If you imagine a landscape shaped by cold, heat, wind, water and sand blasting over thousands of years creating a land with swirls of color, shapes and textures – then you are about to see the results of these forces of nature at their finest, all here in Utah.

Salt Lake City is in the north of the State, and is most of the big name ‘National Parks and Monuments’ are 3 to 5 hour’s driving distance from Salt Lake City to the north or south.

Utah has five National Parks – Arches, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Zion National Park, but also state Parks and forests – so almost no matter where you travel you will see interesting landscapes and views with 2200 miles of Scenic Byways, one of the best being the Scenic Byway 12 (also called the All-America Road).

These are Utah’s Top 5 National Parks –

  • Zion National Parknear the towns of Springdale, Hurricane and St George is the 100 year old Zion National Park which has lots of hiking trails with the Virgin River carving its way through the sandstone canyons which in itself becomes a trail. Great stone colors, red rock shapes, soaring towers, canyon walls, cliffs as high as 3000 feet, hanging wildflower gardens, monoliths and views to be seen on a scenic drive through the canyon. Hiking to the Narrows, Subway and Angels Landing and also canyoneering are all here to enjoy. There are more than 100 miles of park trails, so the park is very popular, and it is best to book accommodation well in advance in the Park or at one of the towns nearby.
  • Arches National Park5 miles north of Moab. See 1000’s of sandstone arches in this 73,000 acre Park – some small, some massive with hiking trails in narrow passages with the sandstone towering above and around you with great names for some of the formations like the Fiery Furnace, Delicate Arch, Devils Garden, Sheep Rock and others. See wildflowers in April-May. ALSO see Dead Horse Point State Park – to look down to the Colorado River 2000 feet below you and also nearby the high La Sal Mountains alpine areas which are up to 13,000 feet in elevation.
  • Capitol Reef – 8 miles from Torrey. See sandstone cliffs, domes, knobs, monoliths in “the land of the sleeping rainbow” with winding canyons and 100 mile long ‘Waterpocket Fold’. Also see the Fremont Petroglyphs, the 125 feet high stone Hickman Bridge, Chimney Rock, Cathedral Valley and the Cassidy Arch Trail – named after Butch Cassidy.
  • Bryce Canyon National Park – 50 miles south west of Escalante and south of Capitol Reef National Park on Byway 12. See 14 Amphitheaters – the biggest being Bryce Amphitheater some 12 miles long, 3 miles wide and 800 feet deep which runs from an elevation of 8000 feet to 9000 feet. Hike to see pinnacles, steeples, spires and ‘hoodoos’ of stone with changing colors and shapes all around you. Look for the Pink Cliffs and Grand Staircase.
  • Canyonlands National Park - 35 miles west of Moab (east of Capitol Reef) covers an area of 337,000 acres and has 4 districts – the ‘Island in the sky’, ‘Needles’ and more remote ‘Maze’ and ‘Horseshoe’. All have different features to see. The most accessible and popular is the ‘Island in the sky’ with great views and geological formations. Look for Mesa Arch, Buck and Shafer Canyons, Whale Rock and the Upheaval Dome created thousands of years ago by a meteor that crashed to earth here and also the spectacular Grand View Point. The Needles is 75 miles from Moab – and here you can see the Big Spring Canyon overlook, as well as hike to see Cave Spring, Pothole Point and an ancient Puebloan Granary called Roadside Ruin. ALSO look for the Edge of the Cedars State Park to see an Anasazi Village that dates back to around 825 and 1125 AD. Also Goosenecks State Park where there the San Juan river has carved its way through the land 1000 feet below you.

While you can certainly do a day trip to one of the Parks from Salt Lake City, most of your time will be spent travelling rather than being there, so the ideal is to stay closer to the Parks at one of the smaller towns, such as Moab, St George, Hurricane, Springdale, Torrey, Virgin depending on which Parks you intent to see. Moab for example is 240 miles or a 4 hour drive from Salt Lake City and will be longer if you stop at places along the way – which you probably will do to take photos and take in the views, and of course once you are near to one of the Parks, you might be up early enough to see a sunrise or late in the day a sunset.

In Moab and St George areas you will find golf, rafting, hot air ballooning, horse riding, rafting, 4WD driving, boating, fishing, spas, ranch holiday places and lots of places to either just relax or get involved in any number of activities. In the St George area for example close by are a number of lakes and reservoirs – Baker reserve, Enterprise Reservoir, Kolob Reservoir over 8000 feet high with mountains, aspen forest and snow, Pine valley Reservoir, Quail Creek and Sand Hollow both close to St George with boating, fishing, camping sites and of course great scenery too.

UTAH as you can see has great scenery and places to stay over and could well be the state where you take more photographs and have more ‘wow’ moments than any other state that you visit. As much as we have talked about some places to visit and spend time, there are many smaller places to see too, and of course the journey is always enriched by the people you meet who live here or are fellow travellers.

Happy Travelling!
Geoff Stuart

Happy Traveller

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