Utah in the United States of America (the US) is usually synonymous with the Great Salt Lake, ‘America’s Dead Sea’ which is also the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere. It is also famous for its national parks—’The Mighty 5®’—that cover vast swathes of the state.
However, beyond the parks and the Great Salt Lake, the state and its rugged landscapes offer much you can explore. Here are some options you may want to add to your Utah itinerary.
Exploring Monument Valley and Navajo Culture
Monument Valley may be one of the most photographed places on earth and one that has been captured innumerable times in Hollywood films, but it often remains hidden and invisible to visitors. To understand this paradox, one must realise that a large part of the Monument Valley is administered by the Navajo Nation. Of the 17 million acres that form part of the Monument Valley, nearly 91,000 acres have been set aside as the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. It is a sacred area dotted with some majestic sandstone formations but is also one that is populated by the Navajo tribe that is welcoming to and accommodating of all visitors.
Some of the natural features worth checking out include East and West Mittens, John Ford’s Point, and the Three Sisters’ Viewpoint. It is also worthwhile to explore the region’s Navajo culture. Guided tours such as the ones offered by Goulding’s Resort (since the 1920s) will not only allow you to explore regions such as the Mystery Valley and live in harmony with nature but also enable you to learn more about the incredible richness of Navajo culture. For more information, head over here.
Horseback Riding in Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon is a unique national park in many ways. It boasts of an alpine environment and consists of as many red-rock hoodoos as there are alpine trees in its windswept forests—a special landscape that has been carved out by centuries of alternate freezing and thawing.
One of the best ways to explore the special features of Bryce Canyon is on horseback. Horse rides are available from Sunrise Point, which descends into the heart of the canyon before looping back to the starting point. All along the two-hour-long journey (recommended for those above seven years of age), cowboys will entertain riders with local tales and pertinent information on the region’s history and geology. For the more adventurous, a three-hour ride (available only for those above 10 years of age) is recommended, in which one comes across formations such as the Wall of Windows, The Chessmen, Silent City, and the Bristle Cone Pine Trees.
Adventure Aboard the Rocky Mountaineer Train
When you think of iconic trains around the world, the Rocky Mountaineer Train deserves a mention near the top of such lists. What’s even better news is the fact that a ride aboard the Rocky Mountaineer Train is one of the most scenic ways in which one can travel to Utah. The train follows the Rockies–Red Rocks route—a two-day journey from Denver in the neighbouring state of Colorado to Moab, the so-called gateway to the five national parks of Utah. The train, with an overnight stop at the historic city of Glenwood Springs, skirts around the Colorado River and carves its way through picturesque, rugged landscapes—tunnels, plateaus, canyons, craggy peaks, and more—before rolling into Moab. Some of the most magnificent sights one can see from the train include the Big 10 Curve, Moffat Tunnel, Byers Canyon, Debeque Canyon, Mount Garfield, and Ruby Canyon.
Also Read: The Starry World of Utah
As a visitor, you would understandably be concerned about logistics pertaining to staying and accommodation. Thankfully, the state possesses excellent facilities that promise to make your stay a memorable one.
- The Red Mountain Resort in St. George, Utah, is a spa and wellness centre that is a great option for fitness enthusiasts. It also conducts adventure activities, mostly centred on hiking and biking along the several trails (such as the Hidden Pinyon Trail, Paradise Canyon Loop, and Anasazi Valley Trail, among others) that exist in the region. The resort also provides options for excursions in the Zion National Park and the Snow Canyon National Park, both of which are situated close by. The underlying philosophy behind the operation of the Red Mountain Resort is ‘eat well, feel well’—the reason why the resort promotes the practice of responsible eating while offering several wellness programmes in the form of yoga, sound baths, spas, massage therapies, and nature-inspired body treatments, among others. For more information, head over here.
- Nostalgia best describes the experience at Yonder Escalante, a unique property located between the Bryce Canyon National Park and the Capitol Reef National Park. It consists of 22 custom-designed cabins, 10 airstreams, and 67 recreational vehicle (RV) sites—all equipped with state-of-the-art facilities for a most comfortable camping experience under the skies. However, it is the site itself that is the centrepiece of the Yonder Escalante adventure. Located in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Yonder Escalante occupies the grounds of a drive-in movie theatre where you can enjoy movies from the comfort of a vintage car—in a nutshell, the grand old and classic American experience. More details can be found here.
- If you are travelling with a pet, however, there can be few accommodations better than the Best Friends Roundhouse and Mercantile in Kanab, Utah. It is located close to the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, which is run by the Best Friends Animal Society (a pioneering animal welfare organisation in the no-kill movement working to end the killing of dogs and cats in animal shelters). On offer at the Best Friends Roundhouse are 40 rooms with dog- and cat-friendly amenities—built-in cubbies for snuggling, dog-washing stations, pet walking, and a fenced dog park area with a splash zone. To know more, follow the link here.
- For a completely different experience, Camp Sarika by Amangiri may be a worthy addition to your Utah itinerary. Sarika offers a luxurious glamping experience in the middle of Utah’s desert experience—one that is more in tune with nature than the conveniences of modern city life. An added bonus is the three national parks and the Navajo Nation Reservation. Camp Sarika offers guided tours into this section of the Old West, replete with storytelling sessions and campfires at night. For some, the charms of these experiences in the wild exceed the comfort provided by amenities such as private lounges and plunge pools.
- Spread across 240 acres, Sorrel Ranch is a one-of-its-kind riverside ranch located outside Moab along the Scenic Byway 128. It provides a host of wellness and gourmet-dining services and also has a petting zoo. But it is the sheer wealth of adventure activities that serve as the icing on the cake here—from horseback riding and canyoneering to hot air ballooning, hiking, mountain biking, and canoeing, the options are numerous.
Road-trips in Utah mostly revolve around its five national parks. If you are a food aficionado, however, a trip to the following places may be well worth your time.
- Boulder is one of the remotest locations in Utah, that is reached via the Scenic Byway 12—a highway used mostly by those travelling to the Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks. The hamlet of Boulder is, however, worth stopping at for the excellent Hell’s Backbone Grill, a restaurant run by chefs Jen Castle and Blake Spalding. It is sustained by their ‘no-harm organic farm’ (which accounts for the place’s supply of vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers, and greens, as well as Boulder-raised, grass-fed local lamb and beef) and a straw-bale greenhouse that generates a phenomenal 12,000 pounds of produce each year. Not surprisingly, Hell’s Backbone Grill has the highest Zagat ratings in the whole of Utah and was a James Beard Award semifinalist in 2017, 2018, and 2019.
- Along the same road, you will find the Kiva Koffeehouse in Southern Utah. Blending seamlessly and harmoniously into the surrounding landscape, it will provide you with the perfect natural, rustic setting for you to enjoy a fulfilling meal or a warm cup of coffee.
- If foraging for your own items is your idea of a food adventure, you can visit the Capitol Reef National Park. It offers plenty of opportunities to pick up and collect fruits from the orchards you may encounter, such as the orchards of Fruita. Alternatively, to sample the local harvest, you could head to centres such as the Etta Place Cider for a fresh drink.