Trip Ideas: The Utah Parks

Since I love maps, reading reviews of places to go, and fantasizing about trips, I figured I’d start a series! This one is about all of the beautiful parks in and near Utah.

If you ever go on this trip (or parts of it), I’d love to hear about your experiences!

NOTE: This trip and these places are just suggestions based on what I’ve read, not based on experiences I’ve had, unless otherwise noted. The trip idea starts and ends in Denver since that is where I’m from. 

Based on some of the things I’ve read and experienced, here are some ideas:

(1) HANGING LAKE

Located near Glenwood Springs just off the highway, this paved 2.8 mile hike is one you shouldn’t miss. The route is steep but the result? A waterfall flowing into a clear, turquoise lake. But please pay attention to signs saying what you can/can’t do. They’re there to protect the beauty of the area.

(2) CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK

I’ve never been to this park but Renee & Matthew Hahnel, two incredibly inspirational photographers, recently did a trip to all 59 National Parks and posted this article about Capitol Reef on Evolve’s website.

(3) BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK

Based on what I’ve read, this park is best seen in winter when there’s snow, during a new moon to see the stars, or during sunrise since you look East to see the canyon from the main road.

And if you have some extra free time, the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary seems like a wonderful place to stop!

(4) ZION NATIONAL PARK

I drove through Zion earlier this year over Memorial Day. I’ve never seen longer lines for a shuttle! But I understand their desire to take advantage of the three day weekend, especially because it means you don’t have to take a vacation day to get off work. I only passed through the park which I’m sure is what you’re not supposed to do. This park is so huge that you could spend days. Some of the places I’ve heard are worth checking out: The Narrows, Angels Landing hike (not for the faint of heart), and the Observation Point hike.

(5) CORAL PINK SAND DUNES

I’m always a sucker for sand dunes so I figured this would be a cool place to go to sometime. It’s a state park rather than a national park which goes to show that you shouldn’t overlook parks or forests just because they aren’t a “national park.”

(6) PARIA CANYON-VERMILION CLIFFS

A wilderness area known for a section of it called “The Wave.” Seems pretty neat!

(7) GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK

There’s a lot to do on the rim and in the canyon. When my mom and I went here earlier this year, we explored the South Rim. There’s a few ways to get around on the South Rim: 1. Driving along Highway 64/Desert View Drive. There are a lot of viewpoints where you can park and walk out. This road will take you from east of the South Rim to the main entrance near the center of the park. 2. You can rent bikes to ride near the rim. 3. You can walk along the rim, closer to the edge than bikes can because there’s designated areas where bikes can/can’t go. 4. Shuttle. One advantage of the shuttle system is that you can take it out to Hermit’s Rest on the western side of the South Rim, a place that cars aren’t allowed to drive to. We camped in the park at Mather Campground and it was great! Just outside the park, the town of Williams is also nice. A classic small town. We stayed one night at the El Rancho Motel and it was pretty solid.

(8) ANTELOPE CANYON 

Worth seeing at least once. People call this place a “photographer’s heaven” and it’s true, the place is swimming with them! Warning, the photos you see online are incredible but it takes editing to bring out some of the colors. Below is a photo I took of the canyon before editing it in Lightroom, and after. The before photo is still beautiful but not as bright nor as colorful as what you see people post online. But don’t let this discourage you! Just because you don’t always see those striking colors in person with your eyes, doesn’t mean they’re not there. The rocks are still really vibrant and seeing them in person is half the fun.

The canyon is part of the Navajo Reservation so a tour is required. There’s a variety of tours (we took Chief Tsosie’s Antelope Slot Canyon Tours) and you can tour either the Upper or Lower Canyon (we did Upper). Upper Canyon is where you’ll see light beams but it’s more crowded with tourists. Lower Canyon is cheaper but light beams are rare and the trip involves climbing stairs down into the canyon. For the Upper Canyon, late-morning to middle of the day is the best time to see the colors and light beams. Sometimes the guides will throw sand into the light beams too (ours did)! But unless you’re on a photography specific tour, the guides will hurry you along pretty quickly so be prepared. Just be sure to double check what time zone your tour is in (some run on Mountain time, some on Pacific).

(9) FOUR CORNERS MONUMENT

This place is not open 24 hours! I found that out after getting to the gates about 5 minutes after closing. Definitely one of the more funny yet memorable moments of my trip this year.

(10) CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK / DEAD HORSE POINT STATE PARK

I’ve only driven through Canyonlands briefly but I’ve heard that watching the sunrise at Mesa Arch is something you shouldn’t skip out on. Right next to it is Dead Horse Point State Park which I’d also recommend going to. Dogs are allowed to walk on the paths in state parks which is a perk! The photos below are from Dead Horse.

(11) ARCHES NATIONAL PARK

There’s so many places you can go. We drove through it a few years ago and it’s really hard to run out of places to drive. All the rock formations are interesting and if you stay at the park past sunset, the stars come out and boy are there a lot of them! I’ve always thought it would be fun to visit during a new moon in the hopes of seeing the Milky Way. If you search “Delicate Arch Milky Way,” you’ll know why I think this.

Photos on the map provided by stock images on the Internet. Photos in the blog post were taken by me.

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