Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Utah
One of Zion National Park’s most famous hikes, The Narrows are the narrowest section of Zion Canyon, with sandstone walls reaching 1,000 feet (305 meters) high and sometimes 20 feet (6 meters) across. The Virgin River flows underfoot for most of this adventurous trek—be prepared to get wet.
The eroded red rock wonderland of Arches National Park houses more than 2,000 natural stone arches, the densest concentration in the world. Geological marvels abound—here you’ll find hundreds of soaring pinnacles, the iconic Delicate Arch, and Landscape Arch, the largest natural arch in the world at 290 feet (88 meters) across.
At the aptly named Emerald Pools, a verdant stream connects a series of three fresh water pools—a picturesque contrast to the earthy red cliffs that dominate Zion National Park. Three hiking trails access the pools, ranging from a short paved route to a more strenuous loop. Flowing waterfalls and crystal-clear pools make this a must-visit spot.
Experience one of nature’s roller coaster rides, Hell’s Revenge Trail. Set in a desert canyon outside of Moab, the off-roading track crawls over slick rocks, along cliff faces, and up and down near-vertical terrain. Between rock-crawling adventures, stop to take in views stretching from Arches National Park to La Sal Mountains.
The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is the main artery through Zion National Park. Winding along the Virgin River, the two-lane road is lined with vista points, river access spots, trailheads, and photo opportunities. The route is so popular that, during the busy season, it is only accessible by a park shuttle.
The Colorado River is a spectacular sight to see, meandering for 1,447 miles (2,330 kilometers) with red rocks and canyons framing it on both sides, leading up to the Hoover Dam. The Colorado River is one of the major water sources for California and Nevada, and, not surprisingly, it's a major recreational destination—activities on the river include hiking, biking, rafting, and boating.
When Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, Brigham Young, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), proclaimed, “Here we will build a temple to our God.” That place eventually became known as Temple Square, the centerpiece of which is the Salt Lake Temple—the largest Mormon temple in the world.
The neoclassical Utah State Capitol Building opened in 1916 and is home to the offices and chambers of the state Legislature, governor, and other government officials. The building is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and features artwork, historical items, and monuments both inside and around the grounds.
The hike to the top of Angels Landing in Zion National Park ranks among the most famous in the world. It’s only moderately challenging until the final half mile, when the trail becomes precipitous and the narrowness of the path—not to mention sheer drop-offs to either side—offers an additional mental challenge. Visitors who make it to the top are rewarded with spectacular views.
Built for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, Utah Olympic Park was the site of the bobsled, skeleton, luge, ski jumping, and Nordic combined events. The park, located just outside downtown Park City, now serves as a training center for Olympic hopefuls and is a top tourist attraction for visitors and locals interested in Olympic history.
More Things to Do in Utah
In 1930, when the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel was completed in Zion National Park, it was the longest tunnel anywhere in America outside of an urban city. Today, this 1.1-mile tunnel navigates the innards of a soaring sandstone mountain, and provides a conduit connecting Zion National Park with Utah’s famous Bryce Canyon. The road itself, the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its beauty and feats of engineering—the grandest of which is the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel that’s become an attraction in itself. As a means of illuminating the deeply dark tunnel, multiple “windows” have been cut through the wall to showcase the view outside, though you’ll want to keep moving, rather than stop, to make sure traffic keeps flowing. In the three years that it took to complete the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel, the total cost eventually ballooned to just over half a million dollars. In 1930 that sum was unconscionable for simply creating a road, but seems like a bargain when you consider today the feat that the builders pulled off.
Set in the high desert of the American Southwest, Canyonlands National Park comprises 337,598 acres (136,621 hectares) of rugged landscape divided into four distinct districts by the Green and Colorado rivers. Deep craters, towering rock spires, white cliffs, and majestic buttes dominate the landscape of Utah’s largest national park.
The swooping view of the Colorado River from Dead Horse Point is iconic, but there’s much more to this desert park than a single overlook. A network of trails here ranges from intermediate mountain biking to wheelchair-accessible pavement, with scenic overlooks, shade shelters, and interpretive signs throughout.
Utah’s This is the Place Heritage Park commemorates the arrival of Mormon pioneers who settled in the Salt Lake City valley in 1847. Experience activities such as train and pony rides, blacksmithing, and gold panning at the 450-acre (182-hectare) park’s Heritage Village, which also displays restored structures and hosts events.
Lake Powell is a reservoir—the second-largest man-made reservoir in the United States, actually—in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on the border of Arizona and Utah. Known for its many sandy beaches, sparkling blue water, and red-rock landscapes, this fun vacation spot is one of Arizona’s top attractions. Some of the lake’s famous features include the Glen Canyon Dam (located in Arizona) and the Rainbow Bridge National Monument, one of the world’s longest natural bridges (located in Utah).
While you might want to cry at Zion’s beauty, save the weeping for the natural springs that trickle down Zion Canyon. At this popular stop along the canyon drive, a paved trail climbs for half a mile up the canyon wall, and provides views of a spring that slowly drips towards the Virgin River below. The water that seeps from the vertical cliff face has been trapped in the walls for years, and while the flow is rarely more than a trickle, large icicles can form in winter and hang from the multi-hued cliffs. After a heavy rain or thunderstorm, a torrential waterfall can sometimes form high on the canyon walls, and the rocky alcove at the top of the trail offers a panoramic vantage point for viewing the water and the valley floor below. While standing beneath the undercut rock, look out towards the other side of the valley where the Great White Throne thrusts its way above the surrounding spires. Though “weeping walls” are fairly common in Zion National Park, the Weeping Rock trail is short and accessible for all different types of travelers.
Completed in 1867, the Salt Lake Tabernacle is an architectural marvel famous for its remarkable acoustics: A pin dropped at the pulpit can be heard clearly at the back of the hall 170 feet (52 meters) away. Home of the renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the church hosts concerts and tours that attract visitors from all over the world.
Visitors agree that the Corona Arch is one of Red Rock Country’s most spectacular sites. With its swoop of natural sandstone that stretches up towards a thrilling mountain pass, Corona Arch proves a highlight for travelers to the Moab area. The technical trail, which scales smooth rock walls and requires a ladder and cable to ascend, is a difficult but doable adventure that grants visitors epic views and a hard-earned sense of accomplishment. More adventurous travelers and daredevil outdoorsmen can repel from the top of Corona Arch in what can only be described as a serious natural rush. But a visit to this popular destination is still worthwhile for the faint of heart who prefer to take in beautiful views of the arch from the ground up.
Walk past the fossilized remains of dinosaurs at this short path west of Arches National Park, where you’ll find evidence of allosaurus, stegosaurus, camarasaurus, and camptosaurus. Trail-side signs here describe the dinosaurs that once roamed this region, and how their bones and footprints came to be frozen into the Utah sandstone.
Named after the biblical figures of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the sandstone cliffs known as the Court of the Patriarchs are popular among photographers, rock climbers, and early risers. A visit here doesn’t require much time on its own, but it’s an accessible vantage point for capturing the beauty of the awe-inspiring Zion National Park.
These rosy fingers of sandstone jut skyward from the Utah desert, drawing crowds of photographers, hikers, and expert rock climbers. The Colorado River rushes through scenic Castle Valley, where the spires are located, and the Fisher Tower section of the river is a popular destination for white-water rafting.
Ancient people in the Utah desert produced rock art for thousands of years, painting or inscribing images into the boulders and cliffs. A handful of important rock art sites are located along Highway 279, a Utah Scenic Byway outside of Moab. With easy site access and a gorgeous setting, this is a great place to start exploring rock art.
Utah’s Great Salt Lake, the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere and the largest natural lake in North America west of the Mississippi, is the setting for some of the state’s best outdoor recreational opportunities; sailors and kayakers ply the waters, while sunbathers bask on sandy beaches and swimmers float in the high-saline waters.
The Virgin River flows through the heart of Zion National Park and can be credited with carving out the magnificent Zion Canyon. So, whether it’s the spectacular views from the top of Angel’s Landing or the colorful slot canyon known as The Narrows, these national treasures would not exist without the hard work of the Virgin River.
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