Southern Utah might be one of the American West's best-kept secrets. Well, it used to be... lately this stunning area is getting more and more press, for excellent reason. This is the land of red rocks and slot canyons, of slickrock perfect for mountain biking and sheer sandstone cliffs just begging to be climbed.
In short, the wild landscapes of southern Utah are meant for the adventurous soul. The eastern portion of this overall area is the more dramatic and therefore more popular.
The national parks located in this region include Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches and Canyonlands.
If you travel to any of these parks, know the local laws and Park rules before you set forth in your hiking boots. Plan ahead and figure out which season is best (usually spring or fall, especially fall) for outdoor activity.
Best hikes in each place:
the well-known Delicate Arch hike is a classic. One of the most beautiful natural arches in the world, it should definitely be on your to-do list. But also head out to see the Fiery Furnace, which is amazing in a very different way. Note that the Park has been worried about visitor impact on this fragile area, and they require both a permit reservation and an orientation video if you go without a ranger. Ranger-led hikes are available too, and it's highly recommended that you take one of those for at least your first visit.
Full Moon Hikes! This super popular activity is only offered during the full moon, and usually only May-October. (Believe it or not, this southern Utah park gets plenty of snow during the winter—it is located at 9,000 feet, after all.) This is a super cool way to experience the local nightlife, and it's kid-friendly. Reservations definitely required, and they cap attendance. Try to plan your visit around a full moon. Another great Bryce activity is their highly-regarded Astronomy program. Southern Utah has some of the USA's clearest night skies, and star-viewing is exceptional. The Park's “dark rangers” lead these informative tours.
Where to start! This park is a glorious feast for the eyes of canyons, mesa-tops, and a riot of colors. It's divided into three “sections,” so to speak: Island in the Sky (where most visitors congregate), Needles, and the very remote and difficult to navigate Maze. Mesa Arch is easy to reach and an excellent choice for sunrise viewing and great pictures. But to really experience some of the best of this park, head to Druid Arch and Elephant Canyon in the Needles district. Wow! It's a 10-mile roundtrip hike, and it's well worth every step.
Definitely head up to Cassidy Arch—you can even walk right across it, it's thick and sturdy. (Unless you have vertigo, then forget it.) The Cassidy Arch trail hooks up with the Frying Pan Trail, which goes down to Cohab Canyon—all of which are great choices. To get both a great workout and a great view of the entire park and farther out, huff your way up the Fremont River Gorge Overlook Trail. Big elevation gain, but you won't regret it. The views are beyond stunning, and you'll get a clear view of the geologic uplift that formed the park millions of years ago.
The classics are Angels Landing and the Narrows. Do not do Angels Landing if you're at all afraid of heights, or else just go part-way and stop at Scout Lookout (also affectionately known as Chicken-Out Point) to watch those other crazy people climbing the razor-thin spine to the top. The view is utterly amazing up there if you can handle the stomach-dropping route. The Narrows require walking in the Virgin River the entire way, so be prepared to get wet! But you travel along a gorgeous canyon carved out by millennia of water action. Another nice hike that's a bit less ambitious in scope but offers no less spectacular views is the Lower Emerald Pools.
Written and contributed by JulesKT