Best Hikes in the Southern Utah Big 5 National Parks
Before I moved to Utah, I had no idea of the vast landscapes this state had to offer! Utah was just a place on a map and now it is my favorite place to be! One of the coolest things about Utah is that it is home to five National Parks.
Looking for a road trip that hits them all? I have just the route for you:
Stop 1: Arches National Park: When people think of Utah, they tend to picture that beautiful desert arch that is found on the Utah resident license plates. This is the amazing “Delicate Arch” featured in the Arches National Park. It is about a 3.2 miles hike round trip to see this arch and is well worth the walk. If you are not a hiker, you can simply drive the main road in the park and you will see many of the arches from the comfort of your vehicle! One thing to note: Arches National Park has a timed entry system, so be sure to reserve your entrance time/date in advance!
Stop 2: Canyonlands National Park: Just as it sounds,the Canyonlands National Park is a massive canyon in the middle of the desert. While standing at the top of the canyon, it’s easy to get swept away in awe by the vastness in front of you. Didn’t catch enough of the cool geological arches at stop 1? Be sure to visit “Mesa Arch” at Canyonlands! This is under a mile round-trip hike and takes you to spectacular views of the canyon.
Stop 3: Capitol Reef National Park: This stop is a geologic marvel! Capitol Reef National Park contains rock arches, canyons, mesas, and more. If you are not claustrophobic, you should consider exploring the slot canyons. Be sure to check if permits are required for the hikes that you choose. This information can be found on the National Park’s website.
Stop 4: Bryce Canyon National Park: This park offers such a unique landscape. You enter Bryce Canyon National Park in what appears to be a forest. As you continue on through the park, the ground suddenly drops off and magnificent canyons with red rock formations are everywhere! You can simply drive the road in Bryce to overlook many “hoodoos” - tall skinny shafts of rock that protrude from the bottom of arid basins - or you can hike down into the canyon to get an up close view!
Stop 5: Zion National Park: For the final stop on your Utah trip, you will be exploring the gorgeous Zion National Park! From towering rock walls, to cliffs galore, this place has something for everyone. If you are adventurous and an experienced hiker, I recommend hiking Angel’s Landing. This is a famous hike that is ranked as being somewhat dangerous due to the cliffs and the dreaded “chain section”. This ~4.3-mile round trip hike offers stunning views and will take your breath away (out of awe and anxiety!). Please be sure to read up on this hike before embarking to see if it is a good fit for you. The Angel’s Landing hike is part of a lottery system, so be sure to enter the lottery if you are interested in this hike.
If you would rather not be anywhere near a cliff, check out the Narrows, which is a hike through a slot canyon filled with water. The park has gear you can rent for this hike! Hiking the Narrows does require some safety checks to ensure you are not at risk of flash floods.
If you plan on taking this Southern Utah Big 5 trip, your best bet is to purchase the “America the Beautiful” pass from the Visitor’s Center at the first park. This will save you money entering the parks and will pay for itself by the end of the trip! Be sure to bring lots of water and snacks on your adventures. Southern Utah is a desert and gets very hot during the day. Spring or Fall would be the best seasons to plan this trip unless you enjoy temps over 100°F!
Note: The map indicates the distances to the visitor’s centers in each of the parks. If you choose to explore more (which I hope you do!) that will add additional distance and time to your trip.
Happy travels and I hope these hike suggestions help you enjoy your Southern Utah Big 5 trip to the fullest!
Written by Nicole Eldred BSN, RN
Edited by Amy Will 17x Marathoner