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Park Itineraries

10 Best Things to Do in Utah National Parks

Be sure to hit one, or all, of the top 10 things to do and see in Utah Parks. There’s slot canyons, arches, museums, dinosaurs and more.

1. Hunt for Natural Rock Arches

North Window overlooking Turret Arch at sunrise
North Window overlooking Turret Arch at sunrise in Arches National Park. PC: Grant Ordelheide

Standing on the desert floor, looking up at the sheer magnitude of these natural stone bridges, one can’t help but think, I see sky where there should be rock. Arches National Park in Moab, Utah, is known for its arches. In fact, there are more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches in the park, and many can be seen from your car. Delicate Arch, which is featured on Utah license plates, is a popular destination and a fun 3.4-mile hike.

2. Explore a Slot Canyon

The
The “Subway” slot canyon in Zion National Park. PC: Whit Richardson

Utah possesses one of the areas richest treasure troves for intrepid explorers willing to match their wits, their legs and their fingers against Mother Nature’s tall and narrow canyons.

The Narrows in Zion National Park is easily accessed by everyone, but you want to be aware of flash-flood potential before you set off. The hike begins at Temple of Sinawava, then winds along the paved pathway of Riverside Walk to the beginning of the area where the canyon walls narrow.

Willis Creek Slot Canyon in nearby Grand Staircase Escalante is a great beginner’s slot. It never gets too narrow, so is a good choice for families. The 2.6-mile roundtrip hike follows Willis Creek through gorgeous canyon walls. Wear waterproof shoes since you’ll be walking along the creek for most of the way. From Cannonville, head south on Kodachrome Road before turning onto BLM 500 after approximately three miles. The trailhead is another approximately six miles from the turn. This road is clay and is slick when wet.

Slot canyons can be extremely dangerous if rain is forecasted anywhere in the watershed. Check the weather and never enter a slot when rain is, or recently was, forecasted in the area or nearby as sudden flash flooding can occur.

3. Delve into Utah History

Newspaper Rock petroglyphs near Canyonlands National Park
Newspaper Rock petroglyphs near Canyonlands National Park. PC: Depositphotos

There are tens of thousands of ruins, artifacts, petroglyphs and pictographs throughout the state. Newspaper Rock petroglyphs near the Needles District of  Canyonlands National Park near Moab are easily accessible from the parking lot and are mesmerizing. Newspaper Rock is located 15 miles west of U.S. 191 along the Indian Creek Corridor Scenic Byway (state road 211).

4. Go on a Guided Tour

Boat tour on the river near Canyonlands National Park
Boat tour on the river near Canyonlands National Park. PC: Courtesy Canyonlands by Night & Day

Follow the experts in a helicopter, on a horse, in a boat or a raft. Prefer to take it on foot? Ranger tours are available in all five Utah national parks. There are a ton of rafting opportunities in the Moab, Utah, area along the Colorado River that passes by town.

Leave the crowds behind on your next Utah national park adventure and raft the mighty Colorado River into the heart of Canyonlands National Park with OARS. A Cataract Canyon rafting trip unlocks incredible access to some of the park’s most remote regions, including hidden side canyons, seasonal waterfalls, and awe-inspiring overlooks. The grand finale of this multi-day river trip is one big day of whitewater thrills and a scenic flight back to Moab.

5. Watch Wildlife

Bighorn Sheep in Zion
Bighorn Sheep in Zion. PC: Depositphotos

Utah has some amazing animal populations– big cats, buffalo, bears, and more. With a little persistence you can catch a glimpse of many of Utah’s native residents.

6. Drive the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

Mt Carmel Highway in Zion
Mt Carmel Highway in Zion National Park. PC: Wikimedia Commons

With switchbacks, slickrock and sweeping views with seasonal waterfalls, the approach on the Mt. Carmel Highway has numerous spots where you can pull off the road for a better view or to take a short hike, encapsulating many of the highlights seen elsewhere in this most scenic of areas.

7. Soak in Fabulous Scenery

Photographers in Bryce Canyon National Park
Photographers among the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park. PC: Depositphotos

Utah is know for its striking scenery, but the national parks stands above the rest. With breathtaking waterfalls, towering cliffs, arches, narrow canyons and numerous water features, it is hard to image a place more beautiful. Have you ever seen a hoodoo? These weirdly shaped rock spires that look somewhat like totem poles, are carved by water in arid environments. They can be found in Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks. Bryce is world-renown for its hoodoos and is just about an hour and a half drive from Zion’s East Entrance.

8. Visit a Museum

A life-size feathered dinosaur model in front of the international display of dinosaur movie posters at The Dinosaur Museum.
A life-size feathered dinosaur model in front of the international display of dinosaur movie posters at The Dinosaur Museum in Blanding, Utah. PC: Gloria Wadzinski

The Southwest is dotted with small museums set up by an individual or a small group who really wanted to tell people about something. These mini-gems of museums are worth the time and money.

9. Go Where the Locals Go – Kanab, Snow Canyon, Red Cliffs

Snow Canyon State Park of Utah
Snow Canyon State Park of Utah. PC: Courtesy Utah State Parks

With 15 miles of trails through coral-colored Navajo sandstone interspersed with snow white cliffs, dark lava flows and bright red sand dunes, the five-mile Snow Canyon State Park in Ivins, Utah (near St. George and Zion National Park), draws rock climbers, photographers, spelunkers, RVers and hikers. And opt for White Pocket instead of The Wave.

10. Explore Dinosaurland

Dinosaur Skull at Dinosaur National Monument near Vernal, Utah
Dinosaur Skull at Dinosaur National Monument near Vernal, UtahCourtesy Uintah County Travel & Tourism

From Dinosaurland at Vernal, Utah to the Dinosaur National Monument and a multitude of museums, you can track ancient animals throughout Utah.

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Need maps? Download free Utah national park maps PDFs for general roads and attraction locations. Or buy the detailed, topographic Trails Illustrated Utah National Parks Trail Map Pack, including Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion national parks, at REI.com.

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