Utah’s Mighty Five National Parks are must-see parks on any Southwest US road trip. Each park has something unique to offer, along with some very popular hiking trails which can be overcrowded. Well, I have some good news for you! There are tons of lesser-known Utak hiking trails in the National Parks as well! Here are some of the must-do lesser-known hikes in Utah’s Mighty Five.
Already have your favourite Utah National Park? Then simply click on the link below to take you straight to the hikes. Or take your time and scroll through them all so you don’t miss any good hiking trails!
1. Zion National Park
Zion is Utah’s most visited park. After working in Utah for two summers, most people that have been to the National Parks say Zion is their favourite. It falls right in the middle for me, but it has some amazing hikes. The two most well known are Angels Landing and The Narrows.
Canyon Overlook and Hidden Canyon are two awesome alternatives for an awesome experience and to help avoid the crazy crowds. But it is Zion, so you probably won’t have the hiking trail all to yourself.
Canyon Overlook Hiking Trail
Hiking distance: 1 mile/ 1.6 km
This is a nice, easy, short hiking trail on the east side of the tunnel. It’s a trail taking you through a canyon, then along the canyon wall edge. There are a couple areas that exposed without railings, but they are short and easy to pass.
Eventually, you come to ‘the cave’ with a little bridge to get to and, I won’t lie. I was even nervous about it and heights don’t bother me much. That is about halfway and the trail continues along the edge of the canyon wall, before taking you up onto the rock and to the canyon overlook.
On the left, you can see the little holes in the wall for the tunnel windows. And on the right, keep an eye open for Bighorn Sheep. They’re easy to spot, just look for their little white butts. And straight ahead, you’ll be overlooking Echo Canyon, the canyon you probably just drove through.
Hiking distance: 2.4 miles/3.8 km
Hidden Canyon is almost like a nice introduction to Angel’s Landing. And by nice, I mean it still has some crazy exposed cliffs, but it’s only exposed on one side instead of both. If you really hate heights, it still might not be for you.
From the Weeping Rock stop, you climb up a steep set of switchbacks before making your way around the outside edge of the cliff and into the Hidden Canyon. If you’re looking for crazy views, skip this trail, but if you want a totally different Zion experience, give it a shot.
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Once you get around the cliff, which has chains to hold onto most of the way, you’ll get to the end of the maintained hiking trail, but you can keep walking.
In the canyon, you’ll have to do a little rock scrambling to get to the end, but it isn’t terribly difficult. Close to the end of the trail, you’ll see an arch marked with a few cairns on the right.
2. Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon is an otherworldly landscape of hoodoos in Southwest Utah. It’s near Zion and a lot of people skip it or just pass through quickly to head to Zion instead.
Well, if people do stop to hike, it’s probably Navajo Loop to get into the canyon. This area is actually an amphitheatre! The Mossy Cave hiking trail in Utah sees far fewer visitors and is actually not on the scenic park road.
Mossy Cave hiking trail
Hiking distance: 0.8 miles/ 1.3 km
This hiking trail is a nice easy walk along Highway 12. If you were coming from Capitol Reef, you would pass it on your way into the Park.
The trailhead is on the side of the road and is super easy to follow. Not too far in, you’ll come to a fork in the trail. A left will take you to the trail’s namesake, Mossy Cave and right will take you to the top of the waterfall.
3. Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef is one of my favourite parks in Utah because you can pick fruit, do lots of hiking, and still escape the crowds. It’s not the least visited park in Utah, Canyonlands National Park claims that spot. But it does get overlooked by people passing through on road trips. It’s definitely worth visiting and has so much to offer. Here’s one of my favourite lesser-known hiking trails in the Park
Sulphur Creek full day hike
Hiking distance: 8.5 miles/ 13.5 km (includes 3 miles/ 5 km back to trailhead)
This is a full day hike and the longest on this list. Clocking in at 8.5 miles total, 5.5 miles for the actual hike and 3 miles for the walk back to the trailhead.
This is a one-way hike starting across from the Chimney Rock Trailhead. The hiking trail starts in a wash taking you through the bottom of the Goosenecks.
If you look up to the right spot, you can see the overlook. I don’t know where this spot is exactly, I missed it myself. After a while, you come to the confluence (the junction of the two rivers) and head to the left to continue in Sulphur Creek.
From here to the Visitor Center, where the trail ends, you’ll be walking in the creek, so wear shoes that can get wet. You’ll find three waterfalls that you have to scramble down, but it’s not too tough and a section of narrows.
It’s a refreshingly enjoyable Utah hiking trail to do in the middle of the summer to escape the desert heat, at least for most of it.
Once you reach the Visitor Center, you have to either walk back along the road to your car, hitchhike, or have a second car or bike waiting for you.
Top tips for Sulphur Creek Hike
- Wear waterproof shoes (or ones you don’t mind getting wet!)
- Plan most of the day for this hike and if you have time, stop by the Gifford Home for some ice cream or pie.
If you’re near Capitol Reef National Park after dark, make sure you check out the sky at night. It’s one of the “half the park is after dark” parks with some of the best night sky viewing opportunities.
4. Arches National Park
Arches National Park is one of my other favourite Utah parks. It also happens to be the first Utah National Park I ever visited. It’s a relatively small, but still has so much hiking, you could be busy hiking the trails for a week. Now, if you’ve ever seen anything about Utah, you’ve probably seen the Delicate Arch, the must-do hike in the park, but there are tons of other hikes to do as well. Here are two of my lesser-known hiking trails
Broken Arch Trail
Hiking distance: 1.8 miles/ 2.9 km
Broken Arch is located near the same parking area as Sand Dune Arch. Most people go to that one and skip Broken Arch, which is a shame because it’s got a pretty great view.
It’s a very easy, pretty much flat hiking trail from the parking area to the arch. The trail continues through the arch to Tapestry Arch, but before you keep going, make sure you turn around and check out the view through the arch.
This Utah hiking trail gets overlooked, but is easy and a great way to spend an hour between longer hikes.
Fiery Furnace walk
Hiking distance: 2 miles/ 3.2 km
To wander among the labyrinth of sandstone walls that make up Fiery Furnace, you either need to go on a ranger-guided hike. Or a permit to do it on your own. There is a two-mile trail, but this area is kind of a free for all in the rock formations.
There are small markers for one possible route in the Fiery Furnace, but there are countless others as well. It’s definitely possible to get lost in here. GPS doesn’t always work because of the towering walls.
You will have to be able to squeeze through some narrow spaces and also be able to do some rock scrambling.
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Top tip for Fiery Furnace hiking trail
- For first-time visitors, the ranger-guided hike is recommended to learn your way around the area.
- Although the official trail is 2 miles, there are numerous other hikes you can do in the area
5. Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands is the least visited park in Utah and has three different areas you can explore. The main area closest to Moab is Island in the Sky. Between Moab and Blanding is the Needles District and the Needles Overlook. Finally, on the south end of the park near Goblin Valley State Park is the Maze and Horseshoe Canyon.
All three are completely different experiences and worth visiting for different reasons. The Aztec Butte hike is in Island in the Sky and a very beautiful walk.
Aztec Butte Hike
Hiking distance: 1.2 miles/ 1.9 km
This hike is a pretty moderate hike taking you out to Aztec Butte and an old granary. The hiking trail starts out taking you across some grassland and around to the top of the butte.
You’ll be able to see a few small Anasazi granaries and you’ll have a great view overlooking the Trail Canyon.
The trail is pretty easy to follow at first, but as you climb the butte, it gets more difficult as you’ll be following cairns and there are no railings to help you up, so wear good shoes and enjoy the view.
Top tip for the Aztec Butte Hike
- Wear shoes or hiking boots with a good grip.
Top Tips for Utah’s Hiking Trails
When to visit?
- If you are flexible on the time of year you can visit, I would highly recommend a trip to Southern Utah in the winter. The weather is perfect and the crowds are far fewer.
- If you’re visiting in the summer, it will be very hot at most of the parks, Bryce Canyon can be cool because of the high elevation, so prepare for the heat.
In the summer, especially at Zion and Arches, it gets super busy. To avoid the crowds, at least a little bit, get into the park first thing in the morning. Another great time to be on popular trails is in the evening, around dinner time, since most people leave the park to go eat.
Consider camping in the parks, too. This is another great way to enjoy the parks when there are fewer people around.
What to bring on your hike?
- Bring and drink lots of water.
- Wear sunscreen and don’t forget to reapply it.
Other Utah Top Tips for visitors
While Utah may be all about those National Parks, they have a few pretty awesome state parks and other outdoorsy activities, too. Some that you should definitely consider visiting are Goblin Valley State Park, Lake Powell (on the border of Utah and Arizona), Snow Canyon State Park and Grand Staircase Escalante.
If you’re visiting multiple national parks and monuments, I would highly recommend getting the National Park Pass. It’s $80, but it pays for itself within three parks visits.
Also, some scenic roads you should consider taking are Burr Trail, Highway 95 and Scenic Byway 12. If you can only take one, Scenic Byway 12 is it, plus it’s the most convenient.
Now that you know more of the awesome hiking trails in Utah’s Mighty Five National Parks. I hope you can see some cool, lesser-known Utah hiking trails on your next Great American Road Trip.
About the author
Megan is a Wisconsin native currently working her way around the US, exploring other countries any chance she gets. She loves to read, drink coffee, and hike, no matter where she is. If there’s a beach, you’ll probably find her on it.
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