A Road Trippers Guide to Hiking the Mighty 5
Taking in the Beauty of Utah’s National Parks, One Mile at a Time
After picking up your Advantage Rent A Car at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, you’ll be ready to head to Utah’s Red Rock Country. Carved by rivers and the passage of time, it is among our nation’s most spectacular natural landscapes. With soaring canyons and towering buttes, sandstone arches and endless stretches of sky, this desert setting is ideal for endless outdoor pursuits from hiking and mountain biking to rock climbing and sightseeing.
Across the United States, there is no shortage of awe-inspiring national parks but nowhere is the wonder more concentrated than here in southern Utah where the Mighty 5 sit clustered together. The parks — Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches — showcase the rugged beauty of the American Southwest and provide the perfect opportunity for an old-fashioned road trip.
Here’s what you can expect on your escape to Utah’s Mighty 5:
March to Zion
More than 200 million years ago, the North Fork of the Virgin River cut its way through burnt-red Navajo Sandstone to create Zion National Park. Home to Native Americans and westward pioneers, it was the Mormons who first declared the land of soaring monoliths and dramatic buttes to be Zion, a natural “temple of God.”
While there are plenty of multi-day backpacking trips and strenuous hikes, you’ll also find several areas off the main road that offer short treks for those of all ages and fitness levels. Here are a few of the most popular, from easy to more difficult:
Visit the Bryce Canyon Goblins
After spending a few days in Zion, it’s only a couple of hours in your Advantage Rent A Car to our next stop, Bryce Canyon National Park. The first misconception about Bryce Canyon is that it is a canyon at all. In truth, the amphitheater that was carved from millions of years of rain, snow and ice is more like a cave without a roof. Inside this magical landscape is the other myth, the one that explains the origins of the hoodoos. Also known as goblins, these stalagmite-like rock formations are said to be early Paiute Indians turned to stone for their evil deeds.
More abundant here than any place else in the world, the hoodoos sprout up from the desert floor along the Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden Trail, a 2.7-mile loop that takes hikers across stunning overlooks and through slotted canyons. Enjoy these short easy hikes or stroll along the park’s rim, experience an interactive prairie dog maze at the visitor’s center or finish your day at Sunset Point watching the sun paint the sky the color of red rock.
Step Back in Time at Capitol Reef
A sweeping landscape of twisted rock and boundless skies are what makes Capitol Reef National Park a favorite among locals. Pastel-colored cliffs, massive domes and hidden arches make it easy to imagine what life was like millions of years ago. This is what you should see:
- Capitol Reef Scenic Byway — This 25-mile, round-trip drive takes you past the park’s best scenery, including Panorama Point and Goosenecks Overlook viewing areas.
- Pioneer Register – See a rock wall with the names of miners, settlers and adventurers dating back to the 1800s in this easy mile-long hike that dips from the trailhead into a slot canyon.
- Hickman Natural Bridge — Pass the ruins of the ancient Freemont culture and the large white stone domes that inspired the park’s name before arriving at the 133-foot bridge.
- Fruita – In the green groves of Fruita, a Mormon community sits in a shaded canyon with orchards and U-pick it farms aplenty. Fruits that include cherries, apricots and pears are seasonally available.
- Temples — The Cathedral Valley Scenic Backway cuts through the northern tip of the park along a desert canyon drive and features dramatic sites like the Temples of the Sun, Moon and Stars
Raft the Rapids in Canyonlands
Located in the heart of Red Rock Country, Canyonlands National Park sprawls over 500 square miles of colorful desert land, deep-plunging gorges and soaring buttes carved by rushing rivers. Four distinct areas provide visitors with a variety of ways to experience one of America’s great national parks:
Witness the Splendid Arches
In less than an hour’s drive, you’ll be at Arches National Park where nature lovers and thrill seekers alike will find natural rock arch formations, carved by centuries of erosion. Arches offers a variety of hiking options for nature enthusiasts of all fitness levels. Here’s a look at what there is to do and see on your visit to Arches:
Keeping Safe on the Roads and the Trails
- Prepare for a Driving Adventure — When picking up a rental car, opt for a 4-wheel drive vehicle that can handle the rugged terrain and unpredictable weather you may encounter on your road trip. Stop by the Advantage Rent a Car counter at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, where you can pick up a GMC Arcadia or Toyota 4Runner.
- Avoid the Dark — It may seem like a good idea to drive at night to maximize daylight, but the abundance of deer, elk and other wildlife on the road can make it dangerous. Save the driving for late afternoon when there’s still plenty of visibility.
- Take Breaks — Most of Utah’s National Parks have facilities at the visitor’s center. Make sure to plan ahead.
- Expect the Rain — July and August are monsoon season so be prepared for snap thunderstorms.
- Layer Up – The Utah desert has summer temperatures that dip into the 50s and soar above the 90s so layers of clothing are essential.
- There’s an App for That — Download sightseeing apps for narration about the attractions as you drive by.
- Put Your Best Foot Forward — A pair of supportive, waterproof hiking boots will help you navigate the unstable terrain and wet riverbeds.
- Sun Protection – A hat, sunscreen and sunglasses are essential in the unforgiving desert sun.
- Keep Quenched — Plan to drink about a liter of water per hour. Always keep a water bottle with you.
- Consider an Airport Alternative — While McCarran Airport in Las Vegas is better for the itinerary because it is close to the first stop on the trip (Zion National Park), Salt Lake International Airport car rental in Salt Lake City could be just as convenient because of its proximity to the last stop on the trip (Arches National Park). Your Advantage Rent A Car options will ensure you have an enjoyable adventure no matter which airport you choose.
Tips for Navigating Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks
Las Vegas to Zion National Park: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Zion National Park to Bryce National Park: 2 hours
Bryce National Park to Capital Reef National Park: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Capital Reef National Park to Canyonlands National Park: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Canyonlands National Park to Arches National Park: 30 minutes
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.