25 Best Utah National Parks & Monuments (in 2023)
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A land of sandstone, arches, Native American archaeological sites, and thriving desert cacti, there are some pretty epic Utah national parks. The national parks and monuments in Utah are famous worldwide due to their frequent features in films and their unique desert beauty.
I’ve been to Utah more times than I can remember and have explored the top national parks and monuments in my favorite U.S. state. It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Utah!
In this article, I’ll cover the top Utah national parks along with cool hiking trails and campsites.
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National Parks in Utah
Arches National Park
This Moab park has the largest concentration of natural arches in the world
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Arches National Park Website
As soon as you enter the park, erect sandstone columns and mesas will greet you on either side of the single park road. The sacred landscape of Arches National Park is also the ideal place for outdoor enthusiasts to hike, rappel, rock climb, and go slot canyoneering.
With over 2,000 naturally-forming arch formations, Arches National Park is unlike any other national park in Utah.
According to naturalist and author, Edward Abbey, who spent a lot of time in Arches National Park, “wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.” Travelers are certainly overcome by a feeling of smallness while hiking among giant red buttes, next to ancient petroglyphs, and on the same trails as the desert fauna of Arches National Park.
Popular hikes in Arches include Delicate Arch, Corona Arch, Devils Garden, and Double Arch Trail. For more nearby fun, see my full guide to all the things to do in Moab.
🌳 Local Trivia: Some natural arch formations date to over 200 million years old! Experiencing Arches is experiencing prehistoric history.
Zion National Park
One of the most popular Utah national parks just outside of St. George with water hikes, ridge trekking, bike rentals, and more
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Zion National Park Website
Zion National Park is perhaps the most visited national park in Utah. Situated just outside of St. George in Southwestern Utah, Zion is easily accessible from Nevada and Arizona.
From hiking in water up to your waist to scaling thin mountain ridges and witnessing emerald pools, some of the best hiking trails in Utah can be found in Zion National Park. Check out The Narrows hike next time you’re in Zion, an excursion through cold water in an ever-narrowing wide slot canyon.
I highly recommend renting a bike just outside of the national park entrance and riding 7-8 miles from the visitor center to the last stop in the national park, the Temple of Sinawava. Only the Zion shuttle is permitted road access, making it a safe yet scenic ride.
👉 Need a Hotel? Check out the top Zion accommodations here.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Marvel at the army of sandstone spires at Bryce Canyon, a southern Utah park
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Bryce Canyon National Park Website
The famous red rock pinnacles at Bryce Canyon National Park are otherworldly. Also known as hoodoos, the irregular rock columns are the main draw to the Utah national park, which houses the largest concentration of these rock anomalies in the world.
Located only an hour and a half northeast of Zion National Park, most parkgoers explore the neighboring national parks on consecutive days. I highly recommend seeing Bryce Canyon National Park in the winter, when snow decorates the hoodoos in a gingerbread house fashion.
Eroded by water, wind, and time, the natural landscape of Bryce Canyon National Park seems so unintentionally perfect, it piques millions of visitors’ interests each year. The best time to experience Bryce Canyon National Park is during sunrise or sunset when pinks, oranges, and reds reflect off of the sandstone strata.
Capitol Reef National Park
One of five Utah national parks in the heart of red rock territory
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Capitol Reef National Park Website
One of the lesser-known Utah national parks, Capitol Reef National Park is situated in the heart of red rock country. Get a true sense of expansiveness at Capitol Reef as you hike under a limitless sky and through an ever-stretching desert-scape.
Visitors can enjoy two off-grid primitive campsites in the park but must bring all the camping essentials. There’s also one established campground, Fruita, right beside the Fremont River.
Most adventure seekers venture to this southern Utah national park for its quality canyoneering. With hundreds of slot canyons to choose from, Capitol Reef is a paradise for outdoor adrenaline junkies.
Unlike other Utah national parks, most Capitol Reef National Park sites can be accessed via vehicle- a major plus for trepid or disabled travelers. Roam down the 8-mile Capitol Reef National Park Scenic Drive and discover some of the most breathtaking sites of Utah’s national parks.
Canyonlands National Park
Witness jaw-dropping, gorgeous beauty at this rugged Moab park
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Canyonlands National Park Website
Canyonlands National Park is another Moab, Utah national park. A bit less popular than the neighboring Arches National Park, Canyonlands boasts far fewer crowds and provides a more surreal wilderness experience.
Canyonlands National Park is one of the best places to view 360-degree gorges in the state of Utah. The premiere way to experience Canyonlands is from the ethers. Hire a tour guide, drive your own 4WD vehicle, or hike to a high-lookout point to take in the grandeur of the superb stratigraphic mesas in the distance.
Dissected by the Colorado River, Canyonlands National Park is divided into four regions and offers explorers hiking trails, prime camp spots, off-road adventures, and more!
👉 Pro Tip: The Lazy Lizard is my favorite place to stay in Moab on a budget. If you prefer to tent or van camp, you can still make a trip to the far side of town to take a $4 shower at the hostel, a price that can’t be beaten.
National Monuments in Utah
A sacred Indigenous landscape with hundreds of archaeological sites in eastern Utah
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Bears Ears Website
The popularity of Bears Ears National Monument came to the forefront amid a recent political campaign. This recently-protected Indigenous area had its protected status revoked; only to be reinstated years later as a result of heavy environmental protesting.
Twin buttes dominate the cultural landscape of Bears Ears, which is scattered with early human and Native American artifacts. The Navajo Nation, Hopi Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and other nations are extremely tied to the land encompassing Bears Ears, a sacred recreation space.
Visitors can tour Native American ruins, petroglyphs, and the cultural museum at the visitor center, or partake in a variety of outdoor recreation activities like hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, river rafting, and off-roading.
👉 Pro Tip: Here are the top vacation rentals in Monticello, the closest municipality to the national monument.
The most photographed Southwestern site that sits on the Utah/Arizona border
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Monument Valley Website
“I think I’ll go home now,” said Forrest Gump in Monument Valley as he decided to quit his endeavor to run across the United States. This sandstone sanctuary is internationally-known as one of the most beautiful Southwestern sites in the U.S., thanks in part to its fame from feature films.
Only 3 hours south of Moab or 3 hours north of Flagstaff, one of the best cities in Arizona, the painted landscape of Monument Valley seems like something only a trained artist could conjure up.
Monument Valley is some of the “most majestic and most photographed points on earth.” Visitors must take the 17-mile loop road around the erect pinnacles, mesas, and buttes that define such famous desert topography.
To avoid long lines, I recommend getting to the remote entrance early for the scenic drive around the millions of years-old sediment mountains.
👉 Pro Tip: Explore the best of Monument Valley with an informative Monument Valley tour guide.
A Native American historic monument near Escalante, Utah
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Grand Staircase-Escalante Website
Neighboring Bears Ears National Monument, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument encompasses more than 1.8 million American wilderness acres.
Combined with Bears Ears, the two red rock canyon monuments contain more than 100,000 Native American archaeological and cultural sites. It’s safe to say that the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument is one of the most breathtaking experiences you can have at a Utah monument.
History lovers, geologists, cultural appreciators, and outdoor enthusiasts all find refuge at this southern Utah monument. This desert area spans five life zones, from low-lying desert to conifer forest. It’s also one of the richest archaeological areas of the Ancestral Puebloan peoples who have left behind rock art panels, habitation sites, and granaries.
With a permit from the Kanab or Escalante visitor center, you can backcountry camp almost anywhere in Escalante. Remember to pack out your trash, be bear aware, and stay up-to-date with fire regulations.
Simultaneously stand in 4 U.S. states at once!
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Four Corners Website
No, it’s not time travel, it’s Four Corners National Monument! You too can stand in four U.S. states at once with a small $8 fee at Four Corners.
Four Corners National Monument is a bit isolated but is worth the trip if you’re traveling from one state to another. It’s a great waypoint if coming from Mesa Verde National Park, one of the coolest Colorado national parks, or if you’re moving north into Utah from Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.
In this rare location where Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado meet, you can also buy locally-crafted Native American handicrafts from the new artisan market dotting the circumference of the monument.
Dinosaur National Monument
View Mesozoic fossils on the Colorado/Utah border
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Dinosaur National Monument Website
Dinosaur National Monument isn’t just a fun excursion for kids, everyone can learn something at this prehistoric monument. Dinosaur fossils are visibly embedded in rock at this national monument, making it one of the most unusual Utah national parks/monuments.
Intersected by the Green River and clustered with ancient Native American petroglyphs, Dinosaur National Monument offers much more than Jurassic Period treasures.
Science, adventure, and history lovers are welcomed with the rare chance to view and photograph actual dinosaur fossils in situ. There are also six campgrounds in the monument area, giving visitors plenty of opportunities to view fossils, go river rafting, and hike at their own pace.
Dark Canyon Wilderness
A huge wilderness area atop the Colorado Plateau with Ancestral Puebloan structures
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Dark Canyon Wilderness Website
Technically a part of Bears Ears, Dark Canyon Wilderness is a southern Utah wilderness area named for high steep granite walls that narrow as they progress and block the light during various moments of the day.
Stone arches, old-growth ponderosa pines, meadows, and high deserts are among some of the ecological features of Dark Canyon Wilderness. This 47,000-acre wilderness sits atop a remote section of the Colorado plateau, with 360-degree views of sculpted sandstone walls and Ancestral Puebloan structures.
Backcountry hiking and camping are permitted in the wilderness area with a permit. Be aware of the dangers of hiking through the desert with little natural water and always be prepared with your own water filtration system.
Cedar Breaks National Monument
A mini Grand Canyon just outside of Cedar City
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Cedar Breaks National Monument Website
Located near Cedar City, the natural amphitheater of Cedar Breaks National Monument extends over 3 miles with 2,000-foot deep gorges. The rim of this spectacular spectacle stands 10,000 feet above sea level, giving Cedar Breaks a Grand Canyon-like feel.
Known by the Southern Paiute people as “u-map-wich” or “the place where the rocks are sliding down all the time,” Cedar Breaks boasts stone spires and columns similar to the Bryce Canyon features.
Recreation activities are abundant at Cedar Breaks National Monument like hiking into the gorge, photographing one of the world’s oldest trees, the Bristlecone Pine, camping, picnicking, and wildlife spotting.
Hovenweep National Monument
View Indigenous architecture that’s more than 1,000 years-old in southeastern Utah
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Hovenweep National Monument Website
Shared across borders by both southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah, Hovenweep National Monument is home to masonry that’s stood proud for centuries. This area was once home to 2,500 people in its height, including six prehistoric villages with structures perched on scenic canyon rims and balanced on boulders.
Stargazing is one of my favorite things to do in Hovenweep National Monument. National park service areas are home to some of the darkest skies in the U.S., including this southern Utah area. Gaze up at the stars as you relax at your campsite after a full day of hiking as the Ancestral Puebloans would have done 800 years prior.
Don’t forget to bring your telescope for a chance to view celestial occurrences up close and personal.
Rainbow Bridge National Monument
View one of the highest natural bridges by boat
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Rainbow Bridge National Monument Website
Home to the world’s highest natural bridge, Rainbow Bridge National Monument is one of the most unique monuments on the southern border with Arizona. Rainbow Bridge is held sacred by the Indigenous peoples of the area and is revered by its thousands of annual visitors.
Because this national monument is only easily accessible via boat from Lake Powell, it offers visitors added opportunities to be adventurous. Visitors may choose to backcountry hike to the bridge but must obtain a permit from the Navajo Nation beforehand.
👉 Pro Tip: Check out nearby Lake Powell tours here.
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
A Lake Powell water recreation oasis
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Website
The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area encompasses the land around Lake Powell and Cataract Canyon in AZ, one of the best places to go camping in Arizona. This area spans more than 1.2 million acres and covers rugged desert terrain.
This is the best place for water-based and backcountry recreation in Utah. Ski Lake Powell, raft down the unforgiving Colorado River or visit the nearby Rainbow Bridge and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments to consummate your ultimate Glen Canyon experience.
Popular Trails in Utah
Delicate Arch Trail
Hike to the most photographed arch in Utah
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Delicate Arch Trail Website
Delicate Arch is hands down the most photographed arch in Utah. This famous Southwestern symbol can be seen on most resident Utah license plates and has become a marker of Utah identity.
Delicate Arch is an Arches National Park inhabitant. As one of the most popular landmarks in Utah, the hike can quickly become overcrowded, especially on the weekends. I recommend doing a sunrise hike during the weekday for the most enjoyable experience.
Start hiking this 3.2-mile trail under the light of the moon (or your convenient headlamp if there’s a new moon). You may be a bit groggy but witnessing the soft sunrise hues crest the giant sandstone arch will be worth the sacrificed sleep.
🌳 Local Trivia: Did you know that the entirety of Arches National Park used to be underwater? The iconic park sandstone formations were transformed by the wind from sand into dunes that eventually petrified into the classic forms we know today.
Stand atop one of the highest points in Zion, a narrow mountain ridge
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Angels Landing Website
If you’re lucky enough to score an Angels Landing permit from Recreation.gov, count your blessings because this is the most coveted hike in Zion National Park.
The hike straddles a very narrow ridge to the summit, making this hike not suitable for those afraid of heights. As the most popular Zion National Park hike, in one of the top Utah national parks, it can be incredibly crowded, especially on the weekends. Hike during the week or early in the morning to avoid the bulk of the crowds.
👉 Pro Tip: This hike is open year-round but the last dangerous section with the ropes is closed during the winter.
The Zion Narrows
Wade through a semi-slot canyon that seemingly stretches on forever
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Zion Narrows Website
The Zion National Park Narrows is the most refreshing hike in the summertime when Utah temperatures frequently exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
You will want to venture into the wide water slot canyon in either water shoes or hiking sandals to avoid an unpleasant wet sock and shoe feel. Tour companies will try to push their water boots and huge wooden poles on you, but these items are unnecessary to rent.
The Narrows is one of the last stops on the Zion National Park shuttle. I recommend getting on the earliest shuttle possible so you can explore the deep narrows all day.
Experience a desert ocean at this natural anomaly on the Utah/Arizona border
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 The Wave Website
Located on the Utah/ Arizona border, The Wave is one of the most photographed destinations in the American Southwest. This Coyote Butte hotspot boasts incredible sandstone formations that are shaped like a paint-brushed wave.
The best time to visit The Wave is in the morning when shadows are limited and photography is prime. Because this location is so popular, a permit is required to visit and only 64 individuals are granted access per day.
Once you snag your permit, embark on a 6-mile round-trip hike to The Wave, a destination that’s more popular than some of Utah’s national parks.
Lower Calf Creek Falls
View waterfalls, rock art, and other natural wonders on this Grand Staircase-Escalante hike
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Golden Cathedral Trail Website
Mineral-streaked Navajo Sandstone cliffs pave the path to a looming waterfall, beaver ponds, and rock art sites in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
At just under 6 miles roundtrip, Lower Calf Creek Falls is a gem that’s accessible to most physical fitness types. I would recommend bringing good shoes though, as a lot of the hike is sandy and uneven.
Experience a raw form of remoteness at this red rock slot canyon in Escalante
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Coyote Gulch Website
Another famous Grand Staircase-Escalante trek, Coyote Gulch is a semi-narrow canyon that winds through red rock country, also famously known as “God’s country.”
At almost 17 miles, this trek is best completed as a multi-day adventure but ambitious hikers can tackle the hike in one long day. If you do choose to overnight the trek, be sure to leave no trace and be up-to-date with fire regulations.
Moon House Ruin
One of the most famous archaeological sites in Bears Ears National Monument
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Moon House Ruin Website
Bears Ears National Monument has no shortage of hiking trails or archaeological sites. This multi-room cliff dwelling dates to the AD 1200s in the Abajo Mountain area of Cedar Mesa.
An easy yet stunning hike brings visitors to several ruins, granaries, and kivas. The namesake room, Moon House, is a must-see with a moon painting on opposite room walls.
A short but sweet national park service hike throughout sandstone spires and hoodoos
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Queens Garden Website
A short, 1.8-mile hike in Bryce Canyon brings hikers to spectacular viewpoints of the park’s famous hoodoo formations. This lookout is one of the best ways to experience the spires of Bryce Canyon, so don’t forget to bring your professional camera to the Queens Garden.
White Rim Overlook
One of the most scenic viewpoints in Canyonlands, if not the entire state of Utah
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 White Rim Overlook Website
Perhaps the most popular hike in Canyonlands National Park, White Rim Overlook is a short, 1.8-mile trail just outside of Moab, Utah. White Rim is the most scenic overlook in the whole park but may be inaccessible in the winter due to large amounts of snow and ice.
Fairyland Loop Trail
A Bryce Canyon staple hike
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Fairyland Loop Trail Website
The Fairyland Loop Trail is located in one of the most popular Utah National Parks, Bryce Canyon. Starting in the northern portion of Bryce Canyon, hikers get up close and personal with the famous spires of the park and weave through iconic Utah desert flora at the floor of the canyon.
FAQs About the Best Utah National Parks and Monuments
What are the Big 5 national parks in Utah?
Arches National Park, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Capitol Reef National Park are the Big 5 national parks in Utah.
How many national parks and monuments are in Utah?
There are 5 national parks and 8 national monuments in Utah.
What is the most famous park in Utah?
Zion National Park is the most famous park in Utah, followed closely by Bryce Canyon, due to their close proximity.
What’s better, Zion or Arches?
Both Zion and Arches national parks offer spectacular nature views, trails, and camping. They are unique national parks that should both be visited if you have the time.
I hope you found my ultimate guide on the best Utah national parks, monuments, and trails helpful.
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You forgot Golden Spike Historical Park just west of Brigham City. It’s a National Park area in Utah and should be included.