With the biggest and most beautiful landscapes in North America, UTAH has something for everyone: from brilliantly coloured canyons, across desert plains, to thickly wooded and snow-covered mountains. Almost all of this unmatched range of terrain is public land, making Utah the place to come for outdoor pursuits, whether your tastes run to hiking, mountain biking, whitewater rafting or skiing.
Southern Utah has so many national parks, it has often been suggested that the entire area should become one vast national park. The most accessible parts – such as Zion and Bryce Canyon – are by far the most visited, but lesser-known parks like Arches and Canyonlands are every bit as dramatic. Huge tracts of this empty desert, in which fascinating pre-Columbian pictographs and Ancestral Puebloan ruins lie hidden, are all but unexplored; seeing them requires self-sufficiency and considerable planning.
Founded in the late 1800s, MOAB was hardly a speck until the 1950s, when prospector Charlie Steen discovered uranium nearby. When the mining boom finally waned, the town threw in its lot with tourism, to become the Southwest’s number one adventure-vacation destination.
Zion National Park
Zion National Park
With its soaring cliffs, riverine forests and cascading waterfalls, ZION NATIONAL PARK is the most conventionally beautiful of Utah’s parks. Its centrepiece, the lush oasis of Zion Canyon, feels far removed from the otherworldly desolation of Canyonlands or the weirdness of Bryce. Like California’s Yosemite Canyon, it’s a spectacular narrow gorge, echoing with the sound of running water; also like Yosemite, it can get claustrophobic in summer, clogged with traffic and crammed with sweltering tourists.
Too many visitors see Zion Canyon as a quick half-day detour off the interstate, as they race between Las Vegas (158 miles southwest) and Salt Lake City (320 miles northeast). Magnificent though the canyon’s Scenic Drive may be, Zion deserves much more of your time than that. Even the shortest hiking trail within the canyon can escape the crowds, while a day-hike will take you away from the deceptive verdure of the valley and up onto the high-desert tablelands beyond.
Summer is by far the busiest season. That’s despite temperatures in excess of 100°F and violent thunderstorms concentrated especially in August. Ideally, come in spring, to see the flowers bloom or in autumn, to enjoy the colours along the river. The admission charge for Zion, valid in all sections of the park for seven days, is $25 per vehicle or $12 for motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians.