Corona Arch: one of my favorite arches in Utah

The Magic of Utah – My Favorite Places

For the past two years Utah has been my home.  This state is filled with some of the most stunning public lands I have ever been to.  The red canyons are filled with wonder.  Sage brush scented deserts cover the state that are completed with pictographs and ancient ruins.  While the high alpine peeks provide breathtaking views.  The best way to put it is that Utah has this magical way about it.  Today, I would like to share some of that magic with all of you by sharing some of my favorite places in Utah.  Included are some great camping spots as well!

The La Sals

This mountain range is home to some of Utah’s tallest mountains.  Most of the peaks tower over 12,000 feet.  Being right next to Moab makes it a great place to go to beat the desert heat.  These mountains are home to world class mountain bike tracks, spectacular hiking tails, and my favorite part: the aspen groves.

The La Sals is the starting point for the well known Whole Enchilada trail.  However, there is many more amazing single track in these mountains. One of my favorites is Burl Friends.  It’s a beautiful ride through an aspen grove that is much less crowded compared to the whole Enchilada.  Another great ride is the Jimmy Keen loop.  A moderate level trail with sweeping views of Castle Valley.

There are several great hiking opportunities in the La Sals as well.  Some of my favorites are the Tuk and Gold Knob trails.  Both are great trails that bring you to the summit of their respective peaks.  Another one is the South Mountain trail.  This one is truly unique with a lush forest in this high desert oasis.  In one section of the trail you will find ferns growing on the forest floor!

Camping in the La Sals

Abundant with great places to camp, it is a no wonder the La Sals are one of my favorite places in Utah.  A great place to camp is the Oowah Campground.  Right next to the lake and it’s also only $5 a night!   Not only are there several great developed campgrounds but there are many free dispersed camping options too.  The entire loop road is open to dispersed camping just make sure to check with forest service regulations.  

sunset with la sal mountains in background
The La Sal Mountains

Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef has captured me quite a few times over the past couple years.  It is one of Utah’s five national parks and is one of the least visited. However, this does not mean it should be missed!  Most just stop and keep on going to the next national park.  I suggest to really take in the wonder of Capitol Reef you stay at least a day.   This park contains old rock formations, great washes to hike in, and not to be forgotten: pie.

Wake up early and enjoy the shade while hiking the Grand Wash.  If you enjoy biking, the park allows you to bike the scenic road.  Biking is also allowed on the Capitol Gorge “trail”.  Which I highly suggest.  (However it is not actually a trail but instead an old dirt road and it is probably not the best for a small road bike)  I combined the scenic road with Capitol Gorge for a great half-day ride. Afterwards, enjoy some pie at the historic town of Fruita which is inside the park.

Camping in Capitol Reef

If you are looking to stay the night in Capitol Reef I suggest taking Notom Bullfrog Road to Cedar Mesa Campground.  While the park calls it a backcountry campground you don’t need to hike to get to it!  You can drive the entire way to the campsite.  The road is unpaved and can be washboardy.  But don’t let that scare you.  I made it in a Toyota Prius.  There is a campground in the main part of the park near the visitor center.  It is not a bad campground.  Just not for me.  This one was very open and full of trailers.  I think it was about $20 a night.  However, the Cedar Mesa Campground is less developed.  Not only are the views better, but it is a free campsite in Capitol Reef!

Grand Staircase-Escalante

Personally, this is one of the best places to go in Utah.  Grand Staircase contains some of my all time favorite hiking trails and picturesque waterfalls.  Even with the somewhat recent news, this National Monument is one of the best.  It’s situated between Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon.  The location makes it a great stop during a Utah road trip.

Lower Calf Falls, Spooky Gulches, and the Zebra Slot Canyon are all musts!  The hike to Lower Calf Falls can be a little crowded but for a good reason.  At the end of the trail is probably the most beautiful waterfall I have ever seen.  When I went I brought a bath suit to take a nice dip after a hot hike.  The other two hikes take you into breathtaking slot canyons.  If it isn’t raining be prepared for some of the best hiking in the world!

Camping Grand Staircase-Escalante

While I visited Escalante I camped in the same place I recommended in the Capitol Reef section.  Cedar Mesa is not too far from the monument and the road there takes you over the Burr Trail switchbacks.  Plus it’s free!  Which is extremely scenic and a seldomly traveled road.  Another option would the Calf Creek Campground which is right next to the trailhead for the waterfall.  However, I remember these sites to be a little pricey.  

Overlook of canyons and Abajo Mountains inside Bears Ears National Monument.
Bears Ears National Monument

Bears Ears

I know at the time I am writing this that there is now two different Monuments.  However, when I talk about it I will be referring to the old monument boundaries.

One of the most magical spots in Utah is definitely Bears Ears National Monument.  This place is filled with things to do!  Several canyons to hike with a couple of them making up a wilderness area.  There is also a lot of Pre-Puebloan culture hiding along the cliff sides. 

My favorite spot in Bears Ears is probably Hammond Canyon.  This canyon has stunning red rock canyon views.  Some of the coolest ruins I have ever been too and this canyon also has a lush forest along the river bottom.  The hiking here is top notch!  Another great spot of hiking includes the Dark Canyon Wilderness Area.  Seriously this canyon is magical!  I highly suggest either Horse Pasture or Sundance.  The latter will take you to the Colorado river!  Make sure to be on the look for wildlife, ruins, and historic cabins!

Camping in Bears Ears

Just like the La Sals there is plenty of free dispersed camping options in the monument.  Yet, if you really want to enjoy the magic of Bears I would suggest backpacking into Dark Canyon Wilderness.  There is so much to explore in those canyons that I think it deserves at least an over night.  Also the stars in this area are worth the hike in. 

Needles District of Canyondlands

Out of all the districts in Canyonlands the Needles is my favorite.  Ok, I’ll admit, I have never been to the Maze.  But, it’s up there on my list of places to go to!  Considering that, I do prefer this district over Island in the Sky.  While that part of the park is beautiful, I have always found it to be super crowded.  The Needles district is much more quiet and full of great day hikes.  There is also many options for backpacking as well.  

Some of great hikes are Confluence Overlook, Druid Arch, and Squaw Canyon.  My favorite is probably the Confluence Overlook hike.  Follow cairns all the way to a lookout point where you can see the Green and Colorado river confluence.  The view is amazing and you can actually see the two rivers mixing together. 

Camping in The Needles

While there is campground in the park, I suggest camping at the nearby  on BLM campgrounds.  They are only a few miles outside of the park.  Much cheaper then the one in the park, they range between $5-15.  The names of these campsites are: Hamburger Rock, Superbowl, and Creek Pasture.

These are just some of my favorite places in Utah.  This state is filled with amazing places to see and go to.  Let me know how what any of you thought of these places if you have been to them.  Or if you have some other favorite places in Utah let me know! 



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