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Southern Utah offers an abundance of stunning landscapes, outdoor activities and rugged back country.
With the highest concentration of national parks in the United States, it draws large tourist crowds.
Best time to visit
Summer is the busiest time of the year. Accordingly the hotels are expensive and reservations are necessary to ensure a place in some high traffic areas such as Moab. Summer is also hot and longer hikes are hard on you.
I recommend visiting in the off-seasons to save money and nerves. Not having to pre-book hotels also gives you more flexibility at a slightly higher cost (online prices are often cheaper).
I love going on road trips. Although you can also book a bus tour or even travel via Amtrak, the flexibility of having your own car outweighs all the comforts of group travel.
If you prefer to travel with a group or if you do not wish to drive, try sticking with a smaller outfit driving smaller van type of vehicles. They are often more flexible and more maneuverable and thus can go places others won't.
If you rent a car, read the rental agreement very carefully. Usually you won't be allowed to travel on unpaved roads with rental cars, not even with 4x4 rentals. However some special outfits in Moab and elsewhere rent 4 wheel drive jeeps at a steep price that allow you to go off road. Save money and rent a small sedan. Then you have enough left over to rent one of those for a day or two to explore the backcountry.
I have decided to include GPS coordinates to many interesting destinations to aid in your research.
Shortcuts to the next sections:
GPS: N38 34.400 W109 32.990
Moab is the gateway to Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. It is also a destination for outdoor sports enthusiasts offering everything from wild water rafting to 4WD rides. Moab is a tourist town filled with hotels and restaurants.
St. George and Hurricane
GPS: N37 06.215 W113 35.012 and N37 10.499 W113 17.379
St. George and Hurricane are good base camps for extended Zion National Park visits and visits to some spectacular State Parks. It is only 2 hours driving distance from Las Vegas. You can easily spend a day driving to/from Las Vegas if you visit the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.
Arches National Park
Arches NP contains the highest number of natural stone arches in the world. The park is easily accessible and many sights can be seen directly from your car. I recommend the 3 mile hike to Delicate Arch (elevation gain) and the hike to Landscape Arch.
Bryce Canyon National Park
GPS: N37 36.643 W112 10.902
Red Hoodoos clustered together in Amphitheaters are the trademarks of this rather unique park. I feel that winter offers the best opportunity for photography as the dark red stone and white snow generate wonderful high contrast pictures, but the high altitude of the park make this a chilly experience.
Canyonlands National Park
GPS: N38 10.044 W109 43.603 (Needles)
GPS: N38 09.648 W110 00.558 (Maze)
The park is divided into three districts out of which only the Islands in the Sky is easily accessible with a passenger car. It offers exceptional overviews of a vast landscape. The grandeur is hard to capture in photographs though.
If you drive a high clearance vehicle, the Needles district is within your reach during good weather conditions.
Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef is a paradise for hikers and history buffs. Scenic views, petroglyphs and great hikes make this park a worthy destination.
Cedar Breaks NM
GPS: N37 38.550 W112 50.929
Cedar Breaks is a smaller version of Bryce Canyon with Hoodoos arranged in Amphitheaters. If you cannot get enough of them, Cedar Breaks is worth a detour.
Glen Canyon NRA
GPS: N37 53.428 W110 22.284 (Hite Crossing)
GPS: N37 28.009 W110 42.039 (Halls Crossing)
GPS: N37 32.747 W110 42.801 (Bullfrog Basin)
The recent dry years have reduced the water level in Lake Powell dramatically. Glen Canyon is still spectacular by all means. US-95 crosses the Lake at Hite via a scenic steel bridge.
Lake Powell is too wide near Halls Crossing and Bullfrog. A ferry will carry you over. Make sure the ferry is operating and inquire about the hours of operation by calling: (435)-684-3087.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
The Grand Staircase-Escalante NM offers one of the last true outdoor adventures. No road improvements and no new lodging will be built here, preserving this impressive wild area. Tourists with their own 4WD vehicles can travel through this untamed landscape while tourists with rental cars have to rely on local outfitters.
Natural Bridges NM
GPS: N37 36.084 W110 00.825
Zion National Park
GPS: N37 13.054 W112 58.427
Zion NP is one of the most visited parks. However some tourists just pass the park on their way from Bryce Canyon to Las Vegas or vice versa. Zion NP can be amazing or just uninteresting depending on the weather. I have often had bad luck in Winter.
Late Spring to early Fall are much better times for a visit, when you can hike the Narrows and the park is in bloom. However you will have to share the park with the crowds out and about.
While many tourists focus on the National Parks alone, some State Parks and lesser known areas are often even more amazing.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes SP
GPS: N37 02.321 W112 42.936
Dead Horse SP
GPS: N38 28.200 W109 44.361
Fallen Roof Ruin
GPS: N37 23.767 W109 52.350
GPS: N38 33.659 W110 42.636
GPS: N37 10.664 W109 55.567
Kodachrome Basin SP
GPS: N37 30.027 W112 00.069
Little Wild Horse Slot Canyon
GPS: N38 30.234 W110 50.690
GPS: N37 32.633 W109 44.684
GPS: N36 59.965 W111 51.608
GPS: N37 06.606 W111 52.468
Scenic Byway 279
GPS: N38 32.363 W109 36.158
Scenic Byway 128
GPS: N38 46.586 W109 19.717
Snow Canyon SP
GPS: N37 12.394 W113 39.004
Valley of the Gods
GPS: N37 14.125 W109 48.810 (entrance on US-163)
Zebra Slot Canyon
Read our Article on the Native American Sites of the Southwest containing many parks of Utah.