Utah is one of the nation's great outdoor states, with fabulous ski resorts, incredible national and state parks, and natural wonders like you won't find anywhere else in the world. A road trip through Utah is one the best ways to see the sights, and scenic drives are everywhere throughout the state. For cultural highlights or nearby skiing, head to Salt Lake City. If you're looking for outdoor adventures, from hiking, mountain biking, and camping to ATV motorcycle riding and off-road pursuits, be sure to check out Moab and St. George.
ATTRACTIONS TO VISIT IN Utah
1. Zion National Park
Zion National Park, less than a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, features some of Utah's most outstanding scenery. Red rock cliffs, waterfalls, and stunning vistas are some of the key attractions.
Many of the park's most impressive sites are found in Zion Canyon, along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, which follows the valley floor. From spring until fall, a sightseeing bus takes visitors through the park along this route, stopping at all the major sites and trailheads. This makes touring the park very simple. In winter, you can drive this route in your own vehicle.
The Zion-Mount Carmel Highway runs east-west through the park and is also a must-do drive. This self-drive route takes you high above the valley and offers incredible views from the lookouts.
2. Arches National Park
Stunning stone arches and rolling petrified dunes, backed by the often snow-capped peaks of the La Sal Mountains, make this one of the most scenic parks in Utah. Arches National Park is home to more than 2,000 natural stone arches. The most famous of these, and the most photographed, is Delicate Arch, standing like a horseshoe jutting out of the ground, framing the distant mountains.
Numerous walking trails and hikes lead to the most popular arches and other interesting rock formations. But many of the main highlights can be seen right from the scenic drives through the park and easily accessed from the parking areas.
3. Monument Valley
Like a scene from an old western film, red rock buttes rise up from the orange desert floor, and occasionally a horse and rider even wanders by. This is Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, located on the Navajo Indian Reservation on the Utah-Arizona border.
Numerous films and commercials have been shot in this scenic area, which is famous for its spectacular red mesas and stone pinnacles. Within the park is Valley Drive, a one-way, 17-mile, self-drive dirt road running between the buttes and through the dramatic landscape. Pullouts all along the route offer great opportunities for photography and soaking up the scenery.
4. Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park is Utah's version of the Grand Canyon, without the crowds. The park has three sections, but the main portion, which attracts the majority of sightseers, is Island in the Sky. This area offers incredible vistas looking out over carved canyons and beyond to the snow-capped mountains. It is arguably as impressive as the Grand Canyon in its own unique way, and far less visited.
One of the main attractions in Island in the Sky is Mesa Arch. This beautiful stone arch, particularly stunning in the early morning hours or late afternoon, forms a window to the canyons, buttes, and torn landscape below. Also of note in this section is the White Rim Road, which runs down from the park to the valley below, following a dirt road of switchbacks along sheer cliff walls. This road is only for the brave. Visitors can catch a glimpse of the White Rim Road, across the road from the Island in the Sky Visitors Center.
5. Bryce Canyon National Park
The brightly colored and tightly packed hoodoos that dominate the landscape at Bryce Canyon are what set this national park apart from the rest of the spectacular sites in Utah. Stone pillars, glowing in shades of orange, pink, cream, and cinnamon, jut up from the floor of a huge natural amphitheater, creating a magical landscape that almost begs to be explored.
A scenic drive runs through the park and provides numerous lookouts all along the canyon. However, it's worth venturing down into the forest of hoodoos on one of the numerous hiking trails in the park to fully appreciate the size and unique shapes of these formations. Bristlecone pine trees are another surprise attraction found in Bryce.
6. Salt Lake City and the Mormon Temple
Salt Lake City is often associated with skiing and winter activities, and certainly many of the best ski resorts in the state can be reached within an hour's drive of here. But this is a city worth visiting, regardless of the season, and offers numerous attractions and things to do.
Standing on Temple Square is the late 19th-century Mormon Temple, the largest Latter-day Saints temple and one of Salt Lake City's principal sites. The temple may only be entered by Mormons but it is definitely worth walking by to have a look. Other sites in the city include the Mormon Tabernacle and the State Capitol.
7. Park City and nearby Ski Resorts
Park City is a fun mountain town, about 45 minutes southeast of Salt Lake City, and home to some of Utah's best ski resorts. On the town's doorstep is Park City Mountain Resort, with lifts operating right from town, and just down the road is Deer Valley Resort, one of Utah's poshest ski resorts. Both of these offer outstanding terrain for all levels of skiers.
Park City is also within an hour's drive of several other resorts, like Snowbird, Alta, and Solitude.
Utah Olympic Park, also located in the vicinity, was used as a venue for the 2002 Winter Olympics. Today, it offers year-round activities for kids and adults, from ziplining and hiking in summer to bobsledding in winter. Also of note is one of Park City's most famous events, the annual Sundance Film Festival, held in late January.
For outdoor adventures in the Southwest, it's hard to beat the town of Moab. As the closest community to Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Dead Horse Point State Park, this area offers endless opportunities for hiking, biking, rafting, off-road adventures, and more. The rolling petrified dunes and surrounding mountains provide breathtaking scenery and offer a playground for numerous outdoor pursuits.
Mountain bikers come here in droves in the spring and fall for the outstanding riding. Although the town is known among mountain bikers for being the home of the famous and challenging Slickrock Trail, you can find trails here for all levels of bikers. When it comes to hiking, the trails in the nearby parks offer amazing scenery, including Utah's famous Delicate Arch. You'll also find some incredible campgrounds near Moab.
9. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a huge area of rugged terrain, with a landscape of canyons, arches, hills, waterfalls, forest, and scrubland. It offers a sense of remoteness that is hard to find in other parks.
Dirt roads, where you can drive great distances without ever passing another vehicle, are all part of the experience. Covering 1.9 million acres, this is the largest national monument in the United States, and it's managed by the Bureau of Land Management, not the National Park Service.
10. Dead Horse Point State Park
Dead Horse Point State Park, just outside of Moab, delivers one of the best lookouts of any state park in Utah. The main viewpoint looks over a gooseneck in the Colorado River carving through the colorful landscape. Cliff walls rising 2,000 feet and plateaus at various levels stretch out into the distance.
On a shelf of land below the viewpoint, the Potash Road runs along a ledge. Looking to the left along this road, you can see Thelma and Louise Point, where the final scene of the motion picture Thelma and Louise was filmed.