14 Best National Parks in Southern Utah in 2022

Zion Canyon in Zion National Park in Southern Utah

Southern Utah is home to incredible national parks, monuments, recreation areas, and forests. The natural landscapes found here are immaculate and unique. It’s easy to see why Utah’s parks are some of the most visited in the United States!

The Utah “Mighty 5” national parks make for an excellent week-long road trip, but did you know there are 14 incredible national parks and monuments in Southern Utah? There’s so much beauty to see beyond the arches, canyons, and hoodoos found in the famed national parks.

This guide covers the best national parks in Southern Utah, complete with the highlights and must-see destinations, the best time to visit, and where to stay in each park.

Important Note
In 2022, Arches National Park will require all visitors to get a timed entry permit to enter the park from April 3 to October 3. You can read more about how to get your Arches entry reservation here. At this point, the other 4 Utah national parks are not requiring a reservation to enter the park.

Looking for more epic things to do in Utah’s national parks? Check out these posts too:

This post may contain affiliate links, where I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Read more in this disclosure policy.

Things to Know About the Top Utah National Parks

Before going over all the incredible national parks in southern Utah, here are a few essential tips for your trip:

  • Get the America the Beautiful National Park Pass. It covers your admission to every Utah national park and monument for an entire year. If you don’t go with the pass, you’ll need to pay admission at each park (usually $30 per park!). Get your America the Beautiful Pass for $80.
  • Book your trip well in advance if you want to stay inside the park. Campsites fill up when reservations are released on a rolling 6-month basis. If you’re staying in a park lodge, plan to book 13 months out when reservations open.
  • Remember to Leave No Trace. The Utah parks are home to fragile desert ecosystems. You can practice the “Leave No Trace” principles by packing out all trash and staying on the trail.
  • Dogs are not allowed on most hiking trails. While the exact rules vary by park, the general rule is that dogs are allowed where cars and bikes can go. These include parking lots, picnic areas, campgrounds, and paved walking trails. Dogs are forbidden on hiking trails.

Don’t miss the best of Utah’s national parks on your upcoming trip! This free, printable Utah national park road trip itinerary covers all the best points of interest in all 5 Utah parks, plus bonus tips on where to stay and side trips to nearby state parks and monuments.

Download your free Utah road trip itinerary here.

Best National Parks in Southern Utah

The most well-known of Utah’s parks are its “Mighty 5” national parks. The five national parks include Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion. Many visitors choose to see all five national parks on a week-long Utah road trip.

1. Zion National Park

  • Location: Springdale, Utah
  • Size: 146,597 acres
  • Annual Visitors: 5,039,835
  • Founded: 1919
Trail up to Angels Landing in Zion National Park

Zion National Park is Utah’s oldest and most visited national park. The iconic canyon walls tower above Zion Canyon, creating a truly magnificent landscape. Unlike many of the other parks in Utah, Zion is filled with shrubby greenery, beige sandstone, and plenty of water.

The Virgin River flows through the heart of the canyon, bringing the lower elevations to life and splashing colorful vegetation and flowers along the canyon floor. With waterfalls, rushing rivers, and incredible hiking opportunities, there’s so much to love about Zion National Park.

But Zion’s natural beauty has one major downside: massive crowds. During peak season in late spring, Zion sees nearly 25,000 visitors per day.

The crowds cause congested hiking trails and long lines for the mandatory Zion National Park shuttle service along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.

Best Things to Do in Zion National Park

  • Angels Landing is a strenuous hike for thrillseekers that navigates steep switchbacks and sharp drop-offs with chains bolted in the rock to overlook Zion Canyon. This trail now requires a special permit to hike.
  • Observation Point is a strenuous hike that takes you to one of the highest peaks in the park for truly panoramic views of Zion Canyon. Unfortunately, you can only reach Observation Point from the East Mesa Trail due to a rockslide. Read more about hiking Observation Point here.
  • Canyon Overlook Trail is a short but challenging hike that provides incredible views of Zion National Park away from Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. 
  • The Narrows is an iconic trail that requires hikers to wade through the Virgin River, surrounded by towering slot canyon walls. 
  • Sunset at The Watchman belongs on every Zion bucket list. From Canyon Junction Bridge, The Watchman overlooks the Virgin River from a distance. This landscape is perfectly illuminated at sunset.
  • Emerald Pools is a short, easy hike that provides a unique opportunity to see waterfalls in Zion National Park Most hikers only venture to Lower Emerald Pools. However, more ambitious hikers can continue to Upper Emerald Pools.

Best Time to Visit Zion National Park

The best time to visit Zion National Park is in spring or fall when temperatures are comfortable, snow has melted, and crowds are fewer. The busiest time of year is May and July, when temperatures are warm, and kids are out of school.

To avoid crowds, consider visiting in April or October instead.

For more on what to expect each month, check out this post on the best time to visit Zion National Park.

Where to Stay in Zion National Park

Read more about Zion National Park:
3 Day Road Trip from Zion to Bryce Canyon
The Best Time to Visit Zion
Hiking Observation Point in Zion
Ultimate Guide to Zion National Park

2. Arches National Park

  • Location: Moab, Utah
  • Size: 76,519 acres
  • Annual Visitors: 1,806,865
  • Founded: 1929
Delicate Arch at sunset in Arches National Park

Arches National Park is known for its bright orange sandstone arches. There are more than 2,000 arches within the park boundaries, the highest concentration of natural arches globally!

Most visitors will recognize the iconic Delicate Arch, a tall sandstone arch perched along a rocky cliff edge.

Unlike other parks, many of the main attractions can be reached just off the main park road, making this park great for families. In addition, trails like The Windows Loop and Double Arch only require a short walk to get fantastic views.

Best Things to Do in Arches National Park

  • Delicate Arch is the crown jewel of Arches National Park. The strenuous 3-mile hike takes you up close and personal with the most famous arch in the park.
  • The Windows Loop is a popular, easy 1-mile hike that takes you to impressive viewpoints like the North Window, South Window, and Turret Arch. 
  • Double Arch, located just across the parking lot from the Windows Loop, is another popular, short hike. The large, circular span forms an open cave-like structure with plenty of room for exploration.
  • Landscape Arch is the perfect option for those looking for a slightly longer but easy hike. The 2-mile trail starts at Devils Garden and takes you out to the longest natural arch in the world (spanning 306 feet long!).
  • Double O Arch is one of the more challenging hikes in Arches National Park. The 4-mile strenuous trail also starts at Devils Garden, passing Landscape Arch and continuing to more demanding terrain. However, the primitive trail provides plenty of solitude at the impressive Double O Arch.

Best Time to Visit Arches National Park

While Arches National Park is open year-round, the best time to visit is in the Spring or Fall. These shoulder months have fewer crowds and better temperatures, particularly from March to April and October to November.

The busiest time of year in Arches is May to July, when kids are out of school, but crowds and temperatures make this a less desirable time to visit.

Where to Stay in Arches National Park

Read More: 22 Best Places to Stay Near Arches

3. Bryce Canyon National Park

  • Location: Bryce, Utah
  • Size: 35,835 acres
  • Annual Visitors: 2,104,600
  • Founded: 1928
Rim Trail Best hike in Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the unique landscapes in the United States. The jagged rock formations known as hoodoos are Bryce Canyon’s trademark. Bryce Canyon has the largest concentration of hoodoos in the world

The orange, beige, and purple spires were formed long ago by erosion and are on display along the many hiking trails and scenic vistas found throughout the park.

Pine trees and green brush are sprinkled throughout the hoodoos, providing a unique and contrasting landscape.

The most popular thing in Bryce Canyon National Park is the scenic drive. With only one road through the park, visitors can drive the entire route, stopping at nearly 20 scenic viewpoints.

Plus, with some of the darkest skies in the world, Bryce Canyon is the perfect place for stargazing.

Best Things to Do in Bryce Canyon National Park

  • Sunrise and Sunset Point along the Rim Trail are some of the best spots to take in the beauty of the Bryce Canyon amphitheater. At sunrise or sunset, the hoodoos come alive with bright oranges, pinks, and purples dancing through the sky.
  • Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive is a 36-mile route through the park’s heart, starting at the visitor center and ending at Rainbow Point. Don’t miss Bryce Point and Inspiration Point along the drive!
  • Queen’s Garden and Navajo Trail Loop is a 3-mile moderate trail and one of the most popular hikes in the park. This loop takes you up close to the park’s famed hoodoos. Don’t miss Queen Victoria, Wall Street, and Thor’s Hammer!
  • Peek-A-Boo Loop is a strenuous 5.5-mile hike that offers some of the best views in the park. The trail forms a loop passing the Wall of Windows and other impressive hoodoo rock features.
  • Fairyland Loop Trail is one of the most challenging hikes in Bryce Canyon but provides unique solitude off-the-beaten-path. The 8-mile hike starts at Fairyland Point and takes you below the canyon’s rim, weaving through hoodoos and Bristlecone pines.

Read More: 12 Best Hikes in Bryce Canyon

Best Time to Visit Bryce Canyon National Park

At a base elevation of nearly 7,700 feet, Bryce Canyon National Park is snowy and cold for much of the year. However, late spring to early summer can be a great time to visit for more comfortable temperatures.

The busiest month is June, so try to visit Bryce Canyon in May or September to avoid crowds.

Where to Stay in Bryce Canyon National Park

Read more about Bryce Canyon:
12 Best Hikes in Bryce Canyon
3 Day Zion & Bryce Canyon Road Trip
Ultimate Guide to Bryce Canyon

4. Canyonlands National Park

  • Location: Moab, Utah
  • Size: 337,598 acres
  • Annual Visitors: 911,594
  • Founded: 1964
Sunset views over a wide canyon from White Rim Overlook in Canyonlands

Canyonlands National Park is the largest and least visited of the Utah “Mighty 5” national parks. Much of the park is remote backcountry, reminiscent of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

The steep canyon walls were carved out by not one but two rivers: the Green River and the Colorado River.

The most iconic landmark in Canyonlands is Mesa Arch in the Island in the Sky District. Sunrise creates a burning glow on the bottom of the arch, perfectly highlighting the rocky spires in the distance. Seeing the sunrise at Mesa Arch is a bucket list experience. 

For true solitude, head to The Needles or The Maze districts. These more remote areas are challenging to access and provide opportunities for strenuous hikes or multi-day backpacking trips.

Best Things to Do in Canyonlands National Park

  • Mesa Arch is one of the most iconic trails in Canyonlands National Park. At sunrise, the arch comes alive, burning orange, and forms a window overlooking Buck Canyon and the distant La Sal Mountains.
  • Grand View Point Trail is one of the best easy hikes in Canyonlands National Park. The trail follows the top of the canyon with plenty of panoramic views.
  • Island in the Sky Scenic Drive features several incredible viewpoints overlooking the plateaus and canyons. Don’t miss Buck Canyon Overlook, Green River Overlook, and the Shafer Trail Overlook.
  • Druid Arch Trail isn’t for the faint of heart but provides one of the best adventure hike opportunities in Canyonlands. It requires AWD to get to the trailhead, but you’ll find some of the most spectacular views of The Needles District along the way.

Read More: 12 Best Hikes in Canyonlands

Best Time to Visit Canyonlands National Park

Spring or Fall are the best times to visit Canyonlands, thanks to mild weather, perfect for hiking. Avoid crowds by visiting in March or November at either end of peak season (just be sure to bundle up as it will be chilly!).

Where to Stay in Canyonlands National Park

Read More about Canyonlands:
12 Best Hikes in Canyonlands National Park
See Sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands

5. Capitol Reef National Park

  • Location: Torrey, Utah
  • Size: 241,904 acres
  • Annual Visitors: 1,405,353
  • Founded: 1971
Highway winds through Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park is one of the lesser-visited of the Utah “Mighty 5” national parks. Tucked away in South-Central Utah, its off-the-beaten-path location keeps the park less crowded than its peers like Zion and Arches.

However, while less visited, Capitol Reef still has plenty to offer. The region provides a unique mix of historical landmarks and stunning landscapes surrounding the park’s hallmark feature, the Waterpocket Fold.

The Waterpocket Fold was some of the last lands in the contiguous 48 states to be charted by cartographers. Capitol Reef was also home to early Mormon Settlers who built a town in the Fruita District, complete with a schoolhouse and orchard.

And before that, the indigenous Fremont people left behind sacred, ancient petroglyphs

If you’re seeking solitude, Capitol Reef has plenty to explore in the Cathedral Valley District, like the Temple of the Sun and Moon, but you’ll need an AWD high-clearance vehicle to get out there. However, this area is also one of the best places in the United States for stargazing.

Best Things to do in Capitol Reef National Park

  • Capitol Reef Scenic Byway is one of the best ways to see the park if you are short on time. The scenic drive starts at the Fruita Historic District and ends at Capitol Gorge Road.
  • Fruita Historic District is one of the highlights of Capitol Reef National Park, rich with the history of the Mormon settlers in the late 1800s. Don’t miss the Fruita Schoolhouse, Blacksmith Shop, Gifford House, and Fruita Orchard.
  • Hickman Bridge Trail is a moderate 1.8-mile hike to a 133-foot tall natural bridge. The trail follows the Fremont River out to a viewpoint of Hickman Bridge.
  • Cassidy Arch Trail is a strenuous 3.4-mile hike and one of the most popular trails in the park. The trail gets its name from Butch Cassidy, an outlaw from the Wild West who supposedly hid here.
  • Grand Wash Trail is an easy, but lengthy 4.4-mile hike through the Waterpocket Fold in the Fruita District. The trail follows a wide sandy canyon, spotlighting Capitol Reef’s colorful sandstone cliffs and rock formations.
  • Temple of the Sun and Moon are unique, jagged rock formations that shoot out of the ground in the Cathedral Valley District. Unfortunately, you’ll have to drive 17 miles away from civilization on the Cathedral Valley Road in an AWD vehicle to get here.

Read More: 15 Best Things to Do in Capitol Reef

Best Time to Visit Capitol Reef National Park

While Capitol Reef National Park is open year-round, the best time to visit is Spring or Fall. These seasons see fewer crowds and more comfortable temperatures, particularly in early Spring and late Fall.

However, May is typically the busiest month in Capitol Reef, so plan to visit in April or September to October to avoid crowds.

Where to Stay in Capitol Reef National Park

Don’t miss the best of Utah’s national parks on your upcoming trip! This free, printable Utah national park road trip itinerary covers all the best points of interest in all 5 Utah parks, plus bonus tips on where to stay and side trips to nearby state parks and monuments.

Download your free Utah road trip itinerary here.

Southern Utah National Monuments

In addition to the “national parks”, Southern Utah also has several national monuments that the National Park Service manages. These national monuments protect sacred indigenous lands and can easily be added to a Utah national park road trip.

6. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

  • Location: Escalante, Utah
  • Size: 1,870,000 acres
  • Annual Visitors: 923,236
  • Founded: 1996
Lower Calf Creeks Falls in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is the largest national monument in the United States and covers a rugged, remote area in southern Utah.

The park protects the unique geologic feature called the “Grand Staircase”, made up of plateaus, cliffs, and terraces spanning from southern Utah to northern Arizona.

The Grand Staircase ascends from the bottom of the Grand Canyon up to southern Utah, with layers of rock formations and elevation increasing as you move up the “staircase”. The landscape here is unique and has been focused on by geologists, paleontologists, and historians alike.

The most visited part of the park is the stretch along Highway 12 in southern Utah. The highway runs across the northern edge of the national monument. There’s plenty to see and do in this area, from waterfalls to slot canyons.

Grand Staircase-Escalante can easily be combined with a trip to Bryce Canyon National Park and Capitol Reef National Park.

Best Things to Do in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

  • Lower Calf Creek Falls is a moderate 6-mile hike to a towering 126-foot waterfall. This trail is the perfect family-friendly hike for a cool spring day.
  • Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyons is an incredible adventurous hike along the remote Hole-in-the-Rock Road. This challenging hike navigates tight spaces, steep drop-offs, and dusty desert trails.
  • Burr Trail is located in both Grand Staircase-Escalante and the southern Waterpocket Fold region of Capitol Reef National Park. This remote scenic drive requires an AWD vehicle and covers some of Utah’s most remote lands.

Best Time to Visit Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

The best time to visit Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is Spring or Fall. The best months to visit are April to May or September to October. These months have pleasant weather, flowing waterfalls, and avoid peak summer heat and crowds. 

Where to Stay in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

7. Bears Ears National Monument

  • Location: Blanding, Utah
  • Size: 1,360,000 acres
  • Annual Visitors: 224,000
  • Founded: 2016
Rock formations in the distance at Bears Ears National Monument

Bears Ears National Monument is a newly founded park protected by the Bureau of Land Management. This site is a historic area of indigenous civilizations in southern Utah, filled with cultural heritage and sacred ceremony grounds.

The park is cooperatively operated by the NPS and five indigenous tribes, including the Hopi Nation, Navajo Nation, Ute Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah Ouray, and Zuni Tribe. 

This vast park in southeastern Utah, near Colorado, provides plenty of opportunities for hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, and more.

You can also visit historical sites to learn more about the indigenous cultures and their influence and stewardship of this area in southern Utah.

Best Things to Do in Bears Ears National Monument

  • Butler Wash Ruins Overlook is a cliff-dwelling ruin set just off Highway 95. The easy short hike provides the perfect overlook of the more than 800-year-old pueblo.
  • Mule Canyon Roadside Kiva is home to historic ruins, including a 700-year-old kiva, a 12-room pueblo, and a tower, easily accessible off Highway 95
  • Newspaper Rock sits along the Indian Creek Scenic Byway, connecting the national monument to The Needles District in Canyonlands National Park. Newspaper Rock is a 2,000-year-old rock wall filled with ancient petroglyphs. 
  • Rafting the San Juan River is one of the more unique things to do in the park. The 84-mile San Juan River runs through the park’s heart and provides moderate Class II rapids. You can raft the river on your own or join a tour.

Best Time to Visit Bears Ears National Monument

The best time to visit Bears Ears National Monument is spring or fall. During these months, trails and roads are open to the public. However, summers can be hot and prone to flash floods and thunderstorms.

By late fall through early spring, roads are closed due to snowfall.

Where to Stay in Bears Ears National Monument

8. Cedar Breaks National Monument

  • Location: Brian Head, Utah
  • Size: 6,155 acres
  • Annual Visitors: 772,886
  • Founded: 1933
Hoodoos and canyon walls in Cedar Breaks National Monument

Cedar Breaks National Monument looks very similar to Bryce Canyon National Park, with the same colorful hoodoos, Bristlecone pine trees, and tiered landscape. However, Cedar Breaks National Monument is at an even higher elevation, sitting at 10,000 feet.

If you’re looking to experience the hoodoos without all the crowds, consider taking a trip to Cedar Breaks National Monument instead. The cool summer temperatures make this park the perfect escape from the heat found in other areas of Utah. 

Best Things to Do in Cedar Breaks National Monument

  • Cedar Breaks Scenic Drive is an excellent way to see the park. You’ll drive the short route, stopping at several viewpoints to take in the amphitheater and its colorful hoodoos. Be sure to stop at Point Supreme Overlook and Sunset View Overlook.
  • Sunset Trail is an easy 2-mile hike connecting Point Supreme Overlook and Sunset View Overlook from the scenic drive. This hike provides great views and is very family-friendly.

Best Time to Visit Cedar Breaks National Monument

The best time to visit Cedar Breaks National Monument is the summer or early fall. Due to its high elevation and snowy winter weather, the park is only open from late May until mid-October. During this time, temperatures are comfortable. In the fall, you can see bright yellow and orange fall foliage.

Where to Stay

9. Natural Bridges National Monument

  • Location: San Juan County, Utah
  • Size: 7,636 acres
  • Annual Visitors: 73,484
  • Founded: 1908
Natural Bridge National Monument

Natural Bridges National Monument is located in southeastern Utah, near Bears Ears National Monument. Like Bears Ears, it is also home to sacred grounds for the indigenous cultures in the area and historic ruins.

In addition, the park gets its name from three impressive natural land bridges. 

Natural Bridges was also one of the first national monuments in the United States, founded by Theodore Roosevelt.

Unlike arches, natural bridges are formed by water erosion instead of air erosion and often span over a body of water. The hiking trails in the park are short and relatively easy, making Natural Bridges a very family-friendly park. 

Best Things to Do in Natural Bridges National Monument

  • Sipapu Bridge is the second-largest natural bridge in the United States and the largest in Natural Bridges National Monument. It can be seen from an overlook or viewed up close on a 1-hour hike.
  • Kachina Bridge is the widest and likely youngest natural bridge in the park. The underside of the bridge contains ancient petroglyphs. You can see the bridge from an overlook or up close on a 1-hour hike.
  • Horse Collar Ruin Overlook views a collection of preserved Puebloan cliff dwellings. A 30-45 minute hike to an overlook provides an excellent vista to see these 700-year-old ruins.
  • Owachomo Bridge is the last stop on the one-way scenic drive through the park, making the perfect end to your time in the park. It is the smallest and likely oldest natural bridge in the park. You can see the bridge from an overlook or close on a 30-minute hike.

Best Time to Visit Natural Bridges National Monument

The best time to visit Natural Bridges National Monument is in the spring or fall when temperatures are more comfortable, and the park is less crowded. Summer brings hotter weather and more crowds when the kids are out of school.

Where to Stay in Natural Bridges National Monument

10. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

  • Location: Bullfrog, Utah & Page, Arizona
  • Size: 1,254,117 acres
  • Annual Visitors: 3,144,318
  • Founded: 1972
Horseshoe Bend in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is an expansive park encompassing Lake Powell and its surrounding area in southern Utah and northern Arizona. This magnificent park provides no shortage of incredible bucket-list-worthy views.

Many of Arizona and Utah’s most iconic views, including Reflection Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, can be found here. The best sights and activities center around Lake Powell, where water levels increased after the 1966 flooding by the Glen Canyon Dam.

The unique blue waters flowing through the bright orange canyons are genuinely incredible and make this park a must-visit, whether you’re visiting from Utah or Arizona.

Best Things to Do in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

  • Horseshoe Bend is one of the most famous landmarks in Glen Canyon. It provides panoramic views of the Colorado River’s canyon carving. The overlook is a 1-mile round trip hike. (Arizona Side)
  • Reflection Canyon is a remote alternative to Horseshoe Bend. Reaching the canyon requires a long, 50-mile drive in a 4WD vehicle. Then you must hike another 15+ mile round trip trail. (Utah Side)
  • Lake Powell is the highlight of the park. Watersports on the lake are a must, whether you choose boating, fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding, or water skiing. (Utah Side)

Best Time to Visit Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

The best time to visit Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is spring or fall. Summer temperatures are sweltering. In addition, June and July are the busiest months in Glen Canyon.

Visit in April, May, September, or October to avoid crowds and have more mild weather.

Where to Stay in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

11. Hovenweep National Monument

  • Location: Bluff, Utah
  • Size: 784 acres
  • Annual Visitors: 26,710
  • Founded: 1923
Ruins in Hovenweep National Monument

Hovenweep National Monument is one of the smallest national monuments in Utah. The park protects historical ruins from historic villages built 3,000 years ago. Hovenweep consists of six prehistoric villages, once home to over 2,500 people. 

You can explore the ancient structures in the park, including towers balanced precariously on the canyon rims and boulders. Hovenweep National Monument also offers plenty of hiking trails and camping opportunities.

The park is split into isolated tracts of land that require you to drive to each one individually. However, the drive is reasonably short between the land groups.

Best Things to Do in Hovenweep National Monument

  • Square Tower Group is one of the most spectacular areas of ruins in Hovenweep. Here you can choose from several short hikes, like the paved path to Canyon Overlook, the Square Tower Loop, or the Hovenweep Castle Trail to explore the ruins.
  • Stargazing in Hovenweep National Monument is incredible. The national monument is an internationally-certified dark sky park. With little light pollution, you can see seemingly endless stars.

Best Time to Visit Hovenweep National Monument

The best time to visit Hovenweep National Monument is in the spring or fall when temperatures are more comfortable (avoid the summer heat!). Due to the park’s remote location, Hovenweep is rarely crowded.

Where to Stay in Hovenweep National Monument

12. Rainbow Bridge National Monument

  • Location: Page, Arizona
  • Size: 160 acres
  • Annual Visitors: 3,290
  • Founded: 1910
Rainbow Bridge National Monument

Rainbow Bridge National Monument protects one of the world’s largest known natural bridges.  The bridge stands 290 feet tall and 270 feet wide and is sacred to many indigenous cultures across southeastern Utah. 

In recent years, declining water levels on Lake Powell have made it more challenging to access Rainbow Bridge, most often reached by boat. Today boaters can get to the park but need to do additional hiking at their own risk to reach the bridge. 

Visitors can also reach the trailhead via unpaved roads with a permit from Navajo Nation or see the bridge from above on a scenic flight.

Best Things to Do in Rainbow Bridge National Monument

  • A Boat Tour from Wahweap Marina is the perfect way to see Rainbow Bridge if you only have one day. The 7-hour tour cruises across Lake Powell to the bridge.
  • Hike to Rainbow Bridge via the trail through Navajo Nation lands. This 2-day minimum backpacking hike goes around Navajo Mountain and requires a special permit to reach the bridge.

Best Time to Visit Rainbow Bridge National Monument

The best time to visit Rainbow Bridge National Monument is when temperatures are mild during the spring or fall. However, summer temperatures can reach 100 degrees and are not suitable for hiking to the bridge.

Where to Stay in Rainbow Bridge National Monument

National Forests in Southern Utah

There are also several national forests scattered throughout Utah. There are two notable national forests in the southern part of the state: Dixie National Forest and Fishlake National Forest.

13. Dixie National Forest

  • Location: Cedar City, Utah
  • Size: 1,889,106 acres
  • Annual Visitors: 700,000
  • Founded: 1905
Tree-lined mountains in Dixie National Forest

Dixie National Forest is a scenic park tucked away between Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. If you’re on a Zion and Bryce Canyon road trip, a stop at Dixie National Forest can make an excellent detour.

The forested park offers excellent opportunities for camping and hiking. This scenic national forest provides a much-needed break from the crowds found in nearby national parks.

In addition, the landscape is different, filled with more greenery interspersed with Utah’s signature red rock.

Best Things to Do in Dixie National Forest

  • Yant Flats Trail takes you through the southern slopes of the Pine Valley Mountains at the edge of the Colorado Plateau. This 3.4-mile moderate hike covers the best landscapes of Pine Valley in Dixie National Forest.
  • Navajo Lake is the highlight of Dixie National Forest. The bright blue water highlights the surrounding mountainous scenery. You can enjoy a picnic on the lake shores or take a more difficult 10-mile loop hike around the lake.

Best Time to Visit Dixie National Forest

The best time to visit Dixie National Forest is in the summer. The high elevation keeps temperatures cooler, even in the summer. Summer is the best time of year for hiking and camping.

In the winter, Dixie National Forest is covered in snow and is less accessible.

Where to Stay in Dixie National Forest

14. Fishlake National Forest

  • Location: Richfield, Utah
  • Size: 1,461,226 acres
  • Annual Visitors: 500,000 
  • Founded: 1908
Pond and brush in Fishlake National Forest

Fishlake National Forest is located in south-central Utah and provides a unique difference in landscape from the rest of southern Utah. Here you’ll find forested mountainsides, waterfalls, and lakes. It is much more reminiscent of the parks located in northern Utah.

The park is named after Fish Lake, the largest freshwater mountain lake in the state. Fishlake truly comes alive with bright yellow fall foliage in the aspen forests in the fall.

So if you’re looking for the perfect southern Utah park to visit in the fall, look no further than Fishlake National Forest.

Fishlake National Forest is more rugged and remote, so an AWD vehicle is highly recommended.

Best Things to Do in Fishlake National Forest

  • Take a scenic drive through Fishlake National Forest. This rugged forest has many beautiful routes, including Highway 25 around Fish Lake. 
  • Pando is supposedly one of the oldest living organisms on Earth. This giant forest is over 80,000 years old and is one massive tree organism spread over 106 acres. 

Best Time to Visit Fishlake National Forest

The best time to visit Fishlake National Forest is spring or fall. The wildflowers bring the park to life in the spring. In the fall, the park is vibrant with the fall colors of the Pando and yellow Aspens.

Summer is hotter and tends to have more wildfire restrictions in place.

Where to Stay in Fishlake National Forest

State Parks in Southern Utah

In addition to all the fabulous national parks in Southern Utah, there are plenty of Utah State Parks. While this is not a comprehensive list, these are some of my favorite state parks that are easily added to a southern Utah road trip.

  • Dead Horse Point State Park near Moab, just outside of Canyonlands National Park
  • Snow Canyon State Park near St. George, close to Zion National Park
  • Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Reserve near Kanab, close to Zion National Park
  • Sand Hollow State Park near Hurricane, close to Zion National Park
  • Goosenecks State Park near Mexican Hat, close to Natural Bridges National Monument
  • Kodachrome Basin State Park near Cannonville, close to Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Goblin Valley State Park near Green River, between Capitol Reef and Arches National Park
Dead Horse Point State Park overlook in Utah
Dead Horse Point State Park

Frequently Asked Questions about the Best Utah National Parks

Does Utah have five national parks?

Southern Utah is home to five national parks, often called the “Mighty 5”. These include Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, and Zion National Park.

What is the most famous park in Utah?

Zion National Park is the most famous park in Utah, getting more than 3 million visitors each year. The massive canyon walls, incredible bucket-list hikes, and accessibility from major cities like Las Vegas and Salt Lake City make it a must-see.

What is the biggest park in Utah?

Canyonlands National Park is the biggest national park in southern Utah, protecting over 337,000 acres of land. That’s more than 526 square miles! Located about an hour from Moab, Utah, the park is easy to access from late spring to early fall.

What is the most visited National Park in Utah?

Zion National Park is the most visited national park in Utah, with over 3 million visitors per year. The busiest time of year in Zion is the late spring through the summer when temperatures are warm, and kids are out of school.

What is the least visited National Park in Utah?

Canyonlands National Park is the least visited of Utah’s five national parks. With only 900,000 visitors per year, you won’t find the same crowds as other national parks. The best time to visit is in late spring or late summer to early fall when temperatures are comfortable.

Which is better, Bryce Canyon or Canyonlands?

Bryce Canyon is iconic, characterized by its natural hoodoos. It is also easily accessible from the highway. However, Canyonlands provides great vista points overlooking the deep canyon but is more remote and difficult to access. I think Bryce Canyon’s accessibility makes it better.

Which is better, Bryce or Arches?

Bryce Canyon is famous for its hoodoos, while Arches is known for sandstone arches. If you like scenic drives and panoramic vistas, choose Bryce Canyon. If you want mountain biking or more challenging hikes, choose Arches.

Is Capitol Reef or Canyonlands better?

Canyonlands is better for those that like canyon views and spectacular desert landscapes. It also provides excellent hikes and 4WD opportunities. Capitol Reef is better for those that enjoy exploring historic sites as it is filled with indigenous and pioneer landmarks.

Final Thoughts on the Best National Parks in Utah

While there are many parks in southern Utah, these are the best and should be added to your Utah national parks road trip.

These are the 18 best national parks in southern Utah:

  1. Zion National Park
  2. Arches National Park
  3. Bryce Canyon National Park
  4. Canyonlands National Park
  5. Capitol Reef National Park
  6. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
  7. Bears Ears National Monument
  8. Cedar Breaks National Monument
  9. Natural Bridges National Monument
  10. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
  11. Hovenweep National Monument
  12. Rainbow Bridge National Monument
  13. Dixie National Forest
  14. Fishlake National Forest

Ready to start planning your Utah road trip? You’ll love these posts on Utah’s other national parks:

Don’t miss the best of Utah’s national parks on your upcoming trip! This free, printable Utah national park road trip itinerary covers all the best points of interest in all 5 Utah parks, plus bonus tips on where to stay and side trips to nearby state parks and monuments.

Download your free Utah road trip itinerary here.

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