Inspiring, Spectacular and Unlike Any Other Place in the World
Southern Utah is a land of unsurpassed, surprising beauty, characterized by contrasting landscapes of snow-capped mountains, towering fins of orange sandstone cut by erosion into bridges, arches, and strange "hoodoos" of sculpted red rock, dramatic faults where the earth twists, and gentle, rolling hummocks of "slickrock." You'll want to plan some extra time in this place. To be precise: Top 10 Bucket List Destinations and fulfilling life lists can be built around Southern Utah alone.
As far as we're concerned all roads lead to Southern Utah. But if you wanted to be specific, Interstates 15 and 70 will get you there quickly.
All of Utah's The Mighty 5® national parks can be found in Southern Utah, and all are within a few short hours from the Wasatch Front or Las Vegas, but road trippers from any direction will want to take the scenic route through Southern Utah.
That's because connecting all of Southern Utah's national parks, monuments and recreation areas are some of the most scenic drives in the United States, including America's top designation, the All-American Road Scenic Byway 12. It doesn't really matter which scenic drive you take, you'll be rewarded with some of the most unique auto tourism of your driving career.
Travelers can also fly into St. George, Cedar City or Moab, typically through connection airline carriers.
For outdoor recreation, it doesn't matter from which St. George golf course you tee off, which backcountry guide you charter, which spa you escape to — it will be one scenic eyeful after another. For mountain biking, river rafting, hiking, and four-wheeling, there are plenty of towns to be your home base.
For soaring ribbons of stone and hikes through history: Arches National Park. For massive buttes and mesas, remote and forbidding dreamscapes: Canyonlands National Park. For geologic amphitheaters with spires all aglow in pink luminescent earth tones: Bryce Canyon National Park. For quaint historic fruit orchards framed by a fortress of red rock and incomparable backcountry: Capitol Reef National Park. For looming Wingate sandstone walls guarding a pastoral Virgin River landscape: Zion National Park.
What a world this would be even if the list ended there. Plan extra time to experience the iconic space and spiritual landscape of Monument Valley and to cool off in the remarkable waters of Lake Powell.
Southern Utah is a dreamscape.
Southern Utah Heritage
An ancient spirit inhabits Southern Utah. You feel it in the remnants of Puebloan cultures; the Anasazi and Fremont peoples who lived out their lives in southern Utah from about AD 1 to 1300. Rock art and writings, the ruins of habitation sites, and sacred places are scattered across the area.
National Parks & Monuments
The major draw for many visitors to Southern Utah is Utah's five spectacular national parks: Bryce Canyon and Zion in the southwest, Capitol Reef roughly in the center of the state, and Arches and Canyonlands in the southeastern reaches. Southern Utah also has five national monuments: Cedar Breaks and the adventurous Grand Staircase-Escalante in the southwest; Rainbow Bridge, Natural Bridges, and Hovenweep in the southeastern side of the state. The southeast is also home to Glen Canyon, best known for the serpentine waterway of Lake Powell.
Southern Utah is a large, vast region. Easiest to understand if you look at it as two areas — southwestern, anchored by its largest city, St. George — and southeastern, anchored by Moab. Although occupying a vast expanse of the most central part of Southern Utah is Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which is as much anchored by wonderful small towns like Boulder and Escalante as it is by rugged backcountry, dramatic geology and profound scientific significance. A 2014 National Geographic article highlighted the important fossil record of the monument, which visitors can explore at the Big Water Visitor Center.
Landscape, Climate and Culture
Anglo settlement in Southwestern Utah was accomplished by Mormon pioneers drawn to a long growing season and warmer climate, in contrast to the cold and snow of northern Utah. Mormon leader Brigham Young maintained a "winter home" in the city of St. George. These days, retirees enjoy the area, along with ranchers, and those engaged in the tourist trade. Cedar City and St. George are hubs for entertainment, dining, shopping and culture, including Tony Award-winning theater and great dinosaur exhibits.
In its September 2007 issue, National Geographic Adventure Magazine dubbed St. George one of America's best "Wilderness Towns," based on the city's access to "forests, canyons and other wild places." St. George offers year-round golf. But when summer brings on the heat, you only need to drive until the desert rises and becomes a forest, or if you're willing, walk awhile into a canyon shadowed by towering cliffs.
Dubbed "Color Country" by Utah boosters, the southwestern part of the state is a region of exceptional beauty, encompassing both alpine and desert climate zones at vastly differing elevations. The area has forests, lakes, and farmlands punctuated by ancient red rock that has been buffeted by wind and sand, carved by rivers, and thrust up and apart by geologic forces deep within the earth.
Landscape, Climate and Culture
Ironically, Southeastern Utah is the best place in the world to see the wonders of what geologists call the Colorado Plateau. This area was the last portion of the state to successfully be settled, and despite growing development, the spirit of this land will never truly be settled. The Abajo and La Sal Mountains rise above a multi-colored desert like mirages. Mesas built of sandstone representing the deposits of millions of years, may stretch unbroken for miles at a time, or stack and squat next to each other like oddly balanced steps. Here, it's not unusual for miles of sagebrush flats to erratically drop off into deep, narrow slot canyons. This is the "promised land" for hikers, mountain bikers, off-road vehicle users, and sightseers ready to be amazed.
In many ways, Southeastern Utah is a vast, open area filled with solitary places. In some of the better-known destinations, such as Moab, there has been a rush to welcome the influx of visitors and new residents, with towns sprouting subdivisions, motels, gift shops and fast-food outlets. As a result, Moab offers a full range of top-quality accommodations, outfitters and attractions to cater to all kinds of travelers. Other towns in southeastern Utah are keeping a lower profile and waiting for visitors to discover their unique, small-town charm and authentic Western character.
Check out our Utah Weather and Climate page for regional averages, but take note that while the high desert Colorado Plateau region can get quite hot in the summer, it does not mean this incredible outdoor world cannot be thoroughly enjoyed no matter the season. We always say to plan ahead with extra water, appropriate clothing and sunscreen.
Since John Ford's westerns immortalized the area in the late 1940's, movie-makers have been an ongoing fixture in Southern Utah. TheMoab to Monument Valley Film Commission is the longest ongoing film commission in the world. A variety of films from John Wayne classics to 1994's City Slickers II, have been shot with a backdrop of remote red rock buttes, mesas and twisting canyons. It was near Canyonlands' Island in the Sky District - not the Grand Canyon, as most people assume — that Thelma and Louise took their final leap, and it was in Arches National Park that a young Indiana Jones discovered the Cross of Cortez in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In more recent years, the major Hollywood productions, John Carter of Mars, 127 Hours, and The Lone Ranger wrapped in Southern Utah, putting Southern Utah's incomparable scenic landscapes on a global billboard.