Utah is home to spectacular stone arches, deep canyons, waterfalls, rivers and lakes. Admire the red rock formations in Arches National Park, explore the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, watch a majestic sunrise in Monument Valley, view the waterfalls in Zion National Park and see the out-of-this world landscapes that make up Canyonlands National Park. Here are the best places to visit in Utah.
1.Arches National Park
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Arches National Park has more than 2,000 stone arches that range from thin cracks in the rock to the magnificent 300-foot long Landscape Arch. They are the result of millions of years of erosion, deposition, and other geological events that have affected the soft sandstone.
For a short visit, you can take the 18-mile long scenic road, but you will see much more by hiking one of the narrow unmarked trails. Walk with care, as the surrounding desert plants are fragile. Humans have been living in the area for 10,000 years and you can see colorful, large pictographs a few miles north of Moab.
Arches National Park is one of the most famous places to visit in Utah. The best times to go are early spring and fall. Park rangers offer very informative tours, from a one-mile easy interpretative hike to the adrenaline-pumping Fiery Furnace Hike that includes some serious rock scrambling. The seemingly lifeless desert is home to a surprising number of animals such as desert rodents, ringtails, skunks, foxes, mountain lions, bobcats, bats, owls, and many others.
2. Zion National Park
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The oldest and the most popular Utah National Park, Zion means “heavenly mountain” and the majesty of the surrounding nature inspires reverence.
Nature has carved a fantastic geological conglomeration for visitors to admire: slot canyons, colorful sandstone cliffs, towers, monoliths, rivers, and waterfalls. Located in southwest Utah, the park is best known for its magnificent Zion Canyon red cliffs.
You can get a fairly good idea of the park’s rare beauty while driving through Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. The drive leads to many scenic forest trails along the fast and unpredictable Virgin River.
As you following the river, you will reach the Emerald Pools with spectacular waterfalls and natural hanging gardens created from plants sprouting from tiny cracks in the steep cliffs. There is also the popular Zion Narrows wading hike that winds along the river, passing in some parts through shady deep chasms. Zion is a true hikers’ paradise and one of the top Utah attractions. Read more
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Monument Valley looks today the same way it looked thousands of years ago – you will see an endless horizon with an expansive skyline and enormous otherworldly buttes sticking out and separated by deep canyons. This attraction is one of the things to see in Utah. Created by millennia of relentless work on behalf of wind and water, the buttes can be seen in comfort from the 14-mile long dirt road that crosses the Valley.
Hikers will find many easy and some not so easy trails through the canyons, under natural bridges, and to the site of some spectacular Anasazi ruins. Look for a native Navajo guide to take you to the places not easily accessible and you will also hear some wonderful legends and the history of the Navajo Nation that still lives in the area.
4. Great Salt Lake
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The Great Salt Lake, which borders the state's capital, Salt Lake City, is salty because its tributary rivers are constantly transporting small amounts of salt dissolved from the surrounding rocks in their water. The lake is one of the top Utah points of interest.
Once the water comes to the Great Salt Lake, the water evaporates in heat, leaving the salt behind. Additionally, the lake does not have any outlets to let some of the salty water out. The lake is 75 miles long and 35 miles wide, and it is spread over a number of flat basins. It is all that remains from the last ice age lake, Lake Bonneville. Reminders of the ancient lake can be seen in the terraces etched into the former lake’s shoreline. The climate change brought the ancient lake’s level to that of today’s Salt Lake. The lake is too salty for fish, and only some algae and brine shrimp can live in it.
Be sure to leave some time for exploring Salt Lake City, the capital of Utah, which offers many great things to see and do. Things to do in Salt Lake City
5. Canyonlands National Park
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About 35 miles from Moab in southeast Utah, Canyonlands National Park is divided into three segments that are separated by the Colorado and Green Rivers, which flow through Canyonlands.
Canyonlands National Park is world-famous and one of the best places to visit in Utah. You can barely get a glimpse of the rivers from the rim, but you will see many sandstone pillars, canyon mazes, and unbroken scarp on the canyon sides. One segment or district is a high mesa called the Island in the Sky, a headland about 2,000 feet above the rivers. South of this area, you can find the Needles with pinnacles stripped in red and white bands that tower over sheer-walled valleys and grassy parks, 400 feet up.
The third segment is the Maze, a remote, pristine area of narrow clefts and tall spires across the river. Canyonlands were home to the Ancient Pueblo people, who built kivas, round rooms that are still standing all around the park.
6.Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
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Utah's Grand Staircase - Escalante National Museum is not the kind of place you can visit in one day. The area features 3,000 square miles of the most awe-inspiring and spectacular sun-baked landscape, and it is so enormous and so magnificent that it takes time to absorb and process it all.
Nature has been shaping the ancient rock here for millions of years. Brilliant red sandstone cliffs throw shadows over narrow slot canyons, and visitors can admire and explore endless slickrock, picturesque washes, prehistoric human habitation sites, and ghost cowboy towns looking like abandoned movie sets.
Hike the Escalante Canyon, cool off under thundering waterfalls, climb the Grand Staircase, or just enjoy the vast wilderness and soul-healing solitude. If you are looking for places to see in Utah for outdoor enthusiasts, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a must-see. There are some nice fishing spots, picturesque camping sites, and trails you can take on horseback or by ATV.
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Scuba diving or swimming in Homestead Crater is one adventure you can do in style. Privately owned, the Crater, actually a caldera, is located in Midway, Utah and is part of the Homestead Resort, which is located nearby and features all the amenities of a luxurious vacation.
The Crater is a natural geothermal spring covered by a 55-foot tall dome made of limestone. The dome is 400 feet wide and the water in the crater pool is almost 65 feet deep. There are also about 14 feet of silt at the bottom, which has been accumulating for the last 10,000 years since the crater started its formation.
The opening at the top of the dome is a natural access to the pool, but in 1996 the owners dug a 110-feet long dry tunnel for easy entrance. The crater is a very popular tourist destination, especially among divers, since it is the only warm water diving site in the continental US.
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Located on the border between Utah and Idaho, Bear Lake is a natural freshwater lake that covers an area of approximately 109 square miles and one of the top Utah attractions.
The lake’s nickname is the “Caribbean of the Rockies” because of its unique and beautiful turquoise color which is the result of the abundance of calcium carbonate deposits in the water. Over 250,000 years old, the properties of the water in the lake have produced several species of animals that can’t be found in any other place in the world.
Discovered in 1819 by an explorer for the North West Fur Company, the lake, originally named “Black Bear Lake,” is a popular place today for fishing, jet skiing, and sailing.
9.Capitol Reef National Park
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Established in 1971, Capitol Reef National Park in south-central Utah covers an area of 241,904 acres: at 100 miles (160 km) in length, it is a long park, but it is narrow.
Native Americans lived in the area from the 11th century to the 13th century when a long drought forced them to move. Later, explorers surveyed the area and in the 1880s Mormons began to settle here. One of the most amazing features of the park is the Waterpocket Fold which is a surface warp that dates back 65 million years.
Over many years of erosion, the fold now displays layers of rocks and fossils.
10.Bryce Canyon National Park
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Bryce Canyon National Park is located in southwestern Utah. Although it is called a canyon, it is not a canyon but rather a series of enormous natural amphitheaters located along the eastern side of the Pausaugunt Plateau.
The park is also known for its hoodoos: these are tall thin spires of rock that are also sometimes called earth pyramids, fairy chimneys, and tent rocks. Visitors to the park are amazed at the orange, red, and white colors of the hoodoos and the natural amphitheaters.
In the 1850s the area was settled by Mormon pioneers and the park was named after a homesteader named Ebenezer Bryce. Bryce Canyon became a national park in 1928.
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About 300 million years old, Mount Timpanogos rises almost 7,000 feet over Utah Valley. It is composed of limestone and dolomite and shows signs of extensive glacial activity with U-shaped valleys surrounded by sharp ridges.
A very popular hiking destination, Mount Timpanogos offers a 14-mile round-trip hike that is very steep. Hiking is possible year around, with different levels of difficulty. At 10,380 feet, hikers can see glacial Emerald Lake, and many ridges, slopes, waterfalls, and various species of conifers along the trail.
The mountain is rich in wildlife – you might see moose, deer, mountain goats, cougars, marmots, and pikas. When you get tired of roughing it, visit Heber Valley at the foot of the mountain for some golf, dining, and an unexpectedly luxurious hotel.
12.Goosenecks State Park
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Goosenecks State Park is located near the southern border of the state. Found at an elevation of 4,500 feet, the park overlooks a deeply incised meander of the San Juan River.
This meander was created millions of years ago when the river cut meanders that are more than 1,000 feet (300 meters) deep while, at the same time, the surrounding terrain slowly began to rise.
Activities at the park include camping, photography, picnicking, and sightseeing. There are no biking or hiking trails in the park. Goosenecks State Park became a Utah state park in 1962.
13.Grand Canyon North Rim
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Grand Canyon North Rim is an area of Grand Canyon National Park. The park entrance is located 30 miles south of Jacob Lake on Highway 67 and the actual rim is 14 miles south of this entrance.
The North Rim is far less visited than the South Rim because it is more difficult to get to and has a short visitor season from May 15 through October 15. As a result, the North Rim is secluded and more wild. It lies at an elevation of more than 8,000 feet (2,438 meters): temperatures here are colder and it gets more rain and snow than the South Rim. Things to do at the Grand Canyon
14. Mesa Verde National Park
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Mesa Verde National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was designated as a national park in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt.
Covering an area of more than 52,000 acres, it sits at the Four Corners area of the U.S. The Four Corners refers to the place where the four states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah meet. The park is known for its ancient Native American cliff dwellings.
Made up of more than 4,300 sites with 600 cliff dwellings, it is the largest archaeological preserve in the country. The park’s best known structure, Cliff Palace, is considered to be the largest cliff dwelling in North America. Read more
15.Cedar Breaks National Monument
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Cedar Breaks National Monument is located near Cedar City in the U.S. state of Utah. It is a natural amphitheater that extends for three miles (4.8 kilometers); it is more than 2,000 feet (610 meters) deep; and the elevation of the amphitheater’s rim is more than 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) above sea level.
Because of its high elevation there is snow during the year, so the park is open from June through October. Wildlife in the park includes several kinds of birds and mammals such as mountain lions, mule deer, porcupines, and several kinds of squirrels. There are areas of sub-alpine meadows in the park.
16.Natural Bridges National Monument
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Natural Bridges National Monument is located about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of the Four Corners region where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah meet.
Declared a national monument in 1908, it was Utah’s first national monument. There are three natural bridges, named Kachina, Owachomo, and Sipapu after the Hopi Native Americans who once inhabited the area. The natural bridges were formed from the erosion caused by water flowing in the bed of the canyon.
The bridges are located at an elevation of up to 6,500 feet (2,000 meters) and can be seen from the Bridge View Drive or by hiking along the trails in the area.
17.Heber City - Heber Valley Historic Railroad
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Heber Valley Historic Railroad is a heritage railroad located in Heber City, Utah. The railroad line stretches for 16 miles (26 kilometers) and there are passenger trains that run from Heber City to Vivian Park located in Provo Canyon.
Along the route, passengers see several amazing landmarks such as Cascade Mountain, Deer Creek Dam and Reservoir, Mount Timpanogos, Provo River, Soldier Hollow, Sundance Ski Resort, and Tate Barn.
From the train it is also possible to see a large variety of wildlife including beavers, deer, eagles, foxes, hawks, moose, mountain lions, and turkeys. The historic railroad operates year-round and features special event train rides and evening train rides.
18.Dinosaur National Monument
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Dinosaur National Monument is located on the border between Utah and Colorado where the Green and Yampa Rivers meet. Declared a national monument in 1915, the area contains more than 800 dinosaur fossil sites. The fossils are embedded in sandstone and river sediment dating back 150 million years ago.
The dinosaurs were carried by the river and then their remains were embedded in the river sediment. The sediment later turned into rock, but the rocks were eroded thus exposing the layers of fossils.
Discovered in 1909 by Earl Douglass, the dinosaur fossil beds are also known as bone beds. There are also petroglyphs in this area.
19.Dead Horse Point
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Dead Horse Point is a rock peninsula located on top of the steep sandstone cliffs. Only the 300-yard wide strip of land or “neck” connects the mesa with the peninsula.
According to legend, cowboys who used to corral wild horses in these lands would trap them on the peninsula by closing the neck. For an unknown reason, they left the horses without water until they died of thirst while the waters of the Colorado River roared 2,000 feet below.
The point, located about nine mile from Moab, offers a spectacular vista of the surrounding rock formations, created by sediments left behind by ancient oceans, streams, lakes, and sand blown by sharp winds.
Magnificent surrounding mountains rise like otherworldly islands from the inhospitable sun-baked surrounding desert. There are 16.6 miles of fairly easy hiking trails over slickrock and through juniper and pinions. The vista from the top of the trail is worth all the sweat and muscle cramps.
20.Golden Spike National Historic Site
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Golden Spike National Historic Site is located north of the Great Salt Lake at Promontory Summit. The site marks the spot where the Transcontinental Railroad was completed - this is where the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad were joined in 1869.
A ceremonial golden spike was used to mark the occasion of the joining of the rails that were the first to span the continent. Visitors can see demonstrations of the replicas of steam engines and can watch re-enactments of the historic event.
There are auto tours and a hiking trail: these enable visitors to explore the 150 year old railway grade.
21.Timpanogos Cave National Monument
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Timpanogos Cave National Monument is a national monument on Mount Timpanogos near American Fork, Utah. The monument protects the Timpanogos Cave Historic District and is managed by the National Park Service.
Guided tours lead visitors up the steep 1.5 mile (2.4 kilometer) paved trail that climbs 1,000 feet (300 meters) on its way to the caves. The three caves are called Hansen Cave, discovered in 1887; Middle Cave, discovered in 1921; and Timpanogos Cave, discovered in 1913. The three caves are connected by manmade tunnels created by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s.
The caves feature many unusual formations including flowstone, helictites, stalactites, and stalagmites.
22.Hovenweep National Monument
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Hovenweep National Monument is a site located on the Cajon Mesa of the Great Sage Plain in southeastern Utah and southwestern Colorado.
Designated as a national monument in 1923, the site is known for its six groups of ancestral Puebloan villages. There is evidence that nomadic people hunted game and gathered food in this area as early as 8000 BC. The Puebloans were a non-nomadic farming people who lived here from 500 AD to 1300 AD.
Most of the towers and other structures on the site were built between 1200 AD and 1300 AD. The structures were built in a variety of shapes and sizes: some are circular while others are square.
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Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area is located in northeast Utah and southwest Wyoming. During his 1869 expedition down the Green River, John Wesley Powell named the area “Flaming Gorge” because of the brilliant red color of the sandstone cliffs that are located adjacent to the river.
The recreation area is administered by Ashley National Forest and there are many activities that visitors enjoy in the area. These include boating, camping, fishing, hiking, rafting, and more.
There are 43 campgrounds with 700 individual campsites found along the 91 miles of waterway with 360 miles of shore line. In 1964, the Flaming Gorge Dam was built across the Green River to create the Flaming Gorge Reservoir.
24.Dixie National Forest
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Dixie National Forest is located between the Great Basin and the Colorado River. Covering an area of nearly two million acres, it is the largest national forest in Utah. The forest stretches for about 170 miles (270 kilometers) and the forest headquarters are located in Cedar City, Utah.
Near St. George, Utah, the elevation is 2,800 feet (850 meters) and this rises to 11,322 feet (3,451 meters) at Blue Bell Knoll on Boulder Mountain. Hundreds of small lakes are found high on Boulder Mountain. There are stunning landscapes including the Colorado River canyons with their steep-walled gorges and their multi-colored cliffs.
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Only about 10 miles from Page, Arizona and Kane County, Utah, there is a world of towering purple walls, one of the rarest yet most striking colors in nature.
The Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness is a 112,500-acre land of red rock amphitheaters, wooded terraces, sandstone arches, and precariously hanging natural gardens. The main feature is the Vermilion Cliffs, a 3,000-foot escarpment that dominates the surrounding wilderness with its slopes featuring scattered boulders, rugged arroyos, and stark rock faces.
It is a great hiking area for those who like slot canyon hiking and enjoy solitude. For photographers, Coyote Buttes is the ultimate destination with its almost contrived scenery of nature-carved fragile rock sculptures and colorful swirling sandstone strips, domes, fins, aprons, and corridors.
25 Best Places to Visit in Utah
- Arches National Park, Photo: Courtesy of f11photo - Fotolia.com
- Zion National Park, Photo: Courtesy of huci - Fotolia.com
- Monument Valley, Photo: Courtesy of Beboy - Fotolia.com
- Great Salt Lake, Photo: Courtesy of forcdan - Fotolia.com
- Canyonlands National Park, Photo: Courtesy of lucky_photo
- Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Photo: Courtesy of Dean Pennala - Fotolia.com
- Homestead Crater, Photo: Courtesy of gohebervalley.com
- Bear Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Wiz Works Photo- Fotolia.com
- Capitol Reef National Park, Photo: Courtesy of Zack Frank - Fotolia.com
- Bryce Canyon National Park, Photo: Courtesy of gil7416 - Fotolia.com
- Mount Timpanogos, Photo: Courtesy of juancat - Fotolia.com
- Goosenecks State Park, Photo: Courtesy of Fyle - Fotolia.com
- Grand Canyon North Rim, Photo: Courtesy of sumikophoto - Fotolia.com
- Mesa Verde National Park, Photo: Courtesy of malajscy - Fotolia.com
- Cedar Breaks National Monument, Photo: Courtesy of guardianru - Fotolia.com
- Natural Bridges National Monument, Photo: Courtesy of Ints - Fotolia.com
- Heber City - Heber Valley Historic Railroad, Photo: Courtesy of godfather - Fotolia.com
- Dinosaur National Monument, Photo: Courtesy of donfink - Fotolia.com
- Dead Horse Point, Photo: Courtesy of norbel - Fotolia.com
- Golden Spike National Historic Site, Photo: Courtesy of Steven Miller - Fotolia.com
- Timpanogos Cave National Monument, Photo: Courtesy of bulashenko - Fotolia.com
- Hovenweep National Monument, Photo: Courtesy of Zack Frank - Fotolia.com
- Flaming Gorge, Photo: Courtesy of Galyna Andrushko - Fotolia.com
- Dixie National Forest, Photo: Courtesy of Wirepec - Fotolia.com
- Paria Canyon, Photo: Courtesy of forcdan - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of alphadogdesign - Fotolia.com