When I knew I was going to Utah I knew it had to be a road trip, but with rental prices and flights high, I decided to drive across the country in my van and visit some of the most beautiful spots in the USA. Not saying you should drive across the country, but if you can do a Mighty 5 road trip there is nothing better than road tripping through one of the most interesting and diverse landscapes of any state in the United States.
Disclosure: This post includes hosted stays at Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn, Yonder, Zion Glamping Adventures, and Red Cliffs Lodge. All thoughts are my own and I was not paid to write this. This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase or booking, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.Travels of Sarah Fay is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to amazon.com and affiliated sites at no cost to you.
But wait what is the Mighty 5 Road Trip In Utah?
The mighty 5 refers to the 5 national parks that make up one of the most epic road trips in the country and just happen to be all in the state of Utah. The Mighty 5 consists of the very popular Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Arches National Park, and the lesser-visited Capital Reef National Park and Canyonlands National Park. The best part about this road trip to some of the best National Parks in the country is discovering not only their beauty but the places in between that are often overlooked or passed by. My mighty 5 road trip consists of not only the highlights, but the in-between road stops, adventures, and unique places you will find on your journey. One thing you need if you don’t have a van is a car rental and I suggest either getting a camper van for rent or check out renting a car from Priceline. I usually find good deals there.
When is the best time to visit Utah and complete the Mighty 5?
Utah weather is volatile and in the summer has scorching heat, but also have winters that could put the Northeast to shame. I was particularly thrown for a loop by having to pay close attention to the weather as I drove from park to park as they were having a particularly rainy summer, which meant flash flood warnings, lightning, and very hot weather in parts of Utah.
However, there are a few times that I would recommend to road trip to Utah’s National Parks including the Spring, and early Fall. However, I went in August, and during some parts of my trip it was hot, but it was manageable. I just would not want to be camping in the height of summer. With temperatures going above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Where to start your Mighty 5 Utah Road Trip?
There are two main options on where travelers can fly to start their journey.
Some may choose to fly into Las Vegas where you could also add a little fun weekend before or after your trip. The flights here tend to be cheaper than the other airport I recommend. This route would have you start the loop from the south. Hitting Zion, Bryce first working your way up North before looping back down after visiting Moab and Arches National Park.
The other option is flying into Salt Lake City in and out starting your journey in Moab seeing Arches, Canyonland, and Moab working your way south to see the other National Parks mentioned.
There is also an option where you could fly into Salt Lake City or Las Vegas and out from the respective airport. That would just involve renting and returning the car to a different location, which could add to costs.
Whatever you do regardless of the airport you choose there is one thing you need for this adventure and that is a car. While some like me may drive their vehicle, others may choose to rent one. (Check out my tips for finding a great rental company. )
Some may choose to forgo hotels and lodges for something a little more unique and rent a camper van. There are quite a few options for van life rentals including Escapecampervans and Outdoorsy.com. If you want to see what van life in National Parks is like check out my YouTube videos here.
For this Mighty 5 Road Trip Itinerary, we will take the south to North Route.
MIGHTY 5 Road Trip ITINERARY
After picking up the rental or camper van or arriving in Utah the first stop will be Zion Glamping Adventures.
Zion Glamping Adventures
While some make a stop to St George, I wanted to try out glamping and found Zion Glamping Adventures only 2.5 hours away from Las Vegas and an hour away from Zion National Park. This is the perfect place that is off the beaten path that allows you to enjoy the beautiful landscape of Southern Utah. It is located on the border of Utah and Arizona and is close to sights such as Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Peek A Boo Slot Canyon, and is not far from Zion National Park.
I truly enjoyed my experience zipping across dunes, and off-roading in UTV’s with Travis from Zion Glamping Adventures on a tour that brought me to see dinosaur tracks, slot canyons, dunes, and an epic sunset. Oh, I almost forgot we saw petroglyphs too. The surprises in the backcountry of Zion astounded me. Not only that, but we didn’t even touch the National Parks yet and there was so much to see and do.
This is clamping so expect the tents to not be your average campground, the hills were dotted with lighted paths that bring guests to white tents filled with a table, a full-size bed, and air conditioning. My tent had two beds and our campground area had a table, fire pit, and we had electricity to keep everything charged.
While it is a bit far for some people who are early risers for hiking Zion National Park, for those that don’t mind starting later in the day at Zion this could be a less crowded option and area to enjoy. However, I also decided to stay closer to Zion in Springdale, Utah.
Zion National Park – Springdale Utah
After exploring the lesser-visited, but amazing sights of Southern Utah with Zion Glamping Adventures, drive about an hour to Zion National Park in Springdale, Utah. While you could spend much longer than the 48 hours I spend in the area of Zion National Park you can still get a lot done in a short time.
We visited during shuttle season and during shuttle season you can not bring your vehicle on the Zion Park scenic drive (unless you have special circumstances). Also, shuttle season is almost all year so check the Zion Canyon Shuttle System site so you are aware of the times of the last shuttle leaving from the visitor center as well as the last shuttle leaving from the furthest point on the scenic drive.
The shuttles are free though and make for a quieter scenic area where most of the hikes begin from. The Zion Canyon Line runs from the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive from the visitors center to places like the Zion Lodge, Emerald Pools, West Rim Trail, and Temple of the Sinawava where hikers depart for the Narrows.
My top hikes to do during a short visit:
- Angel’s Landing. Known for being one of the hardest hikes and most dangerous in America. I highly suggest making your way up the switchbacks for awesome views, take a lunch, and enjoy the views just before the infamous chains that lead to one of the scariest hikes. If you don’t feel like doing the scariest part of the hike the views are just as stunning from there and the hike rewarding.
- The Narrows. The Narrows is probably the second most popular hike in Zion National Park. This is where you can hike through the slot canyons with the beauty towering around you. I even ran into a deer on the trail. I wore longer leggings, had a stick that I got from someone who left theirs after they were done with it to begin my hike down the Narrows, which is hiking against the current of a river. This is a place you need to watch the weather, especially during monsoon season when flash floods are common and extremely dangerous in the canyons of the Narrows.
- Canyon Overlook Trail is about a one-mile hike round trip and is one of the prettiest hikes in my opinion and easiest. The hike brings you high up above the canyon and even overlooks Angel’s Landing from high up above. This is located in the area east of the switchback drive and famous tunnels. I was in love with the views and sat up here for a while taking in the beauty of Zion National Park.
Where to stay in Zion National Park?
I stayed at the Quality Inn one night as well as Zion Glamping Adventures for glamping experience. The Quality Inn was great if you are the type of person that wants to get up early, grab a bite, be in the center of Springdale and all the action, as well as expect to be out most of the day. It is not a resort, but it is a great place to relax and lay your head down at the end of a long day exploring Zion National Park. The shuttle also picks up just outside of the hotel, making it perfect so you don’t have to worry about parking your car by the visitors center.
Bryce Canyon National Park
When you arrive at Bryce Canyon from Zion you may feel as if you arrived on Mars. The red-orange hoodoos and weird rock formations feel as if you are transported to another planet. What are hoodoos? Well, they are formed by erosion over a long period and the area of the amphitheater of Bryce Canyon turned out to be a huge drainage basin with the perfect conditions to produce some of the most hoodoos in the world.
There are many things to do in Bryce Canyon National Park, from amazing hikes both long and short to horseback riding. I was able to get a lot done in two nights and three days hosted by the Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn. If you are there for a couple of nights I highly suggest for entertainment purposes and comfort your stay here. One night I went to a rodeo, and the next I went to a country music dinner show.
My favorite hike here was taking the Navajo Loop to Queens Garden Loop to make just over a 3-mile hike for some of the most stunning vistas in the park. If you want to learn more about the experience of what I got up to in Bryce Canyon National Park check out my guide.
Where to stay in Bryce Canyon National Park?
There are actually not too many choices when it comes to staying in or close to Bryce Canyon National Park. I stayed at Ruby’s Inn a Best Western Plus and absolutely loved my experience that I share more in my article I wrote sponsored by Moon Guides. I was so happy to explore the
Escalante, Utah and the Grand Staircase Escalante
As you head back on the road taking the scenic route 12 you will reach Escalante, Utah, a small town meant for adventure seekers and travelers. When I first started my trip to Utah, I did not know much about Escalante. However, when I visited I loved the area as a perfect break from the throngs of tourists at Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park.
The Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument spans over one million acres of America’s public lands in Southern Utah. Escalante is at the doorstep with outdoor outfitters, a few restaurants, and some hotels; this is where many come as a jumping-off point to explore slot canyons, the Hole in The Rock Road, and hikes such as Calf Creek Falls.
Where to stay in Escalante, Utah?
Stay Yonder! I loved this tiny house, unique stay, and Airstreamer resort located in Escalante, Utah. Not only is it new, but they have so many amenities. Want a shower outdoors? They have it! Want to watch a movie in an old-school drive-in movie theater? You can do it at Yonder. It was perfect to feel connected with nature and away from it all. I stayed in the tiny cabin, however, they also have airstreams, and places to park campervans, RVs, and camping.
Capitol Reef National Park
While I only saw Capitol Reef National Park for the day you could stay the night to explore another unique stay at Capitol Reef Resort and stay in an outfitted wagon or glamping teepee. Capitol Reef National Park has a beautiful scenic drive that is 7.9 miles of pure nature where you see the unique geological features of the water pocket fold. Why is Capitol Reef called that? The Waterpocket Fold runs through the park and is 100 miles long, the most interesting Capitol Reef. It also looks like a reef, the cliffs act as a reef making travel across the landmass impossible (well at least in the days of the pioneers).
If you are hungry head to the old Mormon settlement of Fruita within Capitol Reef National Park. Here you can head to Gifford Homestead and grab apple pie and ice cream.
Another 3-hour drive brings you to Moab, Utah, a hub for adventure travelers looking to explore Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. Moab has a great little downtown with many restaurants, a food truck park, as well as adventure outfitters for trips from offroading to a hot air balloon ride or rafting. Moab is a hub for outdoors lovers and recreation of all types, but it also offers some areas to relax.
Where to stay in Moab, Utah?
I stayed in three places in Moab, Utah.
Hampton Inn, Comfort Suites, and also stayed at the beautiful Red Cliffs Lodge off of the Colorado River. The Red Cliff Lodge is located right off the Colorado River. It has a great restaurant, beautiful pool, movie museum, horseback riding, and more surrounded by the towering red cliffs. This part of Utah was so quiet and felt away from the busy center of Moab, Utah. It is where you can take some time to soak in the surroundings without killing yourself with hardcore hikes.
However, I recommend that as the place you go to relax after you get out of all of your adventures in the national parks near Moab. When you are constantly waking up early for hikes, or Arches National Park or Canyonlands National Park I recommend staying at the Hampton Inn or Comfort Suites.
There are so many things to do in Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, but with the limited time, I decided to hit the highlights. Also, the summer months were pretty hot so there were limited hours to explore without getting hear stroke.
Arches National Park
Arches National Park has over 2000 natural arches and is located 5 miles from Moab, Utah. The drive into the park was pretty crazy if you don’t love heights with a few switchbacks, but once you are up the ride is scenic and stretches for 19 miles. First, visitors can experience Park Avenue, a short 1-mile walk through towering rocks that resemble buildings off NYC Park Avenue. Windows and Turret Arch, and double arch located right near each other makes it easy and accessible to visit since they are located near each other and both are less than a mile hike to see. These arches are all located on the windows loop.
The most popular hike is the Delicate Arch hike which is a 3 miles roundtrip and offers a literal postcard view. The arch is famous because it is on the Utah license plate. There are many hikes, and I could have stayed here an extra day or two to explore. Another highlight of the park is Landscape Arch, but it takes a bit of a hike to get to and I did not make it here (blaming the heat).
My top tip: Bring a lot of water and food because there is nowhere in both of these National parks. So bring all the supplies you need for the day.
Canyonlands National Park + Deadhorse Point State Park
This is another park people don’t know a ton about at least people like me coming from the east coast. Canyonlands is a massive national park, and to explore a large part of it you need a four-wheel drive. However, the main part that visitors visit when they are staying in Moab is Island in the Sky. It is about 30 minutes from Arches National Park. The paved scenic drive makes Island in the Sky area popular, and from here you can see the most photographed area of the Park- Mesa Arch. The viewpoint from Mesa Arch is popular for sunrise photography. I went during the day and was happy with my view.
Corona Arch Hike and Bowtie Arch Trail
If you want to get away from the crowds of the national parks this trail just outside of Moab, Utah is one for the books. With a short 3 mile round trip hike that is not for the faint hearted you can see Corona Arch and Bowtie Arch. These are both beautiful and huge compared to all the arches I saw. I highly recommend doing this hike one morning of your trip or in the afternoon when the sun is not beating down on you since there is very limited shade.
How much do the national parks cost?
NATIONAL PARK FEES & PERMITS
If you choose to go to parks individually look to pay the below.
- Private vehicle: $30
- Motorcycle: $25
- The person entering by foot or bicycle: $15 (Under 15 is free of charge)
These passes admit the pass owner and accompanying passengers to all U.S. national parks (including Canyonlands) and federal recreational lands:
- Annual Pass: $80
- 4th Grade Annual Pass: free
- Military Annual Pass: free
- Lifetime Senior Pass (62 and older): $80
- Annual Senior Pass (62 and older): $20
- Lifetime Access Pass (available for those with a permanent disability): free
- Southeast Utah Annual Pass (access to Arches, Canyonlands, and Natural Bridges National Monument): $50
Who’s ready to complete the mighty 5 Road trip in Utah With This Ultimate Guide!
Well if you made it this far it seems you are already planning to tackle one of the most beautiful road trips in America. If you are visiting all of these national parks I recommend getting the National Park pass since it is the most economical and you can use it at other National Parks, monuments, and more across the country. The Mighty 5 Road trip will be one for the books and is one of the best ways to Visit Utah. This is a great place to visit during the summer and spring. After you finish your road trip or before you begin check out Lake Powell.