Welcome to nature's most perfect playground. From red-rock mesas to skinny slot canyons, powder-bound slopes and slick rock trails, Utah's diverse terrain will stun you. The biking, hiking and skiing are world-class. And with more than 65% of the state lands public, including 14 national parks and monuments, the access is simply superb.
Southern Utah is defined by red-rock cliffs, sorbet-colored spindles and seemingly endless sandstone desert. The pine-forested and snow-covered peaks of the Wasatch Mountains dominate northern Utah. Interspersed are old pioneer remnants, ancient rock art and ruins, and traces of dinosaurs.
Mormon-influenced rural towns can be quiet and conservative, but the rugged beauty has attracted outdoorsy progressives as well. Salt Lake City (SLC) and Park City, especially, have vibrant nightlife and progressive dining scenes. So pull on your boots and stock up on water: Utah's wild and scenic hinterlands await.
This luxury train lets you see the Rocky Mountains in a whole new way
11 min read — Published Aug 24, 2021
Rocky Mountaineer's latest luxury train route runs between Denver and Moab, Utah. Lonely Planet editor Alexander Howard was one of the first to ride it.
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These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Utah.
A Salvador Dalí–esque melted-rock fantasy, a valley of giant stone mushrooms, an otherworldly alien landscape or the results of a cosmological acid trip? No matter what you think the stadium-like valley of stunted hoodoos resembles, one thing’s for sure – the 3654-acre Goblin Valley State Park is just plain fun. A few trails lead from the overlooks down to the valley floor. You can climb down, around and even over the evocative ‘goblins’ (2ft to 20ft–tall formations). Kids and photographers especially love it.
If you stop nowhere else along the scenic drive, be sure to catch the stunning views from Bryce Point. You can walk the rim above Bryce Amphitheater for awesome views of the Silent City, an assemblage of hoodoos so dense, gigantic and hypnotic that you’ll surely begin to see shapes of figures frozen in the rock. Be sure to follow the path to the actual point, a fenced-in promontory that juts out over the forested canyon floor, 1000ft below.
Covering 527 sq miles, Canyonlands is Utah's largest and wildest park. Indeed, parts of it are as rugged as almost anywhere on the planet. Arches, bridges, needles, spires, craters, mesas, buttes – Canyonlands is a crumbling, decaying beauty, a vision of ancient earth. The park has four distinct districts separated by the Green and Colorado Rivers: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze and Horseshoe Canyon, each must be visited independently as they are not linked by road.
One of the Southwest's most gorgeous parks, Arches boasts the world's greatest concentration of sandstone arches. Just 5 miles north of Moab on Hwy 191, the park is extremely packed in summer. Consider a sunrise or moonlight exploration, when it's cooler and the rocks feel ghostly. Many arches are easily reached by paved roads and relatively short hiking trails.
The Grand Staircase – a series of steplike uplifted rock layers stretching north from the Grand Canyon – dramatically culminates in the Pink Cliffs formation at Bryce Canyon National Park. These cliffs were deposited as sediment in a huge prehistoric lake some 50 to 60 million years ago, slowly lifted above sea level, then eroded into wondrous ranks of pinnacles and points, steeples and spires, cliffs and crevices, and oddly shaped hoodoos.
Rio Tinto Center's stunning architecture forms a multistory indoor 'canyon' that showcases exhibits to great effect. Walk up through the layers as you explore both indigenous peoples' cultures and natural history. Past Worlds paleontological displays are the most impressive – an incredible perspective from beneath, next to and above a vast collection of dinosaur fossils offers the full breadth of prehistory.
Visit the site of the 2002 Olympic ski jumping, bobsledding, skeleton, Nordic combined and luge events, which continues to host national competitions. There are 10m, 20m, 40m, 64m, 90m and 120m Nordic ski-jumping hills as well as a bobsled-luge run. The US Ski Team practices here year-round – in summer, the freestyle jumpers land in a bubble-filled jetted pool, and the Nordic jumpers on a hillside covered in plastic. Call for a schedule; it's free to observe.
Termed 'the land of the sleeping rainbow' by Native Americans, this colorful desert landscape encompasses buttes and canyons replete with rock art, Mormon history and hiking trails. Though less famous than other Utah parks, it's well worth visiting.
Kanab's most famous attraction is outside town. Surrounded by more than 33,000 mostly private acres of red-rock desert 5.5 miles north of Kanab, Best Friends is the largest no-kill animal rescue center in the country. The center shows films and gives facility tours at least four times a day; call ahead for times and reservations. The 1½-hour tours let you meet some of the more than 1700 horses, pigs, dogs, cats, birds and other critters on-site.
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