Escalante Petrified Forest State Park

Utah's Best State Parks for Camping, Hiking & More!


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Of all the Southwest states for outdoor adventure, Utah is perhaps the most epic. While this U.S. treasure is well known for famous national parks like Zion and Bryce Canyon, many neglect to explore the incredible assortment of Utah State Parks available. From backcountry steppes studded with breathtaking rock formations to exceptional recreation areas ripe for mountain biking, kayaking, and other outdoor activities, Utah's State Parks are the perfect destination for fans of the American West.

Before you plan your desert road trip, read this guide to the best state parks the Beehive State has to offer!

The 10 Best State Parks in Utah

10. Kodachrome Basin State Park

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If you're having trouble enjoying the hoodoos and arches at Bryce Canyon due to crowds, consider heading about 20 miles east to this scenic wonder. In addition to several campgrounds and quite a few trails, Kodachrome has an exciting assortment of activities like disc golf, geocaching, and guided horseback tours.

9. Dead Horse Point State Park

Dead Horse Point over Colorado River and Canyonlands at sunset

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You might recognize Dead Horse from its appearances in films, such as the end scene of "Thelma & Louise." But if you've seen the movie, you'll understand why the park isn't the best destination for ATV and OHV excursions. Dead Horse is more of a hiking, biking, and camping affair.

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8. Escalante Petrified Forest State Park

Colorful petrified wood in the Petrified Forest National Park, Escalante. Utah

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When you arrive at Escalante, one of the first things you're going to wonder is, "Where's the petrified forest?" The answer is on the ground. You're seeing those odd-looking rocks all over -- those are fallen, petrified tree trunks. But don't worry about having your expectations subverted because the park is full of fantastic hiking trails that'll take you to majestic grottos and breathtaking arches.

7. Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

Road in the sand dunes of the desert, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Kanab, Utah.

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While Coral Pink is a great place to see wildflowers and walk through slot canyons, its primary draw is arguably off-highway vehicle driving. Sandboarding and rappelling from sandstone cliffs are also options, alongside camping and picnicking.

6. Gunlock State Park

Migrating Black-necked Stilts (Himantopus mexicanus) and American Avocets (recurvirostra americana) fly over Gunlock Reservoir at Gunlock State Park, Utah, USA.

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RELATED: 11 Reasons to Journey to Salt Lake City, Utah

Although Utah has its fair share of state parks centered on aquatic recreation, Gunlock is much more scenic than the many. Its facilities include campgrounds and a boating ramp, and its natural attractions encompass numerous waterfalls and fishing spots.

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5. Goblin Valley State Park

Eroded mushroom-like sculptures made from weathered tidal flats 145 - 170 million years ago stand in Goblin Valley State Park with the snow capped Henry Mountains in the background.

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Named for the many stone spires that dot the area, Goblin Valley is a good choice for stargazing due to its relative isolation. There's not much to do there other than camp, walk around, and enjoy the sights for better or worse.

4. Anasazi State Park Museum

Pithouse in Anasazi Indian State Park

The Dye Clan, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This hands-on site is excellent for fans of America's more natural prehistoric past, particularly Ancestral Puebloan archaeology. The museum has engaging collections and exhibits, and there is both a store and food truck located on the park's grounds. Ultimately, Anasazi is dedicated to a museum experience and doesn't offer anything in terms of camping and outdoor activities.

3. Snow Canyon State Park

Snow and Ice Covers the White Rocks Amphitheatre at Snow Canyon State Park

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Snow Canyon has a mix of natural features, including Navajo sandstone formations reminiscent of Red Rocks National Conservation Area in Nevada, not to mention slot canyons and lava tube caves. The park is a short drive north of the St. George area and is home to a verdant ecology full of beautiful flora and fauna.

2. Wasatch Mountain State Park

A winding path through Silver Birch woodland, Wasatch Mountain State Park

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Practically a resort, Wasatch Mountain has exceptionally modern facilities, including but not limited to a gold course and the Soldier Hollow Grill. Located just a little east of the Salt Lake metro area, it's an excellent destination for winter sports, and you might even remember some sections from the 2002 Winter Olympics.

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10. Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum

Clouds build over the Ancestral Puebloan ruins at the Edge of the Cedars State Park in Blanding, Utah.

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Like Anasazi, Edge of the Cedars is centered on Puebloan history. If you're traveling in southeastern Utah, it's a great place to put on your itinerary in addition to attractions like Hovenweep, Natural Bridges, and Four Corners. There is also a smattering of campgrounds just north of the area.

Honorable Mentions

While Great Salt Lake State Park and Antelope Island State Park are great destinations for water sports, particularly boating, they don't have the same National Geographic steez as the parks listed above do. The same is said for similar recreation areas like Bear Lake and Green River State Parks. Meanwhile, if this were a top 11 list, the crystal waters of Sand Hollow State Park would've definitely made the cut.

Similarly, although Goosenecks State Park is an excellent destination for stargazing campers, it has nothing to offer hikers. The San Juan River that winds through it isn't accessible.

In addition to all the state parks listed above, there's a trove of otherworldly sites to spy on in the Beehive State, including but not limited to Monument Valley, located on the Southern Utah and Arizona border.

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National Park Refresher

As mentioned above, like as not, Utah is much better known for its glorious host of national parks. Located in and around unique geographical regions like the Moab Desert and the Grand Staircase, the national parks you'll find in Utah are far and away some of the most beautiful you'll find in the United States and the entire world. If you need a refresher regarding your options, review the following list:

  • Canyonlands National Park
  • Zion National Park
  • Natural Bridges National Monument
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Arches National Park
  • Capitol Reef National Park
  • Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

What are your top 10 Utah State Parks? Give us your take on our Wide Open Roads Facebook!

READ MORE: This 10-Day Road Trip Explores Utah's Natural Beauty

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