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All 5 Utah National Parks Ranked Best To Worst

Watchman Trail in Zion National Park

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This post goes over Utah National Parks and which of the 5 UT parks you may want to visit on your next Southwest adventure!

I have been to Utah more times than I can count, and I fall more and more in love with the state with each visit!

Now that I have made another pass through each park, in my campervan, I want to talk about these parks in more detail. Alongside Scott, I have ranked each Utah National Park from best to worst.

Each park has been ranked on how photogenic it is, transport within the park, crowds, and facilities. I mean how does one “choose” which Utah National Park is the best when they’re all so special?

The answer? You kind of can’t. As I said, each Utah National Park is special in its own way. So then how the heck did I rank them?

I’ll tell you!

Disclaimer: This blog contains affiliate links, which means I earn a small percentage of every purchase at no cost to you! If you choose to shop, I’d appreciate it if you used my links, but no pressure at all. Thank you so much!

Utah National Parks Ranking System

Scott and I sat down to look at each Utah National Park’s facilities, trails, scenery, photogenic-ness, and transportation methods/ crowds. Then we gave each park a score out of ten, and added up our totals!

I want to preface this blog by saying that I do not dislike any of the Utah National Parks. However, if you had the opportunity only to visit one of the five parks, I want to make sure you have the information you need to pick the right one for you!

Example Ranking

Zion National Park

Facilities: 9/10; Trails: 8/10; Scenery: 10/10; Photogenic: 10/10; Crowds/Transport: 4/10

Total = 41/50

*A note on campsites listed – please take the time to research camping further. I can only speak to places I know and have heard of before. Some of the spots listed are better for car camping while others are best for tents. I also recommend downloading the free iOverlander app to get reviews of campsites near you.

Utah National Park #1: Zion National Park

Score: 41/50

Zion ranked the highest out of the Utah National Parks. Where it shines the most is its trail options and scenery. It’s difficult to remember to blink as you drive through Zion! The views will leave you speechless.

What I really love most about Zion National Park is that there are sooooo many trails you can go on! Honestly, the park scored the highest on the photogenic test. If you go, you’ll know why immediately! The only thing I have a problem with is how popular Zion is. For a Utah National Park, it’s probably one if not the busiest park.

Best Time To Visit

If you visit this Utah National Park in the summer, you will likely see crowds. Zion is already extremely crowded as is, however, but I find May to be manageable. The upside to visiting in the summer, though, is having access to all of the trails (they sometimes close them in late spring due to weather).

I have never visited Zion National Park in the winter, but I have heard that some roads and trails close!

Time Needed To Explore

If you are visiting for the first time and want to do day hikes, three days is more than enough time! If you’re in the mood for a longer trip, spend about 4 to 5 days there. That’ll give you enough time to take a break in between hikes and other adventures!

Where To Camp

If you’re anything like me, then you’ll want to camp for freeeeeeeee. Lucky for you, the desert is full of free campsites! Some of which are about a 25min drive from the park entrance!

  • Kolob Road (free)
  • BLM Land along the 59 (free)

The Best Things To Do In Zion

Okay so what is there to do in Zion? In short: a TON. Below, I have tried to name some of my fav and more popular options. If you have never been to Zion before, then you should really hit up some of the popular spots! Trust me, they’re popular for a reason.

Popular
-Angels Landing
-Observation Point
-Canyon Overlook

Underrated
-Pa-rus Trail + the River Access Trails
-The Watchman Trail

My Least Favorite Part About Zion

I don’t like Zion’s transportation system. To visit a majority of trails, you must park at the Visitor’s Center and take a shuttle. If parking is full (which is usually is) then you will have to park outside of the park and pay upwards of $20! The only other place to park in Zion is the small pullouts located along the roads, which also tend to fill up.

What To Bring With You

If you go on any of the hikes above, I recommend this pair of hiking boots (order a half size up). They are the only ones I wear (pictured below)! I also really love my REI leggings for hiking! They’re colorful and oh so comfortable. In a majority of my images, you’ll also notice that I wear this pair of Glyder leggings. They are literally the softest ones I own.

Utah National Park #2: Arches National Park

Score: 40/50

I love Arches National Park because of its proximity to Moab. It is so lovely to be able to explore the desert then go to a charming city like Moab! This Utah National Park is also the best color of red- just saying.

Arches is a fairly popular Utah National Park, and it’s easy to see why! Similar to Zion, there is a ton of hiking to do. What I will say Arches really has going for it is that it’s much easier to get around because you don’t have to rely on a restrictive shuttle bus.

What I also like about Arches is that there are so many great places for sunset and sunrise! If you have one Utah National Park to go to, this one is a good contender!

Best Time To Visit

Winter is the best time to visit because Arches turns into the dreamiest place ever! The crowds during winter are also at a minimum. If winter is not your jam, aim for spring.

I recommend spring over summer because there will be fewer crowds and it will not be that hot. Trust me, you wont want to be there when it’s 100+ degrees out!

Where To Camp

Again, if you love to free camp like me, then you’re in for a treat! There is SO much free BLM land for you to post up on that’s about 5 minutes outside of Arches! However, if you want to be in the park, you can rent out a space in advance.

  • Devils Garden Campground
  • Willow Springs Road (free)
  • Sand Flats Recreation Area

Time Needed To Explore

Two days is more than enough time to explore Arches! You will be able to see a majority of the spots. However, if you want to see more of the Moab area and tack on some additional activities to your itinerary, go for about 4 days!

The Best Things To Do In Arches National Park

Again, if you have never been to Arches National Park, opt to see some of the more popular destinations! Delicate Arch and Windows are great places to photograph sunrise!

Popular
-Delicate Arch
-Windows area

Underrated
-Sandstone Arch

My Least Favorite Part About Arches National Park

Like most popular places, I would say the crowds are my least favorite part about Arches National Park. If you do not arrive in the park early enough, you will experience long wait times to enter it, which takes away from adventure time!

What To Bring With You

For your visit to Arches National Park, I recommend bringing along a pair of hiking sandals like these. There is so much sand, and it’s easy for it to get into boots! If you go during the colder months, do yourself a favor and get this North Face fleece. I wear it in nearly all my photos and it is so warm!

YOU’D LIKE: The Best Sedona Hikes For Sunset & Sunrise

Utah National Park #3: Bryce Canyon National Park

Score: 36/50

Bryce Canyon National Park is known for its massive hoodoo formations and orange color! The first time I visited this place, I was in such awe! It’s no wonder this is one of the more popular Utah National Parks.

What gets me about Bryce every time is how orange it is! The rock formations in Bryce National Park are seriously insane and will leave you speechless. I love coming here in the winter because the whole place turns into a dream.

Best Time To Visit

Late spring and early winter are the best times to visit Bryce National Park! I love late spring because the trails begin to open and you are less likely to experience massive crowds. Winter is beautiful, though, because, after a fresh dusting of snow, Bryce’s orange walls pop!

Time Needed To Explore

You can get away with spending one to two days in Bryce. Doing so will give you enough time to hike the ever so popular Navajo Trail and catch a decent sunset/ sunrise!

A three day trip may seem kind if long, but it’ll allow you to explore some of the surrounding areas of the park! Believe it or not, there is plenty of hiking and mountain biking directly outside of Bryce.

Where To Camp

There is free camping right outside of Bryce but the area is kind of small compared to others. If you want to ensure that you get a spot, you will have to make it to the free sites early!

  • BLM Land outside Bryce NP (free)
  • Sunset Campground

The Best Things To Do In Bryce National Park

Please be aware that the popular hikes in Bryce are POPULAR. I mean, they get to the point where you will be passing someone every second of your hike! My recommendation, get to Bryce early to beat the crowds!

Popular
-Sunset Point
-Sunrise Point
-Navajo Trail and Queen’s Garden

Underrated
-Red Canyon (just outside Bryce National Park)

My Least Favorite Park About Bryce National Park

I have always loved Bryce National Park for its unique orange hoodoo formations. However, if you’re exploring the park all day, then everything begins to look the same. I think this sounds kind of superficial, but it’s true! You can’t beat the beauty here, but most of the park does look similar.

What To Bring With You

The bottom of Bryce Canyon can be chilly! I recommend bringing a lightweight jacket like this one from Backcountry. The white version is a great contrast with the orange hoodoos if you’re looking for something to wear in photos! I also love wearing crew neck tops for walking around the top of the canyon.

Utah National Park #4 Canyonlands National Park

Score: 36/50

Canyonlands National Park is beautiful. Its overlooks are unique to the park and Canyonlands is surprisingly empty throughout the year! If you’re looking for fewer crowds, visit this Utah National Park!

What I love about Canyonlands is that it seems so untouched. It’s made up of two parts: Needles District and Island In The Sky. Now before you get all, “But Daniiiiiii, Canyonlands is amazing, why did it rank so low??” Please note that I am only going off of my personal experience! I have never been to Island In The Sky and could not mention it in my rankings.

Canyonlands ended up ranking lower than the rest of the parks because it is so spread out that the activities aren’t nearly as accessible as they are in the other parks.

Best Time To Visit

My absolute favorite time to visit Canyonlands National Park is in the winter. The canyons turn into a winter wonderland! You can also visit Canyonlands in late spring or early summer for decent weather. Spring is also a great time to go on a rafting adventure in the park.

Time Needed To Explore

If you want to get a decent sunset and sunrise in Canyonlands, I think it’s appropriate to allocate one to two days to explore the park. You can also visit Dead Horse Point State Park, which is located right outside Canyonlands.

Where To Camp

Since Canyonlands is right by Arches, you’ll have access to some of the same free camping! You can also post up in the Moab area, which allows for lots of free street camping.

  • Willow Springs Road (free)
  • Willow Flats Campground
  • Sand Flats Recreation Area

The Best Things To Do In Canyonlands National Park

Again, most of the activities in Canyonlands are spread out BUT, the park is very photogenic. I highly recommend Mesa Arch for sunrise even though it is so damn popular that you will be shouldering photographers if you go.

If you can, get a guide and packraft the Green River! I did this last April and it was seriously one of the best experiences of my life!

Popular
-Mesa Arch
-Green River Overlook

Underrated
-Packrafting the Green River

My Least Favorite Part About Canyonlands National Park

The park can be boring. I don’t mean to sound prude, but when you compare Canyonlands to a place like Zion, Canyonlands lacks in easily accessible trails!

What To Bring With You

If you’re going packrafting, then you 100% need a Kokopelli packraft like this one. You’ll also need a cute swimsuit. I love this one piece by L Space. For cold days, this Patagonia fleece always feels like a warm hug. And during your hikes, I recommend this 28L pack– the only bag I use (most of the time)!

Utah National Park #5: Capitol Reef National Park

Score: 34/50

Capitol Reef is probably the cutest National Park I have ever visited. This park is for great car camping lovers. I believe one of the main highlights of Capitol Reef is Cathedral Valley Road, which requires a high clearance vehicle.

In all honesty, I love this park! However, the reason it ranked lower than the others is because there aren’t that many thrilling hiking trails compared to the other parks. However, if you’re into off-roading, come here! Cathedral Valley Road is sooooo beautiful. While this Utah National Park got a lower overall ranking than the others, I still love it just as much.

Best Time To Visit

The summer is the best time to visit the park since it will be less prone to rain! Rain can typically flood the roads. If you want some cooler weather, you can try for the spring, but you need to watch the weather report for rain. It would seriously suck to get stuck in the roads out there!

Time Needed To Explore

If you decide to drive Cathedral Valley road, I think you need to give yourself two days to explore that and the rest of the park! You can also explore the surrounding area which includes Hanksville.

Where To Camp

Outside of the park, there is free BLM land to camp at. However, you cna camp right in the park and it’ll put you next to the cute little farm area!

  • Beas Lewis Flat Road BLM (free)
  • Fruita Campground

The Best Things To Do in Capitol Reef National Park

PLLLLLEEEEEASE, if you go here, go to the farm area! It’s kind of rare for a national park to be so damn cute. The last time Scott and I were there, we bought a loaf of bread and jelly!

And of course, another must is to visit Cathedral Valley Road. I found it to be super photogenic and would go back in a heartbeat!

Popular
-Capitol Reef Scenic Byway
-Hickman Natural Bridge

Underrated
-Cathedral Valley Road
-The baked goods made at Gifford House

My Least Favorite Part About Capitol Reef

If it rains in Capitol Reef National Park, you become extremely limited on the activities you can do. Most of the roads in the park are prone to flooding (like my favorite, Cathedral Valley Road) and no vehicle will be able to pass through.

What To Bring With You

If you plan on car camping, a blanket will never do you wrong! I also love wearing crop tops like this one (or this one) for photos and a cute bralette underneath. They’re also great for walking around! Speaking of photos, I love wearing bright colored leggings like these because they pop in my images! If you’re looking for some leggings that will shine (literally) in your photos, here are the ones I wore at Capitol Reef! I also recommend bringing a rain jacket like this one just in case it starts pouring!

Tips For Visiting Utah National Parks

If you’re going to be visiting Utah National Parks, keep the following tips in mind! And trust me, I have been to each park more than once, so you’re going to want to listen up.

Go Early To Avoid The Crowds

Utah National Parks are POPULAR. If you want to go to some of the top rated ones, you’ll want to get there early! Sometimes the parks get so crowded that you’ll be navigating through swarms of people during your adventures. Go early to avoid crowds.

Be Patient

The parks will be crowded, you know this. Be patient with tourists because after all, you are one too!

Stay On Trail

The fauna surrounding the trails in Utah National Parks is fragile! do your part in preserving the environment and sty on trail. When you choose to go off and create damage, it can take YEARS for it to grow back.

Make A Trip Out Of It

If you have any time, I HIGHLY suggest you make a road trip out of the Utah National Parks! Seeing all 5 of them is a bucket list worthy trip that you wont regret for even a second.

So What Utah National Park Are You Hitting First?

Picking a park is a tough decision! If you have time, I recommend checking out all of them. Each Utah National Park has its own unique attributes that I love.

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  1. Kyl Quin says:

    Hey this was a great article/blog. I’m doing the night 5 in June and I was very curious for very real and truthful descriptions from someone who had done them all. Thank you and keep up the great work!

  2. Michelle says:

    Hi,

    Great article! Definitely doing one of these trips. Was wondering which trail you had taken to see the sort of open cave in Zion. (Last of the Zion pictures).

  3. Joe Jaime says:

    This is great, thanks for sharing, planning on visiting these parks soon and this definitely takes out some of the guesswork ????

  4. Ben Talin says:

    It’s funny how you also used those particular ranking categories for the national parks. I have seen another blogger, I think her name is renee roams (or something like that) use the exact same ranking scale for her national parks trip a couple of years back! She also used a 1-10 scale and ranked them out of 50 haha

    • Dani Rodriguez says:

      Yes! I put a link to her blog under the “ranking example”. That’s where the idea came from! I think her ranking system is a bit more detailed, though.

  5. Jessica says:

    Hi Dani, I am looking for more information on the BLM public land camping to save costs when my boyfriend and I visit the Utah NPs this May. How do you find them? Are there pins of the locations you can share that you’ve mentioned in this article? All of the information you have provided here has been super helpful as we plan our trip, thank you so much!

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I'm a burrito loving explorer who got fired from corporate America and turned that into my dream career as a photographer and blogger. Now I'm here to help you explore life's magic. Thanks for stopping by!