Salt Lake City is an amazing place to live and a hub for nature lovers and wanderers alike.
We have great people, a cool scene and a landscape that is unbeatable. You can ski, hike or rock climb in the mountains around Salt Lake City and be in red rock wonderland in just over three hours. For many people who call Salt Lake City home, it’s this proximity to so much outdoor beauty that keeps us close to this magical place. From old John Ford western films to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Thelma & Louise, when people think of The American West, what they most likely picture is Utah’s treasure chest of a landscape.
In addition to MANY state parks and BLM land, Utah has FIVE national parks, otherwise known as, “The Mighty Five,” because of the grandeur, raw beauty and fame of these places. Since this year marks the 100th Anniversary of the National Parks System, (thank you Theodore Roosevelt), we thought it would be a good time to talk a little bit about these profoundly beautiful places within a days drive of our beloved Salt Lake City.
1. Canyonlands National Park: Four Hours from Salt Lake City
Canyonlands is the largest national park in the state, spanning 534 square miles.
It’s centered around the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers, whose vast, rolling waters have carved into the rock creating the most awe inspiring spires, canyons and other geological wonders. This park is one you can really explore. Most of it is fairly undeveloped and rugged. There is so much terrain for back-packing, hiking, biking, and climbing and if you’re looking for a real getaway, (think Hayduke from the Edward Abbey book, The Monkeywrench Gang, when he escapes into The Maze, that’s in Canyonlands), this is the place to make your move. Canyonlands is a place to find solitude, starry nights and amazing sights.
2. Arches National Park: 3.5 Hours from Salt Lake City
Arches is the small but beautiful cousin of Canyonlands.
It’s just a three and a half hour drive from Salt Lake City but it’s like stepping onto Mars, (so I imagine). The amount of breathtaking sights packed into such a small area is astounding. All of the hiking trails and views in the park are easily accessed by car or shuttle. Some of the paths are even wheel chair accessible. The arches, fins and other rock formations are bizarre and so worth seeing. Though it’s difficult to get a reservation to camp in the park, there are a lot of incredible little spots in and around Moab.
3. Zions National Park: 5 Hours from Salt Lake City
Zions is famous for its slot canyon, The Narrows, where hikers often times have to turn sideways to get through some of the smallest spots but Zions has a lot more to offer.
Within the park are many mid length and short hikes, views of soaring red-rock cliffs and winding river valleys.
Spots like Angel’s Landing are famous for the incredible views and also the very narrow and tricky trail that actually has a chain along its entire summit because it’s so high and harrowing. The waterfalls that create the three Emerald Pools are short, easy hikes with totally rewarding ends. Zions is a game changer. It’s a place everyone should see and it’s about 5 hours from Salt Lake City.
4.Capitol Reef National Park: 3 Hours 30 Minutes from Salt Lake City
Capitol Reef is located in south central Utah.
There are plenty of easy ways to explore the park by car, like the 25 mile scenic loop that offers sweet views of the geological diversity but Capitol Reef is one of the least explored parks in Utah and therefore particularly alluring to the real outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers among you. There’s a spectacular array of cliffs, natural bridges, domes and canyons to see and explore in this park. There are three campgrounds and endless seas of sandstone to wander, hike and enjoy.
5.Bryce Canyon National Park: 4 hours from Salt Lake City
Bryce Canyon is the smallest of the parks, you can see most of it in about one day if you’re on the move.
That being said, it’s so strange and beautiful that you can’t miss it. The rock rock spires and wandering canyon that seems to come out of nowhere, are quite the sight. You can easily hike down into the small canyon, wandering the established paths and walkways that curve through this alien valley.