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This is another post I’ve had on my list of posts I want to write forever. It’s all about the best places to visit in Utah and I’m writing this all from my own experiences.
I’ve done everything on this list and most and have (shockingly) narrowed it down to this long list. I’m sharing a bunch of the best places to go in Utah.
It’s broken down sort of in hierarchy order like towns, national parks, state parks, other parks, scenic drives, then specific places or hikes. If it’s a hike in a national park that is a must-do in Utah, it will be under the specific park section. It’s basically a list of the best Utah vacation spots written from experience.
Any specific hike will be listed on it’s own, not under towns but there are still tons of hikes listed under each town. It might be a little overwhelming since there are so many amazing places to go in Utah, but it will be worth it.
This is also all about southern Utah so you won’t find anything around Salt Lake City in here. I have done one thing up there and am not qualified to write about anything in that area, really. I will say right here though, definitely visit Park City and do the Alpine Loop Drive.
I also tried to include some more unique places to go in Utah but have a whole post planned for hidden gems in Utah that will be a lot more specific than this one and I can’t wait for it to go up! And if you don’t already have a Utah bucket list, well, you will now.
National Park Pass + Other National Park Deals
- If you’re planning on visiting multiple parks (3 or more) on this trip or within the year, I would highly recommend getting a national park pass. It’s $80 but will pay for itself in about three trips to parks. It’s so worth it and I buy one every year! They’re also great for gifts for the park lovers in your life.
- To help plan the best national park trip ever, this Ultimate National Park Planning Bundle is perfect! You get two ebooks and a planner, saving 50% by getting them as a bundle! If you want all the details, this is the bundle for you. Buy the Ultimate bundle here.
- This National Park Planner (one of the ebooks from the bundle above) is perfect if you just want some guidance in your planning. Buy the planner here.
- Get yourself a little National Park notebook to write all about your adventures while you’re on the road. These from Field Notes are all very cute! If you want one for all of the NPS sites (400+!) then this one is for you!
- Before your trip, get some national park apparel for your trip! Homage is donating 5% of sales from the national park collection to the National Parks Conservation Association this year. Buy national park shirts here.
- Consider reading some of these books set in national parks before your big trip, on your adventure, or once you get home to take you back to the parks until next time.
- Planning a big national park trip? Check out these other posts: National Park bucket list, Make the most of a National Park trip, National Park camping packing list, My favorite National Park hikes, More National Park hikes I love, Underrated National Parks.
Utah travel guides
- Fodors Utah National Parks
- Scenic Driving Utah
- Lonely Planet Southwest USA
- Frommers Utah
- Utah Road & Recreation Atlas
- 100 Classic Utah Hikes
- Hiking Southwest Canyon Country
First up we have Moab, one of the four places on my list of places I would live. Like, buy a house live. (The others are Everglades City, Jackson Hole, and the Asheville area, in case you’re wondering.)
Moab is a tourist town but it’s incredible. It’s an outdoor lovers paradise, no matter what you like to do. And even if you don’t like being outside, the downtown area is so cute and I love the shops there.
You can go rafting, do UTV/off-roading tours, visit two national parks, look for amazing rock art, hike everything, visit mountains, go to a state park, see dinosaur tracks, and more. They even have a winery here!
Some great food options here are The Trailhead, 98 Center, The Spoke, Moab Spitfire Smokehouse, Gilibertos, Quesadilla Mobilla, and Tacos El Gordo in the food truck park. Moab is definitely one of my favorite places to visit in Utah.
- Hell’s Revenge
- Half-day Colorado River rafting
- Sunset boat tour with dinner
- Canyonlands and Arches scenic flight
- Rafting and 4×4 Canyonlands adventure
- Moab rappelling half-day tour
- Full-day climbing experience
- Horseshoe Canyon day-trip
- Hurrah Pass 4×4 tour
I think, for most people doing a Utah road trip, Blanding is more of a quick stop or a place just to pass through between Moab and Monument Valley but there are so many things to do in Blanding, it deserves a whole day.
This is a particularly great place to visit in Utah if you’re interested in native history or like/want to see and ruins because there are tons in the area.
Five Kiva Pueblo, House on Fire, and Butler Wash are three good sites to visit. There are even dinosaur tracks near Buttler Wash! Edge of the Cedars State Park is a great museum to see artifacts and really learn about the area’s history.
Blanding area tours
- Valley of the Gods sunset tour
- Arch Canyon off-road adventure
- North Wash Blarney Canyon canyoneering tour
- San Juan River kayak and hummer expedition
Things to keep in mind when visiting rock art & ruins:
- Do not touch the rock art (pictographs or petroglyphs) because the oils on our fingers can degrade them.
- If you find artifacts, do not take them. Leave them where they are and just take pictures.
- If there are structures (rooms, kivas, anything like that) don’t enter them unless it is stated that you can. Most places you can’t but national and state parks will have restored structures you can enter. Mesa Verde, Edge of the Cedars, and Anasazi Museum all have ruins you can enter.
- And finally, don’t carve in or write or paint or draw on the rocks! I don’t want to have to say this, but I need to for real.
Escalante, the town and Grand Staircase Escalante National monument, are of the best places to visit in Utah, for sure. This is a hiking paradise, especially if you like longer hikes.
If you want to visit a state park, head to Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. As for other hikes in Escalante, there is Lower Calf Creek Falls, Upper Calf Creek Falls,100 Hands Pictograph, Escalante River Trail, Zebra slot canyon, Peek-a-boo slot Canyon, Spooky slot canyon, Coyote Gulch and so much more.
Plus, Scenic Byway 12, the drive through Escalante, is one of the best drives in Utah, for sure. If you do any of the slot canyon hikes, just be prepared for the horrendously rough Hole in the Rock Road.
The Kiva Koffeehouse in the park is a great stop and in the town, the Mercantile is great for coffee and Escalante Outfitters is perfect for pizza! There are so many awesome things to do in Escalante, I think it’s is one of the best Utah vacation spots for an outdoor heavy trip.
Escalante hiking guides
- Hiking Grand Staircase Escalante and Glen Canyon
- Hiking the Escalante
- Best Easy Day Hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante and Glen Canyon
- Hiking Grand Staircase Escalante and the Glen Canyon Region (different from the first one)
- Escalante Topographic map
If you want to be out of the desert heat for a bit, Boulder is perfect! It’s a cute little mountain town with delicious food not far from the town of Escalante.
You can hike in the Dixie National Forest, visit the Anasazi State Park Museum, and drive Hells Backbone Road. Make sure you can have at least one meal here if you can and stop at the Burr Trail Outpost for a nice warm beverage.
Burr Trail Grill is one of my favorite places to eat in Utah and we would drive there from Bullfrog just to eat. Hells Backbone Grill is more expensive but also so good and they have breakfast, too.
If you want something quicker and more casual, the burrito truck usually outside the state park is a great option. It’s usually windy in Boulder but it’s perfect for escaping the mid-summer heat.
Kanab, the picture perfect western town. Kanab is almost a middle point between Page and Zion and it’s also a great base for tons of outdoor activities.
You could use it as a base for visiting Zion and Page but it’s also where you enter the permit lottery for the Wave, can easily visit White Pocket, and South Coyote Buttes.
- White Pocket guided hiking
- Peek-a-boo Slot Canyon hiking tour
- Orderville rappelling and UTV tour
- Yellow Rock hiking tour
- Peek-a-Book Canyon Jeep tour
St. George itself isn’t my favorite city ever, by far, but it is a good base for lots of hiking in southwest Utah. If Springdale is out of your budget (I feel you) this is a good option and has tons of food choices, too.
It makes a great base for visiting all three areas of Zion National Park, Sand Hollow State Park, Snow Canyon State park, Quail Creek State Park, Yant Flats, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, and more.
You could even do day trips to Kanab, Bryce Canyon, Cedar City, or Cedar Breaks National Monument from here. If you don’t want to pack up and move every day and don’t mind a little more driving, St. George is perfect.
Check out this half-day mountain biking adventure in Springdale!
Arches National Park
Arches National Park is the first national park I ever visited and while I want to say it’s my favorite, it’s not, but it is incredible and my last visit there made me love it a lot more than before.
But there is so much more to it than that! If you have more time and like longer hikes, Devils Garden is perfect. If you want to get off the beaten path, Tower Arch is for you.
And if you want adventure (and are comfortable with navigating in the desert and a lot of rock scrambling) then Fiery Furnace is a must-do! You can still do this on a ranger-led hike if you want to see it without navigating yourself which is confusing in here.
Arches National Park reservations
As of April 1, 2022, you now need a timed entry permit reservation from April 3 to October 3. You need this to enter the park between 6AM and 6PM. Your reservation allows entry in a two hour window. You can go in and out before and after that as the park is open 24/7.
Arches was facing serious overcrowding in the summer and were having to close the entrance by 10AM pretty frequently because parking would fill up. This new system is to help combat that.
The permit is $2 and you will also need to pay the park entrance fee when you get to the park. You can pay the fee or get the national park pass which covers all NPS site entry fees (but not camping, tours, parking, etc.)
If you can’t get a permit in advance, some are set aside for the next day (so April 2 entry permits would be available the evening of April 1). If you can’t get that either, your options are to skip it or enter the park before 6AM or after 6PM.
If you have a camping reservation, a Fiery Furnace permit, or a backcountry permit you do not need a timed entry permit. You also do not need the permit from October 4-April 2. You can find all the details here.
Canyonlands National Park
Next up is Canyonlands, Arches less well known neighbor. It’s actually the least visited national park in Utah! (More fun national park facts here). This is the best park to visit for incredible views in Utah though Zion is tough competition there.
There are three sections in Canyonlands, but the most popular (and easiest) to visit is Island in the Sky just outside of Moab. Here you can hike to White Rim Overlook, Murphy Point, Upheaval Dome, and Mesa Arch (and so much more).
If you like backpacking and longer hikes, The Needles is a good option and if you have a capable vehicle and want to be in a very remote area, then The Maze is for you, but I wouldn’t do that unless you’re confident with high clearance/4WD driving and navigating back roads.
Bryce Canyon National Park
I would highly recommend hiking among the hoodoos and you can easily do this on the Queens Garden/Navajo Loop trail. If you just want an easier hike, the Sunrise to Sunset Point hike is perfect since it’s right along the rim.
Finally, for a really short trail, head out to Scenic Byway 12 and hike the Mossy Cave Trail to a waterfall! That’s right, a waterfall in Bryce Canyon.
Capitol Reef National Park
Now, Capitol Reef, my personal favorite Utah national park! This is another park with three sections to visit, the main and most popular being Fruita.
While you’re here, be sure to get pie, cinnamon rolls, ice cream, and salsa from the Gifford Store, hike to Cohab Canyon and the North Fruita Overlook, hike Capitol Gorge, hike to Hickman Bridge, stop at all the overlooks, and see the petroglyphs.
In the falls, you can even pick fruit in the orchards here! Sulphur Creek is a great longer hike through water, perfect for hot days. If you want to hike some slot canyons, head down to the Waterpocket Fold and hike Headquarters and Surprise Canyons.
If you want a more remote adventure and have a capable vehicle, consider a drive on the Cathedral Valley Loop. This is the only part I haven’t been to yet but really want to.
Check out this Cathedral Valley day trip!
Zion National Park
Finally, the crown jewel of Utah and topper on most national park bucket lists, good ol’ Zion National Park. There are so many amazing things to do in Zion whether you want to do the main hikes or get off the beaten path, you can stay quite busy.
In the main canyon (that you need the shuttle to access), hike Angel’s Landing (permits needed for peak season), hike the Narrows, hike to the Emerald Pools, hike or bike the Pa’rus Trail, hike the Sand Bench Trail, and eventually when they open again, Hidden Canyon and Observation point.
On the east side of the park you can currently get to Observation Point, too. Also hike the Canyon Overlook Trail, and through any of the creek slot canyons.
You can also hike Taylor Creek Trail in Kolob Canyons or hike along the Kolob Terrace Road where you’ll also find the Subway hike (permit is required.) While it’s not my number one Utah park, it’s still one of the best places to go in Utah.
- East Zion slot canyon and UTV
- East Zion horseback tour
- Zion and Canaan Cliffs helicopter tour
- Springdale half-day canyoneering experience
- Sunset UTV tour with views of Zion
- Stone Hollow Canyoneering experience
Snow Canyon State Park
Snow Canyon is one of the best state parks in Utah (my second favorite) and a great alternative to nearby Zion National Park.
You can hike in a slot canyon, to see pioneer names in the rock, go rock climbing, hike in lava tubes, and so much more. It’s easy to get away from some of the nearby crowds at the awesome state park.
It’s just a short drive from St. George and the perfect addition to any road trip passing through the area either for a quick stop or a whole day.
This is, for sure, my favorite state park in Utah. It’s like a natural playground great for adults and kids alike. There are a couple of trails here, but I think it’s best to just wander around the Valley of the Goblins.
You can actually climb on the rock formations here (as far as I’m still aware, correct me if I’m wrong) which is so fun. You can also scramble up the goblin wall on the far edge of the park and even find caves over there. I think this is one of the most fun places to go in Utah, for sure.
Check out this Goblin Valley canyoneering adventure!
Green River hotels
Kodachrome Basin State Park
Kodachrome Basin State Park is a Utah hidden gem not far from Escalante and Bryce Canyon. It’s also close to the Willis Creek Slot Canyon!
While you can’t go see Shakespeare Arch anymore since it collapsed a few years ago, it’s still a great place to hike and the trail to where the arch was is a really nice one.
This could be a good camping option in the area as well if that’s what you’re doing on your trip. I’ve only been here once but would like to go back.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is kind of between Kanab and Hurricane (which is jut outside of Zion.) This is a fun state park in Utah, especially if you like sand dunes.
You can sled on them, ATV/UTV on them, or hike on them! I think these dunes are particularly cool because of the color of the sand which is, not-so-shockingly, a coral pinky orange color!
Even if you don’t get out on the dunes, they’re cool to see and you could easily stop at them if you’re driving in the area between other places. But I would definitely recommend hiking them (just watch out for any off-road vehicles.)
Cedar Mesa is another one of my favorite places in Utah because it can be fairly remote and has tons of rock art and ruins (which I love, a lot.)
You could spend weeks, months hiking around the area but with just a day or two, I would recommend House on Fire ruins, Butler Wash Ruins, doing the drive down to Halls Crossing, Natural Bridges National Monument, and I know it’s not technically on the mesa, but the Upper Sand Island Petroglyphs in Bluff, too.
Blanding is a good base for exploring the area, but camping here is also really good. You can also visit Bears Ears from here, just be prepared for being in some remote areas. This would be a great area for stargazing in Utah.
Check out this 4X4 tour to Arch Canyon!
Books to read before visiting the Four Corners area:
- The Bears Ears
- In Search of the Old Ones
- The Lost World of the Old Ones
- House of Rain
- Finders Keepers
- Monkey Wrench Gang
- Hayduke Lives
- Desert Solitaire
Ahh, Monument Valley, one of the most popular stops on a Utah Road trip. While you’re here, you can either self-drive the scenic road or join a tour. As of February 2022 only five cars are allowed on the drive per hour, so a tour may be a better option.
There is only one hike here, the Wildcat Trail around one of the mitten buttes, but there are tons of stops to overlooks along the drive and a few tours (listed below) to restricted areas.
Monument Valley tours
- Tour with backcountry access
- Monument Valley and Mystery Valley full day tour
- Monument Valley stargazing tour
- Moab and Monument Valley scenic flight
- Cultural tour
- 18 hour Hunts Mesa tour
White Pocket is the perfect adventure for anyone that wants to experience the remote desert without hiking days to get to it. You can visit on your own if you have a high clearance 4WD vehicle (that’s necessary because of deep sand) or join a tour.
This is in the Vermillion Cliffs, the same place as the Wave, but you don’t need a permit for this one. It’s a paradise for hikers and photographers and one of the last places in Utah I visited before moving!
Wire Pass Slot Canyon
Wire Pass Slot canyon is one of my favorite hikes in Utah. It’s somewhere between 3.7 and 5.6 miles round-trip, I think depending on how far you hike into Buckskin Gulch.
The first part of the hike isn’t that exciting, it’s just in the bright sun through a wash but then there is a small scramble down into the slot canyon. Sometimes there’s a ladder otherwise you can go around it if you can’t/don’t want to scramble down, it is a little tough.
Slot Canyon safety
Flash floods are a huge risk in slot canyons and people die from that far too often. In May 2020 a 7-year-old girl and her 3-year-old sister died in a flash flood in Little Wild Horse Canyon, a popular slot canyon in the San Rafael Swell. This isn’t even a super narrow canyon. And it’s popular. It can happen anywhere.
In 1997, 11 hikers died in a flash flood in Antelope Canyon (the storm was 15 miles away) and that’s a huge reason you need to go with a tour now.
Flash floods are no joke kids. I haven’t seen one in a slot canyon but I did see one right as it was starting in a more open canyon and it really picked up fast. I also saw one in Zion along the Mt. Carmel Highway this summer. It was small but they just happen so fast, please be safe.
- DO NOT ENTER THEM IN THE RAIN
- DO NOT ENTER THEM WITH RAIN IN THE FORECAST
- DO NOT ENTER THEM IF IT’S NOT RAINING IN THEM BUT NEAR THEM TOO
- If you don’t feel comfortable with any climb or narrow squeeze and can turn back, do that! You don’t want to get hurt or stuck and need to be rescued. I linked tons of stories of this below.
- Make sure you’re following the right fork. A lot of slot canyons have multiple forks or are close to other ones and ending up in the wrong one can have dire consequences (especially in the North Wash area of Utah.)
Corona Arch is one of the most popular hikes in Moab outside of the national parks. It’s an easy 2.4 miles round-trip and you can actually see two arches on this hike!
The trailhead is on Potash Road right along the Colorado River and while you’re down here you can see dinosaur tracks and petroglyphs, too. Even another arch further down the road, but Corona Arch is a great short hike in Utah and perfect if you want to see more in the Moab area.
Scenic Byway 12 takes you all the way from Torrey, outside of Capitol Reef, to Bryce Canyon. This is easily one of the best scenic drives in Utah because you get to experience the beautiful desert and you get to drive over Boulder Mountain to see the gorgeous Dixie National Forest. In the summer, just keep an eye out for cows on the road.
There are tons of hiking opportunities along the road and plenty of camping if you’re doing that, too. Otherwise you can stay in Escalante, Boulder, or Tropic. You can easily do this in one day or split it up if there is a lot you want to do along the way. Either way, it’s fantastic.
The Burr Trail might be my favorite place to visit in Utah, the whole thing and I think it’s one of those must-see places in Utah.
I particularly love the end closer to Bullfrog but all of it is amazing. You get sprawling views but you also get to drive through a canyon and if you want to spend more time on here, there are tons (so many) dirt roads along the whole thing.
Any car should be able to drive Burr Trail (I did it in a Smart Car and know motorcycles do it) except big RVs and trailers. If it’s raining, the dirt sections could be impassable and there is a wash on the Bullfrog end, if it’s flooded (which does happen) you’ll have to wait it out or turn around.
Lake Powell is beautiful but controversial and is facing record low water levels. I won’t get into that here but I did a little more in this Lake Powell books post. The north end of Lake Powell is less busy than the south end and, I think, more beautiful.
It’s also way more remote and if you’re not boating, there isn’t much else to do. But if you’re taking all of Burr Trail, it’s worth a pop in to Bullfrog Marina. I would definitely try to do some boating if you can though.
While here you can boat, kayak, paddle board, or do a private boat tour (if they have availability.) There is a short slot canyon at the visitor center you can hike, or you can hike around on the rocks behind the RV park. There are tons of dirt roads around here, too, if you have a capable vehicle for that.
Lake Powell books and maps
- Lake Powell Map (the Stan Jones map is the best one, I have like, three)
- Boaters Guide to Lake Powell
- Where the Water Goes
- Monkey Wrench Gang
- Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water
- Dead Pool: Lake Powell, Global Warming, and the Future of Water in the West
- Science Be Dammed: How Ignoring Inconvenient Science Drained the Colorado River
- Downriver: Into the Future of Water in the West
- Hayduke Lives!
I think Cedar Breaks is another great Utah hidden gem. It’s basically a mini Bryce Canyon and it’s so pretty! You can admire the hoodoos below while walking through the woods along the rim.
And if you’re in the area in the summer, you can visit during the wildflower festival! They have some talks and information available about the wildflowers you’ll see blooming all over the park.
We were here then but I don’t think it was the peak bloom time, but I still loved it. It’s also a great place to go in Utah to get out of the desert heat since it’s at a higher elevation.
Natural Bridges National Monument is right along Highway 95 between Halls crossing and Blanding. It’s a quiet little park where you can hike to three natural bridges which is similar to a natural arch.
It’s a great stop if you’re driving through the area from Blanding to Capitol Reef or Bullfrog. I would definitely go this way instead of through Moab and the Interstate (if you already went to Moab, I suppose.)
The hike to Sipapu Bridge is the most difficult but I liked it. The other bridge hikes were shorter and if you’re really motivated, you can hike all three as a loop.
Willis Creek Slot Canyon
Willis Creek Slot Canyon is a glowing golden slot canyon not far from Escalante, Bryce Canyon, and Kodachrome Basin State Park. It can be a little tough to get to sometimes (if it’s rainy or snowy) but it’s a great dog-friendly hike in Utah.
It’s an easy hike that is about three miles round-trip. This isn’t one of my favorite places to go in Utah but it really is beautiful and definitely worth going to if you’re in the area. It’s a great easy Utah slot canyon hike.
Leprechaun Canyon is an awesome and relatively easy slot canyon hike in the North Wash area of Utah not far from Hanksville. The non-rappelling part of this hike is easy, but there is a rappelling section that I won’t be talking about. This is just the first hiking part.
The hiking part is about two miles round-trip through a wash into the slot canyon. There is a small slot canyon section that you can either go through or over before heading into the cavernous section followed by an even more narrow section.
I like this hike and lot and the whole North Wash area is just incredible. I love it. This area is easily one of my favorite places to see in Utah and I love driving through here.
Valley of the Gods
If you’ve never been to Utah and haven’t been to Monument Valley yet, Valley of the Gods is a great scenic drive. I would highly recommend doing this before Monument Valley because this is a smaller version of that.
Even if you’ve seen a lot here, it’s a nice drive and would be a good spot to do some wandering and Geocaching. It’s a 17-mile drive on a dirt road but any car should be able to do this unless it’s raining or recently rained.
I definitely enjoyed the second half of this drive more than the first (we started closer to the Moki Dugway) and the part driving through the buttes and towering rock formations.
Check out this Valley of the Gods sunset tour from Bluff
Muley Point Overlook
I think this is one of the best places to see in Utah that I don’t actually hear about all that often. And I mean like, almost never. It’s easily one of the best views in Utah and pretty easy to get to.
At the top of the Moki Dugway there is a dirt road on the right (if you’re going down, left if you’re coming up) with a few sort of sandy patches, that takes you to this incredible view!
The drive here isn’t very long and wee only saw a couple of other people here. We didn’t have Muley Overlook to ourselves but it felt like we did. This is super easy to add on to a drive through here and doesn’t take tons of time to see, less than an hour for sure.
Little Wild Horse Canyon
Finally, we have Little Wild Horse Canyon, and up to right mile loop not far from Goblin Valley. This is an awesome slot canyon hike in Utah and it doesn’t have to be eight miles if you don’t want it to be, you can turn around after the narrows sections.
Similar to Willis Creek, this is another golden slot canyon that is a little bit less glow-y, or at least was when I went. It’s a pretty easy hike but a lot of it is in deepish sand which can be tougher.
I think this is a fun hike and there are plenty of places around here you can camp, too. You could easily add this to a Goblin Valley trip or even hike in the San Rafael Swell. There are quite a few Geocaches around here, too.
Utah posts you may also like:
What are your favorite places to visit in Utah? Have you been to any of these places? What are some of the places in Utah you want to visit?