Famous across the globe for its scenic grandeur, the U.S. state of Utah is a gift of nature. Curiously, the Beehive State is the 13th largest in terms of land mass, but only the 40th most densely populated – making it a great place to really get away from it all. One of the eight U.S. mountain states, Utah is sandwiched between Nevada and Colorado, and the enduring spirit of the Old West is obvious to all who visit.
Around 80% of Utah’s residents live in and around Salt Lake City, leaving vast areas of uninhabited and untouched wilderness waiting to be explored. You’ll be stunned by the biodiversity in this mesmerising state – there are rare species of plant and animal that thrive in the desert setting.
In fact, there are incredible experiences to be found at every turn; soak up unadulterated views of the Milky Way, hike blazing red rock formations in Red Rock Country and scale the slopes of the Wasatch Mountains (where the ski resorts rival those of the Alps).
So Many Scenic Byways, So Little Time
Utah’s adventure-rich terrain is fragmented by 27 scenic byways. With names such as ‘Bear Lake Scenic Byway’, ‘Dead Horse Mesa Scenic Byway’, ‘Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway’ and ‘Trail of the Ancients’, there really is a road for every kind of reveller.
These 27 exciting journeys are jam-packed with panoramic views, hiking opportunities, relic-filled museums and intersected by vibrant and welcoming communities. But where to begin?
Be sure to research your route meticulously beforehand if you’re planning on renting a car in Utah. Planning and prioritisation are key to getting the most out of your trip. An excellent recommendation for first timers is to tackle Scenic Byway 12, which offers drivers ‘A Journey Through Time’. Proceeding west to east for 122 miles, this highway is a designated All American Road.
The Mighty 5: Tips for Driving in Utah’s National Parks
Many of Utah’s 27 Scenic Byways connect The Mighty 5 National Parks, which are concentrated in the southern part of the state. Pleasingly, it’s possible to map a route that visits several or all of the Mighty 5, as each boasts its own unique character and attractions. If you manage to see a snippet of all of them, you’ll take away an amazing overall picture of this incredible state.
If that sounds good to you, Visit Utah’s 'Ultimate Journey' takes in all the parks, taking you from Arches all the way down to Zion and stopping at scores of places of interest along the way.
Here’s a little more about each of Utah’s National Parks, in the order we recommend visiting them:
Arches National Park boasts a curiously smooth and hand-carved appearance thanks to 300 million years of erosion. This park is home to Utah’s most famous attraction and photogenic spot, Delicate Arch, which is easily accessible on the paved 36-mile scenic drive from the park entrance.
Spread over the spectacular Red Rock Country, Canyonlands National Park is characterised by deep canyons meandering through towering mesas and cliffs. The park has three districts, with highlights including the Island in the Sky and neighbouring Dead Horse Point State Park.
A highlight of any trip to Utah, Capitol Reef is a menagerie of colour spread over 100 miles. Contrasting red Entrada and white Navajo sandstone create a surreal landscape, with miles of unique trails along the official Capitol Reef Scenic Drive route and the fascinating backcountry.
Bryce Canyon is a geologist’s dream, where miles of abstract shaped stone bluffs have been formed from rose-tinted sedimentary rock. Brilliant hues light up the landscape at dawn and dusk, so be sure to rise early and take a break from the 37-mile scenic drive for photo opportunities.
With a name that translates as ‘The Promised Land’, a visit to Zion will present some of the most incredible scenic driving opportunities of your lifetime. Carved by water, the impossibly perched Angels Landing is a must-see and the highlight of one of the most famous trails in the world.
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