Like Colorado, Utah is a state with a diversity of outdoor destinations, like the Uintas high in the state’s northeastern corner, the Wasatch Front and its famous canyons, and the red sandstone canyon lands that encompass much of the state’s southern half. Utah is also a state that sees plenty of visitors who are well aware of its natural beauty. Finding adventures you can’t miss in a place everyone knows is a challenge, especially if you appreciate the solitude and the beauty simultaneously—one, it seems, cannot be found without a cost to the other.
These places do exist, however, and we’ve done our best to put together a list of lesser-traveled adventures in the Beehive State that feature its fascinating geology, archeological history, and recreational diversity. Check out these 15 must-do adventures.
- Lava Tube Loop: In an area best known for its canyon lands, like Zion and Bryce national parks, Snow Canyon State Park goes relatively unnoticed. The 100-foot lava cave throws the region’s geological history into sharp relief, as well, ancient sandstone seabed against jet black lava.
- The Wave: An icon of outdoor photography, permits are difficult to acquire but the hype is justified. Wind erosion and eolian cross bedding make the sandstone resemble its namesake.
- Zebra Canyon + Tunnel Slot Hike: Of the many slot canyons to explore in the canyonlands of southern Utah, it’s preferable to find one that isn’t overrun with crowds, families, or park tourists. That’s why you won’t find the Narrows or Kanarra Creek on this list. The 8.5 miles to Zebra Canyon and beyond keeps many away, and the sandstone is just as pink and undulating.
- Kolob Arch: Another of Zion’s low-congestion hikes, Kolob Arch is the second-longest naturally forming arch in the world 14 miles into Kolob Canyon.
- Capitol Reef Scenic Drive: Ed Abbey is surely rolling in his grave, but sandstone country and scenic drives go together like a monkey wrench and bulldozers. Contradictions aside, Capitol Reef is little visited and beautifully adorned with sandstone canyons.
- Head of Sinbad: Simply stated, it’s remote, but one of the best-preserved pieces of rock art in the U.S. is found here.
- False Kiva: The archeological site isn’t on any park maps, and the reward is a mysterious religious site perched high in the canyon walls above Canyonlands National Park.
- The Needles: A well-known backpacking destination, the region of Canyonlands National Park includes an interconnected trail network with relatively little competition and fascinating geology.
- Mount Mellenthin Backcountry Ski: The same views of canyon country can be seen from 12,000 feet on skis in the wild La Sal Mountains, which see few skiers each year.
- Cathedral Valley: One of the most remote and little-visited sections of Capitol Reef National Park features some of its most striking sandstone formations, the Temples of the Sun and Moon.
- Antelope Island: When in Salt Lake City, most go east to find outdoor recreation. Antelope Island State Park an hour to the west boasts a herd of bison and spectacular views of the Wasatch Front.
- White Pine Grand Slam: A hiker’s challenge, the Slam beckons with four of the highest peaks in the Bear River Range and relatively short mileage, roughly 10 miles, to complete the conquests.
- Naturalist Basin: High in the Uinta Mountains, the Naturalist Basin is a backpacker’s dream with alpine lakes and rocky summits. Plan to spend a few days here.
- Gladys Lake: Among the Uinta’s best backcountry destinations, the hike in is long and the trailhead remote, but the reward is solitude and great fishing in Rock Creek Basin.
- Kings Peak: A summer and winter destination, Kings Peak is the highest summit in the state of Utah. At 16 miles one-way, it’ll make you pay for it, but the meadowlands along the way are more than enough to keep you engaged. If you’re skiing—well, that’s its own entertainment.