Utah's 'Mighty 5®' national parks | If Only

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Utah's 'Mighty 5®' national parks


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If Utah is nature’s love letter, then each of its five national parks are chapters in which you can fall for its charm over and over again. That’s right, in the state of Utah alone there are five national parks and all of them are worth seeing. This has earned them the monicker of the ‘Mighty 5®’. It kind of sounds like a cast of superheroes with their own special powers, and in fact these national parks all offer unique geographical phenomena and the chance to be blown away every. single. time.

Arches National Park

Located in Moab in the south of Utah, Arches National Park stretches some 73,234 acres and is one of the most popular parks in North America. There’s just something so whimsical and loveable about natural archways which return us all to a state of childlike amazement.  The park’s idiosyncratic rock formations can be accredited to thousands of years of natural erosion from wind, rain and waterflow. Softer rock formations eroded at faster rates than others and the result is a land of natural land bridges and archways; the stars of the show are Delicate Arch, Landscape Arch, and the Fiery Furnace. If this is one of mother nature’s chef d’oeuvres, just know its taken her thousands of years.

So, at least once in your lifetime, visit Arches National Park, walk under its archways, around the sandstone fins and towers, watch the sun rise AND set, or stay for the most incredible stargazing experience of your life.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, at dawn

Bryce Canyon National Park is characterised by natural amphitheatres and forests of those peculiar and striking red rock pillars called “hoodoos”. With it being located at the side of a canyon and having an elevation of 8,000 to 9,000 feet, Bryce Canyon National Park offers sprawling views of the horizon which can be enjoyed from its hiking trails which weave through forested and open areas. Choose to set off before sunrise to start your day with an extra helping of serotonin, or plan to finish your hike at sunset and watch the shadows slow dance over the hill as the hues of the sunset bring your day to a spectacular close.

If you’re an avid hiker, you’ll be familiar with that satisfying sense of achievement after a long day of hiking, only to be rewarded with what feels like a serendipitous encounter between you and one of the best evening skies you’ve ever seen. Except that, in Utah, extraordinary sights like these are to be expected. The other great thing about this national park is that it offers the chance to spot some native wildlife: at dawn and dusk, mule deer graze the forested plateau along the road into Bryce Canyon.

Canyonlands National Park

Move over Grand Canyon, the world is discovering Canyonlands National Park. Perhaps you’ve seen desktop images of arches framing a horizon of dramatic canyons and not realised this was in fact the Canyonlands National Park, but we’ll forgive you this time. The sheer scale of this national park is humbling to witness. Here, the Green and Colorado Rivers have carved a maze of canyons, mesas, and buttes which demand awe and veneration at every turn.

With over 500 miles of park to explore, there’s so much to do. You can go hiking, off-roading and there’s countless places to set up camp. Or, venture down the adventurous Cataract Canyon with its Class V rapids, or relax as you float in calm waters under impressive cliffsides.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, at sunset

Serving up yet another geographical phenomenon is Capitol Reef National Park with the famous Waterpocket Fold, which is a wrinkle in the earth’s surface that extends for nearly 100 miles. Meanwhile, the deep red, rusty hues which settle over its expansive horizons would have you mistaken that you were standing on the surface of mars, but really Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park is much cooler.

And if you weren’t yet sufficiently convinced of the park’s mythical character, then we should let you know that this park holds many ancient petroglyphs etched into its sandstone walls! Fremont and Ancestral Puebloan peopled lived here around 1000 years ago and these petroglyphs tell their stories and ways of life. Although there’s no translation for these, we think this only adds to the magic, giving you the opportunity to infer your own conclusions about what these people were trying to communicate. To sweeten the deal, you can also go fruit picking in the park’s orchards, with apricots, peaches and apples on offer.

Zion National Park

Last but in no means least is Zion National Park. While other Utah parks boast grand vistas and expansive horizons, Zion plunges you into the depths of its narrow, red-rock canyons, with more appearances of greenery than the rest of the Mighty 5®. The Virgin River, with its emerald waters, guides you through the heart of the park and invites you to wade and wander. The park's iconic Angel's Landing trail is a thrilling ascent with chain-assisted climbs and is a testament to its unique character, offering a challenging and exhilarating experience unlike any other in the state. However, a more accessible alternative to Angel’s Landing is The Narrows, a hike through a canyon which is at times only 20-30 feet wide but 2000 feet deep! Interestingly, The Narrows requires you to travel upstream, making it one of the most unique and popular trails in the Mighty 5®.

In Zion, it's not just about looking out at nature's grandeur; it's about immersing yourself in its intricate details, feeling the ancient stone's embrace, and ascending to majestic heights – all of which make it a one-of-a-kind destination in the remarkable tapestry of Utah's national parks.