These Are All of Utah’s National Parks, Ranked
Utah is a land blessed with unlimited natural beauty, snowy mountains, large lakes and deserts. None of it is unattractive, but the true gems of the state are its national parks.
All five national parks are within five hours of each other, and many are in clusters of less than two hours in distance. This makes Utah a perfect destination for a nature-centric road trip you can do in under a week.
If you don't have the time to visit them all, prioritize your adventure with this ranking of Utah's national parks.
5. Canyonlands National Park
Size: 550 square miles
Pets allowed: With a leash on designated roads only.
Best time to visit: Late spring and mid-fall are perfect times for avoiding thunderstorms and extreme weather.
Bottom Line: Canyonlands National Park
The largest Utah National Park was carved by the Colorado River itself. Deep canyons make up most of the desert landscape of this protected area.
Contrary to popular and misguided belief, however, this is not the barren leftovers of what once was a water-filled haven. You'll still find two rivers here. Around them, green bushes have cropped up to contrast with the otherwise red land.
Make sure you're here for sunrise or sunset. As the sun moves, it makes the color of the canyons even more bright, giving the illusion that the rocks are almost on fire. Visit the Needles, a group of impressive pinnacles.
In the National Geographic book, "100 Great American Parks," author Stephanie Pearson highlights Horseshoe Canyon, which contains "a 200-foot-long panel of 20 life-sizes pictographs and petroglyphs." Though the way isn't easy, the writer claims, "the haunting display of Late Archaic work is worth every step."
4. Capitol Reef National Park
Size: 378 square miles
Pets allowed: Allowed with leash in developed areas of the park.
Best time to visit: Spring and fall offer nice, mild weather perfect for hiking.
Bottom Line: Capitol Reef National Park
Natural arches, canyons, gigantic rocks and white sandstone domes make up the landscape of Capitol Reef National Park. One of the least-visited nature preserves in Utah, the park is isolated and makes for a perfect escape from people and civilization.
Hikers will be treated to formations that only exist in this region and an orange landscape that seems to extend until eternity. You can also plan to visit petroglyphs that have been preserved through the centuries.
If you come during summer and can't handle the sweltering heat, long deserted roads will take you deep into the heart of this impressive park.
3. Bryce Canyon National Park
Size: 56 square miles
Pets allowed: Only on paved surfaces.
Best time to visit: Pearson recommends visiting in the winter when there are fewer visitors and the white snow contrasts with the red of the rocks.
Bottom Line: Bryce Canyon National Park
With only about 56 square miles of land, Bryce Canyon is one of the smallest of America's 63 national parks. But despite its size, it has the largest concentration of hoodoos in the entire world.
These irregular rock formations are the signature of the park, making it look as if it were the set of a sci-fi movie rather than a work of nature. Bryce Amphitheater is a favorite spot for visitors, providing a sweeping scenery you'll find hard to believe.
If you can swing it, try to stay overnight to enjoy the star-studded dark skies that rise above the hoodoos. As Pearson points out, air pollution is so low here that you'll be able to see the Milky Way even in the winter!
2. Arches National Park
Size: 119.8 square miles
Pets allowed: With a leash on paved roads and parking lots. Unleashed in campgrounds.
Best time to visit: The weather is most pleasant during fall and spring, though the latter tends to have more crowds.
Bottom Line: Arches National Park
According to Pearson, there are over 2,000 rock arches at this national park — more than in any other place on Earth!
You'll spend about 99 percent of your time here gaping at the seemingly infinite arches. There are also red rock formations that crop out of the earth as if they were petrified giants.
If you're short on time, concentrate on seeing Double Arch, the tallest in the park. Make sure to also look for Delicate Arch, which Pearson calls "the most famous natural rock structure in the world."
1. Zion National Park
Size: 229 square miles
Fees: $20-$35 (valid for seven days)
Pets allowed: Leashed pets are allowed in public roads, parking and picnic areas, the lodge and certain campgrounds.
Best time to visit: Go in the fall, when temperatures are milder, and there is less risk of flashfloods caused by rain.
Bottom Line: Zion National Park
There isn't a single living person with a soul that has stood in front of Zion without feeling humbled by the vastness of its beauty.
The southernmost Utah national park has deep red canyons, green forests, a long river and secret waterfalls. Several of its most famous spots are — in our humble opinion — some of the most astonishing natural wonders on this good Earth.
The Narrows, for instance, is a challenging but rewarding hike that will have you wading through the Virgin River and in between large canyon walls. But even if you're not an intrepid hiker, you can see the park by train, car or horse.
For its diverse and dramatic landscape, variety of adventures and overall astonishing natural features, Zion comes out on top as Utah's best national park — and one of the most visit-worthy in the country.
But it's important, as Pearson says, that "visitors respect this place that is so sacred to the Paiute [peoples]." Follow signs and instructions and make sure you leave no trace.
A Handy National Parks Utah Map