Utah is among the top destinations in the United States for incredible hiking and jaw-dropping desert landscapes. And while amazing natural wonders can be found throughout the state, the national parks truly are something special. With five national parks, known as the “Mighty 5”, these parks deliver bucket-list hikes in Utah and boast spectacular rock formations.
While each park is full of great things to see and do, this post focuses on the top hikes in each Utah national park: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion.
These hikes are the bucket list, can’t-miss, absolutely must-do hikes in each of these parks.
While there is actually a whole host of arches and natural bridges scattered throughout southern Utah, Arches National Park is home to a high concentration (over 2000!) of spectacular arches and crazy cool rock formations.
Note: Arches uses a timed entry reservation system from 7 am to 4 pm, April 1 through October 31. You can enter the park outside of these hours without a reservation.
Delicate Arch is the most famous arch in the world and stands shockingly completely on its own on the edge of a ridge. The hike up to Delicate Arch is relatively easy, at approximately 3 miles round trip. You’ll be hiking on a combination of dirt trails and flat rocks.
One thing I really like about this trail is that you don’t see Delicate Arch until the very end. You round a corner, and it’s suddenly right there in front of you, standing tall and proud.
Sunset and sunrise are popular times to visit, although sunset can be very busy. Still, there’s plenty of space at the summit to spread out, so even during popular times, you can find a quiet spot to enjoy the view.
Fiery Furnace is an exciting backcountry hike in Arches National Park. While there are a few arches visible on this hike, the real draw of Fiery Furnace is getting to explore the nooks, crannies, passageways, and canyons created by tall, fin-like rock formations.
But first, you need to know that Fiery Furnace is actually a permitted hike and only about 75 permits are available per day. Competition to get these permits is fierce, and they are usually gone within seconds of becoming available. However, if you’re lucky enough to land one, you’ll likely see no one else the entire time you’re on the trail.
The other fun thing about Fiery Furnace is that although there is an “official” pathway through the area, there’s not a set trail that everyone needs to follow. Indeed, you are actually encouraged to go off-path and “get lost” as you explore the Fiery Furnace.
This combination makes Fiery Furnace one of my top favorite hikes in Utah’s national parks.
Devil’s Garden is one of the longest hikes in Arches and features seven different arches along the trail. The most famous and popular of these arches is the Landscape Arch, which, at 306 feet long, is the longest arch in the world and is also incredibly thin.
Many people just hike the 2-mile round trip to see Landscape Arch, but if you continue further, you can see other beautiful arches, such as Navajo Arch, Double O Arch, and Tunnel Arch.
Canyonlands National Park is actually located just 30 minutes from Arches National Park, but Canyonlands sees far fewer visitors than Arches NP. Partly this is due to offerings and partly due to logistics. While there are some arches in Canyonlands (which are highlighted below), the main draws for this park are vast, incredible vistas. And while they are undeniably beautiful, they are considered less dramatic by some.
Logistically, Canyonlands is harder to do than Arches. While Arches has quite a bit of infrastructure and is relatively compact, Canyonlands is more natural and also much larger. In fact, it has four distinct regions that are not connected. While this can make a full visit to Canyonlands a little trickier, there are some incredible sights you should not shy away from this Utah national park.
The most popular section of Canyonlands is the Island in the Sky district. Known for incredible views over the canyons carved by the Green and Colorado rivers, it still offers some good hiking opportunities. Perhaps the most satisfying is the short( ¾ mile round trip) hike to Mesa Arch. The arch is relatively small but wide and sits at the edge of the plateau, creating a framed view out to the surrounding mesas and canyons. It is particularly spectacular at sunrise and sunset.
Similar in length to Mesa Arch, this hike leads to the overlook of Upheaval Dome, a 3 mile wide crater with dramatic central features and colors. Besides being a great hike, the dome is also a bit of a geologic mystery as scientists don’t know what forces created it. The two most favored theories are an eroded salt dome and an asteroid impact, with recent evidence suggesting the impact as most likely.
Located in the Needles District of Canyonlands, Druid Arch is a commitment – it’s about 10 miles round trip. That said, it takes you through some fantastic landscapes: slot canyons, rippled sandstone, towering cliffs, and an incredible final arch. Plan ahead on this one to prepare for sun, temperature, and length, but if you do it you’ll find some incredible views.
As Utah’s least visited national park, Capitol Reef is definitely a hidden gem. Admittedly, it was the last of Utah’s parks that I visited, yet we were still blown away by the beauty and majesty of the landscapes in Capitol Reef, as well as the interesting and exciting hikes that can be done here.
Capitol Reef is long and very skinny, 70 miles long and anywhere between 1-14 miles wide. The main geological feature here is the Waterpocket Fold, which runs along the length of the park. This upswell in the Earth’s crust has been shaped by erosion to create intricate canyons all along this mountainous area.
Even just one day in Capitol Reef National Park gives you plenty of time to explore the best hikes.
Cassidy Arch is probably our favorite hike in Capitol Reef, as it gives a very unique experience with an arch. You’ll first climb from the canyon floor to the top of the cliff wall, where you’ll follow the ridgeline for a bit over a mile until you see Cassidy Arch across the way. This great viewpoint of this large arch is not the end of the trail, though. You’ll continue on until you are standing behind it, where you get an incredible from-behind view. The best part, though? Cassidy Arch is one of the very few arches in Utah that you are allowed to walk on!
The Capitol Gorge trail offers a gentle hike through a wide canyon featuring not just beautiful rock walls but also history. On this hike, you will see petroglyphs left by Native Americans and a “ledger” of early pioneers to the area. You can hike through the entire wash (round trip 4.4 miles) or there is a natural stopping place halfway where water has carved small arches and pools – or “tanks”- that you can explore.
A bonus is that to get this hike, you will drive along a nice section of the Waterpocket Fold and enjoy some fantastic vistas.
This 1.7-mile round-trip trail offers a wonderful variety of features. Beginning by the scenic San Juan River, the trail winds up the hillside, giving great views of the Capitol Dome the park is named for, as well as of the river canyon. You then pass several smaller “pothole” bridges before arriving at the massive Hickman Bridge. This short hike packs a lot of incredible views and is a great addition to your visit to Capitol Reef.
Bryce Canyon is my favorite of all the national parks in Utah. I am absolutely enamored by its alien-like landscapes! Bryce is known for its hoodoos – tall, knobby, spindly, orange spires and pillars that fill the Bryce Amphitheater.
The Bryce Amphitheater has a curved rim, where people can drive up to and admire the viewpoints, and then it curves down in a bowl shape. This allows for incredible vistas and several hiking opportunities.
Navajo Loop to Queen’s Garden
The Navajo Loop and the Queen’s Garden Trail are two separate trails that can be combined into one epic route. The trail starts on the rim at Sunset Point, takes you down into the hoodoos of the Bryce Amphitheater, and then back up to end at Sunrise Point, where you can walk along the rim back to the start.
This trail, although only about 3 miles long, is just absolutely incredible. The very first part of the Navajo Loop trail takes you through what is known as “Wall Street,” a series of short, tight switchbacks that is lined by a tall wall of hoodoos. It’s an iconic view of Bryce Canyon. After the series of switchbacks takes you down into the bowl, you’ll walk through some slot canyons with the pinnacles towering over you and then through the bottom of the valley, with pine trees mixed in with the orange rocks.
As you switch over to the Queen’s Garden part of the trail, you’ll start seeing different “shapes” in the hoodoos (much like you would see shapes in clouds in the sky). One notable rock formation resembles Queen Elizabeth decked out in her regal robes – there’s a placard with a picture of the Queen that the rock formation particularly resembles, and for which the trail is named.
As you hike through the winding trail lined by hoodoos, you’ll certainly be amazed at the otherworldly landscapes all around you. This is truly one of the best hikes in all of Utah’s national parks.
Mossy Cove Trail is a fun, short, and picturesque hike that is part of Bryce Canyon but is outside the paid area of the park. This trail follows a stream up to a little cave for which the route is named. The cave is nice, but the special part of the hike is actually going down to the stream and playing in the water.
There’s a small waterfall (you can hike to the top of it, or just play at the bottom), and the cool water feels so refreshing on a hot summer day. Since this is outside the main amphitheater, you aren’t surrounded by hoodoos but rather have some lining the background behind the stream – the effect is absolutely lovely.
Zion National Park is Utah’s most visited park and is the 3rd most visited park in the country. And for good reason – the landscapes and hikes you can experience in this park are truly epic. I would say that Zion has the most “bucket list” and adventure-like hikes, and these definitely need to be at the top of your list for hiking in Utah’s national parks.
(Plus, Zion is right on the southern border of Utah, just a couple hours away from another bucket list park: the Grand Canyon)
Angel’s Landing is THE hike in Zion, and the journey to the summit is absolutely an adventure. The hike starts pretty straightforward – you’re hiking up switchbacks up a mountain. It’s certainly very pretty and offers some great views over the valley, but the real fun starts when you reach the saddle. From here, you’ll start climbing up a super skinny, super narrow (we’re talking only a few feet wide) path up to the top of the neighboring mountain.
From here on out, you’ll be holding onto chains for safety and climbing up some pretty small areas. Don’t worry – you’ll be totally fine as long as you aren’t reckless, and when you get to the top, you’ll enjoy 360-degree views over Zion Canyon.
Due to the popularity of this hike, a permit is required to climb. You can apply for a permit in advance or enter the lottery the day before.
Another exciting hike in Zion is the Narrows. This hike is unique in two ways: first, you are hiking through a slot canyon, and second, you are hiking through a RIVER in a slot canyon! This water level in the river is usually fairly low (between ankle and knee depth usually, occasionally getting to waist level).
The entire hike is about 8 miles round trip, but people usually just hike until they get tired and then turn around. The slot canyon you’re hiking in has very tall, very sheer red-orange walls that narrow considerably the farther you hike. It is an absolutely incredible hike and can be done any season of the year.
The subway is for sure the most technical hike on this list. It’s named for the unique, tube-like canyon section that hikers pass through. The trail offers a mix of rugged terrain, slot canyons, and stunning natural features. You will wade through water, scramble over rocks, and navigate narrow passages.
A permit is required to do this hike because of its technical nature, so only experienced hikers will be able to do this particular Utah trail.
At just 1 mile round trip, Canyon Overlook is not a particularly difficult or long hike, but the unassuming mileage belies quite the interesting trail and beautiful views you’ll get at the end. As you hike, you’ll regularly be up against the side of a cliff face and sometimes hiking under rocky overhangs or up little stone stairs. The views at the end that you’ll get of Zion Canyon rival what you’ll see at the top of Angel’s Landing and the summit is filled with a large rocky area to climb on and explore.
Best Hikes in Utah’s National Parks – The Wrap Up
I’ve spent countless days hiking around Utah’s parks and can say that, almost without exception, all the trails in the five parks are great hikes. However, the hikes we highlight in this post are the really spectacular ones, the ones that need to be at the very top of your hiking bucket list and are certain to amaze and delight!