Do you think Utah is only about desert magic, red rock formations, and Mars-like landscapes? Even though it’s definitely all that, there’s a lot more to Utah than meets the eye. Don’t miss these amazing things to see in Utah.
In fact, the Beehive State is home to a huge array of exciting attractions and amazing spots that have nothing to do with the desert, including busy cities, mountains, forests, charming towns, other-worldly natural sites, beautiful lakes, and engaging historical sites.
Below, you’ll find my recommendations for the locations in Utah worth checking out as long as you’re exploring its expansive deserts!
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National Parks: the “Mighty 5” parks are the best things to see in Utah
No Utah bucket list would be anywhere near complete without discussing Utah’s “Mighty 5” U.S. National Parks.
Presented here in alphabetical order, they are Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef, National Park, and Zion National Park.
For a more complete discussion of these parks and a suggested road trip itinerary, see my post on the best national parks in Utah.
Arches National Park
Arches National Park is famous for its eye-popping natural arches (of course!), other-worldly rock formations, and stunning desert views. It is much smaller than other national parks, so you can cover it in a day or two.
Hike along Arches’ wonderful trails to take in as many of its fantastic landscapes and viewpoints as you can.
Highlights include quirky rock formations and spellbinding arches throughout the park, including Delicate, Double O, Turret Arch, Landscape, and Sand Dune arches.
If you prefer a guided experience, try this full-day tour of both Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon is all about odd-looking hoodoos, wild rock formations, and beautiful sandstone pillars.
One day is enough to explore the park if you start out early because it is relatively small compared to most of the other Mighty Five parks.
Despite its size, Bryce Canyon does not lack natural wonders. Highlights include Fairyland Canyon, Silent City, Mossy Cave Waterfalls, and Queen’s Garden Trail.
Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands is one of the best national parks to visit if you want to take a deep dive into the desert.
Deep canyons, splendid rivers, sandstone cliffs, sheer red rock formations, tons of hiking trails, and spectacular vistas make Canyonlands one of the most scenic national parks in the United States.
Spanning 330,000 acres of nature, Canyonlands is divided into different sections: Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze.
It would be impossible to explore everything in one visit, but a few things you shouldn’t miss are Grand View Point, Mesa Arch, Shafer Canyon, Grand View Point Trail, Upheaval Dome, and Buck Canyon Overlook, all within Island in the Sky, the easiest section to explore.
Capitol Reef National Park
One of the lesser-known of the Mighty Five Utah national parks, Capitol Reef features cliffs, canyons, and domes in a geologic monocline known as the Waterpocket Fold, which, put simply, is a big 100-mile wrinkle on the earth.
Must-dos at Capitol Reef include driving Highway 24 scenic road through the park, Panorama Point, and Sunset Point, hiking to Hickman Bridge and Cassidy Arch, walking along Grand Wash, and shopping for goodies at the Gifford Homestead.
Zion National Park
If you’re yearning for a desert-filled adventure, Zion National Park has you covered. Located in southwestern Utah, Zion is one of the most beautiful and popular national parks in the US.
Zion National Park is a perfect go-to for hiking trails, contrasting landscapes, and wildlife spotting.
Most of the best views at Zion can be found along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, making it easy as pie to explore even if you’re short on time.
For unique hikes, try The Narrows, Emerald Pools, and a hike up the world-famous trail that leads to Angel’s Landing (IF you’re not afraid of heights…which counts me out then I guess).
Side note: It’s not that I don’t want to try the Angel’s Landing hike, but I’m sure the chain section would have me re-evaluating all my life choices.
The Narrows is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon at Zion National Park and one of the most emblematic slot canyon hikes in Utah.
As you make your way through the gorge, you’ll get to walk amid walls as tall as a thousand feet and wade over a river so narrow that it can sometimes measure only twenty feet in width.
The hike is beautiful and a must on anyone’s Utah itinerary, especially if you’re keen to experience one of the most beautiful slot canyons the state has to offer and don’t mind a bit of a challenge.
You might enjoy this guided hike of The Narrows, one of the most popular hikes in U.S. National Parks. Equipment provided.
Utah state parks and other natural wonders
Great Salt Lake State Park
The largest natural lake in Utah, the Great Salt Lake earned its name from the mineral deposits it leaves behind as its water evaporates. Because it has no outlet, the lake is actually saltier than ocean water.
Fishing, swimming, boating, bison-spotting, and bird-watching are popular activities that attract a lot of visitors.
Staying in the park until sunset is very much worth your while, as the lively colors reflecting on the waters create a splendid spectacle straight out of a painting.
Bridal Veil Falls
Utah’s Bridal Veil Falls is a double cataract waterfall that crashes down from a height of 607 feet in the Provo Canyon. Its stunning beauty and accessibility have made it one of Utah’s most visited waterfalls.
To get there, you’ll need to take a short drive from Salt Lake City. The waterfalls are located right next to the road, but if you want to get the full experience you can hike up beyond the base of the falls.
Goblin Valley State Park
Located between Capitol Reef National Park and Canyonlands National Park, Goblin Valley will make you feel like you’ve somehow traveled to another world (Maybe to Mars? But then again that’s true of a lot of Utah), one made up of eerie-looking hoodoos and rock formations.
While here, the ultimate way to explore the valley is by hiking the Goblin’s Lair Trail, a 2.3-mile out-and-back trail that will take you through clusters of hoodoos, several canyons, and cavernous formations. Or try a guided 4-hour canyoneering adventure.
Goblin Valley State Park is also a certified International Dark Sky Park.
Does anyone want to go stargazing?
Grand Staircase—Escalante National Monument and Lower Calf Creek Falls
Escalante National Monument spans 1.87 million acres of southern Utah. It’s home to tons of natural treasures, including its amazing Grand Staircase of cliffs and terraces, monoliths, slot canyons, natural bridges, arches, the Escalante River, and Lower Calf Creek Falls.
Lower Calf Creek Falls is a set of waterfalls with a natural pool below where you can take a dip and cool off.
The lower falls hike is quite popular and a relatively flat 6-mile out-and-back hike.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
Monument Valley kind of hits a trifecta of the best of Utah: The Old West, Native American culture, and outstanding desert landscapes.
The entire Monument Valley region is known for its stunning scenery, mesmerizing hiking trails, and glorious striking red sandstone buttes, making it one of the most iconic natural landmarks not only in Utah but also in the entire United States.
Hike the Wildcat Trail, check out Mexican Hat, or do the highly popular 17-mile scenic drive.
You might enjoy this extended Monument Valley tour with backcountry access.
Or try this 3-hour sunset tour with a Navajo guide. You’ll see the famous West and East Mitten Buttes, John Ford Point, the Three Sisters, Moccasin Arch, the Totem Pole, and more.
If Monument Valley looks familiar to you, it may be because it has made appearances in many movies, including Once Upon a Time in the West, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Forrest Gump, Mission: Impossible 2, and many, many more.
Red Cliffs Desert Reserve
Set in a transition zone between the Colorado Plateau, the Great Basin, and the Mojave Desert, Red Cliffs Desert Reserve is a convergence of different ecosystems.
It’s home to gorgeous desert landscapes and mixtures of flora and fauna, many of which you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
Red Cliffs Desert Reserve provides the desert tortoise, a threatened species, a safe place to live. Moreover, many other endangered reptiles, mammals, and birds also call the reserve their home.
During your time here, you can choose from plenty of fun hikes, ranging from easy strolls to tougher desert challenges.
Maybe you’ll spot a desert tortoise or one of the other animals native to the area. Go slowly and keep a look out for them!
The reserve includes Snow Canyon State Park (see below).
Snow Canyon State Park
Located at the intersection of the Colorado Plateau, the Great Basin, and the Mojave Desert, Snow Canyon State Park mixes completely different ecosystems that together create a fascinating landscape.
Personally, I think the canyon scenery looks quite a bit like Zion National Park.
Known for its Navajo sandstone cliffs, petrified sand dunes, and extensive lava fields, Snow Canyon is perfect for fun adventures in the outdoors amid other-worldly looking scenery.
A few of the best things to do at Snow Canyon include hiking, scenic driving, sliding down sand dunes, spotting desert fauna, and rock climbing.
Dead Horse Point State Park
This beautiful state park offers exceptional vistas of expansive canyons, stunning Colorado River overlooks, and outdoor adventures that will make you feel as though you’re walking over Mars—all without the crowds you’ll usually find at Arches and Canyonlands.
Start at the visitor center to access the miles of hiking and single-track mountain bike trails. There are eight miles of hiking trails leading to various overlooks. All are considered easy hikes.
If you’re into biking, you might enjoy the 16 miles of single-track mountain biking trails.
Dead Horse Park has been an officially designated International Dark Sky Park since 2016.
Set in the high Uintas, the Provo River flows 70 miles down to the mesmerizing Utah Lake, offering great fishing and tubing opportunities amid a charming forest backdropped by snow-capped mountains.
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
Not just for outdoor activities or extreme sports, Utah has something for bird watchers too.
The 74,000-acre Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge provides a temporary home to over 55,000 American White Pelicans that flock here in the summer as well as around 40,000 Tundra Swans that arrive in the fall.
Plus, you’ll also find over 200 bird species you can admire year-round!
Great Salt Lake has a peculiar inland sea. The salty water that results from it being filtered through the salty bed of Lake Bonneville makes it the perfect place for snorkeling and scuba diving, even though it is 600 miles from the nearest coast.
You’ll find Bonneville Seabase about 40 miles from Salt Lake City.
Located in the northeastern part of Utah, Fantasy Canyon is unlike any other place you’ve ever seen.
This canyon is filled with peculiar rock figures that look like dragons, bears, a witch, and more.
You can get up close to these unique figures by hiking a short 0.6-mile loop trail.
Utah towns and cities you should visit
Salt Lake City
The state’s capital offers a unique mix of history, religious allure, and entertainment.
I recommend starting your Salt Lake City visit at Temple Square with a guided tour. It will help you get a better understanding of the state’s culture and history.
Other cultural/historical sites worth checking out include: This is the Place Heritage Park, the Gilgal Sculpture Garden, and the State Capitol.
Tracy Aviary, Hogle Zoo, Liberty Park and the Natural History Museum of Utah, and the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Venue, are other great ideas to add to your Salt Lake City itinerary.
Moab is the place to visit for quintessential Utah desert scenery.
Home to two of the favorite national parks in the state, Moab is the perfect place to base yourself in order to explore a world of red sandstone spires, whacky-looking rock formations, and sweeping canyons.
During your time here, you can choose from checking out the natural arches at Arches National Park, catching views of Canyonland’s Island in the Sky on easy hikes, or challenging yourself to backpack at its Needles District.
Whatever activity you end up picking, you’re guaranteed insanely beautiful sights that seem almost out of this world!
Located close to the border with Arizona, Kanab has been dubbed “Little Hollywood” due to the fact that it has served as a natural stage for many films and series, including John Wayne’s Stagecoach, The Lone Ranger, and Planet of the Apes.
Check out the Little Hollywood Museum, if you’re interested in learning more about the area’s film history.
Kanab is a great base from which to explore some of the area’s most unique natural destinations, including the Buckskin Gulch slot canyon, Thin Wire Pass, Coyote Buttes, and The Wave.
Try a guided hiking tour of Peek-a-Boo Slot Canyon, less crowded than some of the other popular sites in Utah and Arizona.
Nestled in the mountains, and thus protected by their plenty of beautiful peaks, Brigham City offers a quiet town atmosphere perfect for relaxing after exploring its striking natural surroundings.
Among many other adventures, the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge close by will give you the opportunity to observe over 200 bird species, including American White Pelicans that arrive in the summer and Tundra Swans in the fall.
Or you might drive out to Golden Spike National Historical Park or to Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
This quaint historic town was founded by Mormon pioneers in a truly remarkable location.
Located just 20 minutes from Bryce Canyon National Park, wondrous towering mountains and mystic lakes enfold beautiful red brick buildings, making the scenery at Panguitch look as though it came straight out of a painting.
As you stroll its streets, you’ll stumble across plenty of antique shops, local art galleries, and craft shops, making it a true treat for creative spirits.
As a fun fact, Panguitch means “Big Fish”, and the town is host to the Panguitch Valley Balloon Rally and the Annual Quilt Walk Festival
Home to only about two hundred residents, Torrey boasts an understated charm and acts as the perfect place to base yourself in order to experience some of Utah’s best outdoor destinations.
This cozy town is actually a perfect gateway for you to explore Capitol Reef National Park as well as other natural gems spread over the area, including striking canyons, green forests, and Thousand Lake Mountain, where you’ll find tons of alpine lakes and unbeatable adventures out in nature.
Torrey is also the proud host of the Cowboy Music and Poetry Festival, which is held during the summer.
Founded in 1860 by Jefferson Hunt, a member of the American Mormon Battalion, Huntsville sits amidst two jaw-dropping landscapes.
To the east of town lies a rolling green valley that turns to dramatic tones once fall arrives, all while featuring the shores of Pineview Reservoir and its fishing boats to the west.
Add to the mix the fact that Huntsville is home to the oldest ski resort in the state (Snowbasin Resort), and you’re set for a lot of fun and tons of adventures no matter the time of the year you decide to visit!
Located east of Salt Lake City, Park City is all about skiing, charming beauty, fine dining, and classy entertainment.
Having once been a prosperous silver mining town, Park City turned into a tourist destination for nature lovers and winter sports aficionados after its silver industry declined.
Backdropped by the Wasatch Range, this cozy mountain town offers popular ski resorts as well as a myriad of dining options, and shops.
Park City is also famous for hosting the Sundance Film Festival.
Dubbed “the Caribbean of the Rockies,” Garden City sits on the shores of lovely Bear Lake.
The eye-popping turquoise waters of the lake and the town’s splendid vistas have made Garden City a top summer vacation destination in Utah. You can swim, sunbathe, water ski, sail, and experience other adventures traditionally found on beach destinations.
Located in the center of the larger Utah Valley, Provo is the third-largest city in Utah and an awesome gateway to experience adventures on the Wasatch Front.
While in Provo, you can hike Mount Timpanogos for the ultimate mountaineering adventure or choose to tube down the Provo River, which flows 70 miles down to the mesmerizing Utah Lake.
Once you reach the lake, you can boat or fish while being surrounded by the striking beauty of the forest and snow-capped mountains.
Provo is home to Brigham Young University. Plus, downtown Provo houses several great dining options and art galleries, making it a great destination to combine culture, food, and nature galore.
St. George, Utah
St. George, Utah, offers plenty of wonderful things to do all year round. It’s more than just a gateway to Zion National Park.
You’ll find great dining, shopping, and more at the historic Main Street and Ancestor Square in historic downtown St. George.
Other top attractions in St. George include:
- Top-rated golf courses
- Catch the view from Dixie Rock at Pioneer Park
- Brigham Young’s Winter Home
- Mountain Meadow Massacre Memorial
Sand Hollow State Park
One of the most popular state parks in Utah, as well as one of the newest, is Sand Hollow State Park.
Sand Hollow draws OHV enthusiasts from all over the area and is known for its lovely blue water surrounded by stunning red sandstone scenery.
Sand Hollow State Park is also a great place for:
Dixie National Forest
Dixie National Forest offers visitors a ton of things to do in Southern Utah. The forest has almost 2 million acres of room for things for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy: camping, hiking, skiing, mountain biking, ATV-ing, horseback riding, and more.
The name of the forest comes from the way that this area was called Utah’s Dixie because of the settlers who traveled there from the Southeastern United States.
Don’t miss the forest’s scenic byway Highway 12, Highway 14, and Patchwork Parkway to see more of South Utah’s amazing scenery.
Cedar Breaks National Monument
Cedar Breaks is a natural amphitheater that draws visitors in to look at the beautiful red rocks scenery and enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling.
Hikers of all skill levels will find a trail at Cedar Breaks they will enjoy.
Cedar Breaks is also known for its stargazing. The dark sky views are among the things that Cedar Breaks National Monument was created to protect.
Final thoughts on places to go in Utah
Utah is absolutely one of my very favorite U.S. states I have ever been to. I loved every minute of my month there and I would go back in a heartbeat.
I’ve even thought about moving there…if that tells you anything about what a wonderful place it is.
It’s not possible to cover everything in one article, and there are still so many places to see in Utah that I haven’t been to yet.
Have you ever been to Utah? What are some other incredible things to do in the Beehive State that didn’t make it to the list?
More articles about things to do in Utah
- The best national parks in Utah
- Amazing things to do in Southern Utah
- How to spend one day in Salt Lake City
Want more help planning your trip to Utah? Check out my essential travel planning resources.
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