Utah’s landscape might be one of the most unique in the country. From flat expanses of salt that seem to go on for miles to vibrant red rock formations that make you feel like you’ve landed on Mars, this state is something of a natural playground. It boasts five national parks and a whopping 40-plus state parks for visitors and residents to explore. Plus, with an array of small towns, ski mountains and an urban hub in Salt Lake City, it’s difficult to get bored in Utah. On the other hand, there are so many adventurous options and fun things to do at your fingertips, you may have difficulty deciding where to begin. Keep reading to check out the top things to do in Utah. (Note: Some tours and excursions may be affected by the coronavirus outbreak. New policies may be in place, including capacity restrictions and parking reservation requirements. Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of State and local tourism boards before traveling.)
Arches National Park
Soaring sandstone arches and towering hoodoos make Arches National Park in eastern Utah one of the most striking places in the state. Plus, the snow-capped La Sal Mountains in the distance only add to this area’s beauty. If you only have a few hours to explore, drive the 18-mile scenic road (Arches Scenic Drive) to enjoy a brief, but thorough tour of the park. You’ll pass Balanced Rock as well as the Windows area, which is home to a large concentration of arches. Luckily, there are plenty of spots to pull over and admire the views. If you have a full day or more, get out of the car and explore on foot. Some of the most popular hikes in the park include the trails to Delicate Arch and Double Arch. If you’re looking for less crowded hikes, there are plenty of hidden gems. The 3-mile round-trip hike to Navajo Arch is a relatively easy excursion that brings you to a quiet arch in a fairy tale-like setting. Ring Arch is another lightly trafficked route (3.5 miles round trip) with stellar views. Visitors recommend touring the park in the late fall or early spring for cooler temperatures and fewer tourists than the busy summer season. Thanks to the park’s convenient location near the town of Moab, you can stroll downtown and grab a bite to eat after a long day of hiking. Entrance to the park costs $30 per car, and the pass is valid for seven days.
Canyonlands National Park
If you can’t make it to the Grand Canyon or you’re just seeking a less-crowded park with similar geological features, consider Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah. The Colorado and Green rivers cut through the park and act as natural dividers between three designated sections: Island in the Sky, the Needles and the Maze. Island in the Sky is the most popular among visitors as it contains diverse hiking opportunities as well as a scenic driving route with ample pull-out spaces and picnic areas. Some of the best stops include Mesa Arch and Aztec Butte, according to visitors. (If you have time, schedule a stop at Dead Horse Point State Park, which is located near the entrance to Island in the Sky, to witness a spectacular sunset over the canyon.) For a more off-the-grid experience, head to the park’s Needles section via Route 211, which ends at the Needles Visitor Center. Note: You cannot drive directly from Island in the Sky to the Needles within the park. This area is reserved for more advanced hikers and is overall less accessible. However, dramatic views of towering sandstone columns await those who make the trek. The Maze is the most remote and least-visited area of the park. This section features difficult roads and very challenging trails; you shouldn’t travel there without the proper equipment and the ability to be self-sufficient for at least three days. Canyonlands National Park costs $30 per car to enter; the pass is valid for seven days.
Bryce Canyon National Park
The whimsical landscape of this park in southern Utah will amaze travelers young and old. Visitors can explore mazes of towering hoodoos as they descend into the canyon, or admire them from above while strolling along the rim. Bryce Canyon is the smallest of Utah’s five national parks, and it’s easy to conquer in a day. If you visit for a daytrip, be sure to stop at Sunset Point and Sunrise Point to take in the views. Then, hike the Queen’s Garden and Navajo Loop trails for an approximately 3-mile tour of the land. Those who would rather do a scenic driving tour of the park can start at Rainbow Point (located on the southern end of the park) and enjoy views throughout the 38-mile round-trip excursion. If you have more time, opt for one of the park’s more challenging hikes, such as the 8-mile Fairyland Loop or the strenuous out-and-back 4-mile Hat Shop trail. The park is open 24 hours a day and costs $35 to enter. Entrance passes are valid for seven days. Most people choose to park at the Sunset Point lot, which acts as the trailhead for an array of hikes. (Even the views from this parking lot are spectacular.) You can drive to this park from St. George (about 140 miles southwest) or Moab (around 245 miles northeast). Or, plan to stay overnight in one of the nearby hotels.
Zion National Park
Zion is Utah’s most-visited national park and for good reason. It’s characterized by the gaping Zion Canyon that measures 15 miles long and 3,000 feet deep, drawing adventurers looking for one-of-a-kind canyoneering opportunities. Meanwhile, hikers will find an expansive network of trails to choose from, with many routes offering adrenaline-pumping experiences. Angels Landing, one of the most famous and highly trafficked routes in the park, starts at the Grotto Trailhead and weaves through narrow spaces and along steep, stomach-lurching drops. The trail is only a 5-mile round-trip excursion, but with a 1,488-foot elevation change, it is strenuous and not recommended for anyone with a fear of heights. Less intense but equally beautiful hikes include the approximately 3-mile Watchman Trail, the 3.5-mile Pa’rus Trail and the 2-mile Middle Emerald Pools Trail. If you drive the park’s scenic road (on U.S. Highway 9 from Interstate 15 to Mt. Carmel Junction), you can view Angels Landing and other attractions from below. Past visitors recommended planning your Zion trip for the late fall or early spring to avoid the sweltering temperatures and swarms of tourists that plague the summer season. Entrance to the park costs $35 per car. For easy access to the park, located in southwestern Utah, consider staying in nearby St. George.
Bonneville Salt Flats
About 100 miles west of Salt Lake City, you’ll find one of the country’s most unique natural attractions: the Bonneville Salt Flats. This area features 30,000 acres of dazzling yet desolate white earth surrounded by mountains. The flats are a result of the ancient Lake Bonneville, which dried up long ago and left an otherworldly landscape behind. Visitors can drive their cars directly onto the flats, or park in the lot and walk the flats on foot. In fact, there is even a section of the flats, the Bonneville Speedway, which is designated for car racing; the flat landscape and the salt’s moisture balance makes for prime racing conditions. Some of the fastest driving speeds – more than 500 mph – have been recorded on these flats and there are racing events held here each year, including Bonneville Speed Week and the Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Trials each August. The journey to the salt flats is essentially a straight shot on Interstate 80 from Salt Lake City; travelers recommend bringing snacks and water with you since you won’t pass many towns or stores on the trip. If you’re venturing to the flats in the winter months, be sure to check weather updates as it’s not safe to drive on the flats in wet conditions. The Bonneville Salt Flats are free to enter.
Salt Lake City
Known for being the center of American Mormonism, Utah’s capital city is home to plenty of religious and historic attractions. Spend some time in Temple Square to see the immense Salt Lake Temple and learn more about the Mormon faith from church representatives. For those interested in learning about the Great Salt Lake or the area’s Native American populations, visit the Natural History Museum of Utah, which is located about 5 miles from the square. The Utah Museum of Fine Arts is also a great place to spend the afternoon, according to travelers. Plus, it’s situated near the University of Utah campus as well as the large botanical garden and amphitheater at Red Butte Garden. What’s more, Salt Lake City offers an array of international cuisines and breweries. Some visitor favorites include Bewilder Brewing Co., Fisher Brewing Company and Kiitos Brewing. Families visiting the area may enjoy stopping at the Hogle Zoo or the Redwood Drive-In Theatre. There are plenty of luxurious accommodation options as well as budget-friendly properties here as well; check out the best hotels in Salt Lake City before booking your stay.
Deep blue water surrounded by towering red rock cliffs makes the picturesque Lake Powell well worth a trip. Known for being the second-largest human-made reservoir in the country, this popular summer destination is located in southern Utah and spills into northern Arizona. The water is used for swimming as well as water sports, such as kayaking and paddleboarding. Motorized water sports, including Jet Skiing and motor boating, are also allowed. (There are many equipment rental areas in the area.) The reservoir is encircled by 2,000 miles of shoreline, although much of it is only accessible by foot or by recreational vehicle. This means there are quite a few hiking opportunities on its shores, including traveler-approved areas like Davis Gulch and West Canyon. While there are some hotels in the surrounding area, previous visitors agreed that staying in a houseboat is the best way to experience Lake Powell. Many of these houseboats – which you can book in advance from a marina – come equipped with kitchens, grills, bedrooms and even waterslides for fun, easy access to the lake. You don’t need a boating license to rent a houseboat, but many rental companies will offer renters a lesson before they depart on their floating home.
Capitol Reef National Park
Although Capitol Reef is not as well-known as Utah’s other national parks, the lack of tourists makes it all the more exciting to explore. Located north of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and west of Canyonlands, this park offers diverse terrain. You can see much of Capitol Reef National Park from your car. The main Scenic Drive stretches just about 8 miles and takes passengers past the park’s notable geological features like the Moenkopi Formation, Waterpocket Fold, Grand Wash and Wingate Sandstone. You can also opt to drive the nearly 60-mile Cathedral Valley Loop, which weaves through a more remote section of the park, passing massive sandstone structures like Temple of the Sun (the peak of which sits nearly 6,000 feet above sea level). Visitors who would rather explore the park on foot have many memorable hikes awaiting. The easy-to-moderate Hickman Bridge (1 mile round trip) and Cassidy Arch (1.7 miles round trip) trails showcase Capitol Reef’s stunning sandstone arches, while the leisurely Grand Wash Trail (6.25 miles round trip) brings hikers through narrow canyons. The Fruita Historic District – home to old Mormon settlements, a schoolhouse and a fruit orchard – is also worth exploring on foot. Entrance to the park costs $20 per car. Many travelers recommend exploring Capitol Reef on the way to or from Bryce Canyon via the 124-mile Scenic Byway 12.
Visit downtown Moab
If you’re planning to visit Arches National Park or Canyonlands National Park, Moab is the best place to hang your hat. There are plenty of lodging options in town no matter your budget. While many people travel to Moab because of its proximity to many natural wonders, the downtown area itself is also worth exploring. You can visit Moab’s cafes, peruse food truck options and sample an array of cuisines, including mouthwatering barbecue and Thai favorites, from downtown restaurants. There is also a popular brewery and distillery you can check out. You’ll find art galleries and independent shops selling pottery, traditional Native American jewelry and souvenirs. Recreational activities abound in the city, including river rafting, horseback riding, rock climbing and all-terrain vehicle tours. Past visitors recommended booking an ATV tour or renting a vehicle through the Moab Tour Company. And, don’t miss the chance to drive along the Colorado River and even stop at wineries along the riverbank. After the sun sets, head to Dead Horse Point State Park (or pretty much anywhere outside the downtown area) for excellent stargazing opportunities.
Ski Park City
Park City is the perfect winter playground for skiers and adventurers. There are two major ski resorts in the area, as well as a lively downtown and ample upscale accommodation options. Park City Mountain Resort – the largest ski resort in the country – offers a plethora of shredding options for skiers and snowboarders of all levels. There are more than 330 trails across 7,300-plus acres of skiable terrain. Adrenaline junkies can hit any of the eight terrain parks, which vary by difficulty level. Deer Valley Resort offers a more intimate ski setting compared to its counterpart thanks to its smaller size and prevalence of more beginner-friendly trails. Plus, snowboarders are not allowed at Deer Valley, which many skiers appreciate. The runs are longer, but the lift tickets are more expensive than those at Park City Mountain Resort. Both mountain resorts offer tons of fresh powder (typically seeing an average of 355 inches annually), making the slopes in Park City skiable from November to April. No matter which resort you choose, you won’t be far from the city center. The historic downtown area offers a multitude of boutiques, pubs and fine dining experiences. Galleries and theaters bring life to the town as well. If you’re visiting in the summer, there are often farmers markets, festivals and events as well. Best of all, free buses will transport you around the area.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
Millions of years of erosion, high-powered winds and water flow resulted in a striking landscape scattered with lofty buttes and distinctive rock formations. This area, now known as Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, is open year-round for all to explore. Visitors can drive through the park on the scenic U.S. Highway 163 route (four-wheel-drive vehicles are recommended). If you want to escape the car, you can also book a formal tour of the land. There are classic vehicle-operated tours that will take you to the top attractions, but there are also horseback tours and hot air balloon tours available if you are seeking a more unique experience. It’s important to note this land belongs to Navajo Nation and is sacred to the tribe. If you want to learn more about the land’s cultural significance and the tribes to whom this land belongs, opt to book a tour operated by a Navajo local. As you tour, the scenery might look familiar since the park has been used as the backdrop for many films, including “Stagecoach,” “Forrest Gump” and “Once Upon a Time in the West.” Because this park is operated by Navajo Nation Parks & Recreation rather than the federal government, your national parks pass will not be sufficient to enter. Instead, you’ll have to pay $20 per vehicle.
This city in the southwestern corner of Utah offers plenty of activities, whether it’s your final destination or just a stop along your road trip. Travelers visiting sans kids can admire the city’s massive Mormon temple and visit a plethora of art galleries. What’s more, downtown offers plenty of bars and restaurants. A children’s museum and a spacious town square – complete with a lazy river and picnic areas – make the city a great stop for those traveling with kids, too. Parents also recommend bringing little ones to the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm where they can marvel at fossilized dinosaur tracks. St. George benefits from plenty of sunshine and mild- to hot weather, which means it’s great for outdoor activities. Explore the red rock formations at Pioneer Park, hike the trails in nearby Snow Canyon State Park and swim in the reservoir at Sand Hollow State Park. Past visitors also recommended driving to Quail Creek State Park where you can swim, kayak and camp. St. George is frequented by visitors to Zion National Park as the city sits about 40 miles west of the park.
Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument
Similar to Utah’s other parks, this national monument offers a rugged landscape with striking geological features like arches, slot canyons and mesas. Named for its series of plateaus and its proximity to the Escalante River, this area was declared a national monument in 1996. It’s made up of three distinct sections: Grand Staircase, Kaiparowits Plateau and Escalante Canyon. The Grand Staircase section offers a mix of trails and backcountry hiking opportunities; some popular trails include Upper and Lower Calf Creek Falls trails (2.2 miles and 5.8 miles, respectively) as well as Escalante Natural Bridge (3.2 miles round trip). On the other hand, the Kaiparowits Plateau, which measures 1,600 square miles, is the most remote section as it sits 9,000 feet in the sky. It’s sandwiched between Grand Staircase in the west and Escalante Canyon in the northeast. The Escalante Canyon area is a popular destination for canyoneering trips. This section also boasts waterfalls and an array of gorges. There is no entrance fee for this national monument. It’s located near Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon, and travelers say it’s easy to fit into a road trip itinerary. You can also experience great views of the monument on a drive from Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef National Park by following state Route 12 (also known as Scenic Byway 12).
Antelope Island State Park
Located on a peninsula that juts into the Great Salt Lake, Antelope Island is an adventure-lover’s paradise. You can try hiking, mountain biking on the network of trails or swimming in the lake. Past visitors recommended visiting Bridger Bay Beach for the best swimming options. There are also spectacular wildlife viewing opportunities here. For starters, there are about 500 bison roaming the island. If you visit in late October or early November, you can witness the annual bison roundup. The park’s other wildlife species include bighorn sheep, deer and, of course, antelope. There are no formal lodging options on the island; if you want to stay overnight, you can reserve a spot at one of three campgrounds. The closest hotels are located on the mainland, near Syracuse, Utah. The route from Salt Lake City is just about 60 miles long, so Antelope Island makes for a good daytrip as well. Note that you should come prepared with food as there is only one restaurant – the Island Buffalo Grill – on the peninsula. Entrance to the park costs $15 per vehicle.
Experience the Sundance Film Festival
Movie stars, directors and other celebrities flock to northern Utah each January to attend the Sundance Film Festival. Famous films like “Get Out,” “Saw” and “The Blair Witch Project” have premiered to audiences at Sundance. In a typical year, the film festival draws more than 100,000 attendees from around the globe. Events at this 10-day festival take place in the theaters of Park City, Salt Lake City and Sundance Mountain Resort. The best part of this festival is that it’s open to everyone. If you’re visiting Utah during mid- to late January, simply purchase a festival pass or a ticket package. Depending which kind you buy, a pass may cost upward of $1,000, but it gives the holder total access to screenings, panel discussions and other events for a range of dates. On the other hand, a ticket package provides a select amount of passes that can be used to attend different panels, events and screenings. You can also purchase an individual ticket to one specific screening for about $20. If you happen to be a local resident, you’ll be able to purchase tickets before the general public. Visitors should book accommodations early to ensure they secure a room with a reasonable rate (rates are known to double in price during this popular event). Check out the best hotels in Park City and the best hotels in Salt Lake City for lodging ideas.
This city in central Utah is known for being home to Brigham Young University – a large private research university sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Because of the college, there are plenty of restaurants to try, sporting events to enjoy and museums to peruse. Visitors recommend stopping by the Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum, the BYU Museum of Paleontology and the BYU Museum of Art. However, there is more to Provo than the college campus: The city, which is situated at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains, is a great spot to stay for an outdoorsy vacation. Popular hikes include Rock Canyon Trail (about 5.5 miles round trip), Lost Creek Falls Trail (2.8 miles round trip) and the “Y” Mountain Trail (about 2.2 miles round trip). The short (about a half-mile from the parking lot), but scenic route to Bridal Veil Falls also draws many visitors who want to catch a glimpse of the more than 600-foot-tall rushing waterfall. Utah Lake State Park – which is home to the largest freshwater lake in the state – is located near Provo as well, and it offers swimming, boating and camping opportunities.
Attend the Utah Arts Festival
If you’re visiting Utah in the summer, don’t miss the chance to experience the state’s largest outdoor arts festival. Over the course of three days, attendees can witness performance and visual art from an array of local and international artists. Events like poetry readings, storytelling presentations and documentary screenings add diversity to the festival. Musical acts bring a lively energy to the event, and dance groups entertain with everything from ballet to modern dance to hip-hop performances. Everything at the festival is infused with art – even down to the food. Food and beverage vendors impress visitors with culinary art techniques and serve a variety of international cuisines. The festival is held in Salt Lake City and draws about 70,000 attendees every year. Tickets are available for purchase online or at the event and start around $15; three-day package ticket options are also available.
Anasazi State Park Museum
A trip to Anasazi State Park Museum is essentially a trip back in time. At this museum in south central Utah, visitors can explore the remains of an ancient Puebloan village and learn about the people who once occupied the land. This area was home to one of the largest Puebloan communities west of the Colorado River and was thought to be occupied around A.D. 1050. A walk along the unearthed stone walls can help visitors understand the structure of the village. In addition, an excavation uncovered more than 100 buildings and numerous artifacts from the village. In the museum, visitors can admire showcases of traditional Anasazi pottery, tools and art. The on-site gift shop offers authentically designed crafts and educational books, so visitors can learn more about these ancient civilizations. Past travelers said the state park doesn’t take long to explore because of its small size (about 6 acres), but they agreed it’s an educational stop for people of all ages. The park, which is located in the town of Boulder, charges $5 per person to enter.
Outdoor adventure and small-town charm draw visitors to Ogden in northern Utah, set about 40 miles north of Salt Lake City. This up-and-coming city sits in the shadow of the Wasatch Mountains – specifically the towering Willard Peak and Ben Lomond – so there are plenty of recreational activities in store. Ogden offers easy access to Snowbasin Resort and Powder Mountain – two of the area’s premier ski resorts. If you’re visiting in the summer, be sure to experience the Ogden River whether by swimming, boating, fishing or strolling along the shores. You can also explore the region’s hiking and biking trails. Some visitor-approved hikes include the moderate Waterfall Canyon trail (2.5 miles round trip) and the more challenging Malan’s Peak trail (about 5 miles round trip). The downtown area is also not to be missed. Streets are dotted with art galleries, public art attractions, restaurants, breweries and dive bars. Plus, there are budget hotels, bed-and-breakfast accommodations and campgrounds for visitors to reserve. There are also museums in the area that teach travelers about the city’s rich, yet tumultuous history as a railroad town. Ogden also offers free self-guided audio walking tours that start from Union Station at 25th Street and Wall Avenue.
Snow Canyon State Park
This expanse of red rock and petrified sand dunes covers 7,400 acres of land in southern Utah and is popular among travelers visiting nearby St. George or Zion National Park. Formed by an intense mixture of volcanic eruptions, flowing lava, rushing rivers and sandstone erosion, this state park’s landscape is anything but ordinary. Luckily, there are many ways to explore the area. Those looking to drive through the park should head from St. George to Snow Canyon Drive, which weaves through the park. The road trip should only take an hour or two even if you stop along the way. (Jenny’s Canyon is a popular place to stop, as this slot canyon is located right off the road.) If you want to get out and hike, try the easy Johnson Canyon Trail (2 miles round trip) or the moderate Lava Tube Trail (2.5 miles round trip). Cyclists may enjoy touring the park by bike on the paved trail that loops from St. George through the park and back. Entrance to the park costs $5 for cyclists or $15 for cars ($10 for Utah residents). If you’re looking to stay overnight, there are spaces to camp as well.
Enjoy adventure activities in Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
Nearly 4,000 acres of blush colored sand dunes comprise this unique state park. One of the most exciting ways to experience this state park is on an ATV tour. Coral Pink ATV Tours offers a variety of excursions to choose from. The Sand Dune Paradise tour crosses over the dunes to backcountry trails, while the Dunes & Boarding Tour incorporates sandboarding and sledding into the typical route; both options are about an hour long. Other tour options include hiking stops at slot canyons and prime sunset viewing. If you’re interested in only sandboarding or sand sledding, you can rent equipment (for a fee) from the park’s visitor center on a first-come, first-served basis. It’s also possible to explore this state park on foot, though hiking options are limited. You can traipse the rolling dunes and admire the array of vegetation, or head a few miles north to hike the South Fork Indian Canyon. Entrance to the state park costs $10 per vehicle. There are options for camping in the area, or you can stay at a hotel in the nearby town of Kanab.
This geological attraction in northeastern Utah is straight out of a fairy tale. The gray-hued sandstone rock formations, which have been heavily eroded since prehistoric times, curve at peculiar angles and almost look as if they are dripping down to the ground. Because of its somewhat remote location – situated 40 miles from the nearest city of Vernal – Fantasy Canyon is a peaceful and quiet roadside attraction. It’s a calming place for an afternoon stroll, and the signs on the self-guided trail educate wanderers on the natural forces that created the landscape. Plus, visitors often witness antelopes, horses and other wild animals grazing in the area, making the experience even more memorable. Although the area is relatively small – about 10 acres – visitors agree Fantasy Canyon is worth the trip because the rock formations are unlike any others in the state. Plus, it’s a great spot to take some Instagram-worthy snapshots. It should only take about an hour to walk around, though there are places for primitive camping near Fantasy Canyon if you want to spend more time here. The canyon is free to explore, and there are well-marked signs leading visitors to the area, according to recent travelers.
Boating at Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area
Escape Utah’s sweltering summer heat with a trip to this enticing reservoir surrounded by crimson rocks that might seem as though they’re on fire. The reservoir, which was created by the Flaming Gorge Dam on the Green River, stretches 91 miles from northeastern Utah through to southwestern Wyoming. It’s popular among locals and tourists for its boating opportunities. There are plenty of marinas where you can rent boats and other equipment like kayaks and Jet Skis. Swimmers can escape the summer heat with a dip in the refreshing waters, which usually hover around 65 degrees in the summer. If you visit between April and September, you can opt to book a tour of the dam to experience its depth and learn more about the powerful energy source. The recreation area is free to enter, though you’ll have to pay a small fee if you plan to launch a boat. There are numerous camping areas here, but some visitor-favorite spots are Antelope Flat – thanks to its accessibility and water sports options – and Dutch John Draw, because of its quiet cove. If you’re in search of more traditional accommodations, there are a few motel-style options to choose from. Note: Because of the area’s location at 6,000 feet above sea level, nighttime temperatures can drop by about 50 degrees, so pack accordingly.