There are so many fantastic places to explore in Southern Utah (we at the Lodge at Red River Ranch should know, we live here) that you can’t feasibly visit them all in one trip. So if you’re coming to experience the sights, here is our annual Top Ten Must Sees in Southern Utah. We hope it helps.
10. Canyonlands National Park – This is the most remote, wild, undiscovered national park in Utah. It is the perfect place to get lost in nature (not literally, please bring a map.) Plus, if you like white-water rafting, you can’t find a better spot. Check out Horse Shoe Canyon – famous for it’s Native American rock art. And, if you make it to Canyonlands, be sure to check out Mesa Arch. It has the most amazing overlook imaginable.
9. Natural Bridges National Monument – Three of the largest natural bridges in the world are located in this little national monument. It also boasts an impressive collection of Native American artifacts and dwellings. And, it’s also the darkest place in Southern Utah – officially. It was the very first International Dark Sky Place. So, if you’re into stargazing, go here.
8. Bryce Canyon National Park – Bryce Canyon is famous for its amphitheater of sandstone spires, known as hoodoos. There are thousands of hoodoos formed by eons of natural forces. It makes quite an impressive site. We recommend that you do plenty of hiking while visiting the park. Check out Fairyland Loop Trail for a complete tour of the park. And be sure to hike down to Mossy Cave, even in winter it’s pretty cool.
7. Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument – This monument is a huge tract of wilderness, most of which you can’t even access (unless you’re a hard-core backcountry junkie.) But the parts that you can experience are so awesome. Check out Calf Creek – Upper and Lower, take the Burr Trail through Long Canyon, or simply drive along Scenic Byway 12. (We’ve never found a road more exciting than this one.)
6. Dead Horse State Park – Think of the Grand Canyon – only less crowded. This state park is so similar in fact, Hollywood often films here instead of at the Grand Canyon. (Remember that scene from Thelma and Louise?) While you’re there, see if you can spot the White Horse in the sandstone, near the bottom of the canyon.
5. Goblin Valley State Park – Some people may be surprised to find this small state park this high on our list – but, trust us, we have a good reason. In most of the places we’ve covered thus far, there are certain things that you just can’t do. For example, you can’t climb the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon. But in Goblin Valley, you are free to climb and play among all the geologic formations. Which makes this one of the funnest places to visit in Southern Utah.
4. Kolob Canyon (Zion National Park)– This is the often overlooked annex of Zion National Park located near Cedar City. It may only be a fifteen-minute drive to the top – but those fifteen minutes are incredible. We of course recommend that you hike one or two of the trails which lead you into the side canyons. And if you want a sweeping vista, take the short View Point trail at the upper parking lot.
3. Arches National Park – Arches National Park is so iconic that it’s on our Utah license plates. There are over 2,000 individual arches in the park. Even if you only hike to Delicate Arches it’s still worth the trip. We recommend hiking the Fiery Furnace, if you want a real adventure. You can also spend time around Moab, outside the park. This town is famous for its outdoor recreational activities. Jeeping, anyone?
2. Capitol Reef National Park – We love Capitol Reef so much. It has just the right amount of development and wilderness to make the wonder accessible. The main corridor, along Highway 24, is full of amazing hikes like Cassidy Arch, Hickman Bridge and the Grand Wash. And if you go north, you’ll end up in the great desert of Cathedral Valley. But our absolute favorite section of the park is the Waterpocket Fold – the southern region of Capitol Reef.
1. Zion National Park (Main Section) – Of course Zion would be our number one. It has so much to offer – from Emerald Pools to Angel’s Landing to the Checkerboard Mesa. There are narrow slot canyons – The Subway for example – and incredible sandstone towers. Basically, it has everything good and great about Southern Utah all in one place. (Plus cool artist shops at the entrance.) So if you only see one Southern Utah park this year, make it this one.