Utah is one of the best places to travel in the United States if what you’re after are landscapes that look out of this world and unparalleled desert scenery.
If you’re currently in the planning stages of your route to Utah, there’s a high chance you’re wondering what the best places to visit and things to do are in the Beehive State.
To make things a little easier for you, I decided to put together a list of some of the best destinations and activities you absolutely need to consider on your family road trip tinerary, especially if you’re a first-timer to Utah.
From getting lost amid red rock landscapes to hiking through incredible slot canyons, here are some of the best things to do in Utah you shouldn’t miss!
This Guest Post is Part of our Series Discover the USA
1. Dead Horse Point State Park
If you’ve always dreamed of starring in a Western Movie, a visit to Dead Horse Point State Park is as close as it gets to it.
Put simply, Dead Horse Point State Park is what we’d call a hidden gem of Utah’s desert trail. Because it’s located close to bigger destinations like Arches and Canyonlands, it doesn’t usually make it to most lists of things to do in Moab, which guarantees similar landscapes but with much smaller crowds to share them with!
As a fun fact, the final scene of the movie Thelma and Louise was shot at Dead Horse, which is pretty much enough reason to pay this often overlooked park a visit (don’t try to mimic the scene, though!)
2. Moab, Utah
Moab is a small town in northeastern Utah that acts as the gateway to some of the state’s best desert scenery, absolutely unmissable on a Southwest USA itinerary.
Surrounded by Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, Moab is the ultimate place to base yourself in order to explore worlds of whacky-looking red rocks, expansive canyons, sandstone spires, and landscapes that look straight out of Mars.
While here, you can choose from a myriad of different adventures, be it from gentle desert hikes through Canyonland’s Island in the Sky district, scenic drives in Arches National Park, or going on a full-on backpacking adventure at the Needles district in Canyonlands, and more!
Part of the “Utah Mighty 5” national parks, this is a must-stop for any US road trip itinerary!
(Don’t forget if you’re visiting Arches NP in the summer months you’ll need a timed reservation)
3. Monument Valley
When it comes to quintessential Southwest scenery, Monument Valley is guaranteed to please.
Known for its stunning red sandstone buttes, fascinating hiking trails, and iconic scenery, Monument Valley is one of the most emblematic natural landmarks in the United States (so much that it’s been featured in countless movies, including Easy Rider, Forrest Gump, Stagecoach, and more!).
Aside from hiking, horseback riding is a huge thing at Monument Valley, making it a perfect place to visit if you’ve always wondered what being a cowboy back in the day was like!
If riding a horse or hiking doesn’t sound like your jam, though, you can also see most of the highlights at Monument Valley by driving the park’s 17-mile Valley Drive loop.
(This is a Navajo Tribal Park – not a National Park – you cannot use your America the Beautiful pass or any national park passes; numbers are limited and entry is first-come, first-served so be prepared for an early start)
4. Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls is a striking two-tier waterfall that cascades down from a whopping height of over 600 feet, making it a true treat to look at.
As Utah’s most accessible waterfall, getting to Bridal Veil is pretty easy as it’s located right next to the road and very close to Salt Lake City. If you’d like a bit more solitude during your visit, though, I recommend following a hiking trail that will take you up to the second base of the fall’s drop!
5. The Narrows
Located inside Zion National Park, the Narrows is the narrowest section of the canyon and one of the most iconic slot canyon hikes in Utah.
As you make your way through a gorge, you’ll get to wade through a river so narrow that it can sometimes measure as little as twenty feet in width, all while being towered by walls that reach up to a thousand feet!
The hike is simply gorgeous and one of the best things to do in Utah for adventure lovers who don’t mind a challenge.
(Make sure you are aware of how the lottery system works for this national park; there are seasonal lotteries as well as day-before lotteries to enter for Angel’s Landing hiking trails. To experience the Narrows does NOT require this permit, but you should plan your day carefully as you do still need a shuttle into the park to start your hike – Zion is a park that needs a fair amount of pre-planning, especially with kids).
6. Snow Canyon State Park
Located right where the Colorado Plateau, the Great Basin, and the Mojave Desert meet, Snow Canyon State Park is a blend of entirely different ecosystems that, when put together, create an incredibly unique landscape of sandstone cliffs, lava fields, and petrified sand dunes.
While here, you’ll be able to get your dose of adrenaline through a variety of activities, ranging from hikes through canyons, scenic drives, getting to slide down a sand dune, monumental rock climbs, and wildlife spotting opportunities.
7. Red Cliffs Desert Reserve
Located right where the Colorado Plateau, the Great Basin, and the Mojave Desert blend together, Red Cliffs Desert Reserve provides a pretty unique mix of ecosystems.
Here, you’ll find an unraveled desert scenery, all of which you can enjoy through various hiking trails, which range from easy strolls through the desert to tougher challenges for the more experienced.
As a note, if you’re into wildlife, this is definitely one of the best things to do in Utah for you. Red Cliffs Desert became a reserve in order to provide a safe place for desert tortoises to live, and other endangered animals also call their reserve their home. Be sure to hike slowly and keep your eyes open, as all hiking trails in the reserve provide the opportunity to stumble across a few of them!
Contributed by Jane from Family Road Trip – Road Tripping Experts in the USA
Have you ever visited any of these places in Utah? What are some other activities in the Beehive State you feel deserve a spot on this list? Let us know in the comment section below!
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