Utah lays claim to some of America's most incredible natural beauty.
Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef, Zion and Bryce Canyon ... the 'Mighty 5' National Parks rank among any you'll find for jaw-dropping appeal.
Australians are flocking to these national treasures in record numbers and it's easy to understand why.
Canyonlands National Park
The most difficult aspect of confronting Canyonlands is deciding how you'lll see it. Bike it, climb it, raft it, hike it, 4WD it or take in its scenery from the air.
A popular area for four-wheel driving and mountain biking with many trails laid out including the 100-mile White Rim Trail, Canyonlands can easily accommodate all levels of sightseeing and physical activity.
Summer can exceed 100F (38C) and any trip will require some careful planning. Food and water should be carried at all times and activities are best enjoyed in the early morning or evening.
Winter temperatures can drop to freezing overnight and spring and autumn can provide comfortable temperatures but will include thunderstorms bringing the risk of flash flooding.
Canyonlands offers two camp grounds located at Island in the Sky and the Needles Districts. Camping is on a first come, first served basis and permits can be reserved for back-country camping. Other parts of the park offer lodging including RV (motorhome) parks, cabins and lodges,to upscale hotels or multi-person units.
At 337,598 acres, or 527 square miles (1,365 square kilometers), Canyonlands is Utah’s largest designated national park.
Arches National Park
It's known as the ‘land of sculptures’ providing dramatic landscapes and backdrops. Home to more than 2,000 natural arches, you'd be forgiven for thinking this was once the playground of mythical giants.
Fields of spires, domes and gravity-defying well balanced formations will give any hiker a rewarding aesthetic journey. Climbing, hiking, road bikes, 4WDing and camping are all on offer. Catch the best views at sunrise or sunset.
Similar to the Canyonlands with summer temperatures exceeding 100F (38C), trips require careful planning.
Food and extra water plus sunscreen and appropriate footwear should be considered and activities are best enjoyed in early morning or evening to beat the heat.
Winter temperatures can drop to freezing overnight and spring and autumn generally provide comfortable temperatures but could also include thunderstorms and flash flooding.
Arches National Park offers established campgrounds throughout. Campsites mostly go to those who arrive first but reservations can be made during popular summer months. Permits for back-country camping can be obtained at no charge in advance. Other parts of the park offer lodging from RV (motorhome) parks, cabins and lodges to upscale hotels or multi-person units.
Arches National Park covers 76,359 acres with paved and unpaved road access to much of the park.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Views from 9,000 feet (2,743 metres) will have your camera running on overload, especially at sunrise or sunset when the changing colours also draw crowds from far and wide.
Bryce Canyon's natural amphitheatres and distinctive red rock pillars of stone carved into pink cliffs of the Paunsaugunt Plateau make it a unique an unforgettable place to visit.
Bryce Canyon weather
With a combined mountain and desert climate, unique weather patterns are found within Bryce Canyon National Park. Sunscreen, hats and extra water are required for summer months where afternoon storms are common making for dramatic displays.
While not as warm as other parks, summer months range between 70-80F (25C) while winter can be 46F (8C). January is the coldest month averaging 36F (2C). Night time dips below freezing.
Bryce Canyon is one of the most popular National Parks so reserve your campsite well in advance. Accommodation options range from luxury to budget with Ruby’s Inn the closest lodge to the canyon rim offering private access to the park.
Camping is also available in the surrounding Dixie National Forest or Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Other options are available in gateway towns along Scenic Byway 12, from Panguitch to Torrey.
For a unique experience, pull on cowboy boots and saddle up at a working Old West Dude Ranch in Antimony to complete your outdoor adventure at Bryce Canyon.
35,835 acres (56.2 square miles, 145 square kilometers). Stay on the road, try various short hikes or disappear for a couple of days into Bryce Canyon’s back-country.
Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef is home to the Waterpocket Fold which spans over 100 miles (160km). Created millions of years ago, this wrinkle in the earth’s crust was appeared during the formation of the Rocky Mountains, earning its name from the bulging uplift of rainbow-hued sandstone ‘reefs’ and canyons.
Activities here include hiking, backpacking, fishing (with a license) and bike riding. Within a few hours, you can be hiking desert trails in wide-open canyons to picking fresh fruit in-season from the Scenic Byways orchids.
Capitol Reef weather
Similar to Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef combines mountain and dessert climate that produce unique weather patterns. Summer months require sunscreen, hats and extra water.
Like most others, Capitol Reef campgrounds are first come, first served. A full service campground can be found in the town of Fruita.
The back-country has rugged campgrounds available. Gateway towns between Hanksville and Loa offer various motel and bed and breakfast accommodations, including a Ranch Bed and Breakfast in Notom.
Capitol Reef’s 378 square miles (979 square kilometers) unfold over the 100-mile-long park (160 kilometers) through the center part of Southern Utah.
Zion National Park
Zion translates to ‘the promised land’ and lives up to its expectations. Walk through towering cliffs andwaterfalls, stroll by deep rivers with hanging wildflower gardens or discover Zion Narrows, where you can reach your arms out and touch both walls as you walk.
Zion is an easy and accessible National Park with several tourist shuttles and hiking paths that are both wheelchair and stroller friendly. Guided horse-back riding is available with hiking, biking, plus permitted watercraft and kayak activities when the waters are high enough. Zion is a spectacular destination for the whole family and adventurers alike.
Zion National Park weather
Open year round, Zion’s summer temperature can average 95F (35C) but generally dry with the occasional rain storms sweeping through the area. Evening temperatures can drop dramatically and unexpectedly by 30F (18C), so take appropriate clothing in readiness for rapid change. Temperatures are cooler during spring and autumn with winter months cold and wet.
Being a popular destination year-round, campgrounds fill up fast. The Watchmen Campground can be reserved or there is a first come, first served option at South Campground.
The most popular choice of accommodation is the historic Zion National Park Lodge, which is on the doorstep of many hiking trails. Gateway towns of La Verkin, Virgin, Rockville and Springdale offer further accommodation options from campgrounds and RV (motorhome) parks to motel chains and upscale hotels.
You can get to know your fellow campers or escape into Zion National Park’s 232 square miles (593 square kilometers). That’s 148,733 acres, over 124,000 of which are designated as Zion Wilderness Area.
Published under license from Well Travelled