Outside the Utah Mighty 5

Utah’s much more than The Mighty 5. Sure, its famous national parks — Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Capital Reef National Park, Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park — are must-sees, but spectacular scenes don’t end at the parks’ boundaries. 

Just beyond their star-studded borders, you’ll find equally-impressive red-rock slot canyons, sandstone cliffs and limestone plateaus. What these less-popular locales lack in national designation they make up for with easy access, peaceful meandering and uninterrupted wilderness delight. 

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Calf Creek Falls enthrall visitors of Grand Staircase­­–Escalante National Monument. Photo by Michael Kunde / Utah Office of Tourism,

Famous: Capitol Reef National Park

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Views flow through an outdoor cabin at Yonder Escalante. HWY One / courtesy Yonder escalante.

Nearby Fave: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument sits in the same sun-drenched Utah backcountry as Capital Reef National Park. The All-American Road: Scenic Byway 12 (from the north) leads travelers through colorful sandstone cliffs, narrow slot canyons, picturesque washes and seemingly endless slickrock. Hike highlights include Lower Calf Creek Falls and Peek-a-boo and Spooky Gulch slot canyons.

Set up basecamp in Escalante, which perches on the edge of Grand Staircase National Monument. Pamper yourself in one of Yonder Escalante’s luxury cabins, Airstreams or RV sites, and dine farm-to-table style at Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm in Boulder, Utah. 

Famous: Zion National Park

Nearby Fave: Snow Canyon State Park 

After a visit to Snow Canyon’s Navajo sandstone cliffs that share the same history and geology as Zion National Park to the east, you may find yourself wondering why it’s not designated as a national park. Snow Canyon State Park is a hit with families and all levels of road cyclists, rock climbers and hikers.

Set up basecamp in St. George, just a short 10 miles away. Book a room at Red Mountain Resort, golf at Sand Hollow Resort, relax at the Green Valley Boutique Hotel and Spa, and dine at Wood Ash Rye

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A deluxe tent welcomes glampers at Under Canvas Bryce Canyon. Courtesy under canvas Bryce canyon

Famous: Bryce Canyon National Park

Nearby Fave: Red Canyon, Dixie National Forest

As Bryce Canyon’s lesser-known neighbor, Red Canyon inherits road travelers en route to the national park, but stuns them when Scenic Byway 12 runs directly through two red-rock arch tunnels. The highway displays orange-red pinnacles, spires, columns and hoodoos. Unlike Bryce, Red Canyon welcomes mountain bikers, off-roaders and horseback riders. 

If glamping is your style, you’re in luck. Under Canvas recently opened its newest luxury experience Under Canvas Bryce Canyon just 15 minutes outside of Bryce Canyon National Park.  Check undercanvas.com for availability.

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Foodies flock to Hell’s Backbone Grill & Far. Photo by Sandra Salvas / Utah Office of Tourism

Famous: Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park

Nearby Fave: Dead Horse Point State Park

Oh, the views! The panorama from Dead Horse Point State Park is one of the most photographed scenic vistas in the world. Smack dab in the middle of Moab’s two national parks, Dead Horse’s slender peninsula of land extends off the massive plateau that is home to Canyonlands National Park’s Island in the Sky district. If you crave arches, hike to Corona Arch and Bowtie Arch just outside of Arches National Park. 

Reserve a campsite or yurt at any one of Dead Horse Point State Park campgrounds. Take in the spectacular star show from this International Dark Sky Park. Or take the more luxe route by booking a room at Sorrel River Ranch Resort and Spa in Moab and dining at any one of downtown Moab’s brew pubs, pizzerias, Thai, or sushi restaurants.  


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Val Rasmussen
Val Rasmussen
Val Rasmussen is a word nerd, grammar geek, idiom aficionado and pun promoter. The Salt Laker has produced travel, outdoor and design stories for Salt Lake Magazine, Utah Style & Design and Utah Bride & Groom for the last decade. When she not reporting on Utah trailblazers for a downtown ad agency, she’s trekking trails with her family and two doodles or on the soccer field sidelines cheering on her boys.

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