The United States has its share of majestic national parks. From the highest peaks of the Rockies to the smokey forest of the Appalachians, this country is full of breathtaking views and invigorating hikes. There’s one place that has more than its fair share of national marvels. The state of Utah has five national parks that boast miles and miles of sandstone wonders. These five national parks have earned the name, the mighty five. In this article, we take a comprehensive look at all five parks that make up this group and give you the information you need to plan the trip of a lifetime.
WHAT ARE THE MIGHTY FIVE NATIONAL PARKS?
The state of Utah is fortunate because it holds not just one, but five of the country’s most extraordinary national parks. These national parks are unique with their towers of sandstone and inspiring sunrises and sunsets. Below is a list of the mighty five national parks.
ARCHES NATIONAL PARK
This national park boasts everything that makes a picture-perfect scene, including eroded sandstone fins, towering pinnacles, and huge balancing rocks. Not to mention, it has over 2,000 natural stone arches. There is an eighteen-mile drive through the park which comprises 73,234 acres of a beautiful landscape. You can see the beauty of this park through various trails. While there is only one campsite within this park, there is plenty to do, day or night.
The park itself is open 24 hours a day, year-round, but the visitor centers are open from 7:30 am to 5 pm per day. Your visit to the Arches National Park can include all sorts of activities including hiking, scenic drives, limited camping, and not to mention the photo opportunities within the awe-inspiring place. There are also several park ranger-led activities that should definitely make your itinerary. While there, don’t miss the world-famous Delicate Arch.
BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Of the mighty five national parks, Bryce Canyon is unique because it is a forested plateau. In addition, Bryce is not a canyon at all, but it comprises many small amphitheaters. This park is probably the most remote of the five, and this means it is usually less crowded. The area is full of hoodoos, which are pinnacles of rock, that almost look out of this world.
Among the forested areas lives the Bristlecone pine tree. This area is known for these trees, which have reached ages up to 5,000 years old. There are plenty of places to lodge in and near the park, and there are campgrounds available. If you are just there for the day, make sure you don’t leave before looking at the night sky from the park. Bryce Canyon is known for its spectacular stargazing. Besides the stars, there is also hiking and backpacking, scenic drives, camping, and even winter sports available at this park.
CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK
This one of the mighty five offers 527 miles of towering plateaus and majestic canyons. This park is actually very close to the Arches National Park, and it is located just west of the town of Moab. Canyonlands National Park is broken into four different districts, divided by two rivers, the Colorado River and Green River run through it. These two rivers and their tributaries are responsible for the amazing landscape in this park.
This park offers hiking, backpacking, camping in two different sites, scenic drives, cycling, and river rafting. There is also horseback riding and commercial guides available within the park. Horseshoe Canyon, within the Canyonlands, contains the most intricate wall art that has been preserved. As people have traveled through the park for the past 10,000 years, they left these artful traces for visitors to enjoy today.
CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK
This park was created from a geologic monocline or a step-like fold in the rock strata. This geological event causes steep dips in an otherwise flat area. In Capitol Reef, this phenomenon is called the Waterpocket Fold, and it cannot be missed. The terrain in this park is unique and almost looks like you’ve landed on another planet. This park is less crowded than Bryce and Zyon, so visiting might be more relaxing, and the Navajo sandstone domes are breathtaking.
There are fourteen different hiking trails along the scenic Highway 24, and they vary in difficulty and time to hike. As you hike through Capitol Reef, don’t miss the petroglyphs that line the rock faces. People have inhabited this area since 7,000 BC, and in the early 1800s, the Mormons came and settled the region called Fruita, which is the most accessible. Orchards line the area, and you can even grab a slice of pie made from local fruit. Another must-see is Cathedral Valley with its large towers of rocks jutting out of an otherwise flat landscape.
ZION NATIONAL PARK
This member of the mighty five was the first national park in Utah, and it is by far the most popular. With its towering red cliffs and breathtaking valleys, this park is a hiker’s paradise. Because of its popularity, there is no shortage of camping and lodging options, but take note that places fill up fast. The area hosts over 200 species of birds and is named a globally important bird area. One such bird is the Peregrine Falcon.
This park offers hiking, backpacking, and even rock climbing. You can go out on your own, or there are commercial companies offering guided rock climbing tours. There are also guided ranger activities including walks, ride with a ranger (book in advance), and even patio talks where a ranger will educate you on the wildlife, history, and life at the park.
Hikers flock to Zion for its challenging and exhilarating climbs, but there are plenty of hikes for the non-thrill seeker. Some easier, but mesmerizing, walks include the Weeping Rock, which is a steep but short walk, the Emerald Pool Trail, which is 2 to 4 hours, and the Riverside Walk, which is only 2.2 miles of easy walking. For the more experienced hiker, you can’t miss Angel’s Landing, but don’t attempt this one unless you’ve hiked before. It can get a little precarious at the top, but the views are outstanding.
WHY SHOULD PEOPLE VISIT THE MIGHTY FIVE?
Road tripping through the mighty five should be on every family’s bucket list for a vacation. The natural wonders in each park are worth the miles and the time. Where else can you see sunsets through a naturally made arch like the Mesa Arch in Canyonlands? The famous Delicate Arch can only be seen in Arches National Park, and the massive Hickman Bridge (natural bridge formation) only lives in Capitol Reef. The refreshing and beautiful Emerald Pools in Zion are a once in a lifetime spectacle, and the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon seem out of this world.
The amazing thing about a road trip through these parks is that you can really get it done in seven days. Since these wonders of the world live in Utah, it’s an easy and adventurous road trip for any family. Not to mention, it’s a very affordable vacation. You can get a national park pass for under $100 per person, and this pass will get you into every one of these parks. Lodging is reasonable, and most parks offer camping options if you book far enough in advance.
In addition to the views and a trip of a lifetime that won’t damage the pocketbook, this trip gives families a time to unplug and unwind. The places you will see on this trip rival anything on your teen’s phone, and after a few days, they will agree. Spending time together in the great outdoors where you can see more stars than anywhere else in the country is a vacation your family will remember forever.
MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE MIGHTY FIVE
To experience this amazing family vacation, you must come prepared. Below are a few tips and tricks to make your vacation through the mighty five memorable for all the right reasons. Even though these parks are safe, they are still wild and deserve our respect and our attention to keep the park in pristine condition and to keep us safe.
Make sure to plan ahead. Some of these parks have busy seasons, and temperatures can vary wildly between the seasons. For all five parks, the best times to go weather-wise are Spring and Fall. These are the mildest temperature times and the least busy in all five parks. While most families are limited to summer travel because of school, you can visit the parks in the summer, but be prepared for crowds. If you go in the summer, plan your daily hikes for early morning. It will be cooler and less crowded.
No matter when you go, book your lodging well in advance. It is not uncommon for some lodging to book up a year out. This is especially true if you are visiting in the summer. If you are camping in a campsite within the parks, book at least 12 months in advance. There are very few camping spots available, and they book quick. Each park has a webcam of the entrance, and it might be a good idea to check it out a few weeks before your visit to get a feel for the crowds.
Make sure you take the proper gear and supplies. The parks will be cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Dress appropriately in comfortable and breathable clothes, and plan on wearing layers. Shoes are extremely important, as you want to make sure you are wearing a quality hiking shoe or at least a good tennis shoe with plenty of treads. Temperatures in the summer can reach over 100 degrees, so water is key. Make sure you take plenty of water on each hike. As the terrain is mostly desert in nature, there is also very little shade. It is very important that you pack plenty of sunscreen, and use it often.
Hiking through the mighty five can be the trip of a lifetime. Seeing all of those famous and natural monuments in one week will be the highlight of your year. It’s important that you plan ahead, as you surely won’t be the only family taking this iconic vacation, but, with the proper planning and the proper gear, this will be the trip that every family member will remember.