10 Best Things to Do in Utah National Parks
Rock arches, slot canyons and petroglyphs top the list.
Be sure to hit one, or all, of the top 10 things to do and see in Utah national parks, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion. There are slot canyons, arches, museums, dinosaurs and more.
1. Hunt for Natural Rock Arches
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 on a Hike
The Utah parks are full of iconic hikes such as Angels Landing in Zion, the Fiery Furnace in Arches, Chesler Park in Canyonlands, Navajo Loop in Bryce Canyon and Capitol Gorge Trail in Capitol Reef. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat for warm days in the Utah desert.
10. Explore Dinosaurland
From Dinosaurland at Vernal, Utah to the Dinosaur National Monument and a multitude of museums, you can track ancient animals throughout Utah.
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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