Experiencing Utah’s Big 5

A Guide to Enjoying Utah’s National Parks

sponsored by Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort

Utah’s national parks are world-renowned. From the awe-inspiring sandstone arches to imposing monoliths, all five of Utah’s national parks contain sights you won’t see anywhere else on the globe.

If you’re planning a trip to see Utah’s breathtaking landscapes, you can easily overbook yourself if you don’t organize your schedule correctly. And, if you’ve never visited Utah before, how can you be sure the places you pick to visit will deliver the best experience possible?

That’s where our guide can help. So sit back, grab a pen and some paper, and get ready to take notes to plan an unforgettable trip to Utah.

Zion National Park

Must-See: Angel’s Landing and The Narrows

Where to Stay: Zion Ponderosa Ranch

Best Time to Visit: Spring/Fall

Zion is Utah’s most popular national park, and for good reason - the striking topography is unique to this area of the world.

Angel’s Landing is an iconic hike in Zion. The sandstone monolith sits 1,500 feet above the canyon floor, and the hike to the top is an adrenaline-packed thrill ride.

The Narrows is less of an “extreme” hike, but it adds more beauty than perhaps any other hike in the park. Walking through the Virgin River and the canyon it carved puts you right in the heart of Zion, affording views of the canyon walls that you’ll never see anywhere else.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Must-See: Wall Street, Thor’s Hammer, and Queens Garden

Where to Stay: Ruby’s Inn

Best Time to Visit: Spring/Fall

Bryce Canyon is much smaller than Zion, but packed within its boundaries are the world-famous hoodoos. These are spiral cones of sandstone shaped by the weather, and if you visit in the fall you may get treated to a light dusting of snow on the dazzling red rock.

Both Wall Street and Thor’s Hammer are two groups of hoodoos that are among the park’s most popular. They’re accessed via the 1.4-mile Navajo Loop Trail. Queens Garden contains some more unique-looking rock formations, and can be found from the 1.8-mile Queens Garden Trail.

Capitol Reef National Park

Must-See: Petroglyphs and Hickman Natural Bridge

Where to Stay: Capitol Reef Resort
Best Time to Visit: Spring/Fall/Winter

Capitol Reef is without question the hidden gem of Utah’s five national parks. Tucked away just north of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Capitol Reef is a 100-mile long “wrinkle” of the earth’s surface. Millions of years ago, when all of Utah was under an ocean, Capitol Reel was an actual reef.

Along State Highway 24 are walls full of petroglyphs, remnants of the Fremont Indians - contemporaries of the Anasazi. Some of the rock art may be from as early as 600 A.D.

In addition to the rock art, Hickman Natural Bridge is a two-mile hike packed full of things to see. From ruins of the Fremont culture to giant white sandstone domes, the hike to Hickman Natural Bridge is an attraction all on its own.

The bridge spans 133 feet across a stream bed, a sight in and of itself.

Canyonlands National Park

Must-See: Chesler Park Loop and Whale Rock

Where to Stay: Juniper Ridge Family Cabin

Best Time to Visit: Spring/Fall

If remote hiking and backpacking through the desert is your thing, then Canyonlands is the park for you. Day hikers can enjoy this park as well, with an area called The Needles that has 74 miles of out-and-back trails that run the gamut of difficulty.

Backpackers have to visit the Chesler Park Loop, as it’s arguably the most scenic backpacking trail in the entire park. Day hikers shouldn’t miss Whale Rock, located in the Island in the Sky trail system.

Arches National Park

Must-See: Delicate Arch, Landscape Arch, and the Fiery Furnace

Where to Stay: Red Cliffs Lodge

Best Time to Visit: Spring/Fall/Winter

The iconic arch that adorns most Utah license plates calls Arches National Park home, along with hundreds of other incredible rock formations.

What’s unique about Arches is how accessible everything is. While the park has its more strenuous hikes, most of the famous attractions are situated along easy, day-hike length trails. You can conceivably visit dozens of sites in a single day.

You can’t miss Delicate Arch, which is among the longer trips in the park. Landscape Arch is the second-longest-spanning arch in the world at over 300 feet long.

The Fiery Furnace is an amazing day hike, but it does require a permit. You can find those at the visitor’s center, and it’s highly recommended that you attend a ranger-led tour. The park rangers can point out the hidden arches and tell you about the unique geology of the park - aspects you may miss out on if you go the 2 miles yourself.

No matter what you’re looking for out of your national park experience, one of Utah’s Big 5 has something you’ll never forget. A trip to these national parks is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure for most people, so make sure to get the most out of your trip to this unique corner of the world.


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