Eight Enticing Utah State Parks Near The Mighty 5
A weeklong customizable itinerary for hikers, bikers, campers, boaters, anglers and ATV riders — or simply sightseers — through Southern Utah
There are many ways to explore Southern Utah. Stunning images and promise of big adventure lure travelers from around the world to The Mighty 5® national parks. Once here, visitors soon realize Utah’s natural beauty extends well beyond the borders of the Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks — and in so many directions it appears without any end in sight.
Some of Utah’s best state parks dot the landscape of Mighty Five country, swaddled by adventurous national forest or the rugged Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Here are eight enticing state parks along a similar path of our The Mighty 5 road trips, which means each day you’ll have the option to stop at the national parks if it’s your first time to Utah, or leave them for the other travelers if you’re looking to see Utah from another angle. Best of all, most of these parks offer a wider array of recreation opportunities, including mountain biking, ATV riding, kayaking, SUPing, boating and fishing (with a Utah fishing license) — and have overnight camping options. Though they aren’t as highly trafficked as the national parks, you can still improve your trip by making reservations, where permitted, as some state parks near national parks are popular base camps.
With extra gear and a little know-how, there is also dispersed (primitive) camping in national forests and on public lands. Day use fees are listed below. Campsites are extra and vary by type and park. A $75 annual Utah State Parks pass ($35 for seniors) covers entrance fees at all these state parks.
Road to Snow Canyon State Park
Travelers can explore Utah from east to west or west to east. This trip assumes a start in Salt Lake City, Utah or Grand Junction, Colorado, and heads toward Moab, though travelers arriving via Las Vegas should reverse the order and launch their Utah trip from St. George. Because of the amount of things to see and do, a strict-day-by adherence to the schedule may be difficult. Reservations at hotels or campground can help you prolong an adventure or permit exploration in the nearby national parks by accommodating a later arrival at your next overnight. Please note some state parks close their gates at night.
Salt Lake City to Moab: 4 hours (240 miles)
Grand Junction to Moab: 1.75 hours (115 miles)
Moab to Dead Horse Point: 30 minutes
Day 1: Sights and Bikes at Dead Horse Point
Get up early to start the trip on the right note: sunrises are spectacular in canyon country. Many visitors find Dead Horse Point State Park to be even more captivating than the views at the Grand Canyon. Grab your camera. You’ll want to be sure to take lots of pictures to try and share the experience with your friends. Dead Horse has a splendid network of rolling singletrack trails over gentle slickrock domes and through the knee-high sage. The trails offer several opportunities to stop and savor the views before tackling the next leg of trails. Though technically mild by Moab standards, the trails are a hit for riders of all abilities.
Entrance Fee: Day-use fee: $10 per vehicle up to eight passengers; $5 for Utah seniors 62 and older, $5 per motorcycle, $2 pedestrian or cyclist (biking into park)
Reserve a Yurt for a unique overnight experience.
In the Neighborhood: Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky district
Canyonlands is home to many different types of travel experiences, from sublime solitude in the more remote stretches to the opportunity to create your own version of one of the West's most photographed landforms, Mesa Arch. The panoramic overlooks along the scenic drive through the fascinating Island in Sky geology alone are worth the time. An extra day in the Moab area could be dedicated to rafting the whitewater of the Colorado River to see Canyonlands from a whole new perspective.
Dead Horse Point State Park
Dead Horse Point to Canyonlands option: 15 minutes plus in-park drive time of 1 to 2 hours with stops at overlooks.
Canyonlands to Moab (optional supply stop): 35 minutes (30+ miles)
Moab to Goblin Valley State Park: 2 Hours (100 miles)
Supplies on the Way to Goblin Valley: Moab
Sights and stops along the way: Hamburgers and hand-cut fries at Ray’s Tavern in Green River
Day 2: Hoodoos, Yurts and Slots of Goblin Valley
Sandstone goblins and fascinating formations cover Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park, to which Hollywood frequently turns for its unusual landscapes, like alien worlds. Explore the geology and camp among the nooks and gnomes. Bring the family and experience this amazing place by hiking, camping, mountain biking, and exploring the surrounding canyons. Three established trails through the Valley of the Goblins are suitable for almost everyone. If you brought mountain bikes be sure to check out the nontechnical Wild Horse Mesa Mountain Bike Trail. If not, introduce yourself to the family-friendly canyoneering of Little Wild Horse Canyon (may not be suitable for smaller children).
Entrance Fee: $10; $5 Utah seniors 62 and older
Goblin Valley also offers a couple of yurts in addition to standard back-in and tent sites (no hookups).
In the Neighborhood: Capitol Reef National Park
Enter a world of magnificently colored and rugged rock features made of contrasting red Entrada and white Navajo sandstone. Capitol Reef National Park is an evocative world of spectacular colored cliffs, hidden arches, massive domes, and deep canyons. It’s a place that includes the finest elements of Bryce and Zion Canyons in a less crowded park that can offer a more relaxing experience than either of those more-famous Utah attractions.The park preserves the 100-mile Waterpocket Fold, a mammoth buckling of the earth’s surface. There are hikes for all abilities along S.R. 24 or plan extra time to harvest fruit from the orchards, explore the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive behind the visitor center or get into the backcountry.
Goblin Valley State Park
Goblin Valley to Capitol Reef: 1.5 hours (70 miles)
Capitol Reef Scenic Drive option with side trips: at least 90 minutes (25 miles)
Capitol Reef to Escalante Petrified Forest State Park: 2 hours (75 miles)
Supplies on the way to Escalante Petrified Forest: Hanksville, Torrey
Sights and stops along the way: Enjoy local art and dining in Torrey or Boulder and Calf Creek Falls Recreation Area (more information on Day 3) along the endlessly scenic All-American Highway Scenic Byway 12.
Day 3: Cool Waters and Kaleidoscopes at Escalante Petrified Forest
Explore the kaleidoscopic colors of wood reclaimed from the Earth and find yourself in awe at the ancient remnants of time past at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. Pause to take in the expansive vistas of the reservoir and surrounding mountains from the top of the hiking loop. Then, cool off in the refreshing waters of the reservoir, popular for boating, canoeing, and fishing. The Sleeping Rainbows Trail is a .75-mile loop that much steeper than the other trails, but has the densest concentration of petrified wood in the park.
Entrance Fee: Day-use fee: $8; $4 Utah seniors 62 and older
Escalante Petrified Forest State Park has 19 standard RV sites (some with electric hookups) and 1 group site.
In the Neighborhood: Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument is 1.8 million acres of outdoor adventure and star-filled night skies. A great introduction to the monument is actually along the route to Escalante Petrified Forest from Capitol Reef: Calf Creek Falls Recreation Area. Calf Creek is a popular hike on a developed interpretive trail that begins at the Calf Creek campground. With more time and the right supplies, explore additional options at the visitor center near Escalante.
Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
Hole-in-the-Rock Road to Spooky Gulch slot canyon option (improved gravel road): more than 4 hours round-trip (35 miles)
Escalante to Kodachrome Basin State Park: 1 hour (42 miles)
Supplies on the way to Kodachrome Basin: Escalante
Day 4: Pillars and Pictures Kodachrome Basin State Park
If ever a state park was made to be photographed, it is Utah's Kodachrome Basin State Park. Many of the gorgeous rock columns in the park can be seen while driving, but it’s worth your time to get out and explore. Some of the popular sites include Chimney Rock, Shakespeare Arch, and Ballerina Geyser. Kodachrome Basin covers 2,240 acres and is surrounded by Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument on three sides. With its close proximity to other popular destinations down Cottonwood Road, it makes for a spectacular base camp or a stop on an event-filled day in the desert.
Entrance Fee: Day-Use Fee: $8 per vehicle (max. 8 people per vehicle); Utah Residents 62 and Older: $4.00 per vehicle (max. 8 people per vehicle)
Kodachrome Basin has more than 30 stand sites and 14 sites with full hookups. Reserve here.
In the Neighborhood: Bryce Canyon National park
Bryce Canyon National Park awes visitors with spectacular geological formations and brilliant colors. The towering hoodoos, narrow fins, and natural bridges seem to deny all reason or explanation, leaving hikers gazing around with jaws agape in wondrous incredulity. This surreal landscape is what brings people from around the world to visit Bryce Canyon National Park.
Kodachrome Basin State Park
Kodachrome Basin to Bryce Canyon City: 40 minutes (22 miles)
Bryce Canyon National Park Scenic Drive: 2 to 4 hours (35 miles round-trip)
Bryce Canyon Visitor Center to Coral Pink Sand Dunes: 1.75 hours (75 miles)
Supplies on the way to Coral Pink Sand Dunes: Bryce Canyon City, Kanab
Sights and stops along the way: pioneer towns of historic Highway 89
Day 5: Climb the Dunes of Coral Pink
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is where weekend warriors can leave footprints in soft sand. Walk among old juniper, and pinion and ponderosa pines. Then take your shoes off to leave footprints in the orange-red sand dunes. These geological oddities were formed by the continual erosion of the nearby Navajo sandstone cliffs. Coral Pink Sand Dunes are open for hiking and kid-friendly playing. About 90-percent of the dunes are open for ATV riders, an attraction for which this state park has become ever popular.
Entrance Fee: Day-use fee: $8; $3 for Utah seniors 62 and older
Coral Pink Sand Dunes has 16 standard campsites and 1 group site (no hookups).
In the Neighborhood: Zion National Park
Visitors to Coral Pink Sand Dunes have a world of outdoor adventure just around the corner: several additional trailheads access Grand Staircase–Escalante along U.S. 89 in the extreme southern part of Utah. Explorers will discover some of the best slot canyons while lovers of the water have Lake Powell’s thousands of miles of shoreline just a little further along the road. This trip heads northwest and passes through Zion National Park. From the east entrance to Zion, you’ll travel through the historic Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel and down the scenic byway toward the main visitor center. Board the multi-passenger shuttle to tour the main canyon of Zion or continue on to Springdale and S.R. 9.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
Coral Pink Sand Dunes to Zion National Park Visitor Center: 1.5 hours (40 miles)
Coral Pink Sand Dunes to Wahweap Marina extended trip option: 1.75 hours (90 miles) one-way
Springdale to Sand Hollow State Park: 50 minutes (33 miles)
Sand Hollow State Park to Quail Creek: 15 minutes (9 miles)
Supplies on the way to Sand Hollow: Springdale, La Verkin, Hurricane
Sights and stops along the way: Zion's Canyon Overlook Trail is a popular hike 30-minute on the east side of the park accessed from a small lot just before the tunnel. The route is also the Zion Canyon Scenic Byway, famous for its red asphalt and stunning views over the canyon.
Day 6. Get Out and Play at Sand Hollow and Quail Creek
As you've seen, Zion National Park protects some of North America’s most treasured landscapes. Lovers of hiking, nature and wildlife alike find sanctuary in its hallowed borders. You can scale up the adrenaline by hiking Angels Landing or exploring the Narrows (plan as much as an extra day). Ride that wave of adrenaline to Sand Hollow and Quail Creek state parks, where warm reservoirs play host to an array of water sports and quality fishing and the surrounding landscapes provide sites for camping and extensive off-highway action.
Boasting some of the warmest waters in the state and a mild winter climate, Quail Creek State Park lures boaters and anglers year-round. Spend a day on the water then retire to a campsite in a spectacular red rock desert setting.
Entrance Fee: Day-use fee: $10 per vehicle with up to 8 people; Senior Day use fee: $4 (Seniors 62 and older) per vehicle with up to 8 people.
A favorite destination for local off-highway vehicle (OHV) enthusiasts, Sand Mountain provides 15,000 acres of perfectly sculpted dunes within the vast 20,000-acre Sand Hollow State Park. The red sand is an incredible backdrop for Sand Hollow reservoir. At nearly twice the size of nearby Quail Creek Reservoir, Sand Hollow offers boating and other water recreation in a spectacular setting.
Entrance Fee: Day Use: $10 per vehicle up to 8 people Senior Day Use: $5 Seniors 62+ per vehicle up to 8 people. Walk In: $4 per person
In the Neighborhood: Red Cliff Desert Preserve
The approximately 45,000 acres of public land feature more than 130 miles of non-motorized recreation trails (hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trail riding). The Red Cliffs Desert Reserve (including the federally designated Red Cliffs National Conservation Area) is located at the transition between three ecosystems creating a unique mixture of plants and animals from all of these regions, including plants found nowhere else on earth.
Quail Creek State Park
Quail Creek to Red Cliffs National Snow Canyon: 35 minutes (23 miles)
Supplies: St. George
Day 7: Mojave Majesty at Snow Canyon
Located at the edge of the Mojave Desert, Great Basin and Colorado Plateau, Snow Canyon State Park explodes with dramatic geology perfect for your outdoor adventure. Snow Canyon State Park is a 20-minute drive from St. George, Utah, and just an hour from the entrance to Zion National Park.
Snow Canyon is popular with road cyclists touring the park’s scenic drive and hikers exploring the network of trails through the main canyon and numerous side canyons. Numerous bolted routes throughout the canyon lure rock climbers.
Entrance Fee: $6 per vehicle (up to eight people); $3 per vehicle (up to eight people) Utah seniors 62 and older; $4 pedestrian/cyclists (up to eight people)
An optional stop to Gunlock State Park provides one last chance to drop a line or cool off in Southern Utah waters before a return drive. Visitors who are new to the area may wish to take an extended scenic drive down Old 91 from Gunlock to see the northernmost Joshua Trees in the U.S. before continuing on to Las Vegas or returning to Salt Lake via I-15.
Entrance Fee: $7 for day-use, including use of watercraft launches $4 per day use for Seniors 62+
Snow Canyon State Park
Bonus Stop: Gunlock State Park 16 miles (30 minutes)
Snow Canyon to Salt Lake City: 4.5 hours (315 miles)
Snow Canyon to Las Vegas: 2.25 hours (135 miles)