Utah’s Mighty 5 in 7 Days
Bunny spent a generous two months in Southwest USA last year. One of the highlights of her trip was exploring Utah’s “Mighty 5” which comprises the amazing National Parks of Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches and Canyonlands.
These five iconic National Parks have gorgeous, diverse landscapes and some of the best hiking in the world. So it is no wonder that visiting all five parks, possibly on one single trip, remains a popular bucket list item for many travel enthusiasts.
Based on her own experience, Bunny has developed a week-long travel itinerary for Utah’s Mighty 5 - perfect for anyone short on time but eager on adventures.
Is It Possible?
Is it even possible to do Utah’s Mighty 5 in 7 Days? Yes.
Is it enjoyable? Oh yes.
Will you have to drive a lot? Yes again.
Will you feel rushed? Quite possibly yes, but you would feel that way even if you spent weeks on the route, Bunny says. There is simply too much to see and experience.
If you are determined to go for it, check out Bunny’s detailed itinerary below on how to take in Utah’s Mighty 5 in a mere 7 days. She has also thrown in some advice on how to divide your time between the parks and which activities and experiences to focus on in each park.
Bunny’s Suggested Itinerary for the Mighty 5
With Bunny’s suggested itinerary below, it would be best to fly into Las Vegas and out of Salt Lake City. Beware that this might result in extra drop-off fees for your rental car. If you want to avoid this and fly both in and out of Las Vegas, it is doable but means a longer (7-8 hours!) drive on the last day.
Bunny’s itinerary below takes great care to ensure that you visit each site at a time of day with the best possible light for photography.
Day 1: Zion National Park
Drive from Las Vegas to Zion National Park. This drive should take you no longer than 3 hours. If you leave in the morning, you should hit Springdale, the gateway to Zion National Park, around lunch time. Check in to your hotel, grab a quick bite in town and head right over to the National Park, using the free shuttle bus from town.
Zion National Park is open 24 hours. The Visitor Center closes at 5pm but the shuttle bus inside the park runs until late evening in the busy season. Take advantage of this and ride the 13-mile (round trip) Zion Canyon Scenic Drive . There are nine different stops where you can get off and walk around and take photos until the next bus arrives.
Catch the sunset on the bridge over the Virgin River (Canyon Junction shuttle bus stop) before heading back to Springdale. Make sure you go to bed early to make the most of your full day at Zion National Park the following day.
Day 2: Zion Hikes
Get up bright and early and head to the National Park on one of the first shuttle buses to beat the crowds. If you are an avid hiker, do the iconic Angels Landing hike or the Narrows - or both, if you are superhuman!
Please note that the Narrows is often closed in spring time because of melting snow and the risk of flash floods so make sure it’s actually open before you venture out. You will also need special equipment for hiking the Narrows - this can be easily rented at Zion Outfitter, right at the south Zion entrance, or at a few places in town.
Whichever hike you choose, it will take the better part of your day so make sure to grab and bring a packed lunch with you from Springdale in the morning. Options inside the National Park are very limited.
After hiking, use your remaining time in the park to check out some of the easier sights, such as Emerald Pools or Weeping Rock, before heading back to Springdale for a well-deserved dinner and a cold beer or two.
Day 3: Bryce Canyon National Park
Start the day with breakfast and then take the scenic drive from Springdale to Bryce Canyon National Park. The drive itself should not require more than two hours but be prepared for frequent photo stops. The scenery is quite stunning.
Red Canyon Visitor Center 13 miles before Bryce Canyon National Park is certainly worth a short stop.
Upon reaching Bryce Canyon National Park, start with the Visitor Centre which has friendly staff with lots of helpful advice. Bryce Canyon National Park has the largest collection of Hoodoos - irregular columns of rock - anywhere in the world. It’s a real fantasyland of weird rock formations and otherworldly scenery.
Once armed with lots of good information, then drive (or take the shuttle in the summer) the park's 18-mile main road, stopping at different viewpoints on the way. At the very minimum, check out Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point, and Sunrise Point. Keep in mind that many viewpoints along the rim of the Bryce Amphitheater are connected with hiking paths so you can also stretch your legs in this unique scenery.
If you have more time, spend an extra night in Bryce to allow for more hiking. When Bunny visited, most of the trails and even part of the scenic drive was closed due to heavy snowfall. So she feels like she missed out a bit. Next time, Bunny says.
Spend the night in close-by Tropic to avoid long drives in the dark. Bunny stayed in Bryce Canyon Log Cabins, which was a good option less than 15 minutes from the park.
Day 4: Capitol Reef National Park
If you are an energetic early riser (Bunny secretly hates the type), get up before dawn and drive back to Bryce Canyon National Park to catch a spectacular sunrise. It is totally worth it, Bunny grudgingly admits.
After breakfast, take the Scenic Byway 12 to Capitol Reef National Park. You will be spoiled for scenery along the way. Just before Boulder, stop by in Kiva Koffeehouse for some excellent coffee and bagels with a view.
You should arrive at Capitol Reef National Park in early afternoon which is an excellent time to stop by in the Visitor Center for some information before tackling the 15-mile Scenic Drive inside the park. The soft afternoon light will make the red rocks glow beautifully and you can witness all the splendour without even leaving your car. No hiking required. This was welcome news for Bunny who was still stiff from earlier hikes.
Skip visiting the Fruita Historic District for now (it’s on the agenda for next morning) and witness sunset at Gooseneck’s Overlook or Sunset Point close to the park entrance.
After watching the sun go down, head to Torrey, five miles outside the park. It is the best place to overnight. Bunny stayed at Capitol Reef Resort and enjoyed a nice Mexican meal in the restaurant next door.
Day 5: From Capitol Reef to Sunset in Arches
The next morning, skip breakfast and head back to Capitol Reef’s Historic Fruita District. Here, you can have your breakfast at Gifford House which sells coffee and its famous pies, and has a number of picnic tables outside. The pies often sell out within the first morning hours so make sure you’re up bright and early.
If you’re visiting during the right time of year, make another pit stop in the neighbouring orchids, where visitors can sample the fruits of apple, peach, cherry, pear, plum and apricot trees for a small fee. Otherwise, burn some of those pie calories by doing one of the easier hikes in the park. Bunny loved Capitol Gorge Trail and Grand Wash Trail for their narrow canyons and unique scenery.
As you leave Capitol Reef National Park, don’t forget to check out the Fremont Petroglyph panels along Highway 24. The drive from there to Utah’s adventure capital Moab is approximately 2 hours.
Just before the town of Moab, head directly to Arches National Park for sunset. If you are young and energetic, do the sunset hike (3 miles roundtrip) to the iconic Delicate Arch, memorialised in Utah’s licence plates.
Delicate Arch is the highest free-standing arch in the park. It is absolutely gorgeous and best caught in the soft afternoon glow or, better yet, at sunset. Be prepared for some steep, slick rock at the beginning of the trail and take a flashlight for the return hike.
If you just want to take in the sunset without much physical effort, head for Balanced Rock or the Windows Section of the park. You won’t be disappointed. Bunny particularly loved the sunset view from Balanced Rock towards the Windows Section.
Stay the night in Moab (Bunny’s choice was Adventure Inn Motel) and enjoy a big, sumptuous dinner in town but don’t be too tempted by the drink offers as another early morning awaits you …
Day 6: Canyonlands National Park
Bright and early, head to the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park, some 30 miles from Moab.
Canyonlands is a huge National Park that consists of three distinct parts: Island in the Sky, The Needles and The Maze. Unfortunately, the three parts are not directly linked by road with each other. Island in the Sky is the most accessible part from Moab, and realistically the only part you can visit on a week-long itinerary of the five parks.
Sunrise at Mesa Arch in Island in the Sky is one of the most iconic experiences in the park. Bunny (you guessed it) didn’t quite manage to get up that early but she was pretty impressed with her mid-morning visit nevertheless.
Afterwards, take the scenic drive and stop at the clearly marked viewpoints along the 1000 foot sandstone cliff, including Grand View Point Overlook, White Rim Overlook, Green River Overlook and others. Bunny found the experience and the rugged scenery very similar to that of the Grand Canyon.
There are also several short hikes here that are ideal for day visitors. Do at least the hike along Grand View Point Overlook but don’t be stupid with your camera, Bunny says. This is prime territory for “tourist plunged into the canyon while taking a selfie” accidents. Don’t be an unfortunate headline.
There are no amenities inside Island in the Sky, so find a scenic place along the rim for your pre-packed picnic and enjoy the views. Although Island in the Sky is the most visited part of the Canyonlands National Park, it is still blissfully quiet compared to Zion or Arches on any day.
Bonus: Dead Horse Point State Park
If you want to sneak in another State Park in your 7-day itinerary, stop by Dead Horse Point State Park on your way back from Island in the Sky. This is where Thelma and Louise drove off the cliff in the excellent movie of the same name. Linger here for a spectacular sunset over the Colorado River before returning to Moab for your final night.
Day 7: Back to Arches National Park
Make sure to prepare a picnic lunch before leaving Moab in the morning. Bunny’s favourite place for stocking up was the excellent Moonflower Community Cooperative, which had lots of yummy and healthy picnic food options. Then head back to Arches National Park; after all, so far you’ve only caught an afternoon glimpse of it.
In Arches, drive the scenic road all the way to Devils Garden and select a couple of shorter hikes to enjoy in the process. Double Arch, Turret Arch and Landscape Arch are some of the best sites to photograph in the morning light.
Then find a pretty spot for your picnic lunch in the park. Bunny loved her spot on the smooth rocks at Salt Valley Overlook. There were no screaming kids or annoying tourist groups there, just the beautiful vista and a delicious lunch to enjoy.
After lunch, it’s time to say adios to the Mighty 5 and head back to the airport. You will have a long drive ahead of you, whether heading to Las Vegas or Salt Lake City. Just crank up the radio and let your experiences from the past week sink in.
You’ve done the Utah Might 5 in 7 days! It’s time to start planning your return trip.
Bunny’s Practical Tips for the Mighty 5
- Purchase an America the Beautiful pass. It gives you access to all five National Parks (plus all the other National Parks in the US!) for a year. It is a real money-saver.
- Be prepared for crowds at some of the parks if you travel at popular times. Shoulder season is probably the best time to visits for avoiding crowds. It is good to avoid weekends too but Bunny realises this might be slightly challenging on a 7-day trip…
- Keep an eye on the official websites of the National Parks ahead of your trip. Road and trail closures happen frequently and might derail even the most meticulous travel plans in a heartbeat.
- Accommodation inside the parks is very limited, pricey and must be reserved a very long time in advance. Go for it, if you have a chance, as nothing is more convenient. Otherwise follow Bunny’s recommendations above.
- Buy picnic lunches every morning. Picnics with a view beat any offerings inside the parks. You can dine more traditionally when you return to your accommodation every evening.
- If you want to take great photos during your trip, you will have to pay attention to the timing of your visits. Bunny developed this 7-day itinerary aiming to always find the best possible light for photography at any given site. It really does make a huge difference.