Utah is a state overflowing with natural beauty, and there are plenty of places to experience the great outdoors within its borders. The amazing canyons, peaks and valleys, connected by wide-open highways, make Utah a perfect site for a road trip. Planning a trip to this state means maximizing your time and getting the most out of your experience.
See the Mighty 5
After stepping off a plane in Salt Lake City and starting up your rental car, you have a wealth of potential adventures ahead of you. If you’re interested in seeing a variety of natural wonders, you can’t go wrong with a road trip to the Mighty 5, a group of National Parks all located in southern Utah. The following are a few defining features of each of these unforgettable attractions.
Arches National Park
Massive stone formations give Arches National Park its name and its unique identity. After driving to the trailhead, a trip of 25 minutes from the entrance and visitors center, you can hike among such breathtaking natural sights as the North Window, South Window, Turret Arch and Double Arch. You can view the amazing stones by day or watch the stars at night. The Parks Department recommends the Windows Section for visitors with only a little time to spare, as you can have an amazing experience hiking just this part of the park.
Perhaps the most iconic of the many arches in their eponymous park is the Delicate Arch. This feature stands alone, and isn’t easily visible from the road. There are two dedicated viewpoints to see the arch and a trail that leads close to it, but the parking lots can be busy at peak times, such as sunset.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is a popular spot for hiking and camping. This is a sprawling park with an 18-mile main road, but there are convenient features to see more of it. For instance, from April to October, you can park your rental car at the entrance and take a shuttle bus to various sites within the canyon. The bus is free for anyone who has paid the park’s entry fee.
Once you’re in Bryce Canyon, you can explore the rock formations called hoodoos which dot the landscape in Bryce Amphitheater, a natural bowl formation carved into the hillside. In the summer you can take a horseback ride through the canyons, and when the sun goes down you can sign up for a ranger-led full moon tour.
Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park is hone to several scenic areas where you can drive from one breathtaking observation point to the next, stepping out of your car to take in the grandeur of the landscape. The Parks Service recommends the Island in the Sky mesa as a spot for sightseeing on a relatively tight schedule, and offers the helpful hint to bring a printed map, because GPS systems may give mistaken directions in the park.
If you have more time to spend and are willing to do some hiking or four-wheeling, you can make your way into the backcountry of The Needles. Other points of interest in the park include the remote Maze, a day-use exploration site in Horseshoe Canyon. You can even take two-day boating trips down the Green River and Colorado River.
Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef offers both historical and geological attractions, along with plenty of beautiful camping sites. You can view glyphs carved or painted on canyon walls to trace thousands of years of history. A farming culture, the Fremont, settled in Capitol Reef around 500 CE, and the area was home to migratory peoples even earlier.
The natural features of Capitol Reef include the Waterpocket Fold, a dip in the earth nearly 100 miles long which formed over 50 million years ago. Capitol Reef itself is one area within the fold, featuring domes and cliffs which make for amazing sightseeing.
Zion National Park
Zion National Park, the oldest such park in Utah, is another massively popular attraction for the state. As with Bryce Canyon, there is a shuttle service through the park, stopping at nine sights worth seeing along the park’s Scenic Drive. There are three campgrounds where you can spend the night in the park, though you should make reservations – otherwise the campgrounds may fill up before you get there.
There are nine trails within Zion, ranging from “easy” to “strenuous.” You can see what makes this park one of Utah’s signature attractions by taking these visually compelling paths.
The Road to Mighty
The Utah Office of Tourism would be quick to point out that there are plenty of attractions on the highways that link the five parks. These make up the so-called Road to Mighty, and they’re sure to catch your eye as you cruise through southern Utah. Cedar Breaks National Monument is one of these on-the-way stops, between Interstate 15 and Highway 89, with astounding views on all sides.
At peak time or off-season, for a few days or a month, you’ll find plenty to see in the Mighty 5.
The journey from Arches to Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport takes about seven hours or you can head to Advantage Rent A Car counter in the Salt Lake City International Airport, which is about four hours away.