When it comes to natural beauty, Utah landscapes frequently top any list of American landmarks. From subterranean caves, to red-gold canyons, to monumental stone formations, no nature explorer worth their stones can afford to miss these indescribable Utah landmarks. The variety of Utah landscapes are split across what are called the Mighty Five, a list of five national parks, each boasting their own idiosyncratic attractions. These include the stone towers of Canyonlands National Park, impossibly sculpted arcs at Arches National Park, the gorgeous mazes of Capitol Reef National Park, slot canyons in Zion National Park, and finally, the multicolored ampitheater of Bryce National Park. These are stupendous desert/forest regions that can rival even Arizona’s most beautiful natural treasures, and whether your journey is camping, backpacking, or site seeing, it begins here!
1. Park Avenue
So why is there a spot in Arches National Park named after New York City’s famous skyscraper lane? Because this particular spot is home to great vistas of wind-sculpted rock formations, reminiscent of the urban sprawl. But of course, instead of busy street bustle, there’s the silent tranquility of the Utah landscapes. The easy hike and plethora of colorful stone monuments (with names like Queen Nefertiti Rock, Sausage Rock, and the Courthouse towers) make Park Avenue a popular stopping point. Make sure you get out of the car once you hit the Viewpoint area though. Some of the most spectacular sights here can only be seen from a hike on foot.
2. Delicate Arch
Also in Arches National Park, Delicate Arch is probably the most recognizable Utah landmark. It’s featured on magazines, coins, license plates, and the obsession is understandable. There’s something unearthly and unnaturally graceful about the stone monument, as you stand before such an incredible accident of natural forces. The Arch is located five miles north of the town of Moab, and is accessible, again, by an easy hike.
3. Balanced Rock
The most beautiful Utah landscapes seem frozen on the brink of destruction. Case in point: Balanced Rock in the Arches National Park is an enormous stone (the size of three schoolbuses) mounted on a much smaller pedestal rock, to give a breath-halting sight to visitors. Balanced Rock used to have a smaller, similar rock formation right next to it, called the Chip Off the Old Block, but it was finally toppled in the 70s. The destruction of the smaller monument just highlights the wonder of Balanced Rock, which should be enjoyed before it meets its own mishap.
4. Winter Hiking
Hiking through Utah landscapes in the wintertime affords beautiful vistas that you can’t find in any other place or at any other time. Winter trails range from easier, well-worn paths that won’t even require snowshoes, to more challenging, mountainous regions. Visitors often frequent areas like Zion Canyon (especially beautiful after a snowstorm for that pristine look) and the Wasatch mountains. Regardless of where you go, be sure to do your homework. Check the region’s elevation for likely snowfall, avalanche forecasts for that day, and above all, come prepared! That means clothing made from quick-drying materials (no cotton!), tons of snacks, and appropriate footwear.
5. La Sal Mountains
The La Sal Mountain Range is the second highest in Utah, and is located on the Utah / Colorado border. In the springtime, the region is green and lush as far as you can see. The forests mix with bubbling streams, with mountain peaks just above the beautiful treeline. The pristine Warner Lake attracts tons of visitors yearly, with its lovely campground and hiking trails. Of course, winter in the area affords its own unique beauties, including the unbelievable sight of the mountains draped completely white in snow.
6. Mesa Arch
The Mesa Arch is located in the Island in the Sky district of the Canyonlands National Park, a region whose beauty lives up to its fantastic name. The Arch is renowned for its unbelievable framing of the La Sal mountains just beneath its curve, a sight which makes for an unforgettable photograph. Come at sunrise or sunset for best results, but regardless, make sure you visit this most photogenic of Utah landmarks.
7. Dead Horse Point
If you’d rather see a wide Utah landscape than a single site, the Dead Horse Point State Park can’t be beat. It’s a vast series of interconnecting small canyons ringed by sheer sandstone cliffs, all named for the dramatic peak, Dead Horse Point itself. At sunset, these mini-canyons catch the light in an indescribable fashion, creating a mosaic of shadows and rusted reds. There are several romantic legends about the area, regarding how cowboys once used these narrow canyons to corral wild mustangs so that they could choose the choicest specimens. The romance is well-deserved, and the state park still maintains a mystique to this day.
8. Northern and Southern Window
Also in the Arches National Park are these peculiarly-shaped rocks called the North and South Windows, or sometimes, the Spectacles. The rock formation is located on a short, but popular hiking trail less than a mile long. The path features beautiful canyon scenery along the way, including Double Arch and the Parade of Elephants. But when you visit, take care of the high winds in the area, and don’t try to climb into the spectacles! Many Utah landscapes are scalable, but multiple accidents have been reported by overenthusiastic visitors to the Windows, so take care!
9. Turret Arch
Adjoining the North and South Windows is a high tower called the Vigilant Arch, just one of the many sights to see in an area densely packed with natural attractions.
10. Cave Formations
While the Utah landscapes command most of the tourist attention, don’t forget about the state’s subterranean treasures as well. Utah is home to numerous beautiful cave formations, many of which offer guided tours of stalactite-studded lairs and winding stone mazes. Some of the most beloved caves include the Green Eyed Monster. This unique site boasts walls that take on a neon green look thanks to the unique mineral content of the rock. And then there are the perilously deep places like the Bloomington caves, where visitors can visit the truly alien landscapes of the underground.
11. Red, Orange Hues
Utah’s most beautiful features are known for their gorgeous orange and red hues. The color is a result of the rich sandstone that composes the state park’s most popular attractions. Sunset and sunrise are clearly the most opportune time to capture these natural sights, but the lush coloration catches the light magically no matter what time of day.
12. Capitol Reef
Capitol Reef National Park is in the breast of Utah’s red rock country, and is the most ruggedly handsome of the many Utah landscapes. If the name is confusing, keep in mind that a reef is any natural area that impedes travel, on land or sea. Capitol Reef presents visitors with a network of small arches, canyons, and niches to explore. It’s home to colorfully-named attractions like the Golden Throne (a gold-colored dome of bright carbonate rock) and the Hickman Bridge.
13. Observation Point
The road to Observation Point in Zion National Park is not easy, but the prize speaks for itself. The view from the Point boasts the bluest, cleanest skies in Utah. It also gives you a view of some of the state’s steepest cliffs and greenest valleys. The point overlooks multiple Utah landscapes, including the impossibly lush Echo Canyon and the White Cliffs. The scale of its beauty really can’t be overstated.
14. Narrows Formation
The Narrows in Zion National Park earned the 5th place spot on National Geographic’s list of America’s 100 Best Adventures, and for good reason. Visitors come for the challenging hike through the river running through the canyons. The waters run beneath the beautiful green gardens clinging to the canyon’s sides. And the walls themselves are as wondrously sculpted as canyon regions come. The trip isn’t the easiest, however. The water level varies from waist-deep to swimmable in some portions, and the riverbed houses large round stones that can be difficult to traverse. Come prepared with hiking poles and appropriate water shoes.
There is no better way to cap off a list of Utah landscapes than Bryce Canyon National Park. The rock formations in this area form a wide array of unbelievable shapes. There are mazes of jagged stone towers. There are micro-ranges of tiered rock shelves. The indescribable features of the park Ampitheater evoke various images in different visitors. Some describe it as a goblin-infested crag of pink and red hues. Other swear they see angels in the lush shadows of the canyon cliffs. The scale of the Park is no less than mythological, and no trip to Utah would be complete without experiencing it.