Canyon (The Needles)
Activities (That Aren’t Hiking)
- Scenic Drive
- Visitor Center Viewpoint
- Schafer Canyon Overlook
- Grand Viewpoint
- Green River Overlook
We visited both the Island in the Sky district and the Needles district during our time in Canyonlands National Park. While I do think that the Island in the Sky district is beautiful and worth seeing, it doesn’t compare to the Needless district in terms of raw adventure.
With that being said, keep in mind that the Needles district is located well out of the way and adds about 3 hours of driving time to your Utah Mighty 5 road trip itinerary.
And yes, it’s still worth it.
Stops to Add to Your Utah Mighty 5 Road Trip Itinerary
This one-week itinerary could easily be stretched into three weeks by including several detours to amazing nearby attractions. If you have a little extra time, I recommend extending your trip and adding some of these incredible stops to your itinerary:
Hiking the Honaker Trail was completely unplanned and yet one of our favorite trails we did during our Utah road trip. The trail begins along the canyon rim and, through a series of switchbacks, leads hikers down into the floor of the canyon. The trail ends at the San Juan River where hikers can cool off in the water.
Lake Powell truly has something for everyone, whether you wish to experience the lake’s grandeur from the water or from atop Wahweap Lookout. Visitors can choose to boat, jet ski, kayak, swim, or simply play along the shores.
Toadstool Hoodoos Trail
Toadstool Hoodoos Trail is extraordinary with its canyon views and gravity-defying geology. The trail is quick, easily accessible, and sure to be one of the most unique trails you explore in Southern Utah
Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail
Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail is a stunning 6-mile hike that allows hikers to experience the best of southern Utah all in one place. On the way to the falls, the trail winds hikers past towering canyon walls, through a valley of tall grass, and along the trout-filled calf creek.
Corona and Bowtie Arch Trail
Corona Arch and Bowtie Arch are two of Moab’s most spectacular natural wonders. This trail is a great option for hikers of all ages and experience levels. The arches are easily accessible and less crowded than other surrounding National Park hikes.
Castleton Tower Trail
Castleton Tower Trail in Moab is nothing short of iconic. It is one of, if not the most famous desert tower in the world. The trail is hot, steep, and scrambly. It is hands down the hike I recommend others do while visiting Moab.
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If you have any further questions about this itinerary or things to know before hitting the road on your Utah Mighty 5 road trip, drop me a message in the comment section below.