Ah, the Utah Mighty 5. The National Parks in Utah are incredible. If you’ve come to this guide, chances are you’re planning a trip to at least one of them. This guide will be from the viewpoint of a family with small children. There are tons to see at the National Parks in Utah, but some of the most glorious hikes are absolutely not for the faint of heart – or for small children. We will discuss all five of the Mighty 5 which are, in no particular order, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonland, and Capitol Reef.
My first point of emphasis is not to discount any of these parks. Everyone has heard of Zion and Arches. These two parks are spectacular! But, I can assure you, you will be amazed at all five of the Mighty 5. There’s a reason that nickname has stuck.
National Parks in Utah – Best Time to Go
Knowing when to go to the national parks in Utah is important to your experience. These parks are hot in the summer and cold in the winter. There’s no doubt that the Spring and Fall months are the best time to visit them. These months provide cooler temps for hiking and exploring. Of course, you will need to put crowds into consideration.
Arrive at the parks early! Some of these parks have capacity limits, such as Arches, and if you aren’t there early you may need to wait until the evening. In fact, Arches has gone to a timed entry system this year to help alleviate the crowds. You need to make reservations ahead of time for Arches. You also need reservations for a few hikes, including Angels Landing at Zion, due to the overwhelming crowds. Over 11 million visitors enjoyed the Utah National Parks in 2021 so it is easy to see why they need to take these steps.
Which Utah National Park should you visit first?
Believe it or not, there is a proper order to visit these parks. In fact, they are all found along a route that can be done in two different orders. You should either start with Zion National Park or Arches.
As you can see, Arches and Canyonlands are right next to each other. I suggest planning your starting point based on the time of year. If you’re at the beginning of Spring, start at Zion. Zion tends to reach temperatures exceeding 100 degrees in the summer. It is the hottest of the mighty five. If you’re going towards the end of summer, give Zion a chance to cool off and start at Arches/Canyonland. For our guide, we will begin at Arches and work our way towards Zion National Park.
Get the Most Out of the Drive! GyPSy Guide!
If you’re looking to get the most out of this drive, we highly suggest you invest in the Gypsy Guide for this route. It is awesome. You will be engaged throughout the drive and learn a ton about the area. Gypsy Guide actually has a tour for every one of the Utah National parks. We highly suggest you grab the bundle to save some cash. They’re all worth the listen.
Where to Stay for Arches & Canyonland National Parks
MOAB! Whether you’re an RVer or a hotel guest, Moab is the place to stay for both Arches and Canyonland National Parks. Moab is an old mining town that has been transformed into a tourist destination. There are plenty of boondocking spots(free), full hook-up campgrounds, and hotels in the area. Oh, and by the way, if you’re a pizza lover – you must try Antica Forma. They make some amazing pizzas!
Arches National Park
Arches National Park is one of the most visited of the National Parks in Utah. It is an incredible experience. Delicate Arch is the most popular hike at Arches, especially at sunrise and sunset, but you are exposed to heights. We opted to skip this hike since we have small children. We did two hikes during our stay at Arches and found them both amazing.
Windows loop and Turret Arch trail found on Alltrails, was our favorite trail. We found this trail to be easy for the kids but fulfilling. You will see plenty of arches! There’s minimal elevation gain and no exposure to heights.
Landscape arch was also a worthwhile hike that is family-friendly. Landscape arch is the longest arch in Arches National park. We did this hike close to sunset and the scene the sun created was amazing.
If you’re a movie buff, you’ll want to check out the famous Double Arch. This arch was in the movie Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. It is a super popular spot so expect crowds.
Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands is one of the most accessible national parks we have ever been to. You can drive up to almost all viewpoints without having to go on any strenuous hikes. It is absolutely worth the visit, though we felt we saw enough of the park after visiting for one day.
Mesa Arch is the premier viewpoint at Canyonlands National Parks. In fact, this may be my most memorable attraction from all of the Utah National Parks.
For those afraid of heights, be aware you are very high above the land below! You will have a birds-eye view of the landscape below. You don’t need to go up to the edge to see the view, but keep ahold of your children at all times here.
Since you are likely going to drive throughout Canyonlands National Park, I would highly suggest the Gypsy Guide for this park. Gypsy Guide will make sure you don’t miss any of the main viewpoints and it will also teach you a great deal about the park.
Capitol Reef National Park
Next up on our list is Capitol Reef National Park. This park is riddled with history. It has an old homestead in the middle of the park. To this day, there are apple trees that you can pick from and historical buildings that you can visit.
It is also home to some petroglyphs. Seeing these images that were made thousands of years ago really makes you feel the history of the place. You can learn more about the Capitol Reef petroglyphs here.
Hickman Bridge Trail was our absolute favorite here. It is popular, so get there early. Parking is limited. You are not exposed to heights but it does have some elevation gain. We managed to complete it with our 3-year-old walking most of the time.
Sulphur Creek Waterfall Hike was another enjoyable hike we did on a hot day. You will need to walk through water about ankle deep so be sure to wear your water shoes. It is refreshing and even has a small swimming pool at the end of it. It is an out-and-back trail but to this day our kids still talk about it.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Our favorite. Bryce Canyon is one of those places that once you see, you can never unsee. And you won’t want to. It is absolutely mesmerizing.
We found the hiking here to be challenging but manageable. There’s plenty of elevation gain, and the sun does get warm. There are some cliffs you will want to be careful around, and of course keep your kids away from. I would not allow kids to run ahead on this hike.
The Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden trail was our favorite. We feel this hike is a must-see here.
A couple of things to note about Bryce Canyon. Grocery stores in the area are very limited. I can not emphasize this enough. There’s one very small store with a limited brand selection. If you’re staying a while, plan ahead and stock up.
There’s also plenty of boondocking in the area if you’re up for it. You can find RV parks in the area, as well as a few hotels.
Zion National Park
Coming soon! We haven’t been here yet, but plan to in the coming months. Stay tuned!
Check out our guide to the Florida National Parks here!