The western half of the United States has an awesome variety of wonderful national parks to visit. From the stunning snowcapped peaks of Washington’s Olympic National Park to the mind-boggling depth of Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park, there is an adventure waiting in every state.
However, southern Utah offers perhaps the highest concentration of wondrous national parks in the country. The most famous of these are known as the Mighty Five. Let’s learn a little about each so you can plan a trip that explores them all.
Canyonlands National Park
Encompassing over 500 square miles, Canyonlands National Park features an assortment of geologic features formed by the meeting point of the Colorado River and the Green River. Over the course of millions of years, the two rivers and their many tributaries have carved out vast canyons with sheer cliff faces and left a landscape of towering spires and massive mesas.
You can hike through the park’s different districts or mountain bike down the dirt roads that allow for access to more remote sections of Canyonlands. If you are short on time, however, a drive down either one of the two paved roads that winds its way through the park will let you see the many wonders on display.
Arches National Park
Only a few miles away, on the other side of the high desert hamlet of Moab, you will find Arches National Park. While somewhat smaller than Canyonlands, Arches makes up for this with some of the most stunning natural features in the state, including hoodoos, towers, ribs, and balanced rocks.
Of course, the arches are the true stars of Arches National Park. There are more than 2,000 documented natural arches here. This includes the Landscape Arch, which spans just over 300 feet, making it the second largest natural arch in the world.
Capitol Reef National Park
Hit the highway and head west away from Moab and you will find Capitol Reef National Park. This 300 square mile park protects the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile geologic fold that produces some of the most striking scenery in the state.
Capitol Reef is less visited than the other parks in the Mighty Five, which means that you have a better opportunity to explore the wilderness in solitude. While you hike through the park, you can uncover an amazing array of expansive domes, secluded arches, painted cliffs, and even a canyon here and there.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Start heading south to find Bryce Canyon National Park. Hidden deep in the forest is this desert wonderland that features stunning natural amphitheaters. The most famous of these is the Bryce Amphitheater, which can be reached by a short hike just off the main road that crosses the park. Here you can see towering hoodoos that reach over 200 feet tall.
Stay the night at one of Bryce Canyon’s campgrounds to experience the sunset that bounces off the crimson sandstone for a dazzling display of colors unlike anything else in the world.
Zion National Park
Deep in southwest Utah you will find Zion National Park, the farthest from the other four but perhaps the most stunning of them all. This 200-square-mile park is one of the most visited in the United States and features stunning sights such as the Court of the Patriarchs and Angel’s Landing.
The park is defined by the reddish hued sandstone that dominates the landscape. There are miles of hiking trails throughout the park, although the most popular can be quite crowded at times. Get the most out of your visit by straying a little off the most worn paths to appreciate the majesty of Zion National Park on your own.