Utah's Big 5
The Big 5 refers to a group of iconic national parks located in Utah. The parks are known for their stunning natural beauty, unique geological formations, and endless opportunities for outdoor adventurers. The best part, all of the parks are located relatively close to each other. This makes it easy for you to explore all of the parks during a single trip!
1) Zion National Park
Zion National Park is a breathtakingly beautiful national park located in southwestern Utah. The park covers over 147,000 acres and is characterized by its towering sandstone cliffs, deep canyons, and lush forests. Zion is home to a variety of plant and animal species, many of which are unique to the region.
One of the park's most iconic features is the Zion Canyon, which stretches for 15 miles and reaches depths of up to 2,640 feet. Visitors can explore the canyon by hiking, biking, or horseback riding, and there are numerous trails of varying difficulty levels to choose from. Some of the most popular hikes include the Narrows, Angels Landing, and the Emerald Pools. In addition to hiking, visitors can also enjoy other outdoor activities such as rock climbing, canyoneering, and camping.
Zion National Park is open year-round, although certain areas of the park may be inaccessible during the winter months due to snow and ice. There are several campgrounds within the park, as well as a variety of lodging options in the nearby towns of Springdale and St. George. Beware, the park can get quite crowded during peak season, so it's a good idea to plan ahead and make reservations for activities and lodging in advance.
- Zion Canyon: This is the park's primary attraction, with towering sandstone cliffs that rise up to 2,640 feet high. Visitors can explore the canyon by hiking, biking, or horseback riding, and there are numerous trails to choose from, ranging from easy to challenging.
- Angels Landing: This is a challenging but rewarding hike that offers incredible views of the canyon and surrounding landscape. The hike is 5.4 miles round-trip and includes a steep, exposed climb to a narrow ridge with sheer drop-offs on either side.
- The Narrows: This is a unique hike that takes visitors through the narrowest section of Zion Canyon, where the walls are only 20-30 feet apart. The hike requires walking in the Virgin River, so proper gear is necessary.
- Emerald Pools: This is a series of three pools and waterfalls that are accessed via a series of short trails. The lower pool is the easiest to reach, while the upper pool requires a more strenuous hike.
- Observation Point: This is another challenging but rewarding hike that offers incredible views of the park from above. The hike is 8 miles round-trip and includes a steep climb up a series of switchbacks.
- Weeping Rock: This is a short but scenic hike that leads to a rock alcove with dripping springs that create a "weeping" effect. The hike is only 0.4 miles round-trip and is accessible for all ages and abilities.
- Kolob Canyons: This is a separate section of the park located in the northwest corner, with stunning views of red rock canyons and towering peaks. The area includes several hiking trails and scenic drives.
2) Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is a national park located in southwestern Utah. Bryce Canyon National Park covers an area of over 35,000 acres, and it is home to a variety of plant and animal species, including several species that are found only in the park. The park is known for its unique geological formations called "hoodoos," which are tall, thin spires of rock that have been shaped by erosion over millions of years.
The park has several hiking trails that allow visitors to explore the hoodoos and other geological features up close. One of the most popular hiking trails in the park is the Navajo Loop Trail, which takes visitors down into the canyon among the hoodoos. Another popular hike is the Queen's Garden Trail, which takes visitors through a garden-like area with numerous hoodoos.
In addition to hiking, visitors to Bryce Canyon National Park can enjoy other outdoor activities such as camping, horseback riding, and stargazing. The park is known for its dark skies, and it has been designated as an International Dark Sky Park. Bryce Canyon National Park is open year-round, although some facilities and roads may be closed during the winter months due to snow and ice. If you're planning a visit, be sure to check the park's website for current conditions and any closures.
- Bryce Amphitheater: This is the main attraction of the park and is a collection of naturally eroded amphitheaters filled with hoodoos (tall, thin spires of rock). The most famous viewpoint is Sunrise Point, which offers stunning views of the amphitheater at sunrise.
- Navajo Loop Trail: This popular trail takes visitors down into the amphitheater, passing by some of the most famous hoodoos like Thor's Hammer and Wall Street. The trail is around 1.3 miles long and takes around 1-2 hours to complete.
- Rim Trail: This is a scenic trail that follows the rim of Bryce Canyon and offers stunning views of the park's unique geology. The trail is around 11 miles long, but can be hiked in sections if you prefer.
- Natural Bridge: This natural arch is located on the southern end of the park and is one of the Bryce Canyon's most unique features. Visitors can hike to the base of the bridge for an up-close look.
- Fairyland Loop Trail: This trail is less crowded than some of the other popular trails in the park and offers stunning views of the hoodoos and other geological formations. The trail is around 8 miles long and takes roughly 4-5 hours to complete.
- Bryce Point: This viewpoint offers panoramic views of the entire amphitheater and is one of the most popular spots for photography in the park.
3) Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park is a stunning national park located in southern Utah. The park is known for its unique geology, stunning landscapes, and rich history. Capitol Reef is named after the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic monocline that stretches for nearly 100 miles through the park. The Fold creates a striking landscape of towering cliffs, canyons, and domes that are perfect for hiking, rock climbing, and sightseeing.
Visitors to Capitol Reef National Park can explore a variety of different geological formations, including the Capitol Dome, Cathedral Valley, and the Golden Throne. The park also features a number of natural arches, bridges, and other unique formations that are sure to amaze and inspire.
In addition to its geologic wonders, Capitol Reef National Park is also home to a rich history. The park was once inhabited by Native American tribes, including the Fremont people, who left behind petroglyphs and other artifacts that can still be seen today. Later, European settlers established fruit orchards and other homesteads in the area, and remnants of these historic structures can also be found throughout the park.
Visitors to Capitol Reef National Park can explore the park's geology and history by hiking, camping, and taking guided tours. The park is open year-round, although some facilities may be closed during the winter months. If you're looking for an adventure in the great outdoors and a bit of history as a bonus, then Capitol Reef National Park is definitely worth a visit!
- Waterpocket Fold: This geological formation is the main attraction of the park, stretching for nearly 100 miles and featuring towering cliffs, canyons, and domes.
- Capitol Dome: This sandstone peak stands at 6,372 feet and offers panoramic views of the surrounding area.
- Cathedral Valley: This remote area of the park features towering rock formations that resemble cathedrals and is a popular spot for hiking and backcountry camping.
- Hickman Bridge: This natural bridge spans 133 feet and is a popular spot for hiking and photography.
- Petroglyphs: The park is home to a number of ancient rock art sites, including petroglyphs left behind by the Fremont people.
- Historic Fruita: This historic site features a number of well-preserved homesteads and orchards established by European settlers in the 1800s.
- Scenic Drives: The park has a number of scenic drives that offer breathtaking views of the park's unique geology, including the 8-mile Capitol Reef Scenic Drive and the 60-mile Cathedral Valley Loop.
4) Arches National Park
Arches National Park is located in eastern Utah. It is known for its stunning natural arches, which were formed over millions of years by erosion and weathering. The park is situated on the Colorado Plateau, with elevations ranging from 4,085 to 5,653 feet above sea level.
The park contains over 2,000 natural arches, as well as a variety of other geological formations, such as towering pinnacles, spires, balanced rocks, and fins. Some of the most famous arches include Delicate Arch, Landscape Arch, and Double Arch. Visitors to the park can hike or drive to many of the arches, or simply take in the scenic beauty of the park from one of the many overlooks.
The park is also home to a diverse array of flora, fauna, and wildlife, including desert bighorn sheep, coyotes, and many species of birds. The climate in the park is dry and hot in the summer, with temperatures regularly exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit, while winters are generally mild with occasional snowfall.
- Natural Arches: The park is home to over 2,000 natural arches, including some of the most famous arches in the world, such as Delicate Arch, Landscape Arch, and Double Arch. Visitors can hike to many of the arches or view them from one of the many overlooks.
- Scenic Drives: Arches National Park offers several scenic drives, including the 18-mile-long Arches Scenic Drive, which provides access to many of the park's main attractions.
- Hiking Trails: The park offers a variety of hiking trails that range from easy to strenuous. Some of the most popular trails include the Delicate Arch Trail, the Devils Garden Trail, and the Fiery Furnace Trail.
- Rock Climbing: Arches National Park is a popular destination for rock climbing, with over 2,000 established climbing routes.
- Ranger Programs: The park offers a variety of ranger-led programs, including guided hikes, campfire programs, and stargazing events.
- Photography: The park offers some of the most stunning natural landscapes in the world, making it a popular destination for photographers.
5) Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park is a stunning national park located in southeastern portion of the state. It covers an area of over 330,000 acres and is known for its rugged canyons, towering mesas, and breathtaking views. The park is divided into three districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the rivers that run through it. Each district has its own unique features and attractions.
Island in the Sky is the most popular and accessible district, with easy access to many of the park's most popular viewpoints and hiking trails. The Needles district is known for its colorful rock formations and excellent hiking trails, while The Maze is a remote and challenging area that is only accessible by four-wheel-drive vehicles.
Canyonlands National Park offers visitors a wide range of recreational opportunities, including hiking, camping, backpacking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and rafting. Some of the most popular hiking trails include the Mesa Arch Trail, the Grand View Trail, and the Syncline Loop Trail. The park is also home to many interesting wildlife species, including bighorn sheep, mountain lions, coyotes, and black bears.
- Mesa Arch: This natural arch is a famous landmark in the park, and it provides stunning views of the surrounding landscape. Many visitors come to see the sunrise and sunset at this location.
- Island in the Sky: This district offers panoramic views of the park's canyons, mesas, and buttes. Visitors can drive along the scenic road, hike along the trails, and enjoy the viewpoints.
- The Needles: This district features unique rock formations, including spires and needles. The area is also known for its excellent hiking trails, including the Chesler Park Loop and the Druid Arch Trail.
- The Maze: This remote district is one of the most challenging and rugged areas in the park. It is only accessible by four-wheel-drive vehicles, and visitors must be experienced in backcountry travel.
- White Rim Road: This 100-mile dirt road follows the rim of the White Rim Sandstone formation, providing stunning views of the canyons and mesas. It is a popular route for mountain bikers and four-wheel-drive enthusiasts.
- Colorado and Green Rivers: These rivers run through the park and offer opportunities for rafting and kayaking. Visitors can take guided tours or plan their own river trips.
Utah's Big 5 a popular destination for travelers from all over the world who are seeking natural beauty, adventure, and a deeper connection with the environment. Together, these parks make up one of the most incredible and unique natural wonders of the world, attracting millions of visitors from around the world every year.