The United States isn’t exactly hurting for amazing natural landmarks and incredible National Parks—although only about half the states actually have one or more to call their own.
Utah won the lottery when it comes to National Parks, particularly if you’re into breathtaking mountain landscapes, technicolor canyons, otherworldly arches and spires, and rush-inducing outdoor adventures. In fact, Utah has five singular National Parks, known as the Mighty Five, where any nature lover or outdoor enthusiast could gladly lose himself or herself for a week or two: Bryce, Zion, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Arches.
If you’ve got 10 days for a little outdoor excitement, take a look at all the ways you could fall in love with Utah’s unforgettable National Parks.
Day 1: Hike to Mesa Arch at sunrise for magnificent views of Island in the Sky.
Start your first day in Canyonlands National Park getting your hiking legs warmed up with an easy climb to the iconic Mesa Arch. As one of the star attractions in the Island in the Sky district of the park, this is the perfect place to capture your first photograph in your vacation journal, and it’s a beginner-friendly hike, so even the youngest kids can accomplish it.
Take a moment to examine the trail beneath your feet on the walk back down. It’s not just dust, dirt, or gravel—it’s cryptobiotic soil, a complex ecosystem in its own right made of moss, lichens, algae, and cyanobacteria. It’s one of the oldest lifeforms on the planet and it’s right beneath your feet!
More experienced hikers have their choice of excellent trails in the Island in the Sky district. It’s a perfect start to your Mighty Five adventure.
Day 2: Spend a night stargazing in Canyonlands, a Gold Tier International Dark Sky Park.
The night skies in the Colorado Plateau are some of the darkest in the United States, and avid stargazers flock to Canyonlands for the utterly dark skies that showcase the stars to perfection. In fact, the park was awarded Gold Tier status for its commitment to minimizing light pollution and preserving its impeccable nocturnal environment. If the conditions are right, you can even view Saturn’s rings with a pair of regular binoculars!
If you visit in the spring or fall, park rangers conduct special nighttime programs to introduce visitors to the spectacular skies and even offer telescopes to enhance the experience.
Day 3: Explore the “House of Fire” ancestral cliff dwellings of the Pueblo people.
The cliff dwellings and ruins of the Pueblo people dot Arches National Park, another of Utah’s Mighty Five. Spend an afternoon exploring these incredible dwellings—and don’t miss the House of Fire dwelling, so named for the incredible colorings on the rock. It’s definitely another shot for your photo journal or Instagram account.
If ancient Puebloan artifacts, or anthropology in general, is your jam, don’t miss the Museum of Moab, a collection of artifacts and relics that pays tribute to 12,000 years of human habitation in this region.
Day 4: Go whitewater rafting on the Colorado River for amazing views of Arches National Park.
It’s time to add a little water fun to your landlubber’s vacation. The Colorado and Green Rivers snake through Canyonlands and Arches and offer incredible opportunities to see the canyons in a whole new way. Take your pick from kayaking, canoeing, or whitewater rafting if you’re feeling particularly adventurous. It’s a surefire way to get your kids excited about a national park vacation.
Day 5: See Butch Cassidy Country in a whole new way zipping along on your 4WD ATV.
Bryce Canyon was a haven for all kinds of outlaws and notorious ne’er-do-wells, the most famous of which was probably Butch Cassidy. Red Canyon in particular was an excellent hideout for all kinds of cattle rustlers, train robbers, and common thieves (and a favorite of Butch and his Wild Bunch gang).
Explore this beautiful canyon with its rich and exotic history from the saddle of your own ATV. You’ll get a whole new appreciation for the rough characters of the earlier eras who made the canyon their secret hideaway.
Day 6: Take a horseback tour of Bryce Canyon for a closeup view of the famous hoodoos.
If you don’t know what a hoodoo is, you’re not alone. These strange, almost mystical rock formations grew from the destructive forces of water and wind over thousands and thousands of years in the deep slot canyons of Bryce.
There’s no better way to see these amazing structures than from the back of a horse as you wind your way through the labyrinth of red rock in Bryce Canyon. The ride is made even more awesome because it’s led by actual cowboys who share the history and lore of the region—as well as the geology and science behind the hoodoos.
Day 7: You don’t need to be an expert to spend the day canyoneering.
Canyoneering sounds a little intimidating until you realize there are trails and hiking opportunities for every level of enthusiast. And there’s nothing like the sense of accomplishment you and your family will get from rappelling and descending into the slot canyons in Zion National Park.
Bring your swimsuit—there are plenty of opportunities for swimming and wading on these amazing trails. Is there a better way to spend a day in one of Utah’s crown jewels?
Day 8: Photograph Zion’s spectacular sunsets on a three-hour jeep tour at dusk.
After a crazy day of canyoneering and camping, maybe something a little more serene is in order. Spend your day searching out some of Zion’s native wildlife or even cataloging some of the park’s fascinating birds of prey. Just make sure you’re rested up for your evening event—a jeep ride to chase the spectacular sunsets of Zion.
When you get back to camp, why not start a fire and try out a new s’mores recipe or two? It’s the perfect end to your day in the park.
Day 9: Cycle the Pa’rus Trail along the Virgin River in Zion Canyon.
You’ve done hiking, you’ve done canyoneering, you’ve done rafting, and you’ve even been four-wheeling through the desert. Today’s a great day to travel on two wheels through Zion Canyon on the Pa’rus Trail, one of the loveliest trails in the park. Pa’rus is a Paiute word for “bubbling water,” and that’s a perfect description for this riverside trail. It’s car-free, so it’s safe and fun for the entire family.
And if you feel like taking a stop along the way, the Zion Human History Museum is just off the trail. You’ll love learning about the native peoples and cultures of Zion—and the museum has an impressive collection of plant specimens and archaeological artifacts that are definitely worth a visit.
Day 10: One more park? Take a guided tour of the Grand Canyon’s incredible South Rim and enjoy a gourmet picnic lunch.
Although the Grand Canyon isn’t technically one of the Mighty Five, how can you not spend a day checking out perhaps the most recognized national landmark and park in the United States? Over 5 million people visit the Grand Canyon every single year, and almost all of them take in the South Rim.
Why do people love the South Rim? For one thing, it’s at a lower elevation than the North Rim, which means you get an amazing view of the walls of the opposite rim. Plus, its paths are much more “user friendly,” and some are even paved. It’s also the place you’ll find popular activities like helicopter rides, mule rides, and even guided tours appropriate for visitors of every age.
There’s no better way to end your trip to the Mighty Five than with a tour of the South Rim and a gourmet picnic overlooking the most iconic landmark in America.
Ready to Explore?
Wondering how to spend your next family vacation? Ten days in Utah is an adventure your family will never forget—something new and exciting every single day – and we can plan it for you. We’ll even reserve your rental RV!
Why not get in touch today to see how easy it is for us to reserve you a beautiful RV and reserve everything else you need for the ultimate RV trip in Utah’s Mighty Five? And if you’re not quite ready to book vacation plans, sign up for our free email course to learn more about RV’ing, our amazing National Parks, and just how Tracks & Trails can help you experience it all.