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The Mighty 5 for Memorial Day!

The Mighty 5 for Memorial Day!

Posted in: Nature, Outdoor adventures, Travel on May 11, 2024.

The Mighty 5

The five national parks of Southern Utah – Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion – are collectively known as “The Mighty 5.” Together, they preserve the best parts of our amazing desert scenery. But the real question is, which ones will you visit this Memorial Day? Let’s take a look at each of The Mighty 5 parks, and what we recommend that you do in each of them, and see if we can’t help you plan a great Memorial Day Weekend Adventure!

The famous arches of Arches National Park

Photo by Intricate Explorer via unsplash.com

Arches National Park

The main reason to visit Arches National Park is – you guessed it – arches! You’ll find a couple thousand arches and natural bridges in the park. And a lot of the best ones are easily accessible by relatively short and developed hiking trails. So grab your hiking boots! Here are some of the most popular arches in the park, and a couple of our favorites.

  • Delicate Arch – we’re somewhat obligated to start with Delicate Arch, it’s probably the most famous geological feature in all of Utah. Heck, it’s on our license plates. But even though it’s very popular and very well photographed, we still believe it’s worth the effort to see it in person. There’s a reason it’s so famous, after all. The trail itself is a somewhat strenuous climb over bare slickrock. For a good section of it you will need to follow the cairns (and all the other people). Delicate Arch is best hiked in the cooler times of the day. Bring plenty of water. Roundtrip is about three miles.
  • Double Arch – this is probably the best arch in the park if you’ve got kids. The trail is very short, only half-a-mile roundtrip, and flat. And the payoff is big! Two massive arches spurs that share the same base. They’re fun to play around. And you can pretend to be young Indiana Jones!
  • Tower Arch – Tower Arch is one of our favorites. It’s a little more unique in appearance, compared to most of the arches in the park. (It’s got a massive sandstone tower rising from one side, hence the name.) But it’s also a great hike. The trail climbs for a bit, then just short of wanders through a cuts a sandstone valley. It’s also not too difficult, but still a decent hike. It’ll three-and-a-half miles roundtrip.

Arches National Park does require ticketed entry during the summer months. So go to this page on recreation.gov to get your tickets for Memorial Day 2024! And if you want more info on the park, visit the official site here.

Overlooking Mesa Arch in Canyonlands

Photo by Dann Petty via unsplash.com

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands is the sister park to Arches, since it’s located only a few miles to the south. The geography here is less arch-y, and more canyon-y. There is lots of open desert, with some truly breathtaking overlooks. Think “Grand Canyon meets Monument Valley” and you’ll have a rough idea of what to expect. If you’re heading to one of these members of the Mighty 5, then you should plan on seeing the other. Arches and Canyonlands are kind of a match set. So let’s talk a little about what you should see in Canyonlands:

  • Mesa Arch – this is the big one, the most popular spot in the whole park. And when you’re there, you’ll understand why, it’s a tough view to beat: a sweeping desert vista hundreds of feet below you, framed by a massive arch. It’s only a short, half-mile roundtrip hike from the parking lot to Mesa Arch, so it’s perfect for even the most reluctant hiker.
  • Grand View Point – another popular trail is Grand View Point. It’s a fairly easy, one-and-a-half mile roundtrip hike to a stunning overlook to a canyon drop-off. It’s a little bit like the Grand Canyon, only without nearly as many people.
  • Murphy Point – This might actually be our favorite hike in the park. It really gives you an idea of the vastness of the whole region. There is nothing but canyons, and buttes, and open desert for as far as you can see. Candlestick Tower can be seen from the end of the trail. The whole thing is about 3.5-miles long.

You should also drive the White Rim Road if you get the chance! We’ve talked about the White Rim Road before, in great detail. So we’ll just say that it’s probably the single greatest road you can drive in Canyonlands, and maybe even in all of Southern Utah. It’s 100-miles of primitive, gravel road that unlocks the best scenery in the national park. It’s got lots of excitement, loads of good hiking spots, and plenty of memories-to-be-made.

Unlike Arches, you don’t need a ticket to get into the park. Be sure to check out the official site for lots more info!

The Temples of the Sun and Moon in Capitol Reef National Park

Photo by Brady Stoeltzing via unsplash.com

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park is next on our tour of Utah’s Mighty 5. And it just so happens to be our favorite park of the bunch! (Probably because we live right next to it. Speaking of which, if you are interested in staying with us on your Memorial Day adventures, you can check our availability here.) Capitol Reef has it all: soaring cliffs, narrow canyons, wide desert vistas, and jaw-dropping overlooks. Plus orchards!

The orchards were once part of a community known as Fruita. And the families that lived here planted lots of fruit trees. Once the area became the national park, the NPS took over management of the orchards, and they take care of them to this day. If you’re visiting during the summer and autumn, you can pick plenty of delicious fruit. Here’s some info on what and when to pick.

Here’s some of our favorite parts to explore in Capitol Reef:

  • Kohab Canyon – this one connects the two main roads in the park. It’s a moderately easy canyon trail that has some narrow offshoots to explore. A great hike when it’s hot, since much of it is in shade in the afternoon. Plus it’s got one of the best views of Fruita anywhere in the park.
  • Cathedral Valley Overlooks – sure, you might have to drive the rough road into Cathedral Valley, but these overlooks are pretty great. If you’re looking for a remote and wild spot of open desert, with a bunch of incredible sandstone monoliths, then you’ll hit the jackpot.
  • Brimhall Bridges – this one is pretty remote, pretty strenuous, and pretty amazing. Located in the remote Waterpocket Fold, right down at the very bottom of the park, Brimhall Bridges is a fantastic double natural bridge in a crazy cool canyon.
  • Burr Trail – this is a much longer drive, about 64-miles, but provides access to lots more scenery. You’ll get to drive around Capitol Reef, the Waterpocket Fold, the Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument, and Boulder Mountain. Plus there are some pretty amazing switchback. We’ve written about this before, so check this post out for all the info.

Visit this official site here for more info on the park. And check out some of our Top Ten Things to do in Capitol Reef to get more ideas for your trip.

Overlooking the Bryce Canyon hoodoos

Photo by Tim Golder via unsplash.com

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon is a fairly small national park, in fact it’s the smallest of the Mighty 5. But it packs a lot of punch for its size! Bryce is world famous for its hoodoos – those fantastically eroded pillars of sandstone – and that’s what you should focus on when you visit.

There are four main observation points surrounding the main Bryce Amphitheater: Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point, and Sunrise Point. You’ll want to as many as you can. Start there, then hike down into the amphitheater. Here are a couple of our favorite:

  • Fairyland Loop – if you’re up for a longer, more strenuous hike, check out the Fairyland Loop. It’s a bit less crowded, which we like, and it has some pretty cool views. It starts above the rim, and then drops down to reveal hoodoos and spires and features like the Chinese Wall and Tower Bridge.
  • Peekaboo Loop – this one is a bit more popular, probably due to it’s shorter length, but it’s worth the compromise. The trail is steep, about 5-miles long and loops right through the middle of the park. You’ll get to see the famous Wall of Windows, as well as your fill of hoodoos.
  • Thunder Mountain Trail– if you’re a mountain biker, then you’ve probably heard of this one before. The trail is located just outside of Bryce Canyon, down Thunder Mountain and into Red Canyon. It’s the ride of a lifetime. We’ve written a bit more about it here, if you’re interested.

Here is the link for Bryce Canyon’s official site, so that out for more info to help plan your trip.

The Virgin River flows down Zion Canyon

Photo by Sterlinglanier Lanier via unsplash.com

Zion National Park

This is the last one! The crown jewel of Utah’s Mighty 5! Zion National Park is the most popular, the most visited, and the most loved park in Southern Utah. And who can doubt it? When you’re looking at the towering cliffs and the beautiful foliage of late spring, it seems almost magical.

The main attraction of Zion National Park is Zion Canyon – 90% of the images you’ve seen of Zion are from this central canyon. Throughout most of the year, the only way to get into Zion Canyon is via the shuttle system that operates in the park. So park the car, and get on the bus. There are stops at all the major trails.

  • Canyon Overlook Trail – This trail is located to the east of the visitor center, just before crossing through the Zion-Mount Carmel Trail. It’s only a mile round-trip, with moderate elevation change. The trail leads to great views of the lower section Zion Canyon. There are some steep drop-off along the trail, but these are mostly fenced. Unlike the other trails in Zion Canyon, this one is access by personal vehicle. Parking is limited, so get there early.
  • Angel’s Landing – If you know anything about Zion National Park, it’s probably that Angel’s Landing is the most popular, most famous hike in the park. You’ve undoubtedly seen pictures of the hike – that famous chain section – and the views from the top on social media. While Angel’s Landing is a very strenuous hike, it’s well worth the effort to make it to the top. We promise you’ll never forget it. The trail is now so popular that you will need tickets to do it, which you can apply for here.
  • Emerald Pools – If you’re looking for something a little more low-key, then maybe just hang out on the Emerald Pools trail. The first pool, Lower Emerald Pool, is easily accessed on a paved path, making it perfect for kids, wheelchairs, and strollers. Plus, it’s got a waterfall. Middle and Upper Emerald Pools are a moderate hike up the hill. It’s only one mile roundtrip to the Upper Pool. The cool, green, shaded trail makes for an excellent summertime hike.
  • The Narrows – The Narrows is, as the name implies, the narrowest canyon in the park. It’s a fun, dramatic, and very wet, hike. For most of the trail you’ll be hiking in the Virgin River. If you start at the Temple of Sinawava (where most people do) you can hike along the Riverside Walk for about a mile before you’ll have to hop in the water. Since there is some variation in the manner in which you can hike the Narrows, we suggest you look at this page here on the official Zion site.

And, of course, there is plenty more information to be found about Zion National Park here on the official site.

A Mighty Memorial Day!

That’s our whirlwind tour of each of the Mighty 5 parks! Hopefully you’ve got a good idea of which ones you want to visit. And don’t worry if you can get to them all, there’s always next Memorial Day, and the one after that!

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