9 National Parks in Utah and Colorado That You Must Add to Your Southwest Road Trip
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Utah and Colorado are some of the most diverse and beautiful states, so aren’t we lucky that they are right next to each other? That makes planning a trip to both of them pretty easy. The national parks in Utah and Colorado are captivating from the tip of the pine trees to the rivers sweeping through sandstone canyons. With 9 to pick from, how do you choose which ones to visit?
We’re here to help. We’ve lived in Colorado for a few years and take road trips to explore Utah’s Mighty 5 all the time, and know most of the parks here like the back of our hand (especially Rocky Mountain & Arches)!
If you’re wanting to park hop in a Utah to Colorado road trip, here is the list of national parks in Utah and Colorado!
National Parks in Colorado
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park gives you a taste of what the Colorado landscape has to offer.
From peaceful meadows to lakes nestled between mountaintops above Denver, the views from this park would render anyone speechless.
There are plenty of reasons to visit Rocky Mountain National Park, but I would highly recommend visiting if you are a wildlife lover. Elk, moose, bighorn sheep, otters, marmots, and more can all be spotted throughout the park, depending on the time of year.
Rocky Mountain has hundreds of miles of hiking trails ranging from strolls along the alpine lakes to trudging up a steep mountain. You could spend all your time hiking with that many miles to cover, but if you like scenic drives, camping, or fishing, there is room to do that, too!
Here are a few of the best things to see in Rocky Mountain National Park:
- Bear Lake
- Alberta Falls
- Forest Canyon Overlook
Mesa Verde National Park
Ancestral Pueblo people first inhabited the southwestern corner of Colorado that is now Mesa Verde National Park and we are lucky enough to be able to see some remains of their communities today.
Initially, the Indigenous Pueblo people lived atop the mesas for which the park is named. During the late 1190s, they began to move their living spaces beneath the cliffs and created the cliff dwellings you can see still standing.
Throughout the hiking trails, you can see these cliff dwellings as well as evidence of how they farmed the land. If you want more information than just what you can see, go to the visitor’s center and/or request a tour to see the ancient sights with a ranger.
Mesa Verde National Park provides us with cultural knowledge in the most beautiful and authentic way. This is a must-visit when it comes to national parks in Colorado.
Here are a few of the best things to see in Mesa Verde National Park:
- Long House
- Balcony House
- Spruce House
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is one of the national parks in Utah and Colorado that is perfect for a short stop to explore the surface of the park or for an intimate experience with nature. It is on the western side of Colorado, about 2 hours from the Utah border.
The Gunnison River has molded the Black Canyon throughout the centuries to shield itself from the fainthearted trying to reach it. If you are an experienced hiker, trekking down the steep walls of the canyon to reach the river may interest you.
If you don’t feel the need to attempt a rigorous hike when there are beautiful views everywhere you turn, then by all means, stay on the top of the canyon and hike around its rims. You will be just as satisfied.
Besides hiking, you can engage in wildlife viewing, fishing, kayaking, and stargazing to get the most out of the Black Canyon.
Here are a few of the best things to see in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park:
- The North Rim
- Chasm View
- Painted Wall
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park breaks away from the Rocky Mountains image that most people think of when they hear Colorado.
Towards the bottom of the state, Great Sand Dunes National Park houses the tallest sand dunes in North America. This is a sight you won’t see in any of the other national parks in Utah and Colorado.
This park offers views that at first can seem contradictory, a mound of sand with a snow-capped mountain in the background, but as you spend more time here you’ll be grateful for the mixed bag of landscapes.
Along with the regular hiking and backpacking, you can go sand sledding and sand boarding, and play in Medano Creek.
Here are a few of the best things to see in Great Sand Dunes National Park:
- Star Dune, tallest dune in North America
- See the Milky Way
- Zapata Falls
National Parks in Utah
Canyonlands National Park
Although it’s one of Utah’s Mighty Five, Canyonlands pulls fewer visitors yearly than its sister parks normally do. And yet, we’re not really sure why because this park is vast with plenty of activities and sites to see.
Located in southeastern Utah, Canyonlands has four districts for adventurers to explore. Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the two rivers that run through the park.
This national park is perfect for visitors who are looking to take a deep dive into the Utah scenery. There is plenty of primitive camping, backcountry backpacking, and more.
For experienced campers and hikers, this is one of the national parks in Utah and Colorado that offers reaching rock formations, shuddering cliffs, and fantastic views that you can make your own.
Here are a few of the best things to see in Canyonlands National Park:
- Grand View Point
- Mesa Arch
- Green River Overlook
Arches National Park
Arches National Park is right on the border of eastern Utah. This park is an hour and a half from Grand Junction, Colorado.
Now you can see little arches speckled across the other national parks in Utah, but none house arches so great and spectacular as Arches does. In fact, one of those arches, the Delicate Arch, has become the poster image of Utah.
And you can go see it! In fact, you can stand right under it.
The smoothed-out red rock brings a graceful look to all of the arches and rock formations here; it’s mesmerizing.
You can hike the park to see all of the famous arches, but there is plenty of camping, four-wheel riding, and horseback riding to do as well.
Here are a few of the best things to see in Arches National Park:
- Delicate Arch
- Double Arch
- Park Avenue
Capitol Reef National Park
If you’re exploring central Utah, you’ll want to stop at Capitol Reef National Park.
Along with red stone formations to explore and see, you can also visit the historic town of Fruita. Get a glimpse of what life was like in Utah in the early 1900s and peek into a one-room schoolhouse still left standing. There is also plenty of evidence of the Indigenous peoples who used to inhabit the area visible throughout the park.
Sleep amongst the stars and trees at the Fruita Campground near the orchards, where you can pick the seasonal fruit.
Capitol Reef has a little bit of everything for everyone, with plenty of history for my history buffs out there, fun activities for kids, and more nature to explore than you could dream of.
Here are a few of the best things to see in Capitol Reef National Park:
- Panorama Point
- See the Petroglyphs
- Visit the historic Fruita
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park has some of the most unique and bewitching beautiful views in the state.
Bryce Canyon is famous for its quirky rock spires called hoodoos. In fact, Bryce Canyon has the highest concentration of them in the entire world.
They litter the park making some gatherings of them look like cities, and others look straight out of a fantasy novel. Pine trees color the park with greenery to add a beautiful contrast to the orange and red hoodoos.
And Bryce Canyon has got it all. Whether you’re just looking for a pretty drive, a hike, to ride your bike, you can do it here.
Here are a few of the best things to see in Bryce Canyon National Park:
- Inspiration Point
- Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop Trail
- Bryce Point
Zion National Park
Zion National Park is the most famous out of Utah’s Mighty Five and for good reason.
This park, located in southwestern Utah, has some of the most beautiful views, challenging, but rewarding hikes, and best activities for any age and any group of people.
Although it gets busy, a shuttle can take you throughout the park so you don’t have to drive to every spot as well.
In Zion, you can find cliff walls surrounding you with miniature waterfalls flowing down them. You can also stand on top of those cliffs and look out over the park itself. Zion National Park scenery offers a magical serenity that is hard to find anywhere else.
Here are a few of the best things to see in Zion National Park:
- The view from Angel’s Landing
- The Narrows
- Mt. Carmel Scenic Drive
Visiting the national parks in Utah and Colorado is a great way to explore the landscape of the west at its best.
I’m sure you were able to find a few sights in there that interested you, but it’s probably more likely that you found more than you’ll have time for.
So you’ll just have to come back to see the best places in Utah and Colorado to visit for yourself.
- 12 Best Things to do in Mesa Verde National Park
- Great Sand Dunes National Park Camping: Tips, Campgrounds, & More!
- When is the Best Time to Visit Zion National Park?
- 9 Cozy Cabins in Steamboat Springs
- 12 Best Photo Spots in Rocky Mountain National Park
- 11 Can’t-Miss Hot Springs in Utah
- Where to Stay Near Capitol Reef: 13 Best Capitol Reef Hotels
- Where to Stay Near Arches National Park: 12 Arches National Park Hotels
- 17 Most Beautiful Places in Colorado
- When is the best time to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park?