Article •  National Parks, Utah, USA, North America

The Mighty 5: A Guide To Southern Utah’s Best National Parks

Last Updated On: April 5, 2021


Utah has a very special place in our hearts. We have traveled in and around this state more times than we can count on our fingers, yet we always manage to find more hidden travel gems. From the mountainous region of the north to our favorite area in the south, where the massive red rocks roam free.

But let’s cut to the chase. If you haven’t already added Utah to your bucket list, I am pretty sure after reading this blog post it will jump right to the top. While there is so much to explore in Utah, today we will be sharing with you 5 of southern Utah’s finest national parks that will knock your socks off.

But before we go any further, let’s quickly chat about how you can save money. If you are planning on visiting multiple national parks in Utah or anywhere in the States, I highly recommend purchasing The America the Beautiful Annual Pass.

This particular annual pass not only grants you and everyone in your vehicle free access to all 60 national parks & monuments but also national wildlife refuges as well as standard amenity fees (day-use fees) at national forests and grasslands. For example, you can use this pass in lieu of the Red Rock Pass if you plan to visit the parks of Sedona.

Ok onto the saving money part. If you plan on visiting more than two of the national parks listed below, spending $80 on the annual pass is already worth it. Not to mention the convenient and carefree entrance into the national parks. Just show your card, collect a map and go!

P.S. If you are looking to combine your Utah trip with Arizona then feel free to check out our 3 Night / 4 Day Sample Itinerary to Sedona to make the best out of your trip. This trip features a day-to-day itinerary along with a list of our favorite restaurants, best hikes, accommodations & awesome activities. We provide you with everything you need so you can design your days to your liking without having to do all the research beforehand. 

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The Mighty 5: Southern Utah's Best National Parks | Bare Escape
Mesa Arch
The Mighty 5: Southern Utah's Best National Parks | Bare Escape
The Mighty 5: Southern Utah's Best National Parks | Bare Escape
The Mighty 5: Southern Utah's Best National Parks | Bare Escape
Mesa Arch

1. Canyonlands National Park

Favorite Hike/Sight: Mesa Arch

Hours: Open 24hrs

Best time: Fall or Spring

Weekly Pass: $30/vehicle

Canyonlands is just as it sounds, a land of massive canyons. With over 515 square miles, it can be compared to the Grand Canyon, with its sprawling views to the canyons below. We’ve been to Arches National Park countless times, but only recently did we decide to venture into Canyonlands National Park. Best decision ever!

The beauty of Canyonlands is that you don’t need a lot of time to cover the main sights, but if you do have extra time there is plenty to see. We only scratched the surface during our first visit, hitting some of the highlights in the Island district. Our favorite was the Mesa Arch. We came to watch the sunrise and it was absolutely magical, but don’t be surprised to find 50 other people coming to do the same thing.

Top 6 Things To Do In Arches National Park
The Mighty 5: Southern Utah's Best National Parks | Bare Escape
Double Arch
Top 6 Things To Do In Arches National Park
Park Avenue
Top 6 Things To Do In Arches National Park
The Mighty 5: Southern Utah's Best National Parks | Bare Escape

2. Arches National Park

Favorite Hike/Sight: Double Arch

Hours: Open 24hrs

Best time: Early Spring or Fall

Weekly Pass: $30/vehicle

Arches National Park is probably the most famous national park of the mighty 5, if not in all of Utah. You’ve probably seen the Utah license plate, a reddish-orange span of rock in front of a blue sky. This is the Delicate Arch, one of the 2000 arches inside of the park, making it the largest concentration of natural sandstone arches in the world!

The great thing about Arches National Park is that no matter where you go your jaw will drop. You can stay in the car the whole time and be astonished simply by driving past all the impressive sights. You can get out and walk for a few minutes, and be awestruck. Or you can put your hiking shoes on and explore the red rocks, a place of utter beauty. Whatever you decided to do, there are a few sights in particular that you shouldn’t miss: Double Arch, Double-O Arch, Delicate Arch & Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint, Landscape Arch, Park Avenue, and La Sal Mountain Viewpoint. Ok, that is more than a few, but trust me these are guaranteed wows.

P.S. It might be hot and dry, but this does not deter the crowds so plan to visit either in the early morning or late afternoon. Not only will the crowds die down you are going to experience the magic of the golden hour. Also always bring plenty of water.

The Mighty 5: Southern Utah's Best National Parks | Bare Escape
The Mighty 5: Southern Utah's Best National Parks | Bare Escape
Temple of the Moon
The Mighty 5: Southern Utah's Best National Parks | Bare Escape
Temple of the Sun
The Mighty 5: Southern Utah's Best National Parks | Bare Escape

3. Capitol Reef National Park

Favorite Hike/Sight: Temple of the Sun & Moon

Hours: Open 24hrs

Best time: Spring then fall

Weekly Pass: $20/vehicle

Have you heard of Capitol Reef National Park? Neither did we until a few years ago. This park is probably the least popular of the mighty 5, but it’s a diamond in the rough. Driving through the park on highway 24 is a quick 20 minutes, and packed full of spectacular rock formations. You will see sheer cliffs of red jutting out of the earth on both sides as you wind through the canyon.

What most people don’t know is that all the best spots are actually off the main drag down some pretty bumpy roads. We came for the Temple of the Sun & Moon in the Cathedral Valley. Let me just warn you, don’t believe what you read online. No matter what direction you come from to access the Temple of the Sun & Moon, you NEED a high clearance 4WD vehicle. Trust us when we say we tried to get there in our old 1978 VW bus and failed. The beginning of the adventure is easy starting at Caineville Wash Road, but in the last 4 miles, you will have to drive through multiple deep patches of sand! We made it through the first three, but ended up getting stuck and had to dig ourselves out. We were determined to get there so we slept on the side of the road and hiked the remaining 4 miles in the dark to make it by sunrise. So worth it!

The Mighty 5: Southern Utah's Best National Parks | Bare Escape
Sunset Point
The Mighty 5: Southern Utah's Best National Parks | Bare Escape
The Mighty 5: Southern Utah's Best National Parks | Bare Escape
Inspiration Point
The Mighty 5: Southern Utah's Best National Parks | Bare Escape
Fairyland Loop Trail
The Mighty 5: Southern Utah's Best National Parks | Bare Escape
The Mighty 5: Southern Utah's Best National Parks | Bare Escape

4. Bryce Canyon National Park

Favorite Hike/ Sight: Rim Trail & Navajo Loop

Hours: Open 24hrs

Best time: Early Summer

Weekly Pass: $30/vehicle

If this is your first time at Bryce Canyon National Park, be prepared to be amazed! As you wind through the tall pines and approach the rim of the canyon, you might be asking yourself “where am I”, I certainly did. The landscape is weird and otherworldly, with the orange gradient of sandstone rock formations radiating out as far as the eye can see. Nature’s outdone itself again!

The most popular area of Bryce Canyon National Park is the amphitheater, which is the most impressive of them all. If you want a birds-eye view of the rock formations below, take the rim trail from Bryce Point to Sunset Point. It will take a few hours, but the views just get better and better! If you want to get up close and personal then wander down through the hoodoos, one of our favorite trails is the Navajo Loop.

Insider Tip: If you can stand the cold, come during the winter to experience a different kind of magic.

The Mighty 5: Southern Utah's Best National Parks | Bare Escape
Pine Creek Canyon Overlook
The Mighty 5: Southern Utah's Best National Parks | Bare Escape
The Mighty 5: Southern Utah's Best National Parks | Bare Escape
The Mighty 5: Southern Utah's Best National Parks | Bare Escape
Zion UnderCanvas
The Mighty 5: Southern Utah's Best National Parks | Bare Escape
Emerald Pools Trail
The Mighty 5: Southern Utah's Best National Parks | Bare Escape
Canyon Junction Bridge

5. Zion National Park

Favorite Hike/ Sight: Pine Creek Canyon Overlook

Hours: Open 24hrs

Best time: Fall then spring

Weekly Pass: $35/vehicle

Zion National Park is Utah’s first National Park. The stunning sandstone kaleidoscope of pinks, oranges, and reds amidst the forest green shrubs almost looks unreal, like a painting or a movie set. But it is as real as its gets.

With over 300 days of sunshine, Zion National Park is the perfect place to retreat all year round and has something for everyone. Are you an adventurous type? Scramble to the top of Angel’s Landing or Observation Point for panoramic views of the valley floor. Looking for the same wow factor but with less effort? Walk a few minutes from the parking lot to the Pine Creek Canyon Overlook to see the thousand-foot deep canyon stretching for miles beyond.

When you are done exploring the magic of Zion National Park, don’t forget to pick up your jaw on your way out.

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The Mighty 5: Southern Utah's Best National Parks | Bare Escape
The Mighty 5: Southern Utah's Best National Parks | Bare Escape
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