Dead Horse Point   |  Austen Diamond

Southern Utah State Parks Near the Mighty 5

There are many ways to explore Southern Utah. Stunning images and the 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 their borders. 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 the The Mighty 5 road trip, 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 of course).

All Utah State Parks

Dead Horse Point State Park is just as impressive as the more popular national parks outside of Moab.

Photo: Elisabeth Brentano

1. Sights and Bikes at Dead Horse Point

Get up early to start your 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. For mountain bike enthusiasts, 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.

In the Neighborhood: Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park

Entrance Fee: $20 per vehicle up to eight passengers; $15 for Utah seniors 65 and older; $10 per motorcycle; $4 pedestrian or cyclist

Camping: Reserve a Yurt for a unique overnight experience.

The 'Goblins' are made of Entrada sandstone deposited 140 million years ago.

Photo: Visit Utah

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).

In the Neighborhood: Capitol Reef National Park. 

Entrance Fee: $20 per vehicle; $10 for Utah seniors 62 and older; $10 per motorcycle, bicycle or pedestrian

Camping: Goblin Valley also offers a couple of yurts in addition to standard back-in and tent sites (no hookups).

Walk amongst kaleidoscopic colors and petrified logs up to 15 feet long.

Photo: Matt Morgan

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 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 is much steeper than the other trails but has the densest concentration of petrified wood in the park.

In the Neighborhood: Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument and Bryce Canyon National Park

Entrance Fee: $10 day-use pass; $5 for Utah seniors 62 and older

Camping: Escalante Petrified Forest State Park has 19 standard RV sites (some with electric hookups) and 1 group site.

Kodachrome Basin photographed under the Milky Way.

Photo: Angie Payne

4. Pillars and Pictures at 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. The park was certified as an International Dark Sky Park, making it a great place for stargazing too.

In the Neighborhood: Bryce Canyon National Park

Entrance Fee: $10 per vehicle (max. 8 people per vehicle); $5 for Utah seniors 62 and older (max. 8 people per vehicle)

Camping: Kodachrome Basin has more than 30 stand sites and 14 sites with full hookups.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes is the only major sand dune field on the Colorado Plateau.

Photo: Angie Payne

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.

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. 

In the Neighborhood: Zion National Park

Entrance Fee: $10 per vehicle; $5 for Utah seniors 65 and older

Camping: Coral Pink Sand Dunes has 16 standard campsites and 1 group site (no hookups).

Quail Creek State Park offers adventurers the chance to appreciate Southern Utah’s dramatic landscapes from the water.

Photo: Jay Dash

6 & 7. Get Out and Play at Sand Hollow and Quail Creek

Sand Hollow and Quail Creek state park are less than 10 miles apart, 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. Lovers of hiking, nature and wildlife alike will want to visit one (or both) of these sister reservoirs. 

Quail Creek State Park lures swimmers, boaters and anglers year-round with its exceptionally warm waters and mild winter climate. Spend a day on the water then retire to a campsite in a spectacular red rock desert setting. 

Sand Hollow State Park is a favorite destination for local off-highway vehicle (OHV) enthusiasts and provides 15,000 acres of perfectly sculpted dunes within the vast 20,000-acre park. The red sand is an incredible backdrop for Sand Hollow reservoir. At nearly twice the size of the nearby Quail Creek Reservoir, Sand Hollow offers boating and other water recreation in a spectacular setting.

In the Neighborhood: Red Cliffs Desert Preserve and Zion National Park

Entrance Fee (Quail Creek): $15 per vehicle (max 8 people per vehicle); $10 for Utah seniors 62 and older (max 8 people per vehicle)

Entrance Fee (Sand Hollow): $15 per vehicle; $10 for Utah seniors 65 and older

Snow Canyon’s Navajo sandstone cliffs share the same history and geology as Zion.

Photo: Louis Arevalo

8. 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.

In the Neighborhood: Zion National Park

Entrance Fee: $10 per vehicle (up to eight people); $5 for Utah seniors 65 and older per vehicle (up to eight people); $5 pedestrian/cyclists (up to eight people)

Camping: The Snow Canyon Campground has 27 total available campsites, including accomodations for groups, pets and partial hookups.

Make It a Road Trip

With this many marvels of nature in such close proximity, why not extend the fun and make it a road trip? Visiting these destinations in the order above makes for an unforgettable tour of southern Utah's state parks. 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. 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. Please note some state parks close their gates at night.

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