National Parks

All 5 Utah National Parks Ranked Best To Worst

Mar 15, 2022

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Utah has an undeniable allure that hikers, photographers, and travelers can’t deny. And OOF, when you add 5 beautiful national parks to that mix— things get a whole lot better, don’t they? But are all of the parks worth visiting? We’re about to find out as we discuss the Utah National Parks ranked best to worst! Muahahaha!

Truthfully, each Utah National Park is unique; it’s why they’ve been coined “The Mighty 5” ooooh, fancy! And a Big 5 Utah National Parks road trip is DEFINITELY worthy of a spot on your bucket list. However, this kind of adventure isn’t feasible for everyone.

So again… HOW DO YOU CHOOSE WHICH ONE IS WORTHY OF YOUR GRACE AND PRESENCE?
I have been to Utah more times than I can count, and I have had about three passes through each UT park. In this blog, I will do my best to pull from my experience and rank each Utah National Park from “best” to “worst.” If you only have time to visit one of the Mighty 5 right now, hopefully, this blog will clarify which one to see first!

Please note, these are my OPINIONS. You may have visited one of these parks and loved it dearly. This post is simply my take on Utah National Parks ranked.

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

So how does one rank Utah National Parks anyways? It took some time, but I had to take in specific criteria to get the Utah National Parks ranked for you.

These criteria look like Utah National Park’s facilities, trails, scenery, photogenic-ness, transportation methods, and crowds. Then, I gave each park a score out of ten for each “category” and added our totals!

Again, I want to preface this blog by saying that I do not dislike 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!

Now that we’ve set expectations and taken a look at our ranking system let’s dive into each UT park! To help you further decide what park is suitable for you, I’ve also included details on when to visit, how much time you need, camping, and things to do.

#1 Zion National Park (Best Utah National Park)

SCORE: 41/50

Zion ranked the highest out of the Utah National Parks. However, 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.

Best Time to Visit

When planning your trip to Zion, shoot for late spring and early summer. Don’t expect to avoid the crowds, though. The upside to visiting in the summer is having access to all of the trails (they sometimes close them in late spring due to weather).

If you are visiting for the first time and want to do day hikes, 2 days in Zion is more than enough time! However, if you’re in the mood for a more extended trip that includes backpacking, canyoneering, etc., 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 Stay

  • Kolob Terrace Road – Free camping
  • BLM Land along the 59 – Free camping
  • Under Canvas Zion – Glamping near the park!
  • Luxury Log Cabin – Fancy log cabin 10-minutes from the park!
  • Historic Cottage – Charming cottage in Springdale and 2 minutes from the park entrance!

The Best Things to Do in Zion

Cons About Zion

Zion’s transportation system is the worst. To visit most trails, you must park at the Visitor Center and take a shuttle. If parking is full (which it 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 pull-outs located along the roads, which also fill up.

If you’re interested in reading more about when to visit Zion, head to my complete Zion National Park Guide! We go in DEEP with the details so you can have a fantastic trip!

#2 Arches National Park

SCORE: 40/50

Arches is a reasonably famous Utah National Park, and it’s easy to see why! Similar to Zion, there is a ton of hiking to do. However, what I will say Arches really has going for it is how photogenic it is! The vibrant reds and oranges of the red rocks glitter at sunrise and sunset.

Best Time to Visit

Winter is a fantastic 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.

In regards to how long to make your trip, 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!

Where to Stay

  • Devils Garden Campground – Park camping
  • Willow Springs Road – Free camping
  • Sand Flats Recreation Area – Camping available on Recreation.gov
  • Under Canvas Moab – Glamping near Arches and Canyonlands!
  • Luxury Condo – Beautiful 2BR condo near the heart of Moab!

The Best Things to Do in Arches

Cons About Arches National Park

Like most popular places, the crowds are the worst 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’s great about Arches National Park is that it’s right by Moab, which means you can explore that area AND go to Canyonlands NP. So your adventure here will be a double whammy!

#3 Bryce 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! What’s sure to surprise you about Bryce is how orange it is. The rock formations in Bryce National Park are seriously insane and will leave you speechless.

Best Time to Visit

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

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

Where to Stay

  • BLM Land outside Bryce NP – Free camping
  • Sunset Campground – Park camping
  • Under Canvas Bryce – Glamping experience near Bryce!
  • Canyon View Home – 1BR home outside of Bryce NP that has a beautiful canyon view!
  • Home in Red Cliffs – Beautiful home in Kanab, UT, about 1 hour from Bryce and Zion.

The Best Things to do in Bryce National Park

  • Sunset Point
  • Sunrise Point
  • Navajo Trail and Queen’s Garden
  • Red Canyon (just outside Bryce National Park)
  • Park Tour from Las Vegas

Cons 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, 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.

If you want to visit another national park, I recommend spending 2 days in Zion then driving over to Bryce! They’re only an hour away from each other.

#4 Canyonlands National Park

SCORE: 36/50

Canyonlands National Park is beautiful and surprisingly under explored. So if you’re looking for fewer crowds, visit this Utah National Park! 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 those in the other parks.

So if you’re not a climber, off-roader, or mountain biker, you may not enjoy this park as much. BUT, if you’re up for booking some tours when you go, you’ll have a hell of a time.

Best Time to Visit

My absolute favorite time to visit Canyonlands National Park is in the winter. However, you can also visit Canyonlands in late spring or early summer for decent weather and lovely sunshine.

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, located right outside Canyonlands.

Where to Stay

  • Willow Flats Campground – Park camping
  • Willow Springs Road – Free camping
  • Sand Flats Recreation Area – Camping available on Recreation.gov
  • Under Canvas Moab – Glamping near Arches and Canyonlands!
  • Luxury Condo – Beautiful 2BR condo near the heart of Moab!

The Best Things to do in Canyonlands National Park

Cons 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 easily accessible trails!

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

#5 Capitol Reef National Park (Cutest Utah National Park)

SCORE: 34/50

Capitol Reef is probably the cutest National Park I have ever visited. The farm area is to die for. 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, it ranked lower than the others because there aren’t that many thrilling hiking trails or attractions compared to the other parks.

Best Time to Visit

The summer is the best time to visit the park! If you want some cooler weather, you can try for the spring, but you need to watch the weather report for rain since it can flood the roads. It would seriously suck to get stuck somewhere like Cathedral Valley Road!

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! Otherwise, one day is perfect. You can also explore the surrounding area, which includes Hanksville.

Where to Stay

  • Beas Lewis Flat Road BLM – Free camping
  • Fruita Campground – Park camping
  • Pet-Friendly Home – Adorable pet-friendly home with a view right outside the park!

The Best Things to do in Capitol Reef National Park

  • Capitol Reef Scenic Byway
  • Hickman Natural Bridge
  • Cathedral Valley Road
  • Sample baked goods made at Gifford House

Cons About Capitol Reef

If it rains in Capitol Reef National Park, you become extremely limited in your activities. This is because 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.

If you’re into off-roading, come to Capitol Reef! Cathedral Valley Road is sooooo beautiful and my favorite part of the entire park.

Tips for Visiting the Parks

If you’re going to be visiting and of the Utah National Parks ranked in this blog, keep the following tips in mind!

Go Early to Avoid 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.

Save Money and Grab an Annual Pass

Use an America the Beautiful Pass to get into all these parks! The pass is $80 and will pay for itself if you visit all 5 UT parks (each has a $35 entry fee).

Make a Trip Out of It

Remember, you can tack all of these parks or a couple to a larger Southwest road trip you might be planning. For example, Arches and Canyonlands are the perfect additions to an Arizona Utah road trip!

How to Pick Which Ranked Utah National Park to Visit

Picking a park is a tough decision! It all comes down to what kind of activities you’re into and what sort of Southwest trip you think you’ll have. For example, if you’re a thrill seeker, you might be into Canyonlands. If you want to relax, Capitol Reef is perfect for you!

But, if you have time, I recommend checking out all of them. Each Utah National Park has its own unique attributes that I love. I have a Utah parks road trip blog you can read next that highlights what visiting all 5 parks would look like!

Regardless of which UT National Park you choose to visit, I hope you have a fantastic trip! Happy exploring :).

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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!

  6. This Utah National Parks guide is incredibly helpful. You’ve really thought through everything you need to know before planning a trip. Thank you for this helpful resource. Saving this guide for later!

  7. Megan says:

    I am going to be driving from CT to CA this summer and your page was so helpful in planning my Utah camps! Thank you for the great tips

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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!