The Mighty 5: Ultimate Journey
Ready for the journey of all journeys? The big one on the bucket list? This 10-day itinerary is the granddaddy of all itineraries. You’ll hit The Mighty 5® — every national park in Utah — as well as state parks, national monuments, Navajo Tribal Parks, and several stunning spots in between.
From reveling in the majestic view of Delicate Arch — one of the most famous geologic features in the world in Arches National Park — to hiking to the impossibly perched Angels Landing in Zion National Park — one of the most famous hikes in the world — you’ll be mighty close to a perfect 10 days.
You’ll find tranquil sunrises, fiery sunsets, and unadulterated views of the Milky Way. You’ll gape at technicolor cliffs, massive arches, and brilliant-hued hoodoos. You’ll discover wide-open spaces, tight slot canyons, and vertiginous views. You’ll experience magical mountain biking, big time off-roading, and monumental Jeep tours. You’ll explore ancient ruins, pioneer homesteads, and slickrock labyrinths. You’ll wind through world-renowned scenic drives, thrilling rapids, and more world-renowned scenic drives.
One day of this trip could set you up with enough adventure for a year. These 10 days will fill you with enough adventure for a lifetime. Are you ready to catch the first few rays of sunlight streaming through Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park and to gape at the sheer scale of the narrow walls that surround you as you wade through the river that carved them in Zion National Park? Get out there.
- Arches Scenic Drive
- Fiery Furnace
- Delicate Arch Hike
Adventure in Arches National Park where 300 million years of erosion has resulted in unbelievably dramatic landscapes that look like they were sculpted by giant mythological beings rather than the processes of time. Arches National Park contains about 2,000 windowed arches, towering spires, harrowing hoodoos, and precarious pinnacles on display, including Delicate Arch, perhaps Utah's most iconic feature, which is a must-hike destination in the park. A paved 36-mile scenic drive from the park entrance provides numerous parking areas for trail access and scenic overlooks. Overnight in Devils Garden Campground or Moab.
The 36-mile round-trip Arches Scenic Drive can take about 2.5 hours. Be sure to visit the Windows Section, which contains some of the area's largest arches. In a half day, you can drive all the paved roads and spend a few quality minutes at each inspiring viewpoint.
Reserve a tour through the Fiery Furnace. This twisting labyrinth of brilliant red rock fissures and spines is so intricate it is highly recommended to find your way through with a guide. With a permit from the visitor center, experienced explorers can enter without a guide.
When you come around the corner and see the full breadth of Delicate Arch, you’ll know why this is such a classic hike. At 3 miles round-trip, the hike is no simple stroll, but it’s worth every step. Carry water, hike early to race the sunrise, or stay late for the sunset. Be sure to bring a headlamp.
- Mesa Arch
- Grand View Point
- Dead Horse Point State Park
Imagine wave after wave of deep canyons, formed by the currents and tributaries of Utah's Green and Colorado rivers, divided with towering mesas, pinnacles, cliffs and spires, and spread out over tens of thousands of acres of some of the world's most breathtaking red rock country. Though Canyonlands National Park is made up of three distinct land districts, today focuses on the photogenic Island in the Sky and neighboring Dead Horse Point State Park. Camp in the parks or return to Moab.
This is a perfect trail for newbies to slickrock desert hiking, and one of Canyonlands National Park's most iconic and photogenic vistas. It’s easy and short, and a detailed display at the trailhead explains how to hike the trail. The payoff is huge, especially at sunrise.
Simply spectacular. Like Mesa Arch, Grand View Point is a short, rewarding hike with excellent interpretive signage. Grand View Point’s vantage is over the distant confluence of the Colorado and Green rivers. It’s perfectly clear from here why it’s called Canyonlands.
Many visitors find Dead Horse Point State Park to be even more captivating than the views at the Grand Canyon. A visitor center and art gallery provide a wonderful introduction to the park’s geology and key features visible from the overlooks. There are also mountain biking trails and reservable yurts.
- White Rim Trail
- La Sal Loop Drive
- Grandstaff Hiking Trail
A solid hike up Negro Bill Canyon will give your legs a good stretch before continuing along a scenic loop into the very mountains that Delicate Arch frames. There’s also access to the thrilling Porcupine Rim Trail from up here. For even bigger adventure, consider a 2–5 day rafting trip on the Colorado River to extend this trip to its logical extreme. (Don’t worry, there’s the popular Moab Daily stretch for just a taste of the Colorado.) Two or more days on the White Rim Trail is another great way to linger in Moab.
The 100-mile White Rim Road loops around and below the Island in the Sky mesa top and provides expansive views of the surrounding area. Trips usually take two to three days by four-wheel-drive vehicle or three to four days by mountain bike. Grab a permit and get ready for a bucket-list ride.
The La Sal Mountain Loop Road is a 60-mile tour well beyond the bustle of Moab and Arches that takes more than two hours straight-through (longer when planning time for stops). Some of the best views are at overlooks pointed back over Castle Valley as the road winds and climbs to more than 10,000 feet. Photo courtesy shell game on Flickr.
A small perennial stream cut Negro Bill Canyon into this Navajo sandstone retreat near the Colorado River. The trail winds along the stream through an oasis of cottonwood and willow trees, cut off from the desert above by towering sandstone cliffs.
- Colorado White Water
- Hummer Tour
- Moab Dining Scene
Use this additional day in the Moab area to hit the rapids if you haven’t yet, pick up trails you may have missed in either of the national parks, or take an off-road tour with an experienced guide at the Sand Flats Recreation Area. Enjoy the legendary slickrock from the vantage point of an all-terrain vehicle in this off-road enthusiast's paradise. Save time for a relaxing meal in Moab to refresh yourself for the second half of this Ultimate Journey.
Utah's most popular river trip, the Moab Daily, is a 13-mile stretch of the Colorado River from Hittle Bottom to Takeout Beach along Highway 128. This float can be easily done in a day. Of course, many raft the Colorado for Canyonlands’ famous Cataract Canyon. With two or more days, you can too.
There are many ways to see Moab. Some take to their feet, others use two wheels, and others soar through the friendly skies. Outside of the military, there may be no better use for the Hummer than crawling the slickrock trails that made Moab famous.
Moab has grown up a lot in the last 30 years. While still a renowned adventure outpost, the vibrant town also serves up an array of incredible dining. Here are a few options from the eclectic to the just plain good. All are highly regarded.
- Newspaper Rock
- Bluff Fort Historic Site
- Goulding's Lodge
The large petroglyph panel of Newspaper Rock is on the scenic road to the the Needles District of Canyonlands. It’s worth an early start to sneak in a hike here, but be warned: You may not want to leave so soon. Except what awaits is Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, an iconic symbol of the American West and the sacred heart of the Navajo Nation. The rugged landscapes are infused with ancestral spirits, yet they are hauntingly familiar thanks to Hollywood's long love affair with this land. Tour Edge of the Cedars State Park and Bluff Fort along the way. Overnight in Monument Valley.
Native American Indians have been engraving and drawing on Newspaper Rock for more than 2,000 years. Their markings tell stories, hunting patterns, crop cycles, and the mythologies of their lives. It’s a great stop on its own or as part of the Indian Creek Scenic Byway to the Needles District of Canyonlands.
Bluff is the terminus of the well known Hole-in-the-Rock Trail on which Mormon pioneers traveled from Southwestern to Southeastern Utah over a daunting route in one of the most extraordinary wagon trips ever undertaken. Portions of the original fort are interpreted at the Bluff Fort Historic Site.
Goulding’s features a lodge, campground, stores, a restaurant and a museum. It’s one part adventure base camp and one part fascinating destination. The large gift shop specializing in Navajo art, jewelry and pottery and there is a small, on-site movie theater, that plays historical features and classic Westerns nightly.
- Monument Valley Jeep Tour
- Natural Bridges National Monument
- Goblin Valley State Park
While Goulding Film and Cultural History Museum at Goulding's Lodge provides a great introduction to the area, guided jeep tours and hikes will get you up close and personal with Monument Valley's incredible landforms. Next, head north on S.R. 261 up the switchbacks of the Moki Dugway and across Cedar Mesa for a stop at Natural Bridges National Monument. You may only have time for the scenic overlooks if you lingered in Monument Valley. Continue to Goblin Valley State Park where you can overnight in a yurt or grab a room in Hanksville or Torrey.
Book a tour of Valley Drive (which you can also drive on your own if you have the right vehicle) or a longer trek such as Mystery Valley, accessible only with a licensed guide. A Jeep tour visits the iconic sites, but is accompanied by a Navajo narrative.
The amazing force of water has cut three spectacular natural bridges in White Canyon. Choose from the 9-mile scenic drive with overlooks to the bridges or moderate to difficult trails, some with metal stairs leading down to each bridge. A longer trail follows the stream bed beneath all three.
Goblin Valley is unlike any other place in the world, and it's a place that captures and stretches the imagination, challenging you with its geologic whimsy. Bring the family and experience this amazing place by hiking, camping, mountain biking, and exploring the surrounding canyons. "Galaxy Quest" fans may recognize the landscape too.
- Gifford Homestead
- Cohab Canyon to Grand Wash
- Hickman Bridge + Navajo Knobs
The contrast of red Entrada and white Navajo sandstones and the magnificent warp in the crust of the Earth create surreal landscapes unlike any you have seen. Capitol Reef National Park splashes color for 100 miles through an inviting wilderness of sandstone formations, rock art petroglyphs telling the story of the early indigenous people of the Fremont Culture, and the large fruit orchards of Fruita, an early pioneer settlement. With a high-clearance vehicle, you can explore the backcountry, but there’s also plenty to see and miles of unique trails in the front country along S.R. 24 and the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive. Overnight in Torrey.
Take a walk back in time and learn about Capitol Reef’s early pioneer life at the Gifford Homestead Museum and store. Don’t forget to treat yourself to a freshly-baked piece of pie — your taste buds will thank you. Open March through November.
Taken individually, the Grand Wash and Cohab Canyon are both excellent out-and-back hikes with distinct trails. Separate yourself from the crowd by combining the two with the Frying Pan Trail, an excellent exploration of the Waterpocket Fold. Arrange a shuttle or add 2.5 miles of hiking up the road.
These front country hikes in Capitol Reef National Park lead to amazing rock formations and panoramic views of Southeastern Utah. Hickman Bridge is a short out-and-back (about 2 miles). The Rim Overlook and/or Navajo Knobs add 2.3 and 4.7 miles, respectively, for an elevated view of Capitol Reef’s tilted landscapes.
- Anasazi State Park Museum
- Lower Calf Creek Falls
- Kodachrome Basin State Park
Utah's All-American Road Scenic Byway 12 is a spectacular experience by itself, and this itinerary gives you breathing room to slow down and experience a little more of what this stunning route through Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument has to offer. Boulder, Utah, is home to the renowned Hell’s Backbone Grill and the starting point of the Burr Trail Scenic Backway. Consider stops at Anasazi, Escalante Petrified Forest and Kodachrome Basin state parks, and definitely plan time for the hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls. Charming towns dot the highway for overnight options or land at Bryce Canyon for the night.
Get an up close and personal look into life from almost 1,000 years ago at Anasazi State Park Museum. Explore what was once one of the largest Ancestral Puebloan communities west of the Colorado River.
At the lower falls of Calf Creek, a clear stream descends 126 feet into a pool, where happy folks take a swim after a 3-mile hike that is relatively flat, but frequently very sandy. It’s 6 miles total, and a great introduction to the Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument.
The first official name, “Chimney Rock” reflects the area’s 67 monolithic stone spires, part of a multicolored landscape so beautiful it earned the nickname “Kodachrome” after a popular Kodak film. The name stuck and today visitors enjoy camping and hiking across 2,240 acres of photogenic, geologic wonder. Nearby Grosvenor Arch (pictured) offers a quick glimpse into Grand Staircase, but check road conditions before traveling.
- Queens Garden to Navajo Trail
- Bryce Canyon Lodge
- Dark Skies of Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon National Park is a series of natural amphitheaters sunk into pink cliffs and filled with delicate red rock "hoodoos." The most brilliant hues of the park come alive with the rising and setting of the sun. Summertime offers a myriad of walking and hiking trails and a 37-mile scenic drive overlooking incredible vistas (with a summer shuttle option to avoid driving in traffic). Historic Bryce Canyon Lodge’s location within the park means great access to the sites, hikes and starry skies of the park. Overnight in the lodge or Bryce Canyon City.
This must-hike trail descends from the rim at Sunrise Point down to the floor of Bryce Canyon past Gulliver’s Castle and Queen Elizabeth herself. Close the loop on Navajo and visit favorite hoodoo formations such as Wall Street and Twin Bridges. One of the best 3-mile hikes anywhere.
Bryce Canyon is the ultimate place to experience the splendor of the night sky. Protected by a special force of park rangers and volunteer Utah astronomy enthusiasts, Bryce Canyon is known as the last grand sanctuary of natural darkness and has one of the nation's oldest astronomy programs.
Photo: Prajit Ravindran
- Zion-Mt. Carmel Drive and Hikes
- Angels Landing
- The Narrows
Zion translates to "The Promised Land," and for you that means some of the most spectacular hiking of your lifetime and impossibly beautiful landscapes you will never forget. Carved by water and time beyond the stretch of the imagination, Zion National Park is a canyon that invites you to participate in the very forces that created it. Park at the visitor center and take the multi-passenger shuttle through the canyon to as many stops as you have time and energy to enjoy.
The Zion-Mount Carmel stretch of S.R. 9 mixes one part stunning scenic byway and one part feat of engineering. The great state of Utah doesn’t want to brag, but this is one of the most spectacular dives in the world, plain and simple. Zion National Park fees apply.
This classic Utah trail provides a spectacular half-day trip for well-conditioned hikers who have no fear of heights. A series of 21 switchbacks ascend to aerial views of Scout Lookout. Stop here or take on the final hair-raising pitch to the top of Angels Landing. 5.4 miles, round-trip.
An out-and-back day hike in the lower section of famous Zion Canyon Narrows, where the North Fork Virgin River runs beneath thousand-foot walls of Navajo sandstone beautifully sculpted by centuries of erosion. Up to 9.4 miles round-trip, depending on how far you hike.