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ALL of Utah’s MIGHTY 5 National Parks RANKED 2021 (+ video)

We’ve ranked all 5 of Utah’s national parks from the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon to the vastness of Canyonlands, and everything in between!

Utah National Parks

zion national park more than just parks
Utah National Parks

Utah national parks are among the most visited, most scenic, and most photographed in the world – and for good reason! From the Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon to the vastness of Canyonlands, from the grandeur of Zion to the lonesome vistas of Capitol Reef, Utah’s national parks have something for everyone.

Given the countless hours we’ve spent in every one of these parks we’ve finally taken it upon ourselves to rank them from best to worst (how delightfully subjective!).


Why Listen to Us?

You should probably know that we didn’t just make this list up out of thin air. We’ve spent our entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands. We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues.

Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.

pattiz brothers
Jim (left) and Will (right) of More Than Just Parks

We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers. Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.

Now that you’re absolutely and completely sold that we’re the right people to make national park rankings like this let’s get on to just how we made these rankings.


Utah National Parks Ranking Criteria

Now, you might ask how on earth we ranked Utah’s national parks from best to worst. We ranked all of the national parks based on a variety of factors including accessibility, recreational opportunities, crowd sizes, park amenities, and of course, scenic beauty. Have a look at the breakdown below:

  • Accessibility – Is this national park easy to access? We analyzed vehicle access, transportation options, proximity to major airports, lodging and accommodations, conveniences, and other signs of civilization.
  • Recreation – Recreation opportunities found in the park like hiking, biking, boating, climbing, etc.
  • Crowds – How crowded is this national park? We considered traffic, crowded overlooks & trails, limited campsite availability, lines, etc.
  • Amenities – Developed amenities in the park like visitors centers, campgrounds, bathrooms, lodges, etc.
  • Scenery – The scenic beauty of the park. Purely subjective of course, but has to be taken into account.

One More Note

You’ll notice that Zion, despite scoring higher than Arches and Capitol Reef via the point system, is ranked lower on this list. That was intentional.

The crowds at Zion during peak season, and much of the rest of the year, are currently a major factor in the overall user experience. Because of this, we’re choosing to rank it #3.


Things to Know Before You Visit

Entrance Fees: $30 per vehicle OR if you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months we suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks). This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one time $79 fee.

Sunscreen: For many of us visiting Utah’s parks in the summer or almost any other time means lots of sun. Seriously, these parks will zap you if you don’t wear sunscreen. So take it from us and lather up. We happen to like this one because it works AND it’s not full of a bunch of chemicals.

Leave No Trace: We’re big fans of Leave No Trace here at MTJP. Want to learn more? Read about the seven principals of Leave No Trace here.

Insect Repellent: You hope not to need it, but you want to have it. We typically bring an Eco-Friendly Insect Repellent with us.

Dogs are not allowed on trails in most national parks due to their potentially disruptive presence with the natural ecosystem. The basic rule is they are allowed where cars can go so be sure to check the rules before bringing along your furry friend.

Looking for great car camping spots in the US? Check out this great article.


Best Utah National Parks

arches national park - utah national parks
Delicate Arch, Arches National Park | Best Utah National Parks

1. Arches National Park

Location: Moab, Utah

Score: 37.5

  • Accessibility – 7/10
  • Recreation – 7/10
  • Crowds – 7/10
  • Amenities – 8/10
  • Scenery – 8.5/10

Description

Arches National Park is perhaps the most interactive of all the Utah parks filled with scenery that brings out the child in all of us. Sandstone hallways and tunnels, rocks to climb on and over, sandy trails perfect for sandals or even bare feet at times, and red rock vistas that make for an unforgettable experience.

It’s close proximity to Moab does make it a bit of a crowded park at times so be sure to take advantage of early mornings when visiting and consider going during the shoulder seasons.

RELATED: Utah’s Fishlake National Forest: It’s Even More Magical Than You Know

Highlights

double o arch - utah national parks
Double O Arch | Utah National Parks

Delicate Arch (featured in the first image above) is the iconic arch featured on the Utah license plate and the arch everyone plans their trip around. The hike up to Delicate Arch isn’t a walk in the park as it involves a solid incline and a bit of navigating the sandstone, but is more than doable for most visitors.

Landscape Arch is the largest arch on earth spanning some 306 feet of weathered sandstone. This one is an easy 1.5 miles round trip and a must on your Arches trip.

Double O Arch featured in the image above is a very unique arch on top of an arch. This 4.1 mile out and back hike is a bit more strenuous, especially in the summer heat, so plan accordingly and bring plenty of water.

Where to Stay

There’s only one campground in Arches National Park and that’s Devils Garden. If you don’t have reservations there you might as well not even try. Luckily the Moab area is full of BLM campgrounds where you’ll have much better odds.


capitol reef national park - utah national parks
Capitol Reef National Park | Best California National Parks

2. Capitol Reef National Park

Location: Torrey, Utah

Score: 37

  • Accessibility – 6.5/10
  • Recreation – 7/10
  • Crowds – 9/10
  • Amenities – 7/10
  • Scenery – 7.5/10

Description

Probably the least known Utah national park, and yet it’s easily one of the best. No crowds, abundant scenery, and there’s even a small town (Torrey) nestled up against the park that has restaurants and conveniences that will surprise you. Lots of great day-hikes and truly out of this world stargazing opportunities (pun intended).

Overlooks that look out on vast and lonely landscapes shaped by geological activity over millennia, uncrowded trails through ancient petroglyphs, natural arches, and beautiful red rock scenery, and historic structures preserving early pioneer life. What’s not to like about this often-overlooked Utah gem?

RELATED: Manti-La Sal National Forest: The Forest As Beautiful as Utah’s Parks

Highlights

hickman bridge, capitol reef national park utah
Hickman Bridge, Arches National Park | Utah National Parks

Hickman Bridge is an easy 2 mile trail (1 mile each way) taking you to a spectacular sandstone arch. The trail also takes you by early Fremont ruins and a smaller arch.

grand wash capitol reef national park utah

Grand Wash, Capitol Reef National Park | Utah National Parks

Grand Wash is an spectacular gorge that cuts through the Capitol Reef’s Waterpocket Fold geological formation. The trail follows a flat wash for just over 6 miles, but most visitors prefer to explore the half mile narrows (featured in the image above) before simply turning back.

Stargazing Capitol Reef was designated an International Dark Sky Park back in 2015 and for very good reason. The night skies over Capitol Reef provide some of the best stargazing opportunities in the United States.

Where to Stay


zion national park more than just parks
Zion National Park | National Parks Utah

3. Zion National Park

Location: Springdale, Utah

Score: 38*

  • Accessibility – 9/10
  • Recreation – 10/10
  • Crowds – 0.5/10
  • Amenities – 9.5/10
  • Scenery – 9/10

About Zion

You might be scratching your head as to why Zion is ranked number three despite having the highest score of any park on this list. The answer is simple, the crowds.

Listen folks, we love Zion, but the truth is this park is an absolute mess right now. We hear a lot today about our national parks being “loved to death” and no park epitomizes this problem more than Zion.

While the park is jaw-droppingly beautiful and home to world-class recreational opportunities, it’s also completely choked with tourists on every trail and crowding every vista. Buses, lottery systems, permits, closures, and still the crowds swarm like moths to a flame. What’s that old proverb? If you love it, let it go.

We rank Zion number three on this list despite it having the highest actual score because we can’t in good faith rank it as the best Utah National Park right now – it simply isn’t.

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Crowds waiting for the shuttle at 6am in Zion National Park (courtesy Matt Keough)

Unfortunately our ranking system just can’t take into account the fact that the visitor experience in Zion is a disaster right now – and it’s because of us, the people continuing to crowd it in spite of all the warnings.

All that said, there actually are a few areas of the park that are not completely overrun, like Kolob Terrace and Kolob Canyons. In those separate parts of the park you can actually enjoy the beauty of the place without the near constant head-shaking necessitated by seeing the endless crowds of tourists desperately angling for their next social media masterpiece.

RELATED: 11 BREATHTAKING Things to Do in Zion National Park

Zion Highlights

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The Watchman, Zion National Park | Utah National Parks

The Watchman is probably the most iconic feature of the park. This sandstone mountain juts out from the familiar cliffs of Zion and looks out over the whole park. It’s best seen from the bridge near the entrance to the main canyon.

kolob canyon zion national park - utah national parks

Kolob Canyons is our favorite part of the park, where you can escape the maddening crowds and explore the scenery that makes this area of Utah so treasured.

checkerboard mesa zion national park - utah national parks
Checkerboard Mesa, Zion | Utah National Parks

Checkerboard Mesa is a fascinating bit of geology found along Zion Mt Carmel Highway. Here you can stare at a sandstone mesa with what appear to be checkerboard marks carved deep into the stone. This naturally occurring phenomenon is sure to excite the younger ones with you.

Where to Stay

See our acclaimed 4min short film on Zion National Park

Zion National Park Guide

Interested in learning more about Zion National Park? We made a beautiful and easy to use guide with helpful tips, photos, video, & more! Click here for the guide.


mesa arch canyonlands national park
Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park | Utah National Parks

4. Canyonlands National Park

Location: Moab, Utah

Score: 37

  • Accessibility – 5.5/10
  • Recreation – 8.5/10
  • Crowds – 8.5/10
  • Amenities – 7/10
  • Scenery – 9/10

Description

Canyonlands is one of the parks that has views that one can seemingly gaze upon for days without losing interest or comprehending exactly the vastness of the landscape. Mesa Arch here represents one of the most photographed sunrises in all of the national park system and Green River overlook one of the most dazzling sunsets.

The catch? Four-wheel drive. If you’ve got it you’re set and have full access to all of the unbelievable destinations the park has to offer. Without it, your time in the park will be mostly limited to overlooks from above, which are still well worth the trip.

Highlights

canyonlands - utah national parks
Canyonlands National Park | Utah National Parks Ranked

The Needles makes up the southeastern corner of the park and is named after the multi-colored spires of sandstone that dominate the area. The Needles area offers a multitude of hiking opportunities as well as 4WD roads leading to fascinating ruins.

Mesa Arch is the most photographed feature in the park and is where you’ll find the bulk of tourists looking to snag their very own photo of this arch with a view. Sunrise is the best time to head over and see the sun makes its way up through the arch while illuminating the vast landscape.

Shafer Trail is perhaps the pinnacle of 4WD trails in the United States. Here you can put your high clearance four-wheel-drive SUV through the wringer on this challenging, unpaved, and downright scary road.

Where to Stay


sunrise bryce canyon national park
Bryce Canyon National Park | Best Utah National Parks

5. Bryce Canyon National Park

Score: 37

Location: Central Utah

  • Accessibility – 6.5/10
  • Recreation – 6.5/10
  • Crowds – 7/10
  • Amenities – 9/10
  • Scenery – 8/10

Description

As far as the mighty 5 Utah national parks go, Bryce Canyon clocks in at number 5 on the list. I’ll be the first to say that the Wall Street trail in Bryce Canyon is among the most beautiful I’ve hiked in the parks system. Sunrises in the park are nothing short of jaw-dropping. 

However, the scenery here, while beautiful, doesn’t really change past the main viewing area near Sunset Point. Add the crowds here which are tour bus large, with the relative small size of the park and we arrive at 5 out of 5. With that being said, even Utah’s lowest ranking park still ranks higher than most other parks.

Highlights

wall street trail bryce canyon national park utah
Wall Street Trail, Bryce Canyon | Utah National Parks

Wall Street Trail is a spectacular trail through Bryce Canyon’s famous otherworldly scenery.

Sunset Point is the quintessential Bryce Canyon overlook where visitors are amazed at the mind-bending beauty and concentration of hoodoos and rock formations. As it’s name suggests, sunsets here are not to be missed.

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Inspiration Point, Bryce Canyon | Best Utah National Parks

Inspiration Point has a fitting name – from here you can look out on the vast landscape that makes up this unique portion of Utah. Hoodoos, mesas, ponderosa pines, cedar, and beautifully striped hills as far as the eye can see.

Where to Stay


More Worthwhile Utah Destinations

Dixie National Forest

Dixie National Forest Utah

I can not recommend visiting this national forest any more strongly. It is an incredible and overlooked piece of Utah that has a tiny fraction of the visitors of the Utah Mighty 5.

Nestled in the rugged southwestern corner of Utah, Dixie National Forest spans nearly 2 million acres of jaw-dropping scenery and endless vistas. Join us as we take you on a visual journey through alpine lakes and forests of aspen to vast red deserts and dazzling formations of sand and stone. This is Dixie. Filmed primarily in 8K.

Located in southwestern Utah, the Dixie National Forest spans almost two million acres and stretches for nearly 170 miles, making it the largest national forest in the state. Winding your way through the stunning landscapes of southern Utah, the Dixie National Forest offers spectacular scenery that easily rivals that of it’s neighbors Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Capitol Reef National Parks.


Uinta Wasatch Cache National Forest

Uinta-Wasatch Cache National Forest Video

The Uinta-Wasatch Cache is one of the most stunning and unique regions in the country and happens to also be located in Utah. Explore mountains, valleys, forests, canyons, and meadows that are home to some of north america’s most treasured animals and landscapes.


Ashley National Forest

Ashley National Forest Video

The Ashley National Forest is yet another incredible Utah destination located in the northwestern corner of the state. Explore gorges, valleys, forests, deserts, and meadows as we take you from sunrise to sunset in this remote and beautiful landscape.


Map of Utah’s National Parks

See below map with the locations of all five of Utah’s National Parks.


List of Utah National Parks (ranked from best to worst)

  1. Arches National Park
  2. Capitol Reef National Park
  3. Zion National Park
  4. Canyonlands National Park
  5. Bryce Canyon National Park

See Our Full National Park Rankings

We actually ranked ALL 63 National Parks from best to worst using the same point system featured in this article here. Curious to see how Utah’s parks stack up against the rest of the parks nationwide? Click here!


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Jim Pattiz

Co-Founder of More Than Just Parks. Filmmaker, Conservationist, Public Lands Enthusiast

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