Hiking “The Mighty Five” National Parks in Utah
America’s National Parks are a unique part of our country’s identity and cultural heritage.
No matter who you are, where you live, or how you live; the national parks welcome everybody as one and seem to strip away our differences and bond us together as admirers of the majestic outdoors and mother nature. Our national parks can be a force for health, healing, joy, and unity.
Our group’s goal was to find a high volume of national parks within a fairly close radius of each other and do some hiking in each one over a week’s time period. We found our ultimate destination: The “Mighty Five” in Utah – Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park.
We all met up in Las Vegas Nevada where we rented a vehicle at the airport and set out on our drive to Zion (about 3 hours). After checking into our accommodations in Springdale (the town closest to the park) we hiked up Observation Point via the east rim trail. This was quite an ambitious plan for our first hike as it’s an 8 mile strenuous roundtrip hike that packs quite an elevation gain punch. But our first choice – Angles Landing, was closed due to some heavy rains the previous week. Although more challenging than we probably would have expected, Observation Point has some glorious vistas as pay-off at the end.
The next day we put on our water shoes and waded through The Narrows. It’s the most popular hike in Zion National Park and it’s a lot of fun! Plan on getting wet as you wade through the Virgin River in water sometimes up to your waist. The cool water makes this hike through the canyon very pleasant during the hot months of summer.
After drying out and changing, we hit the road on to our next park: Bryce Canyon (about a 2 hour drive). After checking in to our accommodations in Bryce we set out to hike the 3-mile roundtrip Navajo Loop/Queens Garden Trail from Sunset Point. Bryce Canyon, in my opinion is unlike any park in our national park system, and maybe even in the world! It features thousands of these crimson-colored hoodoos, which are spire-shaped rock formations. From above on the rim it seems as if you are looking at some lost ancient city with all the natural formations. And at times, while hiking in the canyon, it’s almost as if you’re hiking through some type of Hollywood set that was built for a major blockbuster movie taking place on another planet.
The next morning we hiked the 8-mile Fairyland Loop in Bryce and took an incredibly scenic 3 hour drive up to our next destination: Capitol Reef National Park.
Often overlooked, Capitol Reef is a hidden gem in the national parks system. It’s not as crowded as the other parks and offers gorgeous scenery. Our first hike was the Chimney Rock Trail, it’s about a 4 mile roundtrip hike with a relatively easy elevation gain. There are some fantastic lookout points along the trail that perch you high above the road leading through Capitol Reef Park. You truly get a feeling of awe as you take it all in.
For sunset in Capitol Reef there’s an easy combination of short trails you can do called Sunset Point and Gooseneck Trails. Both trails combine to less than one mile and feature some breathtaking views of the gorges and the waterpocket fold (a nearly 100-mile long warp in the earth’s crust). This area is a great way to enjoy the sunset in Capitol Reef. (And for stargazing, it’s one of the best places amongst the western national parks of the system.)
Back on the road for a pleasant 2 hour drive we arrive in Moab. This somewhat touristy southwest desert town is the perfect place to explore both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. There are also plenty of restaurants, bars and shopping in Moab.
First up for us was Canyonlands National Park. At 527 square miles, it’s the largest of the national parks in Utah. It’s so mammoth, it’s divided into 3 separate districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles and The Maze. If you only have a day or two to explore Canyonlands you’ll want to stick with the Island in the Sky district, which is closest to Moab and receives the most visitors. We went around sunset for the 1 mile flat out and back Grand View trail. It goes out to an overlook with one of the finest and vastest views in the desert southwest. We unintentionally timed it so that we were actually walking back while having the final minutes of a glorious sunset on our left at eye level and the moon rising during the longest total lunar eclipse (“blood moon”) of the 21st century on our right at eye level, both virtually unobstructed views the entire way. I’ve never experienced anything like it, and it truly was a very special experience to absorb.
The next day it was time for our 5th and final park in the Mighty Five Adventure: Arches – home to more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches. Always crowded, but always worth it is the hike out to delicate arch. It’s a 3 mile roundtrip hike that takes you to one of the most iconic and photographed of natural arches in the world. A heads up: there is no shade on this hike so it’s a good idea to do this early in the morning or later in the day/early evening.
Another great hike we did in Arches was the Windows Loop, an easy 1 mile roundtrip walk that is great around sunset as the rocks take on a rich, warm deep reddish & orangish glow. You’ll wish this feast for the eyes would never end. But, alas our adventure had concluded as we slowly breathed in our final peaceful moments in Arches.
Our Mighty Five adventure was nothing less than epic! After a week of getting to know these splendid national parks, we all felt like we knew ourselves a little better. Feeling decompressed, rejuvenated and grateful for the incredible experience we just had, we did one last group high-five and departed company until our next adventure.
Are you ready to plan your Mighty Five Adventure or interested in exploring other parks in our national parks system? Visit FindyourPark.com to begin your journey.
* Custom small group Mighty Five Adventures are available for groups of 6 or more through my travel brand ActiveWorldJourneys.com. We’ll handle all the logistics and you’ll just show up and be ready for an incredible guided or self-guided program.