How I Saw 5 National Parks in Utah in 48 Hours

Capitol Reef National Park was the third of five stops on the author's weekend trip to Utah. Wolfgang Staudt [CC by 2.0]/flickr

A couple of weeks ago, I set out to conquer Utah's Mighty 5: Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches and Canyonlands — the five national parks in Utah — and I was determined to see them all in a single weekend.

When people found out I was doing this, I was usually met with one of two responses. They either thought I was crazy — after all, you could easily spend 48 hours or more in each of these parks — or they were amazed and intrigued by my ambition.

So how did I do it? What were the highlights? I kept a journal along the way. Take a look!

Friday, 2 p.m.

I just landed in Las Vegas. While most people are gearing up to hit the casinos, I can't wait to get my rental car and start driving to Zion National Park. I have to be honest, I'm having a slight moment of panic. Am I just a poser? Am I really driving hundreds of miles by myself into the middle-of-nowhere Utah? I shove all these doubts out of my mind. I have to get going if I want to have time to explore Zion before sunset.

Friday, 7 p.m.

The steep, rocky landscape is no hassle for these bighorn sheep at Zion National Park in Utah. (Photo: Tom Tietz/Shutterstock)

Zion is gorgeous and the perfect way to kick off my journey. Here I am at Canyon Overlook, right as the sun is about to set. Just up the canyon, I can see a small herd of bighorn sheep. So cool! The next time I’m here, I want to do the Angel's Landing hike, but for now, I have to get going. I’m staying at an Airbnb tonight on the way to Bryce Canyon.

Saturday, 5 a.m.

Deer with antler missing
What happened to the other antler?. Stacy Tornio

I'm not exactly a morning person, but I have this new sense of determination like a kid who just made the basketball team, off to the first practice. Or like a deer with half an antler, which I happened to see early on my drive into the canyon.

I hope this sunrise is worth it.

Saturday, 7 a.m.

Sunrise over Bryce Canyon in Utah.
Sunrise over Bryce Canyon in Utah. Stacy Tornio

This sunrise at the Bryce Amphitheater is so completely worth it. I feel this incredible sense of peace, looking out over Bryce Canyon. I know it sounds cliché, but I don't know if I can find the words to describe it. This is one the most beautiful nature scenes I've ever witnessed.

Saturday, 10 a.m.

Bryce Canyon in Utah
The hoodoos and forest mix together in Bryce Canyon National Park. AngMoKio/Wikimedia Commons

After sunrise, I do a couple of short hikes in the park and do a little bird-watching. Then I come back to the Bryce Amphitheater to bid it goodbye. I try to burn it into my memory as much as possible. I can't wait to come back.

Saturday, 2 p.m.

Picking apples and peaches in Capitol Reef National Park in Utah
Capitol Reef National Park has about 3,100 trees in its orchards, including cherry, apricot, peach, pear, apple, plum, mulberry, almond and walnut, according to the National Park Service. Stacy Tornio

I'm now in Capitol Reef National Park, picking apples and peaches in the public orchard, open to the public. This gives a whole new meaning to the lyrics, "This land is your land. This land is my land." By the way, the drive between Bryce and Capitol Reef was the most scenic, beautiful drive I've ever taken in my life. Best of all, I had no cell service. It was just nature and me.

Saturday, 7 p.m.

The perfect end to a long day of visiting parks. Stacy Tornio

I’m in Moab, Utah, for the night, and I just found one of the only full-service bars in town. Hello, margarita!

Sunday, 8 a.m.

Delicate Arch at Arches National Park
Delicate Arch, a well-known, 65-foot-tall landmark, is depicted on Utah license plates and postage stamps. Palacemusic/Wikimedia Commons

I didn't quite make it for sunrise, but here I am, looking at the famous Delicate Arch at Arches National Park. It's just as impressive as you’d hope it would be.

Sunday, 9 a.m.

The author before her Double O Arch hike.
The author before her Double O Arch hike. Stacy Tornio

I'm off to do the Double O Arch hike. Some of the trail is listed as "primitive." Not gonna lie — I'm starting to feel more like a real adventurer today.

Sunday, noon

Double O Arch hike
The wind was strong at this point during the Double O Arch hike. Stacy Tornio

The hike was everything a hike should be — challenging, a bit mysterious, slightly scary in parts, and the most killer views. While up on this group of boulders, I felt like the wind was going to blow me away. It was like that scene in "Titanic," minus the whole ship, ocean and guy holding onto you thing.

Okay, maybe it wasn't like "Titanic" at all. It was way better.

Sunday, 2 p.m.

Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park in Utah was carved by the Colorado River. Stacy Tornio

Here I am at my fifth park — Canyonlands National Park — exactly 48 hours from when I landed in Vegas. As I stand at the top of the canyons looking down at the Green River, I can't help but think of the Edward Abbey quote I’d read earlier that day: "May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing views." Well said, Mr. Abbey.

When I started this solo journey, I didn’t know what to expect. In fact, I tried really hard not to expect anything — I just wanted to enjoy nature and be in the moment. Maybe I didn’t solve any of the world’s problems while I was out there or have any great epiphanies, but it was truly one of the most epic trips I’ve ever done.

Cheryl Strayed, the author of "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail," once wrote, "I realized there was nothing to do but go, so I did."

While I'll never claim to be as adventurous and awesome and genius as her, those words definitely resonate with me. You see, it's easy to talk yourself out of things or find reasons not to go on adventures. Time and money are often the two biggest culprits. But you know what? Sometimes you just have to up and go.