The essential guide to visiting Utah (2024)

Fast Facts

Statehood: January 4, 1896 (45th state)
Capital: Salt Lake City
Time zone: Mountain Daylight Time (UTC -6)
Airports: Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC), Provo Municipal Airport (PVU), Ogden-Hinckley Airport (OGD), Saint George Regional Airport (SGU), Canyonlands Field Airport (CNY).
Fun fact:The “Beehive State” gets its nickname from early religious pioneers who believed they themselves worked “as hard as bees.”

Why you should visit Utah

Park City skiing. Zion National Park’s soul-stirring landscapes and Bryce Canyon’s hoodoos. The starry Sundance Film Festival. The Mormon Tabernacle and religious history in Salt Lake City.

Best time to visit

Spring:Mild temperatures make for long days on the trail in destinations like Moab and St. George. While some snow may still be found at higher elevations—like Bryce Canyon National Park or Alta—lower elevations are perfect for rock climbing, hiking, and mountain biking. Wildflowers begin to paint high elevation areas with shades of violet, ruby, and gold.

Summer: While throngs of RVers and road trippers make their way to Utah’s famous national parks, backcountry hikers aim for the cooler heights of the less heralded High Uintas Wilderness. Recreational boaters take to Lake Powell for water skiing and houseboat adventures. Rafting on the Green River and Colorado River is at its peak. The summer concludes with Speed Week at Bonneville Salt Flats International Raceway.

Fall: Autumn foliage of the Wasatch Range—with its kaleidoscope of birch, maple, and fir trees—paints a portrait rivaling the best of New England. Drive the 38-mile Mount Nebo Scenic Byway or hike to Lake Solitude in Big Cottonwood Canyon. Summer crowds peter off at national parks, leaving campgrounds and trailheads more open for spontaneous road trips.

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Winter: Sparkling powder caps the Wasatch Range. Ski resorts from Ogden to Park City come to life, welcoming travelers to a playground of slopes that once hosted the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. Sundance Film Festival puts a spotlight on independent cinema not far from the slopes.

Lay of the land

Wasatch Range: A striking 85 percent of Utah residents live within 15 miles of the Wasatch Range. Salt Lake City and suburbs are home to about one third of the entire population of Utah. Professional sports like the Utah Jazz and Real Salt Lake entertain the crowds, while travelers roam the grounds of Temple Square, the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Park City provides a haven for mountain bikers, snowboarders, and skiers on the eastern flanks of the Wasatch Range. Provo is anchored by Brigham Young University. Hike to 600-foot Bridal Veil Falls. Photograph fall foliage on the Alpine Loop. Ogden is a launchpad for angling and rafting the Green River, and for snow resorts like Nordic Valley,Powder Mountain, and Snowbasin.

Northern Utah: Fish for Kokanee salmon at Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. Soak in a surreal, purple sunset over the prehistoric seascape at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Camp beside the Great Salt Lake at Antelope Island State Park. Photograph waterfowl at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. Hike out to the Spiral Jetty. Explore otherworldly granite at The Devil’s Playground.

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Central Utah and Southern Utah: Picnic under an oculus at Goblin Valley State Park. Off-road to the Temple of the Sun and Moon at Capitol Reef National Park. Visit Pando, the world’s largest tree (a 40,000-stem aspen) at Fishlake National Forest. Follow in the footsteps of early National Geographic photographers at Kodachrome Basin State Park. Hike to the top of Angel’s Landing (permit required), squeeze throughThe Narrows or descend into lava tubes of The Subway at Zion National Park. Jet-ski through geologic history on Lake Powell. Hike through hoodoos on the Navajo Loop Trail at Bryce Canyon National Park. Mountain bike through red rock at Thunder Mountain Trail. Slide through Peak-a-Boo Slot Canyon and Spooky Gulch and hike past pictographs to Calf Creek Falls inside Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Hike the Cutthroat Castle Trail to ancient Puebloan dwellings at Hovenweep National Monument.

Eastern Utah: Hike to Delicate Arch and scramble through the Devil’s Garden Trail to

Dark Angel at Arches National Park (timed reservations required). Pitch a tent beside panoramic views of the Colorado River at Dead Horse Point State Park. Soak in Islands in the Sky from the top of

Whale Rock

or (for rock climbers) the towers of Zeus and Moses. Trek to Druid Arch and investigate ancient petroglyphs in

The Needles district of Canyonlands National Park.

The Mighty Five: Utah’s national parks are the state’s most popular destinations for travelers. Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park anchor the Moab area. Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks lure visitors to the state’s southwestern corner, while Capitol Reef National Park provides a geologic warp in the Earth’s crust in Central Utah.

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Dark skies: Utah has a staggering 22 International Dark Sky parks, spanning every corner of the state. State and national park rangers offer sporadic, public stargazing tours. Guide services like Sleeping Rainbow Adventures, Zion Stargazing Tours, and Dark Ranger Telescope Tours can be booked privately.

Getting around

By plane:Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) is the state’s largest airport, with 12 passenger airlines offering 700 routes throughout the United States and nonstop international flights from Amsterdam, London, and Paris. Provo Airport (PVU) serves domestic destinations like Austin, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and San Francisco. Canyonlands Field Airport (CNY) services Moab from domestic destinations, while St. George Regional Airport (SGU) operates limited commercial service near Zion National Park.

By car:Utah has more than 3,600 miles of state highways and 977 miles of interstate highway, allowing travel by car from Salt Lake City to far-flung state and national parks. Major routes include I-15 from the Wasatch Range to St. George, Highway 191 through Moab, and Highway 89 from Salt Lake City to the gates of Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks near Kanab.

By train: Train travel is limited. The long-distance California Zephyr makes stops at Amtrak stations in Salt Lake City, Helper, Provo, and Green River, traveling in each direction once per day.

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Know before you go

Cultural history: The area now known as Utah has been inhabited for more than 10,000 years. Ancestral Puebloan and Fremont people may have been among the first to call this place home. Today, five distinct groups of contemporary Indigenous people are recognized in Utah: Shoshone, Ute, Paiute, Goshute, and Navajo. Approximately 60,000 Indigenous people representing 50 tribal nations (eight federally recognized) reside in the state.

The first settlers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints arrived in the Great Salt Lake Valley in 1847 in what was then part of Mexico. Today, about 60 percent of Utahns identify with the religion.

Park reservations:During peak season, June through August, Utah’s national parks can be busy. Expect to share trails, visitors centers, and viewpoints—especially from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. Arches National Park requires reservations to enter, while the most popular trails in Zion National Park require a hiking permit to limit traffic.

Hours:Late-night restaurants and bars (open past 9 p.m.) are easily found in the Salt Lake City area. In general, things slow down the farther afield travelers go. Plan to pack a meal to enjoy after remote sunset hikes.

Fuel: When traveling outside of the Wasatch Range, it’s a good idea to fuel up often—even if the tank is half-full. Roadside services in much of the state are sparse.

LGBTQ+:Utah ranked squarely in the middle of a 2023 24/7 Wall St. report of the most LGBTQ-friendly states in the U.S., clocking in at No. 28. The state scored a “low” ranking on the Movement Advancement Project’s Mapping Equality report, but Salt Lake City bucks the trend. Utah Pride regularly draws crowds of more than 100,000 people into the revelry. Meanwhile, the Utah LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce sponsors events like a Queer Food FEASTival. Logan, Ogden, and Park City are also considered welcoming places for the LGBTQ+ community.

How to visit sustainably

Practice leave no trace principles. Pack out trash on the trail, including human waste, which decomposes slowly in the desert. Learn to identify the state’s living biological soil crust. Walk and ride on durable surfaces like slick rock, gravel, dirt, and deep snow. Look at—but don’t touch—petroglyphs and rock imagery. Leave artifacts like arrowheads and clay pots alone. Respect sacred Indigenous sites.

Only start campfires in approved fire pits, and never on a windy day. The majority of wildfires in Utah are traced back to humans. Avoid geo-tagging social media posts. Check the FAA’s B4UFLYapp before flying a drone.

What to read

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey. A former park ranger and conservationist tells first-hand stories of adventure and conflict, while grappling with the damage caused by land development and tourism.

Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz. This poetry collection explores erasure and the wounds of Indigenous people through literary and real-world landscapes.

On Zion’s Mountby Jared Farmer. This nonfiction work looks at how the Utah Valley was marketed as a hiker’s paradise while balancing a cultural knife-edge as the home of the Ute people and a destination for religious settlers.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston. This memoir of a canyoneering trip gone wrong was written by the subject of the harrowing film 127 Hours. It serves as a cautionary reminder to never enter canyon country without a plan.

Joe Sills is a freelance travel writer, guidebook author, filmmaker, and photographer. Follow him on Instagram.

The essential guide to visiting Utah (2024)


What should I know before visiting Utah? ›

  • A Few Tips For Visiting Utah And Arizona.
  • 1) Be Prepared For The Weather.
  • 2) Understand How Altitude Can Affect You.
  • 3) Commit To Some Plans Well In Advance of Your Visit.
  • 4) Buy A National Park Pass.
  • 5) Time Your Visits To Tourist Spots.
  • 6) To Hike Or Not To Hike.
  • 7) Plan For the Best But Anticipate Issues.
Feb 2, 2020

How many days do I need to visit Utah? ›

This 10-day itinerary is the granddaddy of all itineraries. You'll hit The Mighty 5® — every national park in Utah — as well as state parks, national monuments, Monument Valley and several stunning spots in between. You'll find tranquil sunrises, fiery sunsets and unadulterated views of the Milky Way.

How to spend 5 days in Utah? ›

  1. Day one: Drive to Moab and visit Canyonlands National Park.
  2. Day two: Arches National Park and Dead Horse State Park.
  3. Day three: Drive to Capitol Reef National Park.
  4. Day four: Bryce Canyon National Park.
  5. Day five: Zion National Park.
Dec 19, 2023

How many days do you need for The Mighty 5? ›

How many days do you need to visit Utah's Mighty 5? With 7 days, you can go on a whirlwind tour of Utah's Mighty 5. It's best to do this point to point, to avoid the long drive back to your starting point (which can be as much as 8 to 10 hours).

What is the best month to visit Utah? ›

The best time to visit Utah is generally in May, September or October as you'll avoid large crowds and extreme temperatures.

What are the pros and cons of Utah? ›

12 Pros and Cons of Living in Utah: What to Know Before Making a Move
  • Renting in Utah snapshot. Population. ...
  • Pro: Outdoor recreation. ...
  • Con: Air quality concerns. ...
  • Pro: Strong economy. ...
  • Con: Water scarcity. ...
  • Pro: Cultural events and festivals. ...
  • Con: Harsh winter weather. ...
  • Pro: Healthy lifestyle.
Apr 3, 2024

Are there any travel restrictions in Utah? ›

If you are traveling to Utah from another U.S. state, there are currently no travel restrictions or quarantine requirements if you are healthy.

What should I wear in Utah? ›

What to Pack for Utah National Park Vacations
  • Sturdy Water Shoes for Hiking Rivers and Rafting. ...
  • Blacklight Flashlight to See Scorpions. ...
  • A Sun Hat, Sunglasses and Sunscreen. ...
  • Rain Jacket. ...
  • Sturdy Hiking Boots. ...
  • A Large Water Jug. ...
  • A Couple of Water Bottles or a Hydration System. ...
  • Warm and Cold Clothing Layers.
May 31, 2023

Is Utah a friendly state? ›

Utah is the self-proclaimed "most family-friendly state in the nation," according to Gov. Spencer Cox's office.

What to know about driving through Utah? ›

Slow down.
  • DRIVE UNDER THE SPEED LIMIT. The posted speed limit is for dry, ideal conditions. ...


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