Utah attracts thousands of visitors each year. The most popular attractions in Utah, are those that involve outdoor activities, whether exploring the outdoors in national parks, going river rafting, or skiing. There are also plenty of activities for those who are less adventurous or prefer to be somewhere with comforts.
There are fifteen national parks and monuments that are within a few hours’ drive of its capitol city, Salt Lake City. It’s no wonder that six of our top 10 attractions are in this category.
Here are the top 10 attractions in the state that you don’t want to miss on your next trip to the Beehive State.
Utah’s “Mighty Five” National Parks
Southern Utah has five magnificent national parks—Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Capitol Reef and Canyonlands. Each one is a must see in its own right. Zion’s has soaring sandstone cliffs, Bryce Canyon its hoodoos, Arches’ has well, the arches, Capitol Reef the jagged Waterpocket Fold, and Canyonlands has vast and infinite canyons and rivers.
The Navajo originally called this area of southern Utah, “The Land of the Sleeping Rainbow.” One look at the landscape will tell you why! It’s possible to spend as much or as little time as you want in the parks. There are numerous hiking trails in the each park. The parks offer ranger programs such as guided moonlight hikes, telescope stargazing, and other family programs.
Monument Valley is famous for its picturesque red mesas, stunning buttes, and surrounding desert. Much of the monument is part of Navajo tribal lands and require a guide. The Valley Drive is a 17 mile, self-drive dirt road running through the spectacular scenery. Along the route are many of the famous sights and formations, with pullout areas for viewing and photography. For ventures beyond this road visitors must use a guide, which can be arranged at the visitor center. There are also excellent views from the entrance of the park at the Monument Valley Visitor Center.
Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
This huge area of rugged landscape receives far less visitors than the big national parks in Utah, and definitely offers a sense of remoteness. Paved and dirt roads, where a person can drive great distances without ever passing another car, are all part of the attraction of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. The scenery is a mix of canyons, arches, hills, waterfalls, forest, and scrub land.
Throughout the monument, you’ll find an incredible range of geological formations and features as well as world-class paleontological sites. Some key features worth visiting throughout this park include the White, Gray, and Pink Cliffs within the Grand Staircase, Buckskin Gulch (the longest of all slot canyons around the world), and Boulder Mountain, which is 11,000 feet tall.
Dinosaurs once roamed this area of Utah. Dinosaur National Monument is known for the large number of Jurassic period fossils that have been discovered here. There are also petroglyphs that give you a glimpse into earlier cultures. While at this attraction, visit Carnegie Quarry, a world-famous site with almost 1,500 visible dinosaur fossils. The new Quarry Hall has been built right over top of a section of the rock, allowing for close up access and comfortable conditions for visitors.
If you want more adventure, try river rafting, hiking, or camping. Dinosaur National Monument also has multiple ranger-led programs, such as guided tours for the whole family.
Cedar Breaks National Monument
The same forces of nature that shaped Bryce Canyon were at work also in Cedar Breaks, in southwestern Utah, creating a smaller but even more colorful rocky landscape in the form of a gigantic amphitheater. The best views are those from the Rim Drive. The amphitheater is more than 2,000 ft. deep and three miles in diameter.
Hiking is a great family activity at Cedar Breaks. The Ramparts Trail is a popular 4 mile route along the edge of the plateau that leads to a viewpoint of the spectacular Cedar Breaks Amphitheater. Less spectacular, but interesting nonetheless, is the Alpine Pond Trail, a circular 2 mile hike to a sub-alpine forest glade and a pond at the end of the trail.
Natural Bridges National Monument
Just under 100 miles southeast of Canyonlands National Park is the Natural Bridges National Monument. There are three natural bridges, the Kachina, the Owachomo, and the Sipapu. They are accessible by short hikes from the trailhead parking lots. Also of interest are the Horsecollar Ruins with the remains of ancient Native American buildings.
Park City is known for skiing and snowboarding, but it is popular year-round. There are more than 400 miles worth of trails through the woods to bike or hike as well as concerts and plays to enjoy. Olympic Sports Park, also located in the vicinity, was used as a venue for the 2002 Winter Olympics. Walk around the Historic Main Street, catch a bite to eat, and do a little shopping. As with the rest of Utah, there are also numerous outdoor activities, such as mountain biking, fly fishing, river rafting, horseback riding, a zip line, and cheering the Utes to victory .
Park City embraces its American West heritage and is the place to be for innovation, adventure and exploration. Ski in the winter, mountain bike in the summer. This mountain town is year-round incredible.
Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City offers immediate access to all forms of outdoor adventure—hiking, biking, climbing and camping, a salty lake for boating and floating, and there’s golf, too. For indoor adventure there is a thriving restaurant scene, blockbuster theaters and art house indies, ballet, opera, orchestra and theatre, a rich selection of museums and malls, pro basketball, soccer, baseball and hockey teams. And don’t forget the one and only Temple Square, 10-acre complex that includes Beehive House, Church History Museum, Family History Library, the Salt Lake Temple, and Tabernacle.
Golden Spike National Historic Site
On the north side of the Great Salt Lake is the Golden Spike National Historic Site. The Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads joined here to complete the nation’s first transcontinental railroad. Enjoy reenactments, trackside talks, and live demonstrations of authentic replica steam locomotives. Self-guiding auto and walking tours are also available. The Visitor Center has an exhibition illustrating the importance of the railroad in opening up the West.
Lake Powell has almost 2,000 miles of shore, offering plenty of chances to enjoy the water or beach. The lake’s surface area is 161,390 acres and visitors can boat, paddle board, kayak, waterski, wakeboard, tube, and more on the lake. This is a popular location to rent a houseboat or you can just visit for a day. You can go fishing, kayaking, skiing, or boating, or hike or boat your way to Rainbow Bridge. You can also rent one of the idyllic villas at the resort, lounge by the shoreline with your family to soak up the warm Utah sun or go on a guided boat expedition with one of the resort’s tour experts.
Visit the Beehive State on your next vacation!