Utah National Parks


*Stolen Paiute and Ute Land* Utah has five incredible national parks to explore: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion. I made an epic road trip itinerary where I hit all five in one week, driving from my home in San Jose, CA. These Utah National Parks are absolutely breathtaking with unique scenery, wonderful hikes, and an incredible connection to nature. If you are planning to hit multiple national parks, I recommend purchasing the America the Beautiful pass for $80 that grants you unlimited access to all national parks for one year.

Need to Know:

Currency: US Dollar

Language: English


Las Vegas – LAS

Salt Lake City – SLC

Denver – DEN

Electrical Outlets: 220v/50 cycles; electrical plugs have two round prongs

Things to See and Do in Arches National Park

Delicate Arch: This is the most popular hike in the park, and I can say, it is worth the hype. The Delicate Arch is truly spectacular and the hike is not too difficult. The park marks it as strenuous because of the elevation gain, but just take it slow on the ups and it really isn’t bad. Try to do this hike on a weekday to avoid some crowds, but it will pretty much always be busy, especially sunrise and sunset. 

Windows and Double Arch: These are short little hikes up to magnificent arches. It is definitely worth checking out all of the arches conveniently grouped together in this area. These arches are some of the biggest in the park and you can go in/under/through most of them. 

Broken Arch: I didn’t see a lot of recommendations for this hike when I was researching, so here is your recommendation – do this hike! It is a short 1 mi hike from the parking lot to a unique arch that you can climb through and get a spectacular view. It’s a long enough hike to significantly minimize the crowds, but short enough to add on to the list of other hikes you’re planning.

Fiery Furnace: We didn’t hike in the Fiery Furnace area because you need special permits to access, but you can stop at a scenic overlook to get a taste of this unique landscape.

Balanced Rock: Worth a quick roadside stop to see this unique phenomenon and get a cool photo op. I would say this is on-par with the Leaning Tower of Pisa photo pose.

Skyline Arch: Another quick hike right off the road, this is a cool little arch way up high on a rock wall. Worth a stop to check out this feature.

Devil’s Garden: There is so much to see in Devils Garden, so make sure you leave a good chunk of time to explore. We spent 5 hours exploring this beautiful area full of iconic arches and natural features. The most popular route is to stop in at Pine Tree Arch and Tunnel Arch before hiking out to Landscape Arch (the 5th longest natural arch in the world!) Going beyond Landscape Arch, the hiking gets a little less accessible and you move into some climbing (not technical, but not a walk in the park). From here you can take spur trails out to Navajo Arch and Partition Arch (one of my favorites in the park!). If you continue back on the trail, you will encounter Double O Arch and Dark Angel. From there you can hop on the Primitive Trail out to Private Arch and make your hike a loop. We did this loop from the other direction, hopping on the trail before the Landscape Arch viewpoint. For the Primitive Trail, make sure you have enough water and an offline map. The trail is not super well marked and since you’re on rocks, it is difficult to see where the trail is supposed to go. 

Delicate Arch
Double Arch
Devil's Garden

Things to See and Do in Canyonlands National Park

Grand View Point Trail: A popular hike in the park, this trail winds around the rim of the canyon, offering stunning views the whole way. If you’re not into hiking, you can just stop and take in the view at the overlook. But if you do have some energy, I’d highly recommend the easy 1 mile hike along the rim.

Mesa Arch: This is the most popular hike in the park, just a short walk from the main road for spectacular views of the canyon through a unique low-hanging arch structure. This is a very famous spot for photo-worthy sunrises and sunsets. 

Murphy Trail: This hike is not among the list of popular hikes in the park, but we loved it! You have to hike a bit further for your view, about 3.8 miles round trip, but it is worth it to get away from the crowds and have secluded canyon views. This view also offers a glimpse of the river bend that is an absolutely beautiful sight in the canyon.


Grand View Trail
Mesa Arch
Murphy Trail

Things to See and Do in Capitol Reef

Cassidy Arch: Down the Grand Wash, this was by far the highlight of our day in Capitol Reef. The hike up to Cassidy Arch is a moderate 3.2 miles with a decent climb ending in an amazing view! This is one of the only (if not the only) arch in Utah that you are actually allowed to climb on top of, so it makes for an incredible photo op. There are a few spots on the trail that aren’t super well marked, but it is pretty heavily trafficked so you should be able to figure out the right route. 

Hickman Bridge: This is a great, family-friendly hike to see the magnificent Hickman Bridge. With a short ascent and a total 2ish miles round-trip, you can easily tack this on the end of your day at Capitol Reef. This is a must-see while in the park! 

Scenic Drive: After our two hikes, we enjoyed driving through the park to take in the stunningly unique scenery. There is a lot to explore, and there are multiple unpaved roads. I made it around in my little Prius just fine, but it would be helpful if you have a vehicle with higher clearance. 


Cassidy Arch
Hickman Bridge
Capitol Reef Scenic

Top Things to See and Do in Moab

(Great home base for visiting Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef)

Moab Brewery We visited Moab during the COVID-19 Pandemic, so we didn't get to enjoy many of the restaurants in town, but we did get take out and bought cans of beer from Moab Brewery. If there wasn't a pandemic, this would have been a great place to hang out and sip on some local brews.
Main Street Moab is such a cute little town with a huge focus on tourism and the national parks. There are tons of shops, restaurants, and bars lining the street that are worth spending some time to check out!
Adventure Sports This is something we didn't have the chance to do while we were in Moab, but it seemed to be quite popular to go mountain biking or off-roading. There were a bunch of tour companies advertising right on Main Street. This is on our list for our next visit!

Things to See and Do in Bryce Canyon National Park

Queen’s Garden Trail: This is one of the most popular hikes in the park, and for good reason. This hike takes you down into the canyon so you can get up close and personal with the iconic hoodoos. We parked at Sunset Point and walked the Rim Trail over to Sunrise Point. We got on the Queens Garden Trail at Sunrise Point and hiked the loop back to Sunset Point. Be prepared for decent elevation gain at the end of the hike because if you go down into the canyon, you gotta come up eventually! If you’re not looking to hike, Sunrise and Sunset point are spectacular viewpoints with just a short walk between them. 

Inspiration Point: We only had one day in Bryce, so after our Queens Garden Trail hike, we just hit the viewpoints. Inspiration point is a popular spot for panoramic views. You can drive here and it is just a short walk to get to the view point, or you could take the Rim Trail from Sunset Point if you’d prefer to hike.

Bryce Point: Another popular lookout, this spot takes you on a walkway out over the canyon for 360 degree views. We drove here as well, but this also connects on the Rim Trail if you’re interested in hiking. From here, you can hike on the Under-The-Rim Trail, a great option to get away from the crowds. 

Bryce Canyon
Sunset Point Bryce
Bryce Canyon

Things to See and Do in Zion National Park

Watchman Trail: This is one of the only trails you can access in the main Zion Park area without taking the shuttle up the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. With the trailhead right off the Visitor’s Center parking lot, this is an easily accessible trail that offers stunning views. This 3 mile round trip trail has a moderate incline that takes you to a lovely viewpoint, perfect for sunrise vistas. 

Emerald Pools: There are a few trails that connect the lower, middle, and upper Emerald Pools. We took the shuttle and got off at Zion Lodge to start our hike. We hit all three Emerald Pools and then took the Kayenta Trail over to the Grotto shuttle stop. These trails are always busy because they are extremely scenic and easy/moderate hikes. Definitely worth a visit on your trip to Zion!

Riverside Walk: This is an easy and beautiful trail off the Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop. You can stroll right along the Virgin River, wandering through the canyon walls. This connects to one of Zion’s most iconic hikes, the Narrows. To hike the Narrows, you have to wade in the river, winding through narrow passages. We skipped the Narrows on this trip because it was cold and there was a toxic cyanobacterial bloom in the river. However, many people still rented waders from one of the numerous adventure stores in town and braved the river anyways.

Kolob Canyon: If you are looking to get away from the Zion crowds, this is the place to go! On the opposite side of the park, a little under an hour from the main Zion Visitors Center, you can access these beautiful wilderness hiking trails. We only had time for one hike, so we chose the 5-mile round trip Taylor Creek Trail. You hike along Taylor Creek, criss-crossing the river many times (can get a little tricky when the river is higher, like it was in November), to Double Arch Alcove. You will also see two historic homestead cabins along the trial, built in the early 1930s. Much of this hike was through the woods, opening up into big canyon views.

Watchman Trail
Emerald Pools
Kolob Canyon

Planning Your Trip

Accommodation – Usually we like to stay at Airbnbs because of the privacy of having your own place and the convenience of having a kitchen. The Airbnb options in Moab are pretty much non-existent, but there are tons of hotels. We stayed at MainStay Suites, an extended stay hotel that has a five night minimum, but includes a kitchen in the room. This was a great home base for us to visit Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef.

There are a bunch of hotels right in Springdale with easy access to Zion National Park. There is also the option to stay at the Zion Lodge in the park, but this is expensive and books out way in advance. We stayed at a Holiday Inn Express in Springdale which had free breakfast and scenic view from the hot tub.

Getting Around – You really need a car to get to and from all the parks. We drove through Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef and there are no shuttle services available. Both Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks have pretty extensive shuttle services for getting around within the park. You actually can’t drive up the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive in your own car and you have to take the shuttle so make sure you do your research to secure your shuttle tickets.

My Utah National Park Essentials

Top State Parks in the Area

Dead Horse Point State Park Not part of Canyonlands National Park, but right outside the entrance, this state park is worth a stop for views of the horseshoe bend of the Colorado River running through the spectacular canyon. This park is popular among bikers/cyclists of all kinds for the extensive trail options. We were pretty tired from our day in Canyonlands, so we just drove through the park to the Dead Horse Point Lookout. Note that you can't use a national park annual pass to enter the park, you'll have to pay the $20 entrance fee.
Goblin Valley State Park On our way back from Capitol Reef to Moab, we stopped in Goblin Valley State Park. Again this is a state park so the national parks annual pass won't work and you'll have to pay the $20 entrance fee. We went straight to the valley and wandered through the seemingly endless field of hoodoos (or in this case, Goblins). There are no trails in the valley, so you can hike as little or as much as you want. This is definitely a unique landscape, worth a quick stop if you have time!

If you love National Parks, check out my blog post on how to spend one day in the Grand Canyon.


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