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Hi there!  Tanya here. 

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Road Trip through Utah's Mighty Five

Road Trip through Utah's Mighty Five

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Utah national parks road trip

Others have said it, and I agree.

Southern Utah is a slice of heaven.

Boasting unending vistas, slot canyons, boulders, rivers and towering red rock formations, you can see why Visit Utah has properly deemed their national parks "The Mighty Five."

Our family embarked on a road trip through Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce, and Zion with overnight stops in each.  

See for yourself why a family road trip through Utah's fantastic five national parks should be next on your summer vacation list...

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park, Utah - photo by Michael Turner (


Moab, Utah

If you're driving west into Utah from Colorado, you'll drop down south from I-70 and head south on U.S. 191 towards Moab.

Arches is a pretty fine jumping off place to kick it in Utah's Mighty Five national parks.  This park is named for the 2,500+ sandstone arches carved out by nature and time.  Loads of outdoor family adventure here.

Traveling with kids ages 2-12?  Pick up a Junior Ranger booklet at the visitor center near the park's entrance.  Talk to a ranger to determine which hikes would be the best fit for your family that day.  Keep the weather in mind.

The short hike to Landscape Arch (above) and the gentle climb to The Windows were perfect for our kids.  Pictures never do nature justice.  


Hey newbies: Pack a picnic lunch, LOTS of water, snacks, a camera, and a rain jacket just in case.

Our family opted for 3 nights lodging in Moab at the gorgeous Best Western Plus Canyonlands Inn.  Moab is a fun town with plenty to do.  

After a day in Arches, we spent the next day at nearby Canyonlands.



near Moab, Utah

From Moab, take the easy day trip over to Canyonlands.  We chose to explore the part of the park known as Island in the Sky.  

So. Much. To. See.  Our family really enjoyed driving through the park and pulling out to sit a spell, ogling the canyon vistas.  

Make a pit stop at the Visitor's Center, check out Upheaval Dome, Grand View Point Overlook, Mesa Arch, and Slater Canyon Overlook.  Snap shots of fascinating rock formations and monuments along the way.

Canyonlands was a great contrast to Arches.  Read more about our time in Moab here.

Note to newbies:  Keep everyone behind the guard rails.

Capitol Reef

Torrey, Utah

From Moab, head back north on U.S. 191, take I-70 West until you hit Route 24 towards Torrey.

Check out the rockin' Fremont Indian Petroglyphs in Capitol Reef.  Compliments of the Fremont Indians who lived here nearly 1,000 years ago.  Find this quaint outdoor art gallery just 1.2 miles east from the Visitor's Center.  

Take a gorgeous, worthwhile drive through Capitol Gorge.  See Elijah Behunin's cabin and Capitol Dome along the way.  Pose for selfies and yoga poses.

Imagine life as an 1800s pioneer family traveling this very road in a covered wagon, as you bounce and bump along narrow, twisting road gorge floor in your air conditioned vehicle.

Mosey around the Fruita Historic District.  The first family homesteaded here in 1880 and folks resided in Fruita until 1969.  Check out the blacksmith shop, fruit orchards, the Fruita Schoolhouse, and the Gifford Farmhouse.  

On your way out, stop at Chimney Rock  just 3 miles west of the Visitor's Center.

Also consider family friendly hikes like the Sunset Point Trail or the bit more challenging Cohab Canyon Trail.  Driving to see The Waterpocket Fold also sounds like a day well spent.  Again, talk to a ranger to see what fits your family best.

Note to newbies:  Pack the strongest deet, just in case!  We just so happened to visit during gnat hatching season.  

Read more about our time spent camping in Capitol Reef here

photo by Gennadiy Serdyuk


Bryce, Utah

From Capitol Reef, take Route 24 west, then turn left on Route 12 towards Bryce.

Known as the Utah Scenic Byway, Route 12 towards Bryce winds over and through the Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument.  A whopping 1.7 million acres makes up the entire monument, making it a popular playground for serious outdoor enthusiasts.   

Driving into Bryce Canyon, you'll notice great-looking campsites nestled among the pines.  Pulling into Bryce, you'll see the grand Bryce Canyon Lodge.  Steeped in history, this lodge opened in 1924.  You gotta check it out.  Dining at the restaurant is a fantastic treat.

From the lodge, you're just steps from the rim of the canyon's amphitheater.   Look out over the hoodoos during a sunset stroll along the rim from Sunset Point to Sunrise Point, especially if you're staying overnight.

photo by Colin Young (

The hoodoos are hundreds of spires shooting skyward.  Just plain fun to look at, and even more fun to hike through.  Take the wonderful hike to Queen’s Garden.  I loved peering out from this tunnel (above) along the Queen's Garden Trail. 

Read more about our family's stay in Bryce here.  It was honestly one of the highlights of our Utah national park road trip!

On our drive out of the park, we quickly stopped at the Bryce Canyon Visitor’s Center to buy park stickers (cheap souvenirs for kids!) and to fill up our water bottles before heading on to Zion National Park.  


Springdale, Utah

From Bryce, drive west on Route 12, until you hit Route 89, where you'll head south and then catch Route 9 towards Springdale.

According to our kids, we saved the best of the Mighty Five for last!  The drive from Bryce to Zion itself is nothing short of amazing.  The Zion - Mt. Carmel Highway, winds you through tunnels and humongous red rock temples.  

So thankful we spent 3 nights and 2 full days playing here.


photo copyright Terry Treks

The Narrows of the Virgin River is a must see.  Plan a full day.  The Narrows are the main attraction in our books.

To reach the Narrows, easily hop on the FREE park shuttle bus from one of the stops in Springdale.  We rode the shuttle to the Temple of Sinawava and our sweet bus driver told us about the sights and history of the canyon along the way.  

From the bus stop, we hiked the easy 1 mile Riverside Walk before stepping in to the Narrows. 

We teetered and tottered up through the canyon river bed and swam and jumped in along the way.  We had a blast! 

Springdale itself is very cute and fun.  We joked about moving here.  Read about our wonderful lodging and more here.

Note to newbies:  Totally hike the Narrows of the Virgin River, weather permitting.  Rent special neoprene hiking boots and plan well.  Get the full enchilada on how we hiked the Narrows as a family here.  

Add to your adventure by renting bikes and play along the shallow part of the Virgin River. 

More great family hiking in Utah

Hiking the Kanarra Creek Trail through a slot canyon to Kanarraville Falls in southern Utah is a hidden gem waiting for you between Zion and Bryce.  Completely worth adding to your list when taking a vacation through gorgeous Utah!  

Read about our day hike to Kanarraville Falls here.

For even more specific information regarding adventurous activities like rafting, kayaking, canoeing, rock climbing, hiking, and camping in Utah's Mighty Five, grab the updated Fodor's Complete Guide to the National Parks of the West.  It's packed full with ideas for your family to check out!

Also, is home to all sorts of fabulous tips for your next Utah road trip.  Southern Utah should be on every adventurous person's bucket list.

Have you been through any of Utah's national parks?  What were your favorites stops and why?  What would you recommend to a family headed there soon?  We would love to know, so please comment below!

Happy Trails!

All photographs belong to Tanya Raedeke, unless otherwise noted.  Please do not use without written permission.

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Hiking Yosemite's Mist Trail with kids

Hiking Yosemite's Mist Trail with kids

Squeeze your family through a slot canyon to Kanarraville Falls

Squeeze your family through a slot canyon to Kanarraville Falls