Guidebook

Beat the Crowds in Utah's Mighty 5 National Parks

Discover little-used trails in Utah's famous national parks.

Greg Heil

Description

Utah's five stunning national parks are filled with red rock formations of all shapes and sizes. From towering hoodoos to soaring arches, majestic cliffs, and deep slot canyons, the beauty and grandeur of the Utah desert are guaranteed to excite the imagination of everyone that visits!

The five Utah national parks are Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Capitol Reef. Now known as "The Mighty 5" due to the state of Utah's ultra-successful marketing campaign by the same name, these five national parks create a bonafide bucket list that can be turned into one of the most epic road trips of your life!

Unfortunately, Utah's marketing campaign has been too successful. The Mighty 5 campaign was so masterful that the marketing agency responsible has won multiple awards for the campaign's execution and branding. That award-winning marketing has caused the visitation to the Mighty 5 national parks and the surrounding areas to skyrocket, inspiring millions of people from around the world to plan their own visits to the Utah desert. "The number of visitors to the five parks jumped 12 percent in 2014, 14 percent in 2015, and 20 percent in 2016, leaping from 6.3 million to over 10 million in just three years," according to Mark Sundeen in Outside Magazine.

What exactly was this ad campaign marketing? Was it getting the most epic photo for your Instagram account? No, "the magical thing the Mighty Five advertises is solitude, but unless you’re able to visit midweek during the school year or in the dead of winter, you won’t find that in the parks," Sundeen continues.

These days, a visit to the Mighty 5 can require planning 6 months in advance to get an entrance reservation, camping reservation, or a permit for a popular hike. Even with a reservation, you'll often find yourself sitting in a long line of cars as everyone tries to get through the entrance gate at the same time. Once in the gate, you'll find yourself competing for a parking spot at one of the overcrowded trailheads and getting rejected as you circle through the campground for the fifth time in the hopes of finding a free campsite.

Yes, the parks are insanely overcrowded. But if you head far enough off the beaten path, there's still some solitude to be found in these national parks. At the risk of revealing the best-kept secrets in the Mighty 5, in this guidebook we've rounded up five under-the-radar hikes that will keep you away from most (but not all) of the crowds.

These five recommendations are, at the time of this writing in 2022, lesser-traveled than the more famous trade routes (which you can find in this guidebook). But what these trails represent isn't necessarily the specific trail recommendations but the belief that if you are willing to explore, if you're willing to venture a bit further off the beaten path than everybody else, that you can, in fact, find a taste of solitude and still experience a sense of wilderness and adventure.

For a true sense of isolation, that will likely mean avoiding the Mighty 5—and really, the vast majority of the national parks—altogether. But there is still beauty, solitude, and wilderness out there to be discovered and experienced. You simply have to head into the desert and find it for yourself.

East Rim Trail
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP's Editorial team.

East Rim Trail

Zion National Park
5 - 6 hrs
21.4 km
562 m
562 m
Solitude and splendor from the east entrance of Zion National Park.
Moderate
Private
Under-the-Rim Trail
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP's Editorial team.

Under-the-Rim Trail

1 day +
35.7 km
1,611 m
1,370 m
Bryce Canyon’s premier backcountry trail, far from the crowds and with secluded campsites for backpackers.
Difficult
Private
Upper Spring Canyon
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP's Editorial team.

Upper Spring Canyon

7 - 8 hrs
29.9 km
970 m
1,093 m
A backcountry route for seasoned desert hikers, potentially linking with the more popular Lower Spring Canyon.
Severe
Private
Tower Arch
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP's Editorial team.

Tower Arch

Moab
1 - 2 hrs
4.8 km
224 m
224 m
Hike to one of the most remote arches in Arches National Park.
Moderate
Private
Squaw Canyon to Lost Canyon Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP's Editorial team.

Squaw Canyon to Lost Canyon Loop

3 - 4 hrs
13.3 km
288 m
288 m
Day hike or backpacking trip into well-watered canyons, with some rock scrambling required to enter and exit them.
Severe
Private