The state of Utah’s Mighty Five campaign has ensured that everyone now knows about the five national parks there. Visitor numbers are booming, as people from around the world come to see the stunning red rocks and canyons. But Utah has an impressive array of state parks, too. If you’re looking for inspiring scenery and jaw-dropping overlooks, these four Utah state parks are sure to wow you.
Dead Horse Point State Park
It’s often said that the view from Dead Horse Point rivals that of the Grand Canyon. Even though the Grand Canyon is a geologic panorama on a much larger scale, the same forces created the vista you see from this Utah state park. The rock strata visible from the overlook are the result of more than 300 million years of erosional history, from the Pennsylvanian to the Jurassic Period.
Most visitors make a beeline for the overlook at the end of the road, but taking advantage of the park’s eight miles of hiking trails gives you a completely different perspective of the grand views. Mountain bikers take heed: In 2009, the park opened the Intrepid Trail System, a network of single-track mountain bike trails for riders of various skill levels. An interesting side note: Thelma and Louise took their famous final plunge from a plateau off the Shafer Trail below Dead Horse Point, which served as a “stunt double” for the Grand Canyon in the movie.
Camping: 21 campsites and three yurts
What’s Close: Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park
Goosenecks State Park
This Utah state park may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of canyon country, but Goosenecks is without a doubt one of the most impressive viewpoints in the American Southwest. About 1,000 feet below the rim, the San Juan River has carved a deep canyon that snakes around three tight turns called the “goosenecks.” This section of the river has so many hairpin loops that it flows for six miles while only advancing about a mile and a half in actual distance. Millions of years ago, the San Juan River flowed on a flat plain. During a period of geological uplift, the landscape rose, causing the river to cut into the land and carve the meanders that are visible today from the Goosenecks overlook.
If you’re keen to experience the Goosenecks from the bottom looking up, you can take a raft trip down the San Juan River. Several companies offer guided trips on the San Juan, including day trips that float the 26 miles between Bluff and Mexican Hat and multi-day trips covering up to 84 miles. Only the multi-day trips include the Goosenecks section.
Camping: primitive camping only (8 designated sites along rim)
What’s Close: Monument Valley, Valley of the Gods
Goblin Valley State Park
When you take your first peek at Goblin Valley from the overlook, you’ll understand why early settler Arthur Chaffin named this area “Mushroom Valley.” As you wander among the weirdly shaped rocks, it’s not hard to imagine that you’re roaming around another planet. In fact, Goblin Valley’s “mushrooms” have been discovered by Hollywood. Portions of the 1999 film Galaxy Quest were shot here to portray an alien planet, and in 2010 an area not far from Goblin Valley served as the Martian landscape in the film John Carter.
Goblin Valley is a must-do stop if you’re traveling with children. I don’t think there’s a kid on the planet who wouldn’t gladly give up their video games to spend a day scrambling through the maze of hoodoos here. I used to have to drag my son out of here kicking and screaming when it was time for us to leave. Be aware that summer daytime temperatures can be very hot. The record high is 114, which was set in July 2003. Carry water with you, even on short jaunts through the goblins.
Camping: 25 campsites and two yurts
What’s Close: Capitol Reef National Park, Canyonlands Maze District
Kodachrome Basin State Park
Given that Bryce Canyon National Park sees more than a million visitors each year, it’s a bit surprising that less than 50,000 of those people go to this Utah state park, which is just 20 miles from the popular national park. But regardless of whether Bryce Canyon is on your itinerary, Kodachrome Basin State Park is definitely worth a short stop or a longer stay.
Kodachrome Basin got its name after a National Geographic Society expedition photographed the area in the late 1940s. They found the area’s colorful features to be so photogenic that they named it after Kodak’s popular color film. The park is known for its stunning rock spires called sand pipes, which some geologists believe are the solidified remains of sediment that once filled ancient geysers. You’ll find several hiking trails here, and Kodachrome Basin’s campground is one of the most scenic in southern Utah.
Camping: 35 campsites, including one group site
What’s Close: Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
We love comments!
Have you visited any of these Utah state parks?
What impressed you the most?