Utah's "Mighty 5" National Parks: Which Should You Visit?

by  Alex Schechter | Apr 21, 2014
Zion National Park
Zion National Park / Richard McMillin

Ever heard of the "Mighty 5?" You will this year, if Utah's tourism office has anything to say about it. This quintet of famous national parks – Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyon Lands, and Arches – is the focus of a massive new ad campaign run by the state. Whether you're newly convinced to head to the rugged West, or you've had Utah on your travel bucket list for years, here's our guide to help you choose where to go first...

For big groups or families...
Your kids may be glued to their iPhones throughout the flight (or car ride) to Utah, but once they spend a few minutes hiking the rose-orange dirt roads that criss-cross Capitol Reef National Park, they'll change their tune. Mammoth, jagged-edged rock formations shoot up into the sky. These wrinkles in the earth's surface developed tens of millions of years ago, and Google Maps doesn't do the dazzling scene a bit of justice. Plus, if you're on a budget, the cost of admission can't be beat. (Admission: $5 per vehicle.)

For honeymooners or romantic types...
Pretty much every inch of Bryce Canyon's perfectly chiseled landscape is a Kodak moment (or maybe an Instagram moment?) waiting to happen. Even if you're not snapping photos at every turn, the vast ridges and valleys make the perfect backdrop while you inspect the indigenous plants and wildlife, or descend along narrow paths on a mule (rides $60-$80 per person). (Admission: $25 per vehicle.)

For creatures of comfort...
If camping isn't your thing, and you prefer the comfort of an ensuite bathroom, Utah's national parks have just the thing for you. In the heart of Arches National Park (home to more than 2,000 natural stone arches), the Mormon settlement of Moab plays host to a 40-acre "glamping" site (think raised wooden floors, patio furniture, and wood-burning stoves) with unobstructed views across the desert. The best part? Comfort comes pretty cheap. Rates start at just $89 per night. (Admission: $10 per vehicle).

For solitary types...
Some travelers prefer to make a pitstop in Utah during longer treks through the southwest, or even visit as a side trip from coastal cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco. The numerous self-guided trails at southern Utah's Zion National Park make exploring its vast backcountry, hidden swimming holes, and  rivers a cinch for solo travelers. (Admission: $25 per vehicle.)

For thrill-seekers...
Keep an eye out for the narrow rim and lookout trails that make Canyonlands National Park one of the most gratifying hiking experiences in the state (and trust us, there's tough competition). Utah's largest park also offers endless mesas, cliffs, rivers, pine trails, and, yes, canyons, for mountain bikers as well as those four-wheeling it. And if you really want to rough it, look into the park's diverse campgrounds, each with their own scenery. (Admission: $10 per vehicle.)

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