Moab—and Arches and Canyonlands especially—is nothing short of an international destination for nature-seeking tourism. Reliably, you can hear a handful of different accents from around the world on the tours that run throughout the year. The key is to avoid the extreme heat of the mid-summer, or at least know what you’re getting yourself into. Further to the south, Mexican Hat is also just a hop, skip, and a jump from the Monuments Valley and tribal lands of northern Arizona.
Altogether, this stretch of land in Utah is well-known visually—at least subliminally—to most of the country and the world as the background and filming locations for many of the most famous movies ever made. Moab is also home to the locally famous microbrew of the same name.
To many who love primitive and pristine nature, Lake Powell is both a can’t-miss destination and something of a disappointment. It pretty much entirely surrounds the controversial issue of the Glen Canyon Dam. As a river guide once told us, “the best canyon in the world doesn’t make for a crappy lake.” More to the point, along with natural bridge, hole in the rock, and the surrounding area, this is a place you need to visit. The more daring among us will also find spots to cliff jump, but be careful. With varying water levels and shifting rocks, the area under the cliff needs to be thoroughly searched and all precautions should be taken.
With rare exceptions involving heavy, sediment-carrying rains, you won’t be disappointed by this lake’s nickname. The “Caribbean of the Rockies,” Bear Lake boasts a vibrant turquoise hue most of the time. This is one of Utah’s premier recreational lakes with plenty of opportunities for jet skiing, boating, fishing, swimming, and beaches. Skiing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing are popular wintertime substitutes. Apart from the lake itself, one of the best parts about this spot is its proximity to beautiful mountain and canyon views. Your family can enjoy the traditional lake experience they’ve come to expect, while adding in legitimate mountains and for a fraction of the cost of the more well-known spots in central and southern Utah.
As defined by falling to the west of Lake Powell, southwest Utah is largely known for the Grand Staircase—the other half in terms of the most iconic natural scenery and breathtaking backdrops on the planet. Simply put, the Staircase starts in Escalante, then it drops down to Bryce Canyon, and then to Zion National Park. Distinctive in their own right, the bottom layer of rock formation for Escalante is the top layer for Bryce Canyon, which itself ends at the top of Zion. It’s literally three different mini-worlds that are each worth a visit. And when you’re ready to leave our fair state of Utah, you can cap off your journey at the bottom step of the Grand Staircase—also known as the Grand Canyon.
With more than 1,000 natural lakes and with more than 500 of them supporting game fish populations, plus more than 400 miles of rivers and streams, this is a haven for multiple types of fishing during the summer and fall, as well as ice fishing in the winter. Find even more information from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. You can also plan your hiking adventure around certain key lakes. Mirror Lake is one of the picturesque and has basic camping and RV facilities. The hike up to Lofty Lake will give you views and reasonably easy access to the highest lake in the Uintas.
We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention that at the mouth of the Uinta Mountains, there are a series of reservoirs, Rockport, Jordanelle, and Deer Creek. These reservoirs serve as a major water and irrigation resource, in addition to more fishing and boating opportunities. During the summer, you can go from I-80 West through Kamas and take the highway all the way up to Evanston, Wyoming. Closer to home, you can do the I-80 (through Park City) to I-189 to Heber City down to Provo and back up to Salt Lake City on I-15.
Utah Lake provides all the traditional trappings of lake recreation. Fishing, boating, camping, as well as hiking and mountain biking in the surrounding areas are a treasure enjoyed by the Utah Valley. The key to being a good neighbor when using this lake? Mind your boat cleaning and decontamination certification. Invasive mussels, the STD of the Sea, are a real problem.
Near Provo and Orem, you need to hit at least one of the hikes around Mount Timpanogos. This could be Stewart Falls, Big Springs Hollow, or Squaw Peak. It’s also something of a right of passage for locals to make the trek up Y Mountain on the south side of Utah Valley. For a more challenging hike, we recommend Provo River Parkway Trail—15 miles from Vivian Park to Utah Lake. Further to the south, a little ways out of Utah Valley, you can also find Pando, the Aspen Grove know for being the oldest living thing on Earth.
The only substantial east-to-west running mountains in North America, the Uinta Mountains offer some amazing hiking opportunities. Mirror Lake is just one of the major hotspots for camping and nearby hiking in the Uinta Mountains. The Provo River Waterfalls is also easily accessible through Mirror Lake Scenic Byway, as is Bald Mountain hiking trail. There are dozens of trails along this highway, the highest paved road on the west side of Rocky Mountain Range. One great tandem activity with hiking is fishing in the Uinta Mountains.
There is, however, a limited window of time to enjoy the best the Uintas have to offer. And we mean this in more one way. First, due to the higher altitude 10,000-13,000 feet and some of the higher precipitation levels in the entire state, the area is only reliably accessible by car from July to Sept, maybe an extra couple weeks each way if you have chains. In an entirely different sense, though, time is of the essence. Much of high Uinta Mountain forest is being consumed by an infestation of the Mountain Pine Beetle, which is part of the western bark beetle infestation affecting most of the western Unites States forests. The best methods involve preventive treatment and regenerative efforts. Once a tree has been infested by beetles, it’s more susceptible to all sorts of future hazards, especially ants.
If the east side of the Wasatch Front is known for its mountain hiking and climbing, the west side is known for the Great Salt Lake—even if you have to drive north first to get to the best that the Great Salt Lake has to offer. Antelope Island offers its brand of Utah history, hiking, camping, photography and pioneer-focused experience. There are food stands available during popular times. If you can get past the shores of the lake away from the shallow waters and stench of rotting shrimp brine, you’ll find that the Great Salt Lake can be a unique to teach someone how to swim. In the high-salinity water content, you’ll actually float on top of the water.
Much like how the Uinta Mountains and Mirror Lake Highway are best from July through September when there’s reliable road access, there’s also a sweet spot to visit the Great Salt Lake. The timeframe here is February through April, when there are warm patches but not sustained warmer temperatures that signal the release of that year’s crop of biting gnats. As well as several weeks from November through early December, when the weather is still relatively warm. You can also look to snowshoe during the winter months when many people are off skiing in the mountains.
City Creek, Red Butte, Emigration, Parley’s, Mill, Big Cottonwood, Little Cottonwood. Without a doubt, these seven canyons host the most popular hikes in all of Utah—at least in the sense that these trails are the most well-traveled by local Utahans. That’s because—from North Salt Lake down to Draper and over to Herriman—“that’s where all the people live.” More on this front, what makes these trails so special is that the people, policies, and infrastructure of the Wasatch Front allow some of these canyons to provide much of Salt Lake City’s drinking water as well as some of the best metro-area hiking—and climbing for that matter!—in the whole country.
The future feasibility of this multi-purpose land- and water-use depends on a range of factors some of which are under our control and some of which aren’t. To learn more about one of today’s key organizations seeking to protect, restore, and replenish the land, check out the Seven Canyons Trust.
That said, the future of these canyons and hiking trails is not a binary outcome of good and bad, and we can look to our recent past for lessons. Much of the timber resources in these mountains were depleted during the initial development of the Valley only to be replenished throughout the 20th century with an effective reforesting initiative.