Things to Do in Utah
The Colorado River is a spectacular sight to see, meandering for 1,447 miles (2,330 kilometers) with red rocks and canyons framing it on both sides, leading up to the Hoover Dam. The Colorado River is one of the major water sources for California and Nevada, and, not surprisingly, it's a major recreational destination—activities on the river include hiking, biking, rafting, and boating.
Lake Powell is a reservoir—the second-largest man-made reservoir in the United States, actually—in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on the border of Arizona and Utah. Known for its many sandy beaches, sparkling blue water, and red-rock landscapes, this fun vacation spot is one of Arizona’s top attractions. Some of the lake’s famous features include the Glen Canyon Dam (located in Arizona) and the Rainbow Bridge National Monument, one of the world’s longest natural bridges (located in Utah).
Set in the high desert of the American Southwest, Canyonlands National Park comprises 337,598 acres (136,621 hectares) of rugged landscape divided into four distinct districts by the Green and Colorado rivers. Deep craters, towering rock spires, white cliffs, and majestic buttes dominate the landscape of Utah’s largest national park.
Experience one of nature’s roller coaster rides, Hell’s Revenge Trail. Set in a desert canyon outside of Moab, the off-roading track crawls over slick rocks, along cliff faces, and up and down near-vertical terrain. Between rock-crawling adventures, stop to take in views stretching from Arches National Park to La Sal Mountains.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is famous for its red rock formations that soar up to 1,000 feet (305 meters) into the desert sky. It is also known as the setting for classic Western films starring John Wayne. Straddling the Arizona-Utah border, the area is home to nearly 92,000 acres of massive buttes, cacti, and natural arches, as well members of the Navajo Nation.
At the aptly named Emerald Pools, a verdant stream connects a series of three fresh water pools—a picturesque contrast to the earthy red cliffs that dominate Zion National Park. Three hiking trails access the pools, ranging from a short paved route to a more strenuous loop. Flowing waterfalls and crystal-clear pools make this a must-visit spot.
The eroded red rock wonderland of Arches National Park houses more than 2,000 natural stone arches, the densest concentration in the world. Geological marvels abound—here you’ll find hundreds of soaring pinnacles, the iconic Delicate Arch, and Landscape Arch, the largest natural arch in the world at 290 feet (88 meters) across.
Situated in the rocky desert terrain of southwestern Utah, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is nearly two million acres of public, protected land. The ancient lands are full of bright sandstone cliffs and narrow canyons, with geological formations and beautiful natural terrain for miles. It extends from the north edge of the Grand Canyon up to the high plateaus of Utah.
The area gets its name from the sedimentary rock layers and their visualizations created by geologists. Many say you can read this area as layers of history and time. Several dinosaur fossils more than 75 million years old have been found in the park area. Since then prehistoric human settlements and even abandoned former Western film sets have been left behind here. Today outdoor recreational activities such as hiking, backpacking, camping, and off-roading are popular for visitors.
Utah’s Great Salt Lake, the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere and the largest natural lake in North America west of the Mississippi, is the setting for some of the state’s best outdoor recreational opportunities; sailors and kayakers ply the waters, while sunbathers bask on sandy beaches and swimmers float in the high-saline waters.
One of Zion National Park’s most famous hikes, The Narrows are the narrowest section of Zion Canyon, with sandstone walls reaching 1,000 feet (305 meters) high and sometimes 20 feet (6 meters) across. The Virgin River flows underfoot for most of this adventurous trek—be prepared to get wet.
More Things to Do in Utah
According to local legend, this breathtaking mesa with incredible panoramic views of Canyonlands National Park and the roaring Colorado River, was once home to wild mustang herds that old-school cowboys worked tirelessly to break. Today, Dead Horse Point State Park attracts hikers, photographers and mountain bikers seeking out rugged terrain, epic scenery and untouched natural wonder. Intrepid trails offer thrill-seeking bikers a raging shot of adrenaline, while shorter hikes up well-marked paths lead to epic views of some of the country’s most beautiful scenery.
The red Moenkopi sandstone peaks of the Fisher Towers are one of the most photographed sites in Utah. Their rigid summits stretch high into the open skies and on clear days, the juxtaposition of red rock against brilliant blue makes for an imagine that’s worth making the trip just to capture.
Outdoor enthusiasts and avid climbers say challenging passes like Finger of Fate, Titan Tower and Stolen Chimney make Fisher Towers is a destination for thrill seekers, and they caution that the dangerous twists of the famous Cork Screw tower are not for the faint of heart either.
Capitol Reef National Park is a long stretch of land that includes some bizarre geologic formations, Native American petroglyphs and orchards planted by Mormon pioneers. Established in 1971, Capitol Reef is named in part for sandstone dome formations that are said to resemble the capitol building in Washington D.C. The park also includes a formation called the “Waterpocket Fold,” a 100-mile-long rift where ancient layers of the earth's crust have become visible as they've been pushed up over millions of years.
Native Americans had lived in the area around the 11th century – there are petroglyphs on some of the rocks in the park – and in the 1870s and 1880s Mormon pioneers settled nearby, planting orchards and mining minerals from the rocks. Today, some of the orchards still remain, and visitors can even pick the fruit for a fee.
In addition to simply enjoying the scenery, visitors can also go hiking and horseback riding. Overnight camping in the park is possible with a permit, and there's also a large official campground inside the park.
Completed in 1867, the Salt Lake Tabernacle is an architectural marvel famous for its remarkable acoustics: A pin dropped at the pulpit can be heard clearly at the back of the hall 170 feet (52 meters) away. Home of the renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the church hosts concerts and tours that attract visitors from all over the world.
The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is the main artery through Zion National Park. Winding along the Virgin River, the two-lane road is lined with vista points, river access spots, trailheads, and photo opportunities. The route is so popular that, during the busy season, it is only accessible by a park shuttle.
When Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, Brigham Young, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), proclaimed, “Here we will build a temple to our God.” That place eventually became known as Temple Square, the centerpiece of which is the Salt Lake Temple—the largest Mormon temple in the world.
In 1930, when the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel was completed in Zion National Park, it was the longest tunnel anywhere in America outside of an urban city. Today, this 1.1-mile tunnel navigates the innards of a soaring sandstone mountain, and provides a conduit connecting Zion National Park with Utah’s famous Bryce Canyon. The road itself, the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its beauty and feats of engineering—the grandest of which is the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel that’s become an attraction in itself. As a means of illuminating the deeply dark tunnel, multiple “windows” have been cut through the wall to showcase the view outside, though you’ll want to keep moving, rather than stop, to make sure traffic keeps flowing. In the three years that it took to complete the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel, the total cost eventually ballooned to just over half a million dollars. In 1930 that sum was unconscionable for simply creating a road, but seems like a bargain when you consider today the feat that the builders pulled off.
The hike to the top of Angels Landing in Zion National Park ranks among the most famous in the world. It’s only moderately challenging until the final half mile, when the trail becomes precipitous and the narrowness of the path—not to mention sheer drop-offs to either side—offers an additional mental challenge. Visitors who make it to the top are rewarded with spectacular views.
Built for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, Utah Olympic Park was the site of the bobsled, skeleton, luge, ski jumping, and Nordic combined events. The park, located just outside downtown Park City, now serves as a training center for Olympic hopefuls and is a top tourist attraction for visitors and locals interested in Olympic history.
Named after the biblical figures of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the sandstone cliffs known as the Court of the Patriarchs are popular among photographers, rock climbers, and early risers. A visit here doesn’t require much time on its own, but it’s an accessible vantage point for capturing the beauty of the awe-inspiring Zion National Park.
In an area filled with challenging mountain passes, technical terrain and plenty of level 2, 3 and 4 hikes, the Rock Art Sites of Moab offer travelers easy access to ancient drawings scattered along paths even a novice can navigate.
Old-school petroglyphs and pictographs pay homage to the Paleo-Indians, a group of historic people thought to be the first in the area, and visitors can wander through scenic points like the Moon Flower Canyon, Birthing Scene and Jug Handle Arch to gain new perspective on the traditions of a culture that’s long gone, but still remembered. Travelers say the road that winds through the Rock Art sites is one of the area’s most scenic, making it a perfect rainy-day activity when wet weather makes scaling mountaintops or biking down rugged passes impossible.
Towering rock formations, colorful slot canyons, and a maze of hiking trails make Zion Canyon the heart of activity in Zion National Park. The Virgin River courses through the green valley floor and painted sandstone cliffs, creating a desert oasis that draws hoards of visitors to the scenic park.
The second-largest copper producer in the United States, the century-old Kennecott Copper Mine (aka the Bingham Canyon Mine) provides about a quarter of America’s copper needs, as well as gold, silver, and molybdenum. The impressive open pit, which is is still growing, is said to be visible from space.
A natural oasis set on the outskirts of Salt Lake City, Red Butte Garden blankets the foothills in blossoms, plant displays, and hiking trails. The 100-acre (40-hectare) garden is the largest botanical garden in the Intermountain West, and it is best known for its magnificent spring bulb blooms and educational water-conservation garden.
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