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The top 10 things you can’t miss in Utah’s national parks

By S U N Parks | Posted - Oct. 22, 2020 at 3:51 p.m.



With five national parks to explore, Utahns and out-of-state visitors alike have a lot of land to cover. According to the National Park Service (NPS), Utah houses 839,871 acres of national parks. Even the most experienced outdoorsmen and dedicated visitors couldn't cover every acre of land in a lifetime.

So if you've only got a few days to see one or all of the parks, it's best to make a list of the things you absolutely need to see. Here are the top 10 things you can't miss in Utah's Mighty 5 national parks.

Chesler Park and Druid Arch

Though Canyonlands covers a vast amount of land, there are a few things within the park you just can't miss. Within the Needles District, you'll see Chesler Park and Druid Arch—both are worthy of snapping a picture for Instagram.

Chesler Park is a beautiful spot for someone who has hiking experience. The hike to the viewpoint is 3-4 hours round trip, but it's well worth the sights. If you want to challenge yourself, take the Joint Trail and get up close and personal with the sandstone spires.

The hike to Druid Arch is also for experienced hikers. The 11-mile trail offers one of the most incredible views of the whole park, not to mention the stunning views of the arch itself. The NPS predicts it's about a 5-7 hour roundtrip hike.

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Island in the Sky

Island in the Sky sounds like a children's book or movie, but in Canyonlands, it's a reality. Located about 40 minutes from Moab, you have to stop and see the park from this view. One Tripadvisor review says, "Jaw-dropping views. It really feel you are in the sky or in the middle of an abstract painting."

When you look out, you can see amazing formations towering above the floor of the canyon. You can picture the water that could make these formations look like red rock islands.

Within this district of the park, you should also make time to see Mesa Arch. Anyone who's used an older Windows operating system has seen the Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park—in a way. The popular background image on the computer is found right in Moab.

Experts with the National Park Service recommend going to the arch at sunset. Not only will you see an incredible sunset, but you'll also see the world-famous arch silhouetted against the beautiful, wide-open sky. It's a fairly easy hike—only about half a mile long.

An otherworldly view in Bryce Canyon

While all of Bryce Canyon is stunning, you'll want to get a glimpse of the whole picture from Inspiration Point. According to the NPS, you can see the hoodoos etched into the canyon from nearly three different levels, giving the scene an amphitheater look. Just remember to stay on the trails, as the rocks are unstable.

The natural color wheel

If you have an eye for contrasting colors in nature, you'll need to add Natural Bridge in Bryce Canyon to your list of things to see. From the viewpoint, you'll see a beautiful arch made of stunning red rock protruding from the canyon wall. In comparison to the green pines behind the arch, you'll have a hard time finding rock that appears as red anywhere else.

Photo: Adobe Stock

Arches in double time

While Delicate Arch is more than likely already on your list of things to see in Arches National Park, you should also include Double Arch. The stunning two arches that seemingly overlap are just a short hike away from the parking lot, notes the NPS. The half-mile, mostly flat walk is great for people of all ages and abilities.

Walk among the natural towers

If getting a great Instagram photo is high on your priority list, make sure you walk the Park Avenue trail in Arches. While it's a steep hike down into the canyon, the views are simply stunning. You'll see tower-like monoliths on both sides of the trail, making this an excellent place to stop and take some photos.

For those who are easily worn out, you can hike down into the canyon and arrange to take the shuttle on the way back, says the National Park Service.

Ancient artifacts on the Hickman Bridge trail

While driving through and to Capitol Reef National Park is half of the fun, you'll want to get out and stretch your legs a bit on the Hickman Bridge trail. The nearly mile-long trail has lots to see on the way. According to Visit Utah, you can catch sight of Fremont people artifacts, including a granary and pit house.

Once you get to the bridge, you'll be greeted by a towering arch—the bridge—with views of the canyon walls and mountains in the background.

Outdoor ancient art museum (of sorts)

For even more history in Capitol Reef, you have to stop and see both the Pioneer Register and the Fremont Petroglyphs.

You'll need to be willing to hike a bit of a tricky path to get to the Pioneer Register, but the end is worth it. Etched onto the rock is a list of names of those pioneers who passed through the rough area.

Even older etchings can be found just off the Capitol Gorge road. According to the NPS, the Fremont people used the natural elements in the area to survive. Their sketchings are forever etched onto the canyon walls. The petroglyphs include images of human-like figures, wildlife, tools and other abstract designs.

Tread through the cool water of The Narrows in Zion

There's a reason The Narrows makes travel blogs' top hikes lists. Earth Trekkers lists this day hike as one of their favorite day hikes—in the world. Reviews on Trip Advisor recommend getting the special shoes, socks and hiking sticks you can rent outside the park, as the water can get pretty high. You'll also be walking on some slick rocks, so make sure you at least have some shoes with tread.

Make sure you also bring your camera, as this is one of the most scenic areas of the whole park. It's truly an experience you have to add to your bucket list.

Cycling through the desert of Zion

Bicycle rentals are available at multiple outfitters located in Springdale and also inside the park at the Zion Lodge. The shuttles that take you through the park are equipped with bike racks for easy access. In fact, many put the bikes on a shuttle and coast downhill from the Temple of Sinawava and back into town. On a bike or e-bike, you get an up close and personal introduction to the towering sandstone cliffs and canyon walls.

As amazing as the ideas listed here are, they only scratch the surface of what there is to do in Utah's national parks. Visit utahsnationalparks.com for more ideas about where your next adventure might take you.

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