Like many of the other Midwestern and southwestern states, Utah is an outdoor adventurist’s playground. The majority of Utah is vast and sparsely populated land, but in these wide open spaces you’ll find some of the most stunning views and geographic formations on the planet.
There are two types of Utah travel destinations: Salt Lake City and everything else. If you have time, plan a visit where you can appreciate both sides of Utah. In Salt Lake City visitors can explore the most important city and buildings in the Mormon religion. Stepping away from the big city you’ll find natural wonders like sharply etched canyons, rugged natural spires and towers, and artfully swooping arches, all products of Mother Nature, preserved in Utah’s amazing National Parks.
Arches National Park
This Utah masterpiece is home to over 2000 natural sandstone arches that attract visitors by the thousands. The arches and other unique geological formations are known for their bizarre and spectacular formations. The arches have mostly been created by the underlying salt bed, thousands of feet thick in places, which has naturally evaporated over time, exposing the immense arch shaped formations.
Arches National Park is located near the city of Moab, a popular outdoor recreation hot spot. The most popular activity in the park is viewing the arches, the most famous of which, Delicate Arch, is notably solitary and has become a symbol of the park and the entire state. In addition to arches, unique formations like Balanced Rock, the maze-like Fiery Furnace, Petrified Dunes, and the Courthouse Towers are popularly visited and photographed sites. Other activities that are popular at Arches include camping, hiking, and star-gazing. The National Park is also a popular rock climbing destination; although climbing on the arches is illegal other surfaces have made for popular climbing routes.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Another of Utah’s famed National Parks is Bryce Canyon, a formation that is not actually a canyon, but rather a natural amphitheater-like shape. Bryce Canyon is formed by features called hoodoos which have been created thanks to frost weathering and erosion. The most popular activity at Bryce Canyon is driving the scenic route which passes 13 viewpoints overlooking the amphitheaters. Various hiking trails also lead hikers to viewpoints, caves, and geologic formations. Like Utah’s other parks, Bryce Canyon is known for spectacular star-gazing opportunities.
Skyline Drive, a series of state highways in Utah, winds for more than 100 miles along the top of the Wasatch Plateau where spectacular vistas of forested mountains, alpine meadows, lakes, and streams wait around every corner. The road ranges in elevation from 9,000 to 11,000 feet and is one of America’s highest highways. Unlike some of Utah’s more popular dry rocky destinations Skyline’s landscape shows the greener side of Utah, due to its higher elevation where wildflowers, streams, and wildlife thrive.
Zion National Park
Zion National Park is a 229 square mile area surrounding the 15 mile long Zion Canyon. The spectacular canyon is known for its deep red colored sandstone and its sheer walls at some places dropping a half mile to the valley floor. Because the park’s elevation varies from about 3,000 to 9,000 feet in places, the plant and animal life in Zion National Park is extremely diverse.
While many visitors pass through Zion on their way to Bryce Canyon or the Grand Canyon, there are actually many short hikes across the bottom of the canyon that make for a pleasant short stop. Zion is also known for its excellent long hiking trails and rock climbing. The park has several campgrounds and even a lodge and restaurant that are open throughout the year.
Canyonlands National Park
Also located near the town of Moab is Canyonlands National Park, a beautiful landscape of canyons, mesas, and buttes surrounding the Colorado River. The park’s four districts called the Needles, the Maze, the Sky, and the rivers have distinct characteristics which fascinate visitors of all types. Canyonlands has many trails making it a popular destination for hikers, mountain bikers, backpackers, and four-wheel driving, but those who prefer water as their mode of transport will enjoy rafting or kayaking the Green River and the Colorado River below.
Top Things to Do in Utah
Utah’s most popular tourist destination isn’t a breathtaking beauty like a bizarre rock formation or towering canyon walls, it’s Salt Lake City’s main square where the most important building in the Mormon religion is located. Salt Lake City is, in a way, the Mormon capital of the world as the city where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon Church, took roots over 100 years ago. Temple Square, as the name implies, is the location of several Mormon churches and other religious buildings.
The main buildings located in or near the Temple Square area are the Salt Lake Temple, the Salt Lake Tabernacle, the Salt Lake Assembly Hall, and the Seagull Monument. Also at the square tourists can find two visitors centers to learn about the history of the square and Mormonism. The most visited site in Temple Square is the Salt Lake Temple, the largest and most well-known Mormon church in the world. In addition to viewing the square and the temple it is also enjoyable to explore the Church History Museum which contains art and artifacts dating from present day to the time of the religion’s creation.
Great Salt Lake
Great Salt Lake, in northern Utah, is the largest lake in the U.S. other than the Great Lakes, and it is the largest salt lake in the entire Western Hemisphere. The salt content of the lake is more even than is found in sea water earning the lake the nickname “America’s Dead Sea.” Despite the high salt content and the associated nickname, the lake is home to a variety of birds and fish. It is one of the state’s most popular tourist destinations, but due to the unpredictable weather and water depth, most recreation around the lake is on land in the form of hiking, biking, and sunbathing.
Ski Resorts: Deer Valley, Park City, Alta, Snowbird
Utah is well-known for having some of the finest skiing terrain in the world and visitors to the state have a large selection of world-class resorts to choose from. In the north, many of the ski resorts are located close to major cities making for convenient travel. Ski Magazine recognized Utah for having six out of the top ten resorts in the country. A few of the most popular resorts are Deer Valley, Park City, Alta, and Snowbird.
If you’re planning a visit to the famous Four-Corners area while in Utah you’re sure to be near Monument Valley, part of the Colorado Plateau that is known for its large sandstone buttes. Above the green valley floor, rugged rock formations jut upward in various formations to heights reaching almost 1,000 feet. The valley encompasses a large area which includes Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, a Navajo Nation national park. Visitors can enjoy driving through the park or participating in a tour by bus or horse, or for those without a fear of heights, by hot air balloon.
Dinosaur National Monument
Dinosaur National Monument, in the southeastern side of Utah, near the Colorado border covers a region where some of the country’s most impressive dinosaur fossils have been found. One of the park’s best specimens is the nearly complete skull, lower jaw, and neck vertebrae of an Allosaurus. The area called the Dinosaur Quarry has a “Dinosaur Wall” a steep rock layer where hundreds of dinosaur fossils have been discovered. Visitors can view the fossils as they have been exposed in the wall and visit the Quarry Exhibit Hall. Within the park boundaries there are also several other prehistoric sites including prehistoric residences.
Things to Do in Utah
Your packing list for your trip to Utah should start with the word camera, after that, you might also consider putting hiking shoes high on the list. Utah is one of the country’s foremost destinations for sightseeing and outdoor adventure, so whether you prefer high-energy travel or a more leisurely pace, you’ll be equally impressed by the wide open spaces of Utah, just don’t forget that camera.