Stunning Utah State Parks: Things to Do

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Utah is home to 5 spectacular national parks and numerous national monuments and historic sites.

It’s too bad these national landmarks usually overshadow the state parks in Utah. If they were located in any other state, these areas would probably be designated as national parks.

Here’s a list of our favorite Utah State Parks to visit that offer amazing things to see, do and photograph. Take time to explore and enjoy the unique beauty each park provides.

Amazing Utah State Parks to Visit

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Utah State Parks Map

Utah State Parks Map

TIPS FOR VISITING UTAH STATE PARKS

Each Utah State Park has its own unique beauty. In any other state these parks would be considered a national park!

If you’re looking for Utah vacation ideas, be sure to add these state parks to your bucket list!

The list below is in alphabetical order.

Antelope Island, Syracuse

Antelope Island State Park is located within the Great Salt Lake about 41 miles north of Salt Lake City. It’s a nice day trip from Salt Lake.

Reflection in the Great Salt Lake at Antelope Island.
Reflection in the Great Salt Lake at Antelope Island.

Recreational activities at this state park include camping, hiking, biking, horseback riding, sailing and kayaking. Enjoy floating in the water where the salt content is several times more salty than the ocean.

We like visiting the island to photograph the reflections, sunset and wildlife. Antelope Island is home to over 500 bison and a variety of other animals and birds.

IMPORTANT NOTE: During warm months, insects are present on the island and emerge at different times.

  • Biting gnats (no-seeums) are the worst! They are very tiny biting flies that emerge in the spring from April to June. Insect repellent is ineffective against these gnats. They are not present near the water’s edge.
  • Mosquitos are around from mid-spring to early fall. Insect repellent is effective.
  • Midges and brine flies are non-biting flies so they are harmless, but annoying, and can ruin a good photo! The midges form columns along the causeway mid-spring through early fall and cover your windshield while driving to and from the island. The brine flies cover the shorelines and can move onto land early-summer through fall. They move out of the way when approached.

Where to Stay in Salt Lake City

Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Kanab

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is in southwest Utah near Zion National Park. The area comprises 3,730 acres of uninterrupted sand dunes that are a soft red color. 

Coral Pink Sand Dunes is a fun Utah State Park to explore.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes is a fun Utah State Park to explore.

About 90% of the dunes in the park are open to ATV riders. All of the dunes are open for hiking and playing in the sand. 

There are sand boards (stand up) and sand sleds (sit down) available for rent at the park. It’s a fun way to enjoy the dunes, although climbing the hill again afterwards can be a bit of a chore.  

IMPORTANT NOTE: During the summer temperatures at Coral Pink Sand Dunes are around 100°F so the sand will get HOT! We recommend exploring the park in the morning or evening.

Visit Zion National Park while you’re in the area!

Where to Stay in Kanab

Dead Horse Point, Moab

The view from Dead Horse Point State Park towers 2,000 feet above the Colorado River and the canyons it carved. This state park is 32 miles from Moab and just outside the entrance to Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky.

One of the most spectacular Utah State Parks is Dead Horse Point.
One of the most spectacular Utah State Parks is Dead Horse Point.

There are miles of pet-friendly hiking trails at Dead Horse Point, an intrepid trail system for mountain bikers, and camping options in the park.

The name of the park comes from the legend that states horses were left corralled atop the mesa and died of thirst.

This state park has a separate entrance fee from Canyonlands. It is well worth the money to see this view that cannot be seen from Canyonlands.

There is a reason it is one of the most photographed landscapes in the world!

Use our guide to Dead Horse Point to plan your visit and get our photography tips for the area.

Things to Do Near Moab:

Where to Stay in Moab:

There are all types of lodging in and near Moab from budget-friendly hotels to higher-prices resorts. You’ll also find vacation rentals, a hostel, campgrounds and RV parks

READ OUR FULL GUIDE: Places to stay in Moab

  • Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Moab – we enjoyed our stay and highly recommend this hotel due to its location close to Arches.
  • Purple Sage – our all-time favorite place to stay in Moab – walking distance to shopping, full kitchen, and only 8 units so you don’t feel lost in a large hotel. 
  • Red Cliffs Lodge – rooms up to 6 people – located 17 miles from Moab, this lodge is known for its beautiful location, winery and activities like horseback riding, fishing and more!

Edge of the Cedars, Blanding

You will find the largest collection of Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) pottery on display in the Four Corners Region at Edge of the Cedars State Park. The park sits on the site of an authentic Puebloan village.

Descend into the underground kiva at Edge of the Cedars.
Descend into the underground kiva at Edge of the Cedars.

Explore the kiva and other structures that have been restored here. You can descend the ladder and go inside the kiva.

The junior ranger program for kids is simple and fun. The room dedicated for children includes a house to play in, puzzles and books to read, drawers with various activities to do, and pottery to sort by shape and size.

Make a stop at Edge of the Cedars as you travel between Moab, Utah and Monument Valley.

Where to Stay in Blanding

Goblin Valley, near Green River

Goblin Valley State Park is near Green River, Utah just a bit off I-70. It’s a must-stop if you’re driving to/from Capitol Reef National Park or Lake Powell to Salt Lake or Grand Junction. 

The unique landscape of Goblin Valley State Park.
The unique landscape of Goblin Valley State Park.

The landscape comprises a strange and colorful valley, which is unlike any other in Utah. You’ll see sandstone goblins and formations that is often compared to Mars.

Once you descend into the valley, spend as much time as you want exploring and geology.

TRAVEL TIP: Summer temperatures here are hot, and the valley will seem even more hot as the sun reflects off the sandstone. We recommend morning and evening hiking during the summer months.

Visit Capitol Reef National Park while you’re in the area!

Where to Stay Near Goblin Valley

Goosenecks, Mexican Hat

This primitive state park offers camping, picnicking, photography and stargazing. The remote location of Goosenecks State Park means there is little light pollution. The stargazing here is some of the best in Utah.

Goosenecks State Park in Utah is stunning!
Goosenecks State Park in Utah is stunning!

The scene at Goosenecks is so spectacular that it’s hard to describe. The landscape of the area is vast. The canyons carved over time are a distance of one and a half miles, yet the San Juan River winds more than six miles through them.

This location was difficult to photograph. The edge of the canyon blocked the view of the river with no way to get a better perspective. We had been to Horseshoe Bend a few weeks prior to this and expected the view into the canyon to allow us to photograph the full river as it flowed around the bends of the goosenecks. There is no way to get the same result here.

PHOTO TIP: Capture the sense of a place. Goosenecks is not Horseshoe Bend and should not be photographed the same way. The beauty of Goosenecks State Park is the vast landscape with views stretching to the horizon and deep canyons with the river meandering back and forth for miles. Find the thing that best represents the location and focus on creating that image.

Kodachrome Basin, Cannonville

The towering red rock spire formations at Kodachrome Basin State Park are wonderful subjects to photograph against blue skies. It’s easy to see how the National Geographic Society came up with the name. 

Colorful and unique rock formations at Kodachrome State Park.
Colorful and unique rock formations at Kodachrome State Park.

Kodachrome is located along Highway 12 close to Bryce Canyon National Park. It can be a quick stop to drive around the park, or you can spend time hiking, biking or camping in the park. 

If you have time, visit nearby Grosvenor Arch about 10 miles southeast of the park. It is one of the more impressive double arches in the state. But you travel along a dirt road to the arch which means it takes more time to travel those 10 miles.

Visit Bryce Canyon National Park while you’re in the area!

Where to Stay near Bryce Canyon:

Utah Lake, Provo

Utah Lake is the largest freshwater lake in the state. It is located adjacent to Provo City and 38 miles south of Salt Lake City.

Stunning sunset at Utah Lake State Park.
Stunning sunset at Utah Lake State Park.

Utah Lake State Park offers boating, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding and jet skiing. Facilities include a swimming beach, picnic areas and campsites.

The lake is a wonderful location to photograph birds, reflections and sunsets.

PHOTO TIP: We knew the lake produced interesting ice chunks and formations during the winter and made a point to visit during this time. The sunset glow on the sheets of ice made a wonderful photo.

Where to Stay in Provo

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20 Comments

  1. Now that my kids are a bit older, we’re looking forward to some more adventurous destinations and it looks like Utah has a lot to offer. Sand-boarding at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, watching wildlife, canoeing at Utah Lake State Park, stargazing… It looks spectacular!

  2. Wow, I’ve heard about the wondrous places Utah has to offer but didn’t know about most of these parks. Goosenecks State Park definitely caught my eye, even though I haven’t gone, I’d say it’s definitely worth the trip to the remote location. So many great places, need to get myself to Utah soon!

    1. Goosenecks is remote, but within an hour of Monument Valley, Natural Bridges and Moab (Arches, Canyonlands) – so you can easily see many of these places in one day.

  3. Wow, these photos are stunning! I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never heard of any of these. But I’ve learned about them all thanks to your post. I would love to see and do more things in this country. These are moving towards the top of my list. And thanks for the photo tips, will come in handy when I go 😉

  4. One reason i love the US so much is because of its national and state parks. Recently I had been to Arizona and was so close to Utah. I so wanted to visit all the places you mentioned above but i was hard pressed for time and didn’t want to do it in hurry. So, I left it for next time. Looking at your pics and article, I really need to plan early.

    1. There is so much to see in the southwest US – we live in Utah and still feel like we haven’t even scratched the surface of visiting all the amazing places in the area!

  5. First of all, I must say that you have taken stunning pictures of state parks in Utah. Also the photography tips provided by you are so helpful. I would love to visit Goosenecks State Park and would like to take 100’s of shots. Also I would like to do stargazing which is best in Utah. Thanks for sharing!

  6. These parks are lovely. Besides the gnats, every where looks spectacular and each park is loaded with its uniqueness. I can’t even choose a favorite, a read from this to that and I get the the ‘more is yet to come feeling.’ I’d consider exploring my home town for incredible scenery. I’m sure I don’t have to go far like you said to discover the best.

  7. I totally thought Goosenecks WAS Horseshoe Bend in the photos! They look so similar. Utah is so beautiful and underrated I feel like. I go a few times a year because a good friend lives there and people always looveeee the photos and are surprised to hear it is Utah. Have you been to the salt flats? That is my fav photo opp! Great info – thanks for sharing.

  8. I had no idea the state if UTAH was filled with such beautiful treasures. what stunning natural environments and wildlife. fantastic post and pictures!

    1. I’m lucky to live in Utah – I am surrounded by mountains, deserts, a salt lake, mountain lakes, state parks and 5 national parks.

  9. I’d love to have my kids participate in the junior ranger program at the Edge of the Cedars State Park! It looks like such a fun place for families to explore and learn! I love all your photo tips!

    1. The Junior Ranger programs at the State and National Parks provide a fun incentive for kids to learn about the parks. I’m so glad they do it!

  10. These parks are incredible, brought to life even more by your photos! I love their names too, Goosenecks, Mexican Hat. Thank you for the advice about those gnats, how annoying that the insect repellent didn’t work! I can imagine it must have been annoying when taking photos.

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