20 Amazing Places To Visit In Utah: Famous Parks + Hidden Gems



Photo of a sandstone arch glowing orange underneath with distant views over a rocky landscape and the words 20 fun places to visit in Utah overlaid

Utah is one our favorite US states to visit for hiking, photography and outdoor adventures because its topography is so diverse. The Beehive State can be split into a red rock southeast, a mountainous northeast and a flat desert basin west. You have all these different landscapes to consider when planning your trip to Utah, so how do choose where to visit?

In this guide we show you 20 famous and lesser known places to visit in Utah, based on our experiences.

Our Utah Experience

Couple standing together in winter coats on a red rock ledge with hoodoos and cliffs in the background on a sunny day in Bryce Canyon Utah
Here we are in Bryce Canyon on a sunny but cold day in October

We first visited Utah in 2019 as part of a 3 month road trip around the US. After leaving Yellowstone and Grand Teton, we drove south through Salt Lake City and on to the Mighty 5 national parks. It was our first time out west and the Utah parks blew our minds, but we didn’t realize just how much else there was to see and do in the state. In December 2022 we visited again, this time sticking to the south around Zion and Kanab, which we feel is a hugely underrated town.

We were sucked in by the national parks both times, but next time we visit Utah we’ll be spending more time in the mountains near Salt Lake City and we’ll also head west into the salt flats. We love the uniqueness of landscapes like Arches and Bryce Canyon, the thrilling hikes in Zion and the endless photo opportunities in Utah. There’s nowhere else like it. Read more about us.

1. Arches National Park

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park at sunset is one of the best places to visit in Utah
Stunning sunset we enjoyed at Delicate Arch in Arches

Arches National Park is a magical red rock landscape filled with unique arch shaped sandstone formations of all shapes and sizes. Delicate Arch, Landscape Arch and Double O Arch are among the most famous arches to find but the entire park is worth exploring when you visit. It’s a great park for families, couples, solo travelers, hikers and photographers alike.

Arches is small and easy to visit, it’s exceptionally photogenic and there’s a handful of excellent hikes. Our favorite hike is the awesome Devils Garden Trail because it’s almost all interpretive off-path hiking. You’ll also find plenty of excellent hotels in Moab, which is one of our favorite towns in Utah.

Here’s what you can do in Arches:

  • Photograph Delicate Arch at sunset
  • Walk around North Window and South Window, Turret Arch and Double Arch
  • Explore Fiery Furnace with this permit
  • Camp under the stars
  • Hike Delicate Arch, The Windows and Devils Garden

READ: The three best hikes in Arches

2. Bear Lake State Park

Bear Lake blue water and clouds with golden sand
Sandy beach and blue waters at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a calcium carbonate rich lake with brilliant blue colored waters that’s split in half by the Utah and Idaho border. Garden City, Rendezvous Beach and Cisco Beach make up the major tourist areas on the Utah side of Bear Lake State Park. We quickly stopped in at the lake but it was a cold and miserable day near the end of October, so as you might imagine we weren’t up for a swim!

Sail boats, jet skis, water sports and swimming make for the perfect long weekend break for locals. But Bear Lake is also one of the best stops to make if you drive the popular road trip route from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Either way, there’s a ton of fun ways to cool off on a hot day.

Here’s what you can do in Bear Lake:

  • Relax on the beach
  • Take a boat out onto the lake
  • Jet ski around the lake
  • Cross into Idaho to see the north side of Bear Lake

3. Bonneville Salt Flats

Irregularly shaped hexagons made of salt at Bonneville Salt Flats near Salt Lake City one of the most fun things to do in Utah for the family
The far reaching views at Bonneville Salt Flats

Bonneville Salt Flats is a flat and wide open 30,000 acre area consisting mainly of sodium chloride, which we know as table salt. A shallow layer or standing water will be present if you visit in spring, otherwise the salt flats are dry with crusty hexagonal shapes covering the expansive landscape. So if you want to see the salt flats, visit outside of spring!

We’ve done a tour across the Bolivia Salt Flats which are widely regarded as the most striking in the world and it was a fantastic experience. Next time we’re in Utah we’ll head out to see the Bonneville Salt Flats to recreate some of the same fun perspective photos we took in Bolivia in 2019. Check the schedule of events at the flats to see if anything is happening when you visit Utah.

Here’s what you can do in Bonneville Salt Flats:

  • Photograph and video the salt flats with or without standing water
  • Create fun perspective images with props like toys, water bottles and your hands
  • Watch land speed racing events on the salt flats
  • Run a race or take part in an archery competition

4. Bryce Canyon National Park

Stunning sunrise over Bryce Canyon amphitheater is among the most amazing things to do on a trip to Utah
The staggering sunrise we saw over Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon is one of the most eye-opening landscapes you’ll see in America. It’s essentially a bowl-shaped amphitheater filled with needle like spires called hoodoos and it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. But it’s a small and easy to visit park, with some great short hikes and a scenic drive leading to plenty of great vistas.

Our favorite thing to do at Bryce Canyon is take photos of the sunrise because the amphitheater glows in a fiery red color. Sunset is also worth seeing but it’s not as special. You absolutely must hike Queens Garden Navajo Loop at a minimum, it’s such a unique trail. There’s not a huge amount of hotels, so book your Bryce Canyon lodging early if you’ll be visiting in peak season.

Here’s what you can do in Bryce Canyon:

READ: Zion and Bryce Canyon itinerary


5. Buckskin Gulch Slot Canyon

Hiker walking through narrow Buckskin Gulch slot canyon in Utah one of the top outdoorsy things to do UT
Kristen walking through Buckskin Gulch slot canyon

Buckskin Gulch is the longest slot canyon in the United States and it’s located between Kanab UT and Page AZ. You can either hike a short way into the slot canyon and return (which is what almost everyone does) or take on a multi-day trek from Wire Pass in Utah to Lee’s Ferry in Arizona over 40 miles away.

Hiking through the narrow Buckskin Gulch slot canyon was a completely unique experience for us. It was strange passing by other hikers going in the opposite direction because we’d get so close! But if you have time and you’ll be in the area, we highly recommend allowing 3-4 hours to walk a few miles into the canyon for something totally different in Utah.

Here’s what you can do in Buckskin Gulch:

READ: How to hike Buckskin Gulch

6. Canyonlands National Park

Mesa Arch at sunrise is one of the best photography spots and places to visit on a photography trip to Utah
The stunning sunrise we had at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands

Canyonlands is the largest national park in Utah by area, but it’s also one of the least visited. It’s split by the Green and Colorado Rivers into 4 districts known as Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze and The Rivers. For us, Canyonlands is ideal if you want to get off the beaten path, and it’s also home to 2 of the best hikes in Utah.

You can hike quiet rim or canyon trails, get into serious backcountry wilderness, drive 4WD trails, take boating trips on the rivers and photograph stunning formations. But the one thing you can’t miss is Mesa Arch, and if you can make it happen, you should drive into the park and hike the short trail before the sun rises. It’s a magical spectacle you won’t see anywhere else.

Here’s what you can do in Canyonlands:

  • Photograph the famous Mesa Arch at sunrise
  • Drive 4WD White Rim Road
  • See Grand View Point, Green River Overlook and Shafer Overlook
  • Visit The Needles and The Maze districts
  • Whitewater rafting on the rivers

READ: Arches and Canyonlands in one day

7. Capitol Reef National Park

Fruita Barn in Capitol Reef national park is one of the most underrated places to visit in Utah
Fruita Barn in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Capitol Reef is the second largest national park in Utah but the main touristy area is actually quite small, so it’s easy to visit. We think it’s also one of the better parks to visit if you’re traveling with younger kids because there’s plenty of fun child-friendly things to keep them occupied. But if you’re looking for adrenaline pumping adventure, you might want to look at other places in Utah.

The small nearby town of Torrey has some great hotels near Capitol Reef and the park is much quieter than the likes of Zion or Arches. You’ll find some short interpretive hikes, orchards, petroglyphs and scenic drives. We spent around 6-7 hours hiking and taking photos in Capitol Reef, and our top tip is to drive UT-12 onward to Bryce Canyon because it’s incredibly scenic.

Here’s what you can do in Capitol Reef:

  • Hike family friendly Hickman Bridge Trail
  • Photograph Fruita Barn with sandstone cliffs backdrop
  • Drive Goosenecks Road to Sunset Point
  • See the Petroglyphs Panels
  • Drive Capitol Reef scenic road
  • Hike to Cassidy Arch to get off the beaten path

READ: Visiting Capitol Reef for the first time

8. Cedar Breaks National Monument

Soft light pinks and purples at Cedar Breaks national monument
Striking topography at Cedar Breaks National Monument

Cedar Breaks National Monument is like a miniature version of nearby Bryce Canyon National Park. It’s smaller and lesser known, but it’s also more colorful and at a higher elevation. So you get those same photogenic hoodoos but with more vibrant colors and fewer crowds. For us, that qualifies as a hidden gem.

There’s not as much to do on site and it closes for a long winter break due to a heavy snow (it’s located at 10,000 feet after all), but its striking Cedar Breaks amphitheater drops 2,000 feet and you can see it all in a wide open view. This is one place not to miss if you’re looking to get off the beaten path on your Utah road trip.

Here’s what you can do in Cedar Breaks:

  • Hike Sunset, Alpine Pond Loop and South Rim Trails
  • Drive and walk to every overlook for new perspectives
  • Photograph the milky way under a dark night sky
  • Ski, snowshoe and snowmobile in winter

9. Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

Sandboarder walking on Coral Pink Sand Dunes with footsteps one of the most fun things to do in Utah
Kristen walking with her sandboard at Coral Pink Sand Dunes

Coral Pink Sand Dunes is a fantastic place to visit if you’ll be driving between Zion and Kanab in southwestern Utah. You’ll find rolling sand dunes at the base of towering red cliffs with people sandboarding and driving ATV’s across the pink hued sand. We think it’s a great place to visit as a family with older kids or as a big group of friends.

We hadn’t originally planned to stop at Coral Pink Sand Dunes, but we ended up spending a few hours sandboarding the biggest dunes and it was one of our favorite stops during our second road trip through Utah. Just be aware that it’s a wide open and exposed environment with no shade, so you must be sun-aware if it’s hot.

Here’s what you can do in Coral Pink Sand Dunes:

  • Hire a sandboard or sled and surf the sand dunes
  • Drive an ATV across the dunes getting air time
  • Hunt for the hidden Bigfoot statue
  • Photograph the dunes during twilight hours

READ: How to visit Coral Pink Sand Dunes

10. Glen Canyon National Recreational Area

Glen Canyon smooth water with white and brown domes
Colorful canyon in Glen Canyon

Glen Canyon National Recreational Area is a 1.25 million acre expanse stretching from Lees Ferry in the Vermilion Cliffs of Arizona to the Orange Cliffs of Canyonlands National Park in Utah. You might have heard of Lake Powell in Page? Well, that’s a part of Glen Canyon. It’s all about smooth twisting canyons shaped by water, which makes for water activities and great photography.

Now, there are multiple entrances leading to different Glen Canyon formations and attractions both on water and on land, and some of the entrances are via long empty roads. Compared to the famous parks, Glen Canyon receives barely any tourists, so it’s a great place to consider if you want to get well off the usual tourist route in Utah.

Here’s what you can do in Glen Canyon:

  • Hike several trails around Bullfrog
  • Drive Hole in the Rock road (high clearance) to several scenic hikes
  • Find as many natural bridges and arch formations as you can
  • Take a boat or hike with permit to Rainbow Bridge National Monument
  • Cross the border into Arizona to see Lake Powell and Horseshoe Bend

11. Goblin Valley State Park

Sunset colors with oddly shaped rock formations Goblin Valley State Park one of the most photogenic places to visit in Utah
Colorful sunset at Goblin Valley

Goblin Valley State Park is a unique and wild landscape sandwiched between Capitol Reef and Canyonlands national parks, near the tiny town of Hanksville UT. You’ll find intriguing, oddly shaped hoodoos and mushroom formations scattered across the terrain, which make for excellent photography opportunities.

Goblin Valley is an easy and short stop near Capitol Reef, and it’s also on the way into the northern part of Glen Canyon. So grab your camera and get lost in the three unofficial valleys of goblins, finding fun perspectives of the stunted hoodoos and taking home some awesome photos. This is another great place to take the kids when you visit Utah.

Here’s what you can do in Goblin Valley:

  • Explore the open free roaming Valley of Goblins
  • Hike Carmel Canyon, Curtis Bench, Entrada Canyon and Goblin’s Lair Trails
  • Photograph The Three Sisters formation

12. Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

Road cutting through open landscape with mounds and hills sun casting shadows
Road cutting through Grand Staircase Escalante

Grand Staircase Escalante is a 1.87 million acre unspoiled natural landscape located in southern Utah. The name Grand Staircase is quite literal because it consists of a series of plateaus descending in vertical elevation from Bryce Canyon to Grand Canyon like a giant staircase.

Grand Staircase Escalante is a desolate and lightly traveled paradise for experienced hikers who want to get way off the beaten path. You’ll find slot canyons, arches, backcountry trails, cliffs, waterfalls and jeep trails scatted across its vast emptiness. But while all that sounds great, we only recommend visiting Grand Staircase if you’re well prepared and know what to do in case of emergency.

Here’s what you can do in Grand Staircase:

  • Explore the Escalante Canyons, Grand Staircase and Kaiparowits Plateau regions
  • Drive scenic drives with nobody else in sight
  • Hike through Peekaboo slot canyon
  • Hike backcountry trails in total solitude
  • Visit Kodachrome Basin State Park near Cannonville

13. Homestead Crater

Cave with light pouring through opening above and paddle boarder on water inside cave
Photo courtesy of Homestead Resort

The Homestead Crater is a geothermal spring found 55 feet underground within the Homestead Resort in Midway UT, not far from Park City. If you’re looking for truly unique things to do in Utah, look no further than this cave filled with mineral water which offers various activities.

A gigantic cone shaped hole allows light into the cave, and you can swim, soak, take a paddle board yoga class or even scuba dive within the crater. The hour glass shaped hot spring is 65 feet deep and yes, the water is warm!

Here’s what you can do in Homestead Crater:

  • Relax with a light swim or soak
  • Take a SUP yoga class
  • Scuba dive to the bottom of the hot spring

14. Kanab

Sand caves with golden sands and several chambers illuminated by sunlight
We had these sand caves near Kanab to ourselves

Kanab is a small city that we recommend visiting when driving between Zion and Grand Canyon because it has dozens of incredible natural landscapes within striking distance. Many people use Kanab as a base to hike The Wave (one of the most amazing trails we’ve done), but there’s lots more to see and do in the area.

We think Kanab is one of the overall best places to visit in Utah thanks to nearby attractions, great restaurants and a wonderfully relaxed small town vibe. You’ll also find heaps of excellent and affordable hotels in Kanab. If you’ve already done the 5 national parks and you want something a bit different, Kanab is a place you should consider including on your itinerary.

Here’s what you can do in Kanab:

READ: Fun things to do in Kanab

15. Monument Valley

Spires and buttes of Monument Valley one of the most popular places to visit in Utah
Photo we took of the iconic formations at Monument Valley

Monument Valley is a famous desert landscape with enormous sandstone buttes towering into the sky on the Utah-Arizona border. A dirt loop road in Navajo Tribal Park allows you to see the buttes from several vantage points, and we can tell you from experience that it’s a fun road to drive. With that said, you do have to pay $8/person to get in (it used to be $20/vehicle).

Monument Valley is an iconic place to visit in Utah which was made even more famous by Forrest Gump in the 1990’s. And the striking sandstone buttes are mightily impressive and photogenic. But our top tip is to remember that you can see lots of the landscape from the main road, and there’s a great southwest facing view from “Forest Gump Point” to find.

Here’s what you can do in Monument Valley:

  • Drive the Navajo Tribal Park Loop to every vista
  • Photograph the most famous buttes
  • See Monument Valley from the iconic Forrest Gump point
  • Visit at sunrise or sunset for the best photos

16. Park City

Park City Utah lit up at twilight with hill behind out of ski season
Buildings lighting up at dusk in Park City

Park City is a year round outdoor adventure resort located just 32 miles east of Salt Lake City. It’s globally renowned for winter sports and hosting the 2002 winter olympics but Park City is also full of life during the warmer seasons, and it even hosts the annual Sundance Film Festival.

If you’re visiting Utah in the winter for skiing or snowboarding, there’s no better place than Park City. The small mountain town is filled with excellent dining options and places to stay, and its historic main street showcases Park City’s restored mining cabins.

Here’s what you can do in Park City:

  • Summer – Hiking, hot air ballooning, fishing, golfing, horseback riding, rafting
  • Winter – Skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, tubing, snowshoeing

17. Salt Lake City

White Church in Salt Lake City capital city of Utah
Photo we took of the Salt Lake Utah Temple in SLC

Salt Lake City is the capital and most populous city in Utah. It’s home to a major international airport, excellent museums, fantastic food, professional sports teams and a wide range of outdoor adventure activities in the nearby mountains.

Known for its rich religious culture and architecture, Salt Lake City is clean, attractive, full of energy and great for the whole family. In 2019 we spent a relaxing day exploring downtown SLC but next time we plan to spend lots of time hiking awesome trails in the Wasatch Mountains.

Here’s what you can do in Salt Lake City:

18. Snow Canyon State Park

Grey and red rocks in a huge wide open landscape in western Utah
Colorful and dramatic Snow Canyon landscape

Snow Canyon State Park is a locals favorite and genuine hidden gem located just 15 minutes drive from St. George in southwestern Utah. It features striking canyons and valleys, petrified sand dunes, 27,000 year old lava tubes and lava fields. And we bet you’ve never heard of it? Don’t worry, we hadn’t either and we only passed it by chance because I-15 was closed on the drive up from Las Vegas.

It looked fantastic, and we now know that Snow Canyon is one of the most fun places to take the kids in Utah. But the best part is a noticeable lack of crowds, particularly compared to nearby Zion. Snow Canyon might even be classified as a national park itself if it was in a different state, but Utah already has 5 of those!

Here’s what you can do in Snow Canyon:

  • Hike Petrified Dunes, Jenny’s Canyon, Lava Tube, Johnson Canyon and Scout Cave Trails
  • Take the kids rock hopping around the petrified sand dunes
  • Jump on a bike and cycle the 18 mile Snow Canyon Loop
  • Photograph the impressive formations and canyons

19. Timpanogos Cave

Formations inside Timpanogos Cave dark shadows and lights illuminating rock features
Inside Timpanogos Cave in Utah

Timpanogos Cave National Monument preserves a series of three caves known as Hansen Cave, Middle Cave and Timpanogos Cave. The caverns are accessed via a strenuous 1.5 mile paved hike with 1,100 feet elevation gain, before entering the caves as part of a compulsory ranger led tour.

Timpanogos Cave is a great place to take the whole family. The hike is tough going but countless stunning vistas along the trail will help you forget about the climb! Once you reach the top it’s all about the underground wonderland featuring an array of spectacular stalactites, stalagmites, calcite and helictites.

Here’s what you can do in Timpanagos Cave:

  • Take a guided tour of the Timpanogos Cave Trail
  • Photograph the stunningly decorated cave interiors

20. Zion National Park

Famous Angels Landing hiking trail up a razor thin rock formation one of the best things to do in Utah
Photo we took at dawn on our hike to Angels Landing in Zion

Zion National Park is the most popular and most adventurous place to visit in Utah. Inside the main Zion canyon you’ll find gigantic sandstone cliffs flanking a narrow gorge in which you can hike exhilarating trails and photograph stunning formations. For us, Zion is one of those truly unmissable US destinations.

We love Zion’s adventure trails like Angels Landing, The Narrows and The Subway. They really set the park apart from others in Utah and the US. But Zion’s main canyon is surprisingly small and it’s extremely busy so we recommend visiting in either May or October to benefit from slightly fewer crowds.

Here’s what you can do in Zion:

READ: Unmissable hikes in Zion

Utah Map

Click or touch the map above to activate. Zoom in and out, move around the map and find the locations for the top places to visit in Utah that we’ve listed in this guide.

You can see that the icons are effectively split between the north and south of the state. This is because most of the popular tourist spots are located around Utah’s Mighty 5 national parks, but we also wanted to include some of the lesser known areas around Salt Lake City to give you more options.

The Morgan Conclusion

Stunning sunset over the Virgin River and Zion National Park
Sunset photo we took at Canyon Junction in Zion

Utah is home to some our favorite hikes and photo spots in the US. We’re huge admirers of Zion and Arches, but we also really like Kanab and we’d love to explore the mountains near Salt Lake City. We always recommend Utah to our adventurous friends from the US and UK who want to hike thrilling trails and photograph unique landscapes.

Here’s our top 5 things to do if you’re a family visiting Utah with kids:

  1. Explore easy going Capitol Reef
  2. Sandboard or sled on the soft Coral Pink Sand Dunes
  3. Visit the wide open landscape of Goblin Valley
  4. Walk on the petrified sand dunes at Snow Canyon
  5. Take a ranger led tour of Timpanogos Cave

And here’s our top 5 things to do in Utah for couples:

  1. Take cool perspective photos at Bonneville Salt Flats
  2. Hike a few miles into Buckskin Gulch slot canyon
  3. Spend a few days doing the best bits around Kanab
  4. Watch the sunset at Delicate Arch
  5. Ski or hike around Park City

More US States

Best Of The US

Want more USA content? Head over to our USA travel guides to explore the best cities, national parks and road trips in America.

We hope this Utah guide helps with planning your visit to the American southwest!

Please let us know if you have any questions in the comments below.

Happy Travels,

Mark and Kristen

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