Utah National Parks Vacation
Southern Utah's National & State Parks are a feast for your eyes and other senses!
In the slide show above, you're viewing pictures of Utah family attractions,
from the state's superlative national parks and other splendors of nature, to city activities more similar to attractions you may have in your own home town. On this page, you'll discover some of Utah's best attractions in & around its famous national parks...which you may want to consider for your own family's vacation itinerary.
Utah's national parks are world-famous
All ages from kids to teens to adults may enjoy the beauty of Utah's national parks...and the opportunity for adventure, too!
If Utah weren't already nicknamed "The Beehive State," it surely could be called "The National Park State" just as easily.
Utah's national parks are world-renowned, and if you'll be visiting the state, you're going to have the opportunity to witness nature's rugged Western beauty first-hand.
Mother Nature seems to have played the part of an artist here in the state of Utah. In Southern Utah's 5 national parks (as well as the region's national monuments and state parks,) striking shades of red and brown rocks have been eroded into the most awe-inspiring shapes and formations.
What are Utah's best National Parks? Perhaps no one's list of Utah National Parks & Monuments is going to be the same as anyone else's; everyone has their own favorites. But the GOOD thing is that there are NO bad choices! It's a safe bet to say, however, that if you visit Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and/or Arches National Park, you won't be disappointed. These 3 popular parks show up on many tourist's best Utah national parks" list for a very good reason!
There are clusters of famous sights to see in Southeastern, South Central and Southwestern Utah. The area is packed with both state and national parks celebrating nature's beauty, so no matter which way you turn, it will be hard to miss viewing some spectacles. Below is a listing of Southern Utah's National Parks, National Monuments and State Parks that you'll want to consider for your itinerary.
WHILE YOU'RE IN SOUTHERN UTAH ENJOYING THE NATIONAL PARKS, you should know that there are some nearby attractions in Arizona and Colorado that you should consider adding to your vacation. One of these is Mesa Verde NP, which (in addition to being a US National Park) is ALSO a World Heritage Site. Mesa Verde's location in the southwestern corner of Colorado makes it even easier to include in a Utah road trip than in a vacation to Denver! You can see Mesa Verde pictures and get more information on our Mesa Verde National Park Camping page, if you're interested.
Arizona's Monument Valley is a stunning southwestern USA attraction, and it's also an easy add-on to a Southern Utah trip. So is the Four Corners Monument, which marks the only spot in the USA where 4 states come together like 4 equal slices of pie. You can get more information about enjoying Monument Valley and the 4 Corners on our Things to Do in Northern Arizona page.
Southwestern Utah's National Parks and Monuments
If you're entering Utah from California or Nevada along I-15,
you'll find yourself at the gateway to a cluster of spectacular sights not too far off of the interstate. As you read through this section, you may refer to the Google Custom Map of some of Southwestern Utah's scenic wonders (to your left.)
Zion National Park
* The very popular Zion National Park, well-known for its handsome, rugged scenery, is easy to reach from I-15, and provides fun activities for kids & teens, such as interpretive hikes, ranger talks and interesting exhibits in the Zion NP Visitor's Center. For families with more time to linger & explore, activities such as jeep tours, biking, horseback riding and river tubing are available. Here's the Zion National Park website, where you may get further information.
* Zion Canyon Giant Screen Theater: Not everyone agrees that national parks should have amenities other than "nature itself," but personally, we enjoy having other memorable and informative interpretive exhibits available (in addition to the park's own visitor's centers.) The Zion Canyon Giant Screen Theater (formerly the Zion IMAX theater) is one such memorable attraction. The photography is breathtaking, and we think that it's a worthwhile add-on to your visit that most people will enjoy. For prices, showtimes & a peek of clips from the movie, here's the Zion Canyon Movie Theater website.
* St George, UT family activities near Zion National Park: Of course there are places to stay closer to Zion's National Park, but a number of families choose to spend the night in the larger town of St. George, Utah. Kids (and teens & adults, too) may wish to enjoy some of the town's family fun centers during their visit. At the Fiesta Fun Family Fun Center, you'll find an attractive outdoor center with go karts, bumper boats, outdoor miniature golf, batting cages, driving range, and more (including an indoor game arcade.) Also fun is the Laser Mania Family Fun Center, where you may not only get in on an exciting game of laser tag, but also ride bumper cars & enjoy a game of indoor mini golf...complete with black light decorations! Here are the Fiesta Fun Center and the Laser Mania websites, where you'll find complete details and info.
St. George is also a center of outdoor recreational opportunities, including golf, mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, jeep tours, fishing and more. You can discover how & where to get in on the excitement at the "Do St George" website.
Cedar Breaks National MonumentCedar Breaks Nat Mon & Brian Head resort:
Much smaller than Zion National Park...but beautiful to view, if you've got the time...is Cedar Breaks National Monument. From Cedar City, head east on SR 14 (aka Utah 14, U-14) and then turn north on SR 148. There will be a number of marked viewing points for the Cedar Breaks amphitheater-shaped formation along Utah 148, including Spectra Point, Sunset View, Chessmen Ridge and Point Supreme. There is a small visitor's center at Spectra Point. Hiking trails are available. (Note: Snows generally keep this highway closed between some time in October thru May.) Here's a link to the Cedar Breaks National Monument website,
for further info.
Brian Head Ski Resort: Only a short distance north of Cedar Breaks NM is the Brian Head Ski Resort. Adventurous, active families with older kids & teens may wish to enjoy the resort's summer mountain biking facilities. Bike rentals are available...and so are lift passes so that you may take the lift up; bike down. You may wish to browse through the Brian Head Resort website for complete information.
In the slide show above, you're viewing pictures of Bryce Canyon National Park,
one of America's most beautiful...and unique...locations in the entire National Park System.
Bryce Canyon NP & Coral Dunes SP
Another spectacular national park in Southeastern Utah is Bryce Canyon. Although it's further from Interstate 15 than Zion NP or Cedar Breaks NM, its highly unique and stunning scenery make a visit well worth the drive. Once you arrive, you may enjoy camping, hiking, horseback trails, ranger talks and visitor's center displays. Lodging is available both at the park and at the famous Ruby's Inn nearby. So popular is Bryce Canyon among European visitors, that on any given summer day that you visit here, you're quite likely to hear French, German and British English being spoken as you enjoy the area's attractions, restaurants & gift shops. Watch out for people riding bikes along the area's 2-lane highways, as well; it's another popular activity that many adventuresome tourists enjoy here. You'll undoubtedly wish to view the Bryce Canyon National Park website for complete details about the park's activities.
PDF map of Bryce Canyon National Park: Here's a printable PDF map of Bryce Canyon National Park's trails and facilities which you may like to take with you along the way as you decide which of the park's features you'd like to enjoy first.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park: Still another geologically-interesting area is the lovely Coral Pink Sand Dunes SP. You may observe the dunes & enjoy the visitor's center...or try some more active fun in the OHV section of the park. Here's a link to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes SP website, where you can get the info needed to make your plans. If you're an OHV enthusiast, the www.DuneGuide.com website will tell you what you need to know to enjoy your sport in this location. Also, here's a detailed map of the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park from the DuneGuide.com to help you find your way around.
List of Southeastern Utah National Parks
and other scenic & historical destinations
US Highway 191 running southwards from I-70 to the Arizona border is another one of Utah's scenic highlights.
This is a rugged terrain, and exquisite red rocks carved by winds, sands and water are this area's best feature. In addition, history buffs will enjoy the Anasazi Indian sites that dot this scenic route. Views along US Hwy 191 are most spectacular in the afternoon hours...when the sun shines directly on the fabulous red rocks, making them lovlier than ever.
Arches NP & Moab, UT attractions
Moab, Utah is the largest southeastern tourist town along US 191. This is where more visitors eat their meals and spend the night. Tourism is bustling every spring, summer and fall in Moab...and despite the generous number of hotels and campgrounds here, during the busiest part of the tourist season, space is always tight. We recommend that you have reservations before you arrive, if at all possible. Otherwise, Moab is a casual town where you can relax, be comfortable, and enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings to the fullest.
* Arches National Park is easily accessible from I-70; it's about a 30 minute drive from the Interstate. Before heading south to Moab, the scenic small town in which Arches NP is located, it's best to decide about your lodging for the night. The price of hotels in Moab is substantially higher in Moab than in Green River, Utah, which sits directly on I-70 not far from the turn to Arches NP. Another factor is whether or not you have a hotel reservation in Moab. There are times when the town's hotel rooms are simply all booked up...especially if you happen to be arriving in the evening time.
Arches National Park is one of Southern Utah's most scenic wonders. Located within its borders are over 2,000 natural arches...an astounding number! Of course you won't see them all, since there's a considerable amount of back-country terrain to which most tourists never venture. Nevertheless, many of the park's spectacular arches are reach-able by the park's interior roadways. The hike to Delicate Arch (which is so famous that you'll see it on every Utah license plate) is a breath-taking hike that may end up becoming your most memorable moment in any US National Park, if you undertake it. We'd recommend that families wait until the kids become tweens or teens; it's simply too strenuous a hike for little tykes. We'd also like to insist that you take a camera; we didn't, thinking that a postcard would fit the bill. It doesn't. Delicate Arch is just one of those places where you'll want to have the delight of seeing YOURSELF in the photo as you reminisce in the months & years to come!
Arches info & PDF Map of Arches National Park: If you'd like to plan out your list of activities ahead of time, here's the Arches NP website, plus a handy PDF printable map of Arches National Park which you may wish to use as a guide to its many scenic points of interest and hiking trails.* Moab's river rafting, on the other hand, is perfect for smaller children.
Most outfitters have Age 6 as a minimum requirement...and life jackets are needed by everyone of all ages. Nevertheless, if you'd like to give your kids a relatively calm-water introduction to the fun of river rafting, Moab's section of the Colorado River a good place to do it. Rafting companies will provide all supplies, drive you eastwards from Moab to the start of your river adventure, then bus you back to their headquarters to pick up your car once the journey has ended.
Moab is also a world-famous center for mountain biking. Back-country jeep tours are also popular here, as is hiking. To discover more about the fun you may have in Moab, or find an outfitter or hotel, here's a link to Moab, Utah's tourism website.
* Dead Horse State Park overlooks a scenic section of rugged western terrain. Dead Horse Point is reached by car from a point near the entrance to Arches National Park (Seven Mile Canyon Rd/SR 313.) No services are along the way; don't embark on the side-trip unless your car is in good condition and has sufficient gas. (It's a 40-mile round trip.) For further info, here's the Dead Horse Point SP website.
* Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands NP: SR 313 (the road to Dead Horse Point SP) is also the road you'll use if you're visiting the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park. Hiking trails are available, and there's a Visitor's Center. Here's the Canyonlands NP website, and also a PDF printable map to the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands NP. You may also refer to the Google Custom Map (to your left.)
* Hole in the Rock: If you're looking for a whacky attraction that seems to stepped straight out of the days of early automobile travel, then you'll want to stop at Hole N the Rock (south of Moab on US 191.) Originally intended to be a private home dug into an interesting red-rock formation, Hole In The Rock now consists of the original home tour PLUS a petting zoo, gift shop and crafts exhibition. Here's the Hole in the Rock website for details. (You may see a photo of this attraction on your right, just below.)
Canyonlands NP & Utah Attractions near Monticello, UT
Canyonlands National Park, Needles Section: If you want to view the Needles section of Canyonlands NP, then that will require a separate trip! To reach the Needles unit of the park, head south from Moab on US 191. Then, turn west on SR 211. Here's the Canyonlands NP website, and also a printable PDF map of Canyonlands National Park (Needles section) which will show you where the various features and hiking trails are located.
Newspaper Rock State Historical Monument: SR 211 is also the road you'll want to take if you'd like to see the very interesting Newspaper Rock historical site. You'll see drawings and etchings made by generations of ancient Anasazi Indians here. Camera buffs will want to bring a wide-angle lens; of course, these days, you can use the "stitch" mode of your digital camera. The rock is much longer than it is wide. A primitive campground is adjacent to the monument. Here's a link to the Newspaper Rock web page on the Utah.com tourism website for further information.
Mexican Hat & Utah attractions near Blanding, UT
Visitor's Center in Blanding: Blanding, Utah has a nice visitor's center with exhibits, brochures, helpful employees, and nice restrooms. If you stay on US Hwy 191, you'll see it plainly marked on the west side of the road. If you have young kids, they'll love being able to get out and stretch on the visitor center's lush green lawns. Shaded picnic pavilions and a children's playground are also on the grounds outside the Blanding visitor's center. Here's a link to the Blanding.org website where you can discover tourist services in this area.
Natural Bridges National Monument: Not far south of Blanding, Utah, you'll reach SR 95, which is the turn you should take westward if you're heading to the Natural Bridges National Monument. If you've got wiggly kids, this is not a side-trip I'd recommend. It's not quick & if you've just visited Arches National Park, you may find this smaller National Monument just "more of the same." However, anyone with a keen interest in geology will enjoy making the trek. A circular roadway passes the park's best features; a visitor's center and campground are available. Here's the Natural Bridges NM website, and here is a PDF map of Natural Bridges National Monument which you may enjoy printing at home before you visit.
Hovenweep National Monument: Utah has a section of the Hovenweep NM inside its borders. To reach it, head east on SR 262/Hovenweep Rd. You'll see a small number of ruins here. These are not as spectacular as the Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings in Colorado...which you might be visiting since it's a very major attraction in the Southwest. However, the Hovenweep ruins are not cliff-dwellings, so they look entirely different. History buffs may appreciate taking the side trip. Here's a link to the Hovenweep National Monument website.
Mexican Hat, Goosenecks State Park and Monument Valley: South of Bluff, Utah, you'll leave US 191 and take US Hwy 163...assuming that you're interested in viewing Arizona's spectacular Monument Valley and Navajo Tribal Park. (Actually, you won't have to make a turn-off; US 191 turns into US 163, and you'll only need to make a turn if you wish to stay heading south on US 191.
Goosenecks State Park showcases still MORE spectacular geological formations. Leave US 163 at SR 261 & head west; then take SR 316 to reach the park. Signs are posted to help you find your way. Here is the Goosenecks State Park website, which will give you further information.
In the slide show above, you're viewing pictures of Utah's famous Mexican Hat
and other spectacular rock formations along US 89 (in the southwestern corner of Utah.)
Mexican Hat Rock: Directions---Along the way to Monument Valley, you'll pass Mexican Hat, one of the most fascinating single rock formations in the Southwest. Named after its distinctive sombrero-like shape, a large flat rock seems to be precariously balanced atop a spire-like formation. You may view Mexican Hat Rock from one of US 163's turn-outs...or you may take a dirt road towards the rock to get a closer view. If you stay on US Hwy 163, you can get good photos of Mexican Hat from the area around Mile Marker 24; the turn-off to view the rock is south of that point. (You may enlarge the Google Custom Map above to use as a map to Mexican Hat rock.) The dirt road isn't in very good shape, but it's passable. The small town of Mexican Hat is nearby.
Four Corners monument: Utah is one of the famous "4 Corners" states, and is represented at the monument marking where the states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet. Unfortunately, the monument is not accessible from Utah roads. You'll need to drive along US Hwy 160, which runs through Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado (with the actual road out to the monument departing the highway in New Mexico.) You may view the Google Custom Map to your left to plan your route to reach the 4 Corners Monument.
MORE beautiful red-rock formations are over the state line in Arizona, including Monument Valley! If you have enjoyed the natural splendor of southern Utah's National Parks, you'll be glad to know that the scenic wonders don't stop at Utah's border. You'll find plenty of rugged western scenery in nearby Arizona, too! Please see our Things to do in Arizona and our I-40 Trip Planner to discover Arizona's unique natural wonders such as Monument Valley, Meteor Crater and the Petrified Forest.
South Central Utah National & State Parks
Utah's south central region may be one of the least-populated portions of the state,
but you'd never guess that if you arrive on a sunny weekend afternoon. Any number of the area's back roads may be filled with pickup trucks towing boats to the lake...the large & popular Lake Powell, that is! What fun things to do can you find in South Central Utah? Here are some ideas your family might enjoy trying--
* Goblin Valley State Park: Like so many of Southern Utah's other attractions, Goblin Valley SP showcases some of the area's unique geology. You might imagine that after visiting several Utah national parks, you've "seen it all." Yet, you'd only be partially right. Goblin Valley does feature interesting rock formations, true...but these are shaped in such a distinctive way that looks like legions of alien bodies are massing to take over the Earth. (Well...if you use your imagination, that is! The area was first called "Mushroom Valley," because the formations can also remind people of these edible delicacies.) Hiking is a popular activity at Goblin Valley, and a Visitor's Center is on site. Here's Goblin Valley SP info from the Utah State Tourism website and from the Goblin Valley State Park website.
Capitol Reef National Park: Formed to preserve a 100-mile long geological structure, the Capitol Reef NP is one of the least-visited of the Southern Utah National Parks. At Fruita, the orchards of an old farming settlement remain. The Park Service tends the orchards...and when the fruit is ripe, park visitors may pick them! Here's the Capitol Reef National Park website to help you plan. And, here's a printable PDF map of Capitol Reef National Park which can help you find park features such as hiking trails, campgrounds and points of interest.
Utah SR 12 attractions: The map of Capitol Reef (see link above) also shows you a scenic route through the nearby Dixie National Forest. This quiet road seems a world away from the nearby stark rock attractions. Mountainous and tree-laden, the tranquil green colors of the Dixie National Forest make relaxing and lovely drive. And, if you head south, pass the Anasazi Indian State Park (ancient ruins) and eventually reach the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument, another one of the state's numerous protected areas. Here are the Anasazi State Park and the Grand Staircase-Escalante NM websites, for you to use in planning your trip.
Glen Canyon NRA and Lake Powell: Lake Powell and the surrounding Glen Canyon National Recreation Area are popular attractions, particularly with boating-enthusiasts. However, you don't have to be a boater to enjoy the park. Interpretive displays are available at the Bullfrog Visitor's Center when you reach the park by heading south from I-70...and 2 other visitor's centers are located elsewhere. Here's the Glen Canyon NRA website, which can fill you in on the park's details.
PDF maps of Glen Canyon NRA and Lake Powell: The Glen Canyon NRA covers a huge amount of land. It's difficult to see it all clearly, which is why the park produces a number of different maps. If you'd like see and print up the all-encompassing PDF map of the Glen Canyon NRA, you'll see an overview of the park's entire area, attractions and services. A close-up PDF map of the Lake Powell's Bullfrog launch area will be of particular interest to Utay travelers. It will show you the exact locations of gas, ramps, the RV & tent campgrounds, swimming beach and the visitor's center. Also of interest to Utah tourists would be the PDF map of Hall's Crossing, including all services, campground and ferry location (to Bullfrog.) Maps of still other Glen Canyon NRA & Lake Powell areas (including the Page, AZ facilities) may be found on the Glen Canyon NRA Maps page of the park's informative website.
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