The 11 Best Utah National Parks and Monuments to Visit

From birding to bouldering to boating, Utah's national parks have it all.

By Zach Watson, Staff WriterApril 2, 2019
By Zach Watson, Staff WriterApril 2, 2019, at 10:00 a.m.
U.S. News & World Report

The 11 Best Utah National Parks and Monuments to Visit

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National parks and monument in Utah.
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U.S. News rounded up Utah's top national parks, monuments and recreation areas.

Almost two-thirds of Utah's land is federally owned, meaning that it's nearly impossible to traverse the state without cutting through some combination of national parks, monuments and recreation areas. The difference between these three national distinctions comes down to why the government chooses to protect the land. Some options for protection include scenic, historical or cultural value. Due to their immense range, the parks of Utah will appeal to every flavor of adventurous traveler. Keep in mind that nearly every park charges its own entry fee, but the bundled parks passes are an excellent way to save money.
National parks and monument in Utah.
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(Getty Images)

Arches National Park

Some of the red rock, celebrity structures at Arches National Park include Park Avenue and Courthouse Towers, Balanced Rock, the Windows Section, Delicate Arch and Devils Garden. In total, more than 2,000 formations populate the park, which sits in eastern Utah about 5 miles northwest of Moab. Vehicle access to the park costs $30, and the park is open year-round, though the busiest season is between the spring and fall. Hiking and photography are the main draws at Arches, and the park's 15 trails wind through around its notable attractions. More adventurous travelers can also take advantage of backpacking, rock climbing and canyoneering offerings in Arches.
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U.S. News rounded up Utah's top national parks, monuments and recreation areas.

Almost two-thirds of Utah's land is federally owned, meaning that it's nearly impossible to traverse the state without cutting through some combination of national parks, monuments and recreation areas. The difference between these three national distinctions comes down to why the government chooses to protect the land. Some options for protection include scenic, historical or cultural value. Due to their immense range, the parks of Utah will appeal to every flavor of adventurous traveler. Keep in mind that nearly every park charges its own entry fee, but the bundled parks passes are an excellent way to save money.

Arches National Park

Some of the red rock, celebrity structures at Arches National Park include Park Avenue and Courthouse Towers, Balanced Rock, the Windows Section, Delicate Arch and Devils Garden. In total, more than 2,000 formations populate the park, which sits in eastern Utah about 5 miles northwest of Moab. Vehicle access to the park costs $30, and the park is open year-round, though the busiest season is between the spring and fall. Hiking and photography are the main draws at Arches, and the park's 15 trails wind through around its notable attractions. More adventurous travelers can also take advantage of backpacking, rock climbing and canyoneering offerings in Arches.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Located about 250 miles south of Salt Lake City, Bryce Canyon boasts the largest concentration of hoodoos found anywhere on Earth. For non-geologists, hoodoos are tall, thin spires of rock scattered through basins or badlands. Fifteen trails attract hikers of all skill levels, while two campgrounds provide cheap sleeping options ($20 per tent site). To get into Bryce Canyon National Park, travelers will have to pay $35 per vehicle. Savvy travelers can take advantage of the park's various warm-weather festivals, including GeoFest, Utah Prairie Dog Day and the Astronomy Festival, as well as the year-round ranger-led programs.

Zion National Park

Though Zion National Park covers 232 square miles, the central geographic feature of Utah's first park is the Zion Canyon. The canyon is the starting point for 15 hiking trails and a paradise for rock climbers. Plus, Zion's status as an adventurer's wonderland is evident thanks to activities like backpacking, bicycling, canyoneering, river trips and horseback riding. The park is located in the southwest corner of Utah, roughly 16 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Private vehicle access costs $35 and is valid for one week. Three campgrounds are available at Zion and campsites can be booked for $20 to $130 per night.

Canyonlands National Park

Four districts make up the 527-square-mile Canyonlands National Park, which is located about 30 miles southwest of Moab. The Island in the Sky towers more than 1,000 feet over the rest of the park, and it's also the most accessible portion thanks to its location in the park's northeast corner. The Needles make up the southeast portion of Canyonlands and are a premier hiking destination because of the large spires of sandstone along the trails. Providing a challenge for experienced hikers, The Maze covers the rest of the dry land. The rivers divide the park's sections, and guided trips down the waterways are an excellent way to see large swaths of the park. Private vehicle access costs $30 and is good for a week, while camping fees vary.

Capitol Reef National Park

Far from an underwater destination in landlocked Utah, Capitol Reef instead memorializes the incredible Waterpocket Fold (also dry). A wrinkle on the earth located about 137 miles east of Moab, the fold stretches nearly 100 miles. The park offers many hikes, plus four bicycle routes for both experienced and amateur cyclists. If you're not much of a biker or walker, the park has six driving tours that showcase stunning views. Meanwhile, the cliffs that rise around the Waterpocket Fold make for excellent rock climbing. Weeklong admission to the park costs $20 per vehicle, and basic camping sites are free, while developed sites will cost travelers $20 per night (and reservations are strongly recommended).

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Situated in the southwest corner of Utah, about 205 miles northeast of Las Vegas, Cedar Breaks National Monument is one of Utah's lesser-known parks. Unlike the state's desert parks, Cedar Breaks flaunts a multitude of colors, which change with the seasons. In the summer, travelers can experience an explosion of colorful wildflowers. Fall attracts leaf peepers, drawn to the sub-alpine trees. Winter snow brings brilliant whites, while spring starts the cycle over again. Entrance to the park for a weeklong pass costs $7 per person for visitors ages 16 and older, while younger travelers can enter for free; the park also offers a handful of free entrance days throughout the year. The nightly fee at the park's lonesome campground is $24, and camping is available from mid-June through mid-September.

Hovenweep National Monument

Six prehistoric villages make up Hovenweep National Monument, which was once home to more than 2,500 people. Structures, which nomadic Paleo-Indians built between A.D. 1200 and 1300, still tower over the area's scenic canyons. The park sits on the eastern edge of Utah, about 120 miles south of Moab. Hikers can take advantage of the variety of trails, which connect the Ancestral Puebloan-style structures. Bird watchers also appreciate the park's assortment of relatively rare birds. Access to the park is free, while campgrounds cost $15 per night from March through October and $10 per night for the rest of the year.

Natural Bridges National Monument

Located about 116 miles southwest of Moab, Natural Bridges National Monument holds the distinction of being Utah's first national monument. It received this title in 1908. The namesake bridges are called Kachina, Owachomo and Sipapu, in honor of the Native Americans who once lived in the area. Each of the three bridges offers numerous overlooks of the surrounding desert and canyons. Seven hiking trails wind through the park, with four easy options and three moderately difficult choices. Three loop hikes, which connect the bridges, are also available if you want to see two or three of the bridges and don't mind the distance. Be sure to keep an eye out for the park's rare birds. Weeklong vehicle access to the park costs $20. Camping costs $15 per night from March through October and $10 from November through February.

Rainbow Bridge National Monument

The trek to Rainbow Bridge National Monument is an adventure in and of itself. The massive structure towers over visitors near the southern edge of Utah, about 260 miles southwest of Moab and 366 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Driving to the impressive arch isn't an option: It is only accessible by boat or hike. Boating is the easier option, despite the 1.5-mile walk to the Rainbow Bridge observation area from the water's edge. Alternatively, backpackers can purchase a backcountry permit from the Navajo Nation and take on one of two fairly difficult treks to the structure. There is no entrance fee to Rainbow Bridge National Monument.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Water-based activities reign over the offerings at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The massive area covers 1,953 square miles of desert and water environments. Boating, fishing, kayaking and swimming round out the area's aquatic options, while land lovers can take advantage of mountain biking, hiking and scenic drives. About 170 miles southwest of Moab, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area allows weeklong vehicle or boat access for $30. The park also offers a handful of fee-free days throughout the year. Campsite costs range from free to $20 per night, depending on the site, while many guided tours are also available for additional fees.

Dinosaur National Monument

While it's not quite “Jurassic Park,” fans of the Mesozoic Era will certainly appreciate Dinosaur National Monument. The monument straddles the Utah-Colorado border, about 188 miles east of Salt Lake City and 244 miles west of Denver. The Quarry Exhibit Hall sits on the Utah side of the monument, where travelers can marvel at roughly 1,500 dinosaur bones. The park's Utah side also houses a majority of its petroglyphs and pictographs, which are ancient depictions of people and animals. Travelers in search of scenic vistas should explore the park's larger area in Colorado. The weeklong, private vehicle entrance fee for Dinosaur National Monument costs $25, and camping sites start at $6. Looking to explore more national parks? See our ranking of the Best National Parks in the USA »
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Zach Watson, Staff Writer

Zach Watson is an Associate Editor for the Travel section at U.S. News, where he writes and ...  Read more

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