Red rocks, hoodoos, and arches
A state that seems almost impossibly blessed with this much beauty, national parks in Utah provide a framework for any number of awe-inspiring road trips. To make your adventuring easier, we’ve outlined a route through the Mighty Five, or the state’s five most famous parks. This national park itinerary takes you through parks with every hue of red rock, from faintest coral to deepest rust, delicate arches, imposing cliffs, and otherworldly hoodoos rising from canyon floors.
Start your trip in the land of 2,000 natural arches. Among the hoodoos, spires, and pinnacles, Delicate Arch is the best-known in the park, and perhaps the state’s most famous landmark. Take the stunning 1.5.-mile hike there to have your breath taken away by the natural wonder. Drive through the Windows Section of the park for some of the other most picturesque (and Instagrammable) spots, and hop out for quick hikes along the way. For a unique viewpoint on the park, drive through after dark, when the arches stand out against a star-soaked sky.
Next, head to Canyonlands, Utah’s largest national park. Divided into three distinct land districts, the almost 350,000 acres make for plenty of exploration. Drive along Dead Horse Mesa Scenic Byway (not as morbid as it sounds) for some of the most striking vistas — when you arrive at Dead Horse Point State Park, get a taste for the area’s majesty with a dizzying view of the path the Colorado River carved through the park. Hike Island in the Sky for another prized viewpoint affording a bird’s eye view of the canyons created by the convergence of the Colorado and Green Rivers. With views up to 100 miles in any direction, it’s almost impossible not to pause for a moment of silence to take it all in.
Next up on the Utah national park itinerary: Capitol Reef, where it looks like the rocks were painted by rainbows. Though red rock still reigns supreme, the abundance of other colors making a splash here can’t be missed. Petroglyphs still exist telling the early stories of indigenous people, and, as an added bonus, fruit orchards are still functioning in the Historic Fruita District — if you’re there in season, you can even take some with you for road trip snacks.
Known as Hoodoo Country, Bryce is hallmarked by these bizarrely captivating spires rising from the ground. Sunrise and sunset are the best times to drive the 38-mile Scenic Loop to watch the rock structures be transformed by the changing light. Hike the Navajo Loop Trail for an easy 1.3-mile leg stretch that lets you get up close and personal with the hoodoos and national amphitheatres sunken deep into the park. Get inspired by Ryker G.’s trip to Bryce Canyon in one our very best Turo Travelogues.
Round out your national park road trip through Utah with Zion, the most popular of the Mighty Five. Though you might already be overwhelmed by the abundance of natural beauty in the last four, save a little wonder for Zion’s monolithic rocks. You’re spoiled for choice in hikes here — take the whole family to the Emerald Pools, or challenge yourself a little more on Angels Landing, a five-mile round trip hike with steep dropoffs, not for the faint of heart. Or, just hop on the shuttle system or drive through, stopping frequently at scenic viewpoints to take in the gradations of color and impossibly towering cliffs.