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Utah is home to some of the most incredible natural wonders in the United States. From vividly colored canyons to dramatic cliffs, sometimes Utah doesn’t even feel of this earth.
For the national park lover, there are so many national parks to choose from, including Utah’s Mighty 5, which are Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches National Parks. Beyond this, there are still many state parks and monuments to choose from.
If you’re wondering “how do I choose between them all?” Not to worry my friend, because I’ve put together a guide to the 19 most incredible places in Utah that you need to visit…
Packing for a Utah Road Trip
Many of the incredible places listed in this guide are only accessible via car, making Utah the perfect state for a road trip!
So to make sure your road trip experience goes well, here are some essentials to make sure you enjoy your Utah road trip:
- Phone mount for car
- Battery pack
- Charging cords for your phone (get this universal one!)
- Bug spray
- Hats for sunny weather (this is a great hat for my friends who like to wear their hair in a high ponytail)
- Hand sanitizer
- Lots of drinking water, food + snacks
- First Aid Kit
- Annual US National Parks Pass (if you have one!)
Where to stay in Utah
There are endless accommodation options in Utah to suit all budgets. To help you narrow down where to book, I’ve found the coolest and most unique places you can stay while visiting Utah:
- Tiny house overlooking Zion in Hurricane: this eco-friendly, adorable tiny has incredible views of the Zion mountains that you can appreciate from your very own private deck. Located in the city of Hurricane, a 30-min drive from Zion National Park.
- Dreamy treehouse in Park City: perfect for couples looking to truly escape as this treehouse is only accessible via 4×4/AWD roads and has self-check-in. Perfect if you’re planning on traveling via Salt Lake City.
- A-frame cabin in Brighton: this adorable cabin is tucked away in the Wasatch Mountain Range, making it perfect for families or small groups looking to escape from the crowds. Located in Brighton, this is just a 45 min drive from Salt Lake City.
Unmissable places in Utah
Ready to find out all the cool places you need to visit on your Utah road trip? Read on my friends…
1. Zion National Park
Zion National Park is one of if not the most popular national parks in Utah. It is famous for its incredible rocky views mixed in with greenery.
For keen hikers, unmissable experiences include hiking The Narrows (the narrowest section of Zion Canyon) or hiking Angel’s Landing (not for those who are afraid of heights!)
Including Zion is a must on any southwest road trip itinerary. Just remember: during the busy months, cars are not allowed in Zion + you can only access the various lookout points and trails via the park shuttle.
2. Arches National Park
North of the city of Moab is Arches National Park, home to more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches.
The best way to visit the park is to drive the scenic drive and stop at the various walking trails to Double O Arch, Tower Arch, Delicate Arch, and Landscape Arch.
The #1 unmissable sight is Delicate Arch, which is featured on the Utah License plate!)
3. Bryce Canyon National Park
At Bryce Canyon, you’ll find unique structures called “hoodoos” which will make you feel like you’re on another planet. When visiting Utah, this was one of my favorite national parks. I loved seeing how the hoodoos changed with the different lighting throughout the day.
When we visited, it was one of the quieter and less busy national parks. Travelers can’t miss the Navajo Loop Trail and watching sunrise or sunset at Sunset Point.
4. Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef is one of the less popular out of Utah’s Mighty 5 and is often less crowded. Don’t take the smaller crowds to mean it’s any less incredible (take notes my friends who don’t like crowds!)
Here you’ll find golden sandstone rock, which has formed into endless cliffs, canyons, and domes. For the keen hikers, there are endless hikes to do in Capitol Reef but you cannot go wrong with a scenic drive through the park.
5. Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands is the largest national park in Utah. As its name implies, this is home to dramatic canyons, carved out by the wind and the water of the Green and Colorado Rivers
The rivers divide the park into four districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the rivers themselves. Each district is distinctly different in what it has to offer in Canyonlands.
6. Goblin Valley State Park
Here, you’ll find hoodoos (just like at Bryce Canyon National park) only they’re shorter, which is why they’re called goblins (and hence the name of Goblin Valley State Park!)
Goblin Valley State Park is also famous for being a filming location for the movie “Galaxy Quest”. Since this is a state park, there is a fee per car for entering (as of 2020, this was $15/ vehicle).
7. Monument Valley Tribal Park
Located on the Arizona-Utah border, but spanning across both states, Monument Valley is most famous for being the filming location of many old country western movies.
Most visitors just take photos at the location known as the “Forest Gump Hill”. While this is a beautiful spot, I’d recommend travelers to actually visit Monument Valley and go on Navajo operated tour.
Going on a tour of Monument Valley will allow you to see parts of the park that cannot be accessed via the self-driving tour and allow you to learn more about the history of the Navajo Nation.
8. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is an area that spans approx 1 million acres and is home to golden sandstone cliffs and narrow slot canyons.
It is divided into 3 areas: Grand Staircase, Kaiparowits, and Escalante Canyon. For hikers, the Escalante Canyon is home to incredible hiking trails, whereas the Grand Staircase area is quieter and home to many slot canyons.
The city of Moab is known for being the gateway to its many nearby national parks. This is a great base while you visit Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Dead Horse Point State Park.
In Moab, there are also other fun outdoor adventures like rafting the Colorado River and ATV riding. One particular highlight worth mentioning if you’re planning on passing through or staying in Moab is a visit to the incredible looking Corona Arch.
10. Dead Horse Point State Park
At Dead Horse Point, you’ll find the most incredible views over the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park.
There are various hikes at this park and also campsites available (at an additional fee). The views are so incredible here, you really have to wonder how a place like this isn’t a US National Park!
Entry fees are $20/vehicle (can be used for 3 consecutive days).
11. Cedar Breaks National Monument
Located near Cedar City, Cedar Breaks National Monument is home to a rocky amphitheater and is known by Native Americans as the “Circle of Painted Cliffs”.
These geographical amphitheaters are known to rival those of Bryce Canyon, making Cedar Breaks definitely worth a visit.
Entry fees are $7/person (valid for 7 days) or alternatively since Cedar Breaks is managed by the National Parks Service, your Annual Parks Pass is valid here.
12. Bonneville Salt Flats
These salt flats are a remnant of Lake Bonneville and were formed when the lake dried up. Today, travelers can visit the Salt Flats and even drive onto them (just don’t do this when they’re wet, as you can get stuck!)
During winter, the flats do contain small amounts of water and the reflection can be especially beautiful.
13. Little Sahara Recreational Area
The Little Sahara Recreational Area is a large area consisting of endless sand dunes (hence its name!)
The area is especially popular for ATV riding, sandboarding, and even sand-skiing (I did not know this even existed!) Entry is $18 / vehicle (even if the booth is closed, there is a self-pay station)
14. Antelope Island
It might be a bit strange to list an island on this list, especially since Utah is a land-locked state. I mean – how does an island exist in Utah?!
Antelope Island is actually the largest of ten islands located within the Great Salt Lake. The island is famous for being home to various wildlife, such as the American Bison, antelopes, and bighorn sheep.
15. Mystic Hot Springs (also known as Monroe Hot Springs and Cooper Hot Springs)
Mystic Hot Springs is especially popular with Instagrammers and social media influencers. Here, geothermally heated water emerges from the ground at 168°F (76°C) and contains minerals like calcium carbonate, iron, and magnesium.
You can have a more “camping” type experience here and book a night in one of their buses and bathe in the hot springs as you please.
16. Homestead Crater, Homestead Resort
The Homestead Crater is a little different compared to some of the other places listed in this guide. This is because the crater is a geothermal spring in a 55-foot tall, beehive-shaped limestone rock.
This is a privately owned caldera, part of the Homestead Resort. Travelers can stay the night at the resort or are able to make a booking to visit the crater only (just remember to book in advance!)
17. Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area
The Paria Canyon area consists of 112,500 acres, located in northern Arizona and southern Utah. The area is famous for its vivid colored canyons and for the sandstone formation known as The Wave.
Visiting The Wave can be difficult, as there is an online lottery (only 20 people per day can visit in order to preserve the area). If you’d like to do this, I’d recommend doing your research in advance. This guide to hiking the wave is super helpful.
Map of unmissable places in Utah
Below is a map of all the places listed in this guide so that you can add them to your southwest itinerary!
Despite when you visit or how long you have to road trip Utah, there are endless experiences to choose from. Whether you’re a lover of US National Parks or whether you just love seeing incredible natural wonders, you’re bound to love your time in Utah.
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