Often referred to as The Mighty Five, Utah's national parks drew nearly eight million visitors from around the world in 2020 to marvel at surreal scenery and create their own unforgettable experiences. A trip to these parks includes watching the sunrise over the towering depths of Canyonlands National Park, then watching the sunset through Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. You can see ancient petroglyphs in Capitol Reef National Park, then watch a beautiful meteor shower streaks across the Milky Way. Gaze down at coral-hued rock hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park or gaze upward at the steep walls of slot canyon trails in Zion National Park. You can hike, river raft, bike, picnic, 4-wheel drive, walk, and even ride a mule to experience these amazing landscapes, their vibrant culture and rich history.
The first stop on my Mighty Five adventure was Zion National Park. There’s so much to do and see in Zion — and you can explore much of it from the road, and by taking short hikes to some cool spots. You can hike upstream through the Narrows, or hike up top and look back down into the canyon! Follow the paths where ancient native people and pioneers walked. Gaze up at the massive sandstone cliffs of cream, pink, and red that soar into a brilliant blue sky.
Bryce Canyon is one of my all-time favorites. The view from the rim is spectacular, and you can hike along the rim, or go down into the canyon to see the world's largest collection of hoodoos up-close! Enjoy ranger programs -- a moonlit guided hike, telescope stargazing, evening programs or a Geology Talk to learn how Bryce Canyon was formed.
Located in the heart of red rock country, Capitol Reef National Park is a hidden treasure filled with cliffs, canyons, domes and bridges in the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic monocline -- a wrinkle on the earth -- extending almost 100 miles. There are short hikes from the road, or more extensive ones from the Waterpocket District and Cathedral Valley. Make sure to visit the Fruita Area, too.
Canyonlands invites you to explore a wilderness of countless canyons and fantastically formed buttes carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries. Rivers divide the park into four districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the rivers themselves. These areas share a primitive desert atmosphere, but each offers different opportunities for sightseeing and adventure. Be sure to take the short hike in to the Mesa Arch -- well worth it at any time of the day.
Arches is a landscape of contrasting colors, landforms and textures unlike any other in the world. The park has over 2,000 natural stone arches, in addition to hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins and giant balanced rocks. This red rock wonderland will amaze you with its formations, refresh you with its trails, and inspire you with its sunsets. I would highly recommend hiking to Delicate Arch. It's probably 30-45 minutes each way, but so, so worth the effort! I went in the late afternoon on my last visit and the changing light, clouds, and even a brief thundershower made for an unforgettable experience.
Now is a great time to visit Utah's National Parks -- before the summer crowds and summer heat! If you get the chance to visit one or more of these parks, it could turn out to be one awesome National Park adventure!
Rob Decker is a photographer and graphic artist who studied under Ansel Adams in Yosemite National Park when he was just 19 years old. Now, he's creating iconic WPA-style posters for each of our National Parks.
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