Utah’s national parks offer stunning landscapes and gorgeous scenery. Zion, Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks have no shortage of incredible views, mountains to hike and canyons to explore.
Utah is home to five national parks known as the Grand Circle. If you find yourself in this part of the Southwest, a tour of the Grand Circle is ideal, but if you don’t have that much time, these three parks should not be missed.
Zion National Park
Massive sandstone cliffs of varying colors make up the landscape at Zion National Park. Although some of the best views are achieved by hiking straight up, just wandering at the base of these formations is awe-inspiring as well. Hikers of all abilities can easily explore here. Take a stroll on the River Walk or to the Emerald Pools, or push yourself up some steep hills.
More daring hikers will make their way up Angel’s Landing, a hike that takes you 1,500 feet up and across a formation with a knife-edge so narrow that chains have been installed to aid hikers up the cliff. Once at the top, you’ll have 360-degree views of the entire park and you’ll have forgotten all about the agony of the climb.
Another hike for the adventurous takes you up the Virgin River on your way to The Narrows. Aptly named, the sides of the cliff are very close together for breathtaking sights. If you’re up for wading through water that can be up to waist-deep at times, this is one hike you’ll never forget.
Zion Lodge, in the center of the park, makes the perfect spot to grab a bite and a beer at the outdoor snack bar and beer garden.
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Bryce Canyon National Park
At Bryce Canyon National Park, the views are all down below. While you can stay on the rim of the canyon and admire the hoodoos and natural amphitheater from that vantage point, actually hiking down into the canyon is the best way to see this amazing scenery.
Most of the hikes in Bryce Canyon are easy to moderate, including the Peekaboo and Navajo Loop Trails that take you past Thor’s Hammer, the Wall of Windows and through Wall Street, all incredible natural formations and slot canyons.
Drive out to Rainbow Point and you can make your way out onto the tops of the hoodoos. Until you’re actually perched on top of these, you don’t realize just how incredible they are.
Like Zion, Bryce Canyon also has a lodge within the park, along with a restaurant and a general store.
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Capitol Reef National Park
One of the more underrated parks in Utah, Capitol Reef National Park has scenery that changes at every turn. You’ll see red rock cliffs, grassy expanses, canyons, arches, bridges and the Waterpocket Fold. There are more hikes here than you’ll have time for.
Wander through the Grand Wash and see the Pioneer Register, where pioneers carved their names in the rock during the late 1800s. Climb to the top of Cassidy Arch, named for Butch Cassidy and the Hole in the Wall Gang, who are said to have hung out in these washes.
A short hike will allow you views of Hickman Bridge, a natural arch formation that spans 130 feet.
Camping is the only lodging you’ll find in Capitol Reef, although neighboring towns have plenty of hotel and motel options, all within short driving distance of the park.