Alyssa has been writing about exciting travel topics for Trips to Discover since 2013. After living the big city life in Chicago, Washington, DC, and Atlanta, Alyssa sold the bulk of her possessions and became a digital nomad, living full-time in her camper and working from wherever she could find an outlet and an internet connection for her laptop.
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Utah is an amazing place for outdoor lovers, with red rock formations, plenty of adventure, and lots of wide-open spaces. These are some of our favorite national and state parks to visit to experience the beauty of Utah landscapes!
Arches National Park is an iconic and impressive National Park that is home to more than 2,000 stone arches, as well as balanced rocks, pinnacles, and other unique rock formations. A top attraction in Moab, there are lots of trails to take you through the red rock landscapes and to top attractions like the La Sal Mountains Viewpoint, Balanced Rock, the Windows Section, Delicate Arch, and Devils Garden. Just be aware that the months between March and October are especially popular at Arches, so you can expect some traffic congestion getting through the park.
While you’re in the Moab area of Utah, also make sure to not miss the rugged wilderness of Canyonlands National Park. There are also some amazing arches at this top national park in the Southwest, and the park is divided into four districts: The Needles, Island in the Sky, The Maze, and the rivers (Colorado River and its tributaries). Island in the Sky is the most accessible area of the park, with many overlooks, hikes, and a scenic drive. To experience the backcountry of Canyonlands, head to Needles with your four-wheel-drive vehicle. The Maze offers an even more remote experience, and river trips are offered on the Green and Colorado rivers here. Technical rock climbing is allowed at the sandstone towers at Island in the Sky.
Capitol Reef National Park is a south-central Utah park located in the heart of red rock country. It has lots of canyons, cliffs, and natural bridges to explore and there are 15 day hiking trails in the Fruita area as well as popular backcountry routes. The Fruita campground has cozy campsites, or you can obtain a free backcountry permit for camping outside of the developed campground. Something interesting about this park is that there are fruit and nut orchards within a couple of miles of the visitors’ center. This park also received an International Dark Sky Designation, which means that it’s an excellent spot for nighttime star photography.
The most remarkable structures in Bryce Canyon National Park are the hoodoos, which are rock pillars left standing after the forces of erosion have shaped them. The colors of rock range from red to orange, pink, white, and brown in a vivid spectrum that is marvelous to see. One of the best places to visit in Utah, Bryce Canyon National Park offers easy, moderate, and strenuous hikes that take you past the rock formations, and shuttle services on-site between April and October. There are also two campground sites at Bryce Canyon and lodging is available at the Lodge at Bryce Canyon. In the summer, consider taking a guided horseback ride to experience the park in a unique and authentic way.
Zion National Park is another very popular Utah park, known for its red cliffs and challenging hikes. The gateway town of Springdale also offers B&Bs, restaurants, outfitters, and art galleries for visitors to check out. Some of the top hikes here are The Narrows, Angels’ Landing, Weeping Rock, and the Canyon Overlook. For a bit more solitude and fewer crowds, head to the Kolob Canyons, which are at the northwest corner of the park.
Another natural feature that Utah is famous for is the Great Salt Lake, and the best place to see it is at Antelope Island State Park. This is a place to explore backcountry trails on horseback, spend the night looking up at the stars in a primitive campsite, and take a walk along a sandy beach. The park is also home to free-ranging bison, bighorn sheep, and millions of birds. Boating, fishing, off-roading, and mountain biking are also popular here.
Many people don’t expect to find sand dunes in Utah… let alone, dunes that are pink! Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is the result of shifting pink-red sand and changing winds that move the dunes up to 50 feet each year. This is a great place to use your off-road ATV, play in the sand, walk barefoot across the dunes, and go camping for the weekend.
Kodachrome Basin State Park is another amazing Utah state park, and one that has around 67 monolithic stone spires that are a wonder to behold. This park is near Bryce Canyon, so it’s easy to combine visits to both parks in one multi-day trip. Kodachrome got its name after a National Geographic Society expedition in 1948. There’s a full-service laundromat in the park, which is nice if you plan to camp here. Hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking are popular, and the Grosvenor Arch is only about 10 miles southeast of the park for a little side trip.
Goblin Valley is a strange and colorful place that is often compared to the surface of the planet Mars. This is a place to see odd rock formations, learn about the wonders of geology, and go canyoneering down into the 70-foot natural sandstone cave of Goblin’s Lair. You can do this canyoneering route on your own (with the right skills, gear, and a backcountry permit) or hire a guide. There’s even a nine-hole disc golf course that’s free to play at the Goblin Valley Campground.
Although there are many more beautiful parks in Utah, the last one we’ll mention here is Sand Hollow State Park. This is a park known for its blue waters, sandstone landscapes, and recreational opportunities. Take a boat out on the Sand Hollow Reservoir, ride your ATV on the dunes of Sand Mountain, or rent kayaks and paddleboards to get out on the water on a warm, sunny day!