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(2022 - Spring/Summer Issue)


From wildflower-dotted alpine meadows to dusty red-rock canyons, Utah is a land of extremes. The only bummer of road-tripping here is that there’s never enough time to see it all. Here are a couple of itineraries, though you can easily create your own adventure. Either way, Utah’s boundless byways are ready for exploration this summer.

Remote Deserts: Green River to Cedar City

You quickly become immersed in the isolated wilds of the Utah desert as you head south on Utah Route 24 west of Green River. Here, juniper bushes dot building-less expanses. Beyond them, the cliffs of the San Rafael Swell rise like rows of shark teeth from the valley floor.

Along this route you’ll find isolated Goblin Valley State Park, and its menagerie of hoodoo rocks, formations resembling mythological beasts frozen in stone. Plan on an extra few hours to hike the Little Wild Horse slot canyon—so narrow in spots that your shoulders will scrape the sculpted sandstone walls.

Continue southwest on Route 24, making a small detour through the mesas of Capitol Reef National Park, before turning south onto Scenic Byway 12. Hike to the swimming hole at Lower Calf Creek Falls, or through the sprawling wilderness and find out why Kodachrome Basin State Park rightly was named after the vibrant film brand (Hint: it’s a photographer’s paradise). You’re surrounded by Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument so take a short hike to view one of the last locations in the continental United States to be mapped.

Next up are the grand hoodoo spires of Bryce Canyon National Park and Cedar Breaks National Monument (the latter of which is on Utah Route 143/148), before landing back in civilization in Cedar City and its annual Shakespeare festival that runs in summer and fall.

Insider tip: Avoid walking on dirt with a black crust on top. This desert cryptobiotic soil is essential to ecosystems, takes thousands of years to form, but can be destroyed with a single footstep.

Did you know? Southern Utah is one of the only places in the world where you can see endangered California condors, the largest bird in North America.

Mountains and Rivers: Salt Lake City to Flaming Gorge

As you climb east out of Salt Lake City to the glitzy ski town of Park City, the air becomes crisp and laced with the scent of sun-baked pine trees. Take a chairlift ride up the slopes to see a tapestry of aspen leaves and wildflowers. Or shoot down them at 100 km/h on one of the world’s only Olympic bobsled courses open to the public.

Next up, it’s time to see who lived in Utah 149 million years ago. Head east on U.S. 40 and then U.S. 191 to Dinosaur National Monument, where you can see 1,500 or so dinosaur bones at a paleontological excavation site. Nearby are also rock petroglyphs created by the Fremont culture dating back a millennium.

Further north up U.S. 191 lands you at Flaming Gorge, where you can fish, ride horses, camp, kayak, whitewater raft on the Green River, or just drive the Scenic Byway of Utah Route 44. On the way back to Salt Lake City, a side trip on Utah 150 brings you into the heart of the Uinta Mountains. Part of the Rocky Mountains, the Uinta’s claim-to-fame is as the highest range in the country with no modern glaciers.

The Other Side of Southern Utah

You have probably heard of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. They top the list for Southern Utah newcomers. But for those of us who seek more low-key, low-crowd desert wanderings, there are dozens of other rugged canyons, sweeping vistas and even alpine hikes.

Here are a few highlights of Southern Utah’s lesser-known gems, all of which are within striking distance of Moab.

Dead Horse Point State Park

The overlook here will help you get your bearings on where you want the next few days of exploration to take you. Stand atop the canyon rim and watch the Colorado River flow lazily around a 180-degree bend, 300 metres below. Beyond, the pinnacles and precipices of Canyonlands stretch past the horizon, unfolding a geologic story millions of years in the making. You can drive to the view, but a mountain bike or hike once you’re there really helps you get intimate with the landscape.

La Sal Mountains

Just to the southeast, the peaks of the La Sal Mountains rise above Moab, their snow-capped peaks topping out at nearly 4,000 metres above sea level. Drive the 100-kilometre National Forest Service loop road through pine and aspen forests. You might even catch a glimpse of foxes, wild turkeys and black bear. Bring a picnic to enjoy in a mountain meadow, before rolling back down into the red-rock desert.

Natural Bridges National Monument

You can see all three natural sandstone arches from the loop road, or get up-close and personal with them and other curious rock formations along an easy hike. After dark, the stellar show begins. The night is so dark and the skies are so clear here that in 2007 Natural Bridges was named the world’s first International Dark Sky Park.

Insider Tip: Route 95 toward Natural Bridges passes several 800-year-old Ancestral Puebloan dwellings, including Butler Wash (visible from the parking area) and House on Fire (a bit of a hike). Please review ethics and how to be respectful  when visiting Indigenous sites. See friendsofcedarmesa.org/visit-with-respect-video-series.

Moki Dugway

Head south of Natural Bridges, on Utah Route 261, and heed the signs urging you to slow down. They signify you are about to embark on a true Utah rite of passage—the Moki Dugway. Here, the road turns to dirt for a 5-kilometre, 365-metre hairpin-curved descent. Downshift to play it safe, and leave the sightseeing “oohs” and “aaahs” for the passengers.

Goosenecks State Park

Another river-bend vista, this small park overlooks the San Juan, where it has carved its way through 300 million years of geologic layers. There’s camping here, and a hike out to the end of the mesa.

Monument Valley

Unless you grew up without a television, you’re sure to recognize the rocky spires and desolate strip of highway cutting across this isolated, iconic valley. (Hint: Think Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey). Stop for a photo op, as well as jewellery, art and other wares from Navajo vendors.

Did you know? Southeast Utah has been inhabited for more than 10,000 years, and there is even a petroglyph of a mammoth in the area, suggesting they once shared the area with humans.

The Beehive State is Ready for Its Close-up

What do so many Hollywood movies have in common? Utah. In countless films, Utah has played other states, countries, planets, and lately as the setting to everyone’s current favourite streaming series, Yellowstone.

The Beehive State (a.k.a. Utah) has become such a part of cinematic history that it’s practically become a pilgrimage place for film nerds.

We’re zooming in on a few celluloid classics and itineraries to show just how much Utah is America’s Film Set:

A Thelma and Louise Road Trip

Much of the seminal 1991 femme film was shot in Utah, making it the ultimate bucket list road trip. So grab your bestie and hit the road (1966 Ford Thunderbird convertible optional). Drive to Courthouse Towers, one of the 2,000 spectacular natural sandstone formations in Arches National Park where the police pulled over the infamous duo. Spend a day trekking through ghost towns like tiny Cisco, the film location for the police chase scene. And of course, don’t miss Dead Horse Point State Park. The sublime canyons substituted as the Grand Canyon in the famous final scene. visitutah.com/plan-your-trip/recommended-itineraries/thelma-louise-road-trip

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Road Trip

The itinerary following the iconic outlaw film takes you from Salt Lake City or Park City to Zion National Park. Along the way, stop in the ghost town of Grafton, a deserted Mormon community on the Virgin River, where stars Robert Redford and Paul Newman galloped in tandem on horses. Drive further past the desolate badlands and dramatic desert, and soak in the views at Snow Canyon State Park, which was the location for another infamous renegade chase scene. In this movie-set itinerary, you’ll drive in parts along an All-American Road, Scenic Byway 12, where the open skies, rocky backdrop and the off-the-beaten-path road make it a blissful driving heaven. visitutah.com/plan-your-trip/recommended-itineraries/butch-cassidys-west

A Trekkie’s Trek through Utah’s Otherworldly Landscapes

Trekkies, unite! Utah’s surreal and otherworldly scenery has made it the perfect place to film the 2009 Star Trek reboot as the surface of Vulcan. The out-of-this-world film was shot near Three Fingers Canyon, and the huge rock reef and metres-deep gorges of San Rafael Swell. Take a hike there and grab a selfie while you immerse in the planet Vulcan, trudging on terra firma with its 100+ million years of earth history. Meanwhile, the 1999 Star Trek parody Galaxy Quest was filmed at Goblin Valley State Park. The park’s unique Martian-like rocks or “goblins” (known locally as hoodoos) was an ideal stand-in for the planet where the commander battled an alien rock monster!

Insider Tip: Have a drink at the Owl Bar, at the Sundance Mountain Resort, owned by film legend Robert Redford. The restored 1890 bar counter is where barkeeps served the real Butch Cassidy and his “Hole-in-the-Wall” gang.


Consider those ethereal amber-tinged sandstone walls of Kanarra Canyon. They are stunning for a reason. They’ve been untouched. Mindful tourism starts with minimizing your footprint but the term also means positively impacting the place you visit with your vacation dollars. Become a local while you’re there. By having your own haunts during your stay, you’ll engage with owners and regulars, learn their stories and share yours.

Here are some other lesser-known tips for mindful travel in Utah:

Come When the Crowds Don’t

The state’s breathtaking natural beauty is legendary. Yet pre-COVID, some of Utah’s iconic landmarks were really being “loved to death” with over-tourism, especially in high season. Consider visiting during off-peak times. Late fall is actually the perfect time to hike Snow Canyon State Park when this hiker’s paradise through sand dunes and lava tubes is not too hot or crowded. So there’s no need to start at 6 a.m. to beat the crowds and heat.

’Gram Good

Think taking a photo doesn’t do any harm? Sometimes there seem to be as many people taking selfies in the fields during Cedar Breaks Wildflower Festival as there are wild blooms! That’s a lot of tramping on wildflowers! If you have to get the shot, walk on established paths. Same for Utah’s red-rock deserts and their rich but fragile biological soil crust. You might want the angle no one else has, but to prevent damaging the terrain, always stay on existing trails or else durable slickrock. And be mindful of where you plant your tripod. Avoid light pollution, too. Goblin Valley State Park is not just home to hundreds of unique mushroom-shaped rocks. It’s one of Utah’s designated International Dark Sky Parks, offering gobsmacking celestial experiences.

Waste Not

You know to pack food when camping or hiking but you might not know that human waste has to be properly disposed of too, especially in the desert. Desert environments don’t benefit from human “fertilizer;” waste can take up to a year to break down. Luckily there’s a way to pack it that’s not too gross: a W.A.G. Bag. They’re basically dog bags for humans in the backcountry. Just tell yourself you’re doing your part to keep Utah beautiful!

Travel Planner

For  travel information about Utah see visitutah.com

Visit these tour operators for your Utah trip bookings:

Intrepid Travel intrepidtravel.com/ca/united-states/utah;

Authentik USA authentikusa.com/ca-en/holidays/road-trip-utah; and

Kensington Tours kensingtontours.com/tours/us-and-canada/national-parks-of-the-west. Watch for Air Canada’s direct service from Toronto to Salt Lake City, Utah starting in June. aircanada.com/en-ca/flights-to-salt-lake-city

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