Outside the densely populated Wasatch Front, home to Salt Lake City, Ogden and Provo, Utah is largely a state of open spaces, welcoming to recreation of all types. With thousands of miles of trails for hiking or biking, thousands of miles of rivers for fishing, paddling or rafting and countless places to stop and savor the fresh air and blue sky surrounding you.
We’ve grouped parks together by region as many of the parks are in close proximity to one another and are easily combined on a single trip. In these links, you’ll find adventures in every corner of the state, from the azure waters of Bear Lake State Park to the artifacts left by Ancient Pueblo or Anasazi peoples at Hovenweep National Monument.
Here are a few local favorites to help you start your itinerary building.
Bear Lake State Park: Locals call Bear Lake the Carribean of the Rockies for the intense blue hues of the water and love the area for the sunny beaches, boating, waterskiing and late-summer raspberry shakes. Travelers love it for the same reasons and appreciate that it is a convenient detour on trips to/from Yellowstone National Park or Grand Teton National Park.
Golden Spike National Historic Area: Commemorating the placement of the railroad spike that served as the final link in the Transcontinental Railroad, Golden Spike is a favorite destinations for kids who love the superb replica steam trains, history buffs and railroad enthusiasts. Recreations of the Golden Spike ceremony of 1869 are held seasonally.
Antelope Island State Park: Spectacular birding, free-range bison and convenient wildlife viewing on a craggy island in the Great Salt Lake accessed via a scenic causeway. Several trails popular with hikers and mountain bikers traverse the mountainous island and Antelope Island serves as a great launch point to explore the Great Salt Lake by boat or kayak. Historic Garr-Fielding ranch house is a well-preserved and entertaining pioneer ranch house.
Dinosaur National Monument: It is difficult not to marvel at the ancient history locked up in Dinosaur National Monument's breathtaking land. Dinosaur includes the largest quarry of Jurassic Period dinosaur bones ever discovered. The Carnegie Quarry's great wall of dinosaur bones features nearly 1,500 Jurassic-era fossils and multiple interactive exhibits are featured in these modern facilities. Surrounding Dinosaur National Monument are hundreds of miles of hikes, whitewater rafting on the Green and Yampa rivers and a spectacular Dark Sky interpretive program.
Fishlake National Forest: Home to the world’s oldest and largest living organism, the Pando clone of aspen trees, estimated to be 80,0000 years old and weighing 13 million pounds. During the fall the hills surrounding Fish Lake burst with gold, red and orange as the dense aspen stands change color to ready for winter. The Fishlake National Forest is also home to portions of the massive, 2,700 mile Piute ATV trail system and very popular with ATV, side-by-side and OHV riders.
Snow Canyon State Park: While not as tall as the sandstone cliffs in nearby Zion National Park, Snow Canyon’s steep walls are home to a charming park with abundant recreation activities. The park’s road is popular with road cyclists, the cliffs sport dozens of high quality bolted climbing routes and the sand dunes in the park are a favorite for children.
Hovenweep: Hovenweep is both a mystical pilgrimage and a fascinating study in ancient culture. Like much of the Four Corners area, Hovenweep, was an Ancient Pueblo (Anasazi) settlement. Abandoned around the late 1200’s the buildings stand like sentinels in a landscape of sage and juniper. Portals in the Hovenweep castle appear to align sunlight each seasonal solstice and equinox emphasizing the people’s connection to the rhythms and passages of the land and seasons they relied upon for survival.
Natural Bridges National Monument: Home to three of expansive rock arches and the first International Dark Sky park in the world, Natural Bridges less accessible than Utah’s national parks, but just as spectacular. At 6,500-feet in elevation, atop the massive Cedar Mesa, the park is a little cooler in the heat of summer than other parks. Abundant hiking, stargazing and canyoneering make this a quiet haven for those looking to explore a little off the beaten path.