Of all the Southwest states for outdoor adventure, Utah is perhaps the most epic of all. While this U.S. treasure is well known for famous national parks like Zion and Bryce Canyon, many neglect to explore the awesome 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, be sure to read this guide to the best state parks the Beehive State has to offer!
The 10 Best State Parks in Utah
1. Kodachrome Basin State Park
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 interesting assortment of activities to choose from like disc golf, geocaching, and guided horseback tours.
2. Dead Horse Point State Park
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.
3. Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
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. Those odd looking rocks you’re seeing all over ? those are felled, petrified tree trunks. But don’t worry about having your expectations subverted, because the park is full of amazing hiking trails that’ll take you to majestic grottos and breathtaking arches.
4. Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
While Coral Pink is a great place to see wildflowers and walk through slot canyons, it’s primary draw is arguably off-highway vehicle driving. Sand boarding and rappelling from sandstone cliffs are also an option, alongside the usual camping and picnicking.
5. Gunlock State Park
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.
6. Goblin Valley State Park
Named for the many stone spires that dot the area, Goblin Valley is a good choice for stargazing due to its relative isolation. For better or worse, there’s not much to do there other than camp, walk around, and enjoy the sights.
7. Anasazi State Park Museum
This hands-on site is a great choice for fans of America’s more natural prehistoric past, particularly Ancestral Puebloan archaeology. The museum has engaging collections and exhibits, and there are 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 the realm of camping and outdoor activities.
8. Snow Canyon State Park
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.
9. Wasatch Mountain State Park
Practically a resort, Wasatch Mountain has very modern facilities, including but not limited to a gold course and the Solider Hollow Grill. Located just a little east of the Salt Lake metro area, it’s an excellent destination for all kinds of winter sports, and you might even remember some sections from the 2002 Winter Olympics.
10. Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum
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 are also a smattering of campgrounds just north of the area.
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 sort of National Geographic steez that the parks listed above do. Same’s to be 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 great destination for stargazing campers, it has nothing to offer hikers, and 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 in the Beehive State, including but not limited to Monument Valley, located on the Southern Utah and Arizona border.
National Park Refresher
As mentioned above, like as not, Utah is much better know 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 not only the United States, but 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!