Utah has some of the most unbelievable landscapes and features in the world, ranging from the incredible Bonneville Salt Flats near Salt Lake City, to luxurious Mystic Hot Springs in Monroe, to the epic and expansive views in Monumnet Valley. I'd need days to describe all the many hidden gems and natural wonders you can find dotted around the Beehive state, so instead, we'll start with the most obvious places to start; its National Parks.
In this post, we'll talk about the incredble 5 National Parks you'll find in Utah, and some of our favourite things to do in each. Let's start with our favourite; Zion National Park.
Zion National Park
Zion National Park is an unexpected oasis hidden away in the middle of the arid Utah landscape. It's a lush canyon formed over thousands of years by Utah's Virgin River, and comprises of some of America's best and most unique hiking and rock climbing experiences.
At the top of the hiking bucketlist, you'll find the Angel's Landing hike; a gut churning, sweat inducing hike up a razor thin mountain with thousand foot drops on either side. Indeed it's famous for it's precarious chained section, where hikers shuffle along smooth rock edges, with only a chain handrail for support.
Among others, the Narrows hike is another quintessential Zion experience, which allows visitors to wade up a broad canyon for miles and miles, listening to their voices bounce and echo off the steep rock walls. There are few places in the world, if any, that can offer a similar experience.
The last experience I want to include on this list is the amazing sunset views you'll experience from the Canyon Overlook hike. This is a much shorter and more manageable hike, and offers incredible birds eye views of the Zion Valley with significantly less effort (you gain most of your alititude by driving). If you do nothing else in Zion, make sure you treat yourself to this view!
Zion is a wonderful escape from the city, and is easily reachable from Las Vegas in under 3 hours.
Capitol Reef National Park
Nestled in the heart of the Utah wilderness, you'll find the wonderful rock formations of Capital Reef National Park.
Owing to the difficulty in reaching it, and its remoteness, Capital Reef is far less frequented by travellers, and you're likely to only bump into a few of the most determined explorers on your visit. The major feature of Capitol Reef is the almost 100 mile rock formation called the Waterpocket Fold, and it's for this reason that the park is called a Reef (a word used to describe a barrier to travel).
For us, the highlight of our visit was The Temple of the Sun and Moon; a huge rock formation that bursts from the ground like the prow of a ship, and Glass Mountain, an obscure crystal rock bursting from the ground like an enormous ball of glass.
However, if time is a factor, the scenic drive along Highway 24 and the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive is sure to give you the best bang for your buck. Make sure you bring a full tank of gas and plenty of snacks!
Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park contains some of the most vast and expansive desert landscapes in the world. Viewpoints like Islands in the Sky and Dead Horse Point seemingly go on forever, and the sheer scale of the canyons will make your jaw hit the floor.
For an iconic view, make sure to visit the famous Mesa Arch. It's particular popular for as a sunrise destination, thanks to the sunrise lighting the underside of the arch with a bright orange glow. Be prepared to jostle with other photographers though, as it's probably the most popular sunrise spot in the entire park.
A couple of days spent in Canyonlands is enough to get a sense of the area, but you'll only want to come back again for more.
Arches National Park
Arches National Park is an incredibly unique geological area that's full of natural sandstone arches created by thousands of years of erosion. The most popular arches are delicate arch, double arch, and Landscape Arch, amongst many others. Some require long hikes to reach, other's are viewable within just a few minutes walk.
Some arches are fantastic to catch at sunrise, particularly Window Arch, but glow a glorious orange yellow colour when the sun hits them. Arches is well worth a trip, particularly if you're staying in the Moab area.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Byrce Canyon is an astonishing piece of geology, and something you're unlikely to come across anywhere else in the world. A drive out to Bryce will feel long and remote, but the destination is well worth the effort. Bryce Canyon is a small amphitheatre absolutely full of hoodoos (beautiful rock towers formed by thousands of years of erosion).
The parking lot is perfectly located at the top of the amphitheater, leaving you with unbelievable views with just a few steps from your car. However, the best experience is gained by descending the cliffs and exploring one of the many zig zagging trails that explore this incredible area.
My absolute favourite trail is the Queens Garden/ Navajo Loop, which will take you right down into the belly of Bryce Canyon, and back out the other side. Thanks to the elevation of Bryce Canyon and the steep nature of the trails, you should be prepared for these hikes to leave you breathless!
Even if you can only manage a short trip to a single one of these parks, it will be well worth your time. Most are inconveniently located hours from civilastion, so I highly recommend combining these destinations into a road trip. If you're looking for a great place to start and finish your trip, I can highly recommend a drive from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City, and with a little effort and a couple of detours, you can easily check most of these off!
Finally, I feel as if I ought to make a special note about road trips and Covid. The general consensus seems to be to try and avoid big road trips that may put unnecessary strain on small town health resources, so please consider the impact of visiting these sites at this time, and potentially earmark this trip for a later date when the world has become a little bit safer!