Strap on your hiking boots and prepare for an adventure through Utah’s Mighty Five National Parks – Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon. These national parks are famous for their awe-inspiring vistas, remarkable geological formations, and endless hiking trails. But with so many trails to choose from, it can be overwhelming to decide which ones to explore during your visit.
Fear not – here’s a list of five hikes across all five parks that will leave you with unforgettable memories. So grab your gear, and let’s hit the trails!
Park Avenue Trailhead (Arches National Park)
If you want to see a selection of Arches National Park’s towering red rock formations and unique geological structures in one spot, drive to the Park Avenue Trailhead. This two-mile hike provides incredible views of the red rocks, vistas, diverse vegetation and wildlife. As you make your way through the trail, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the surrounding canyons and rock formations.
Look for iconic formations like the popular Balanced Rock and Courthouse Towers and The Organ and Tower of Babel. Despite the harsh desert environment, the trailhead is home to various plant life, including sagebrush, pinyon pines, and junipers. Also, watch for desert wildflowers, which can bloom in spring and summer. And, of course, you’re bound to see local wildlife, such as bighorn sheep and coyotes.
Elephant Hill Trailhead (Canyonlands National Park)
While most visitors head to Island of the Sky’s Mesa Arch, you’ll find incredible hiking opportunities on the Elephant Hill Trailhead in the Needles District. Known for its vertical spires that resemble twisted needles that reach toward the sky, this area of Canyonlands is home to unique side trails, diverse wildlife and historic sites. Venture onto the nearby Joint Trail, where you’ll hike through a narrow slot canyon of towering sandstone.
And don’t miss out on an opportunity to spot the local wildlife; the area is home to mule deer and bird species such as peregrine falcons, golden eagles and bluebirds.
Angel’s Landing (Zion National Park)
For sweeping panoramic views of Zion Canyon and the Virgin River, you’ll want to explore Zion National Park’s Angel’s Landing, which takes you on a 5-mile out-and-back journey. First, hike to Walter’s Wiggles, a challenging trail that consists of switchbacks that zigzag their way up a steep rock face (some chain-assisted climbing required).
You’ll also encounter Scout’s Lookout, one of the trail’s scenic viewpoints. While Angel’s Landing is challenging and not for the faint of heart if you’re afraid of heights, the four-hour experience is an adrenaline rush well worth the effort. Be aware that due to its popularity, a permit is required to hike this area.
Grand Wash Trail (Capitol Reef National Park)
Often described as a “world of color and beauty,” Capitol Reef National Park boasts a red and green-hued landscape that beckons to be explored. One of the most popular hikes in the park is the Grand Wash Trail which runs 5 miles out and back and offers incredible views of the red-hued canyons and formations unique to this region. It’s a relatively easy and quick hike, with 2-3 hours total.
Throughout your journey, you’ll traverse narrow canyons, marvel at towering rock formations, and watch for desert wildlife, such as black-tailed jackrabbits and collard lizards, as well as ancient petroglyphs etched into the canyon walls. You’ll also enjoy distant views of the iconic Capitol Dome rock formation, a 1200-foot sandstone dome that rises above the surrounding landscape.
Queens Garden Trail (Bryce Canyon National Park)
Known for its hoodoos, thin spires of rock that have been shaped over millions of years by erosion, Bryce Canyon National Park is a breathtaking landscape that attracts hikers worldwide. The park has many different trails to explore, but the Queens Garden Trail is where you’ll encounter incredible views of its resident hoodoos.
During your trek, you’ll hike by Queen Victoria, the most famous hoodoo in the park resembling the head and crown of a queen. You’ll also hike through the narrow and winding Wall Street Canyon before passing through a forested area, a sharp contrast to the rocky, hoodoo-filled landscape. Keep an eye out for wildlife– you might spot a deer or scrambling chipmunk.