It’s hard to pick a favourite among Utah’s five national parks. From west to east, Zion is the oldest and perhaps the most beautiful. Cut through by the Virgin River, its spectacular rock formations, rugged canyons and pine-clad peaks provide a breathtaking backdrop for walking, climbing and canyoning.
Next up is Bryce Canyon National Park, known for its thousands of multihued hoodoos – tall, thin spires of rock that come in every possible shade of white, pink, red and purple. Named after the white sandstone domes that reminded early settlers of Washington, D.C.’s Capitol building, Capitol Reef National Park is the middle of the five, a hidden treasure filled with cliffs, canyons, domes and bridges.
Continue east and you’ll reach the largest of Utah’s parks, Canyonlands, whose fissures and faults, flat-topped mesas and eerie arches provide plenty to admire. The drive from the main road to the Needles (sandstone pinnacles east of the Colorado River) may be the prettiest in Utah. Last but by no means least is Arches National Park, famous for its 2,000+ natural rock arches, including Delicate Arch, a great spot to watch the sunset, and Landscape Arch, one of the longest stone arches in the world.
Great news for travellers is that all the parks are conveniently close together, making them easy to combine in a single self-drive holiday. In the west, Zion and Bryce Canyon are less than 90 miles apart, while over to the east, Arches is just a ten-minute drive from Moab, the adventure travel capital of canyon country, and just 30 minutes from Canyonlands.
North, away from Red Rock Country, is Salt Lake City, Utah’s capital and the gateway to the state. At its heart is Temple Square, as revered by Mormons as the Vatican is by Catholics. Within an hour’s drive east are at least 10 terrific ski resorts, including pretty Park City and ultra-plush Deer Valley. While just an hour and a half west are the Bonneville Salt Flats, proving beyond doubt the incredible diversity of America’s Beehive State.