The very Western state of Utah may well be famous for its snow-capped mountains, mirror-like lakes, and ample winter sports opportunities, but there’s another landscape here that’s practically the opposite of all that snow and ice – the desert.
In these harbors of heat, truly stunning vast canyons hark back to an earth under the rule of dinosaurs, while beautiful rock formations jut out to form abstract shapes. There’s a whole lot of red rock to discover in Utah, the only American state with a majority population belonging to one church – the Mormons.
The rural town of Panguitch sits in a valley between the Markagunt and Paunsaugunt Plateaus. Panguitch is surrounded by stunning mountainous landscapes and lakes, which is probably why its name is a Native American Paiute word which means ‘Big Fish.’
The lakes and rivers in the nearby area are popular with trout fishers; they are abundant with rainbow trout throughout the year. The town itself is notable for its quaint historic district, complete with red-brick buildings, which was founded by early Mormon pioneers.
Panguitch remains a friendly local place with interesting antique shops, art galleries, and craft stalls. The town’s local spirit comes alive in the summer months with a number of festivals, such as the Panguitch Valley Balloon Rally and the Annual Quilt Walk Festival.
Set immediately outside the boundaries of Zion National Park, the small town of Springdale is the perfect jumping off point for exploring one of America’s most beautiful national parks.
Like something from Jurassic Park or even another planet, the biodiverse region of Zion Canyon is a supremely picturesque location for hiking, rock climbing, canyoning, abseiling, camping, and generally stepping foot into a heavenly natural wonderland.
Back in town, with its choice of places to eat, drink and stay, Springdale offers less hardy outdoors enthusiasts a place to sleep and be entertained at the end of the night, instead of whatever the wilderness can provide. If you’re not adventurous at all, you can still drive the scenic 25-mile Zion-Mount Carmel Highway.
Protected by the impressive Wasatch Range to the east of Salt Lake City, Park City is a popular holiday resort town. The town turned its attention to tourism after the decline of its silver mining industry, which dated back to the 1860s.
Now, it’s home to two ski resorts and was the location for some events in the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Park City’s population is less than 8,000 but gets considerably inflated during tourist high season.
Aside from skiing, the big draw to Park City is the world famous Sundance Film Festival, which is held in the town each year and draws thousands of guests along with the world’s media. Noted for its charm and beauty, the town also has many bars, eateries, and shops serving up local goods and produce.
It might seem strange that Garden City is nicknamed the “Caribbean of the Rockies,” but it makes sense. Situated on the shores of the beautiful, turquoise-colored Bear Lake, it’s easy to see how Garden City came by that epithet.
The 250,000-year-old Bear Lake has a surprising number of endemic species living below the surface, like the Bonneville Cutthroat trout.
The area is also famed for the tastiness of its raspberries – so famed that it hosts the Raspberry Days festival in early August. This features parades, a raspberry recipe cook-off, fireworks, dances, and a craft fair, amongst other things.
Nestled among the slopes of the Wellsville Mountains, Brigham City sits on the stunning backdrop of spiky mountainous peaks in the east. This quiet place is a fantastic spot to stay for a few days and soak up the small town atmosphere while exploring natural bounties.
The history of Brigham can be seen in the architecture along Main Street in town; it was founded in 1850 and is home to the attractive 100-year-old Capitol Theater and an impressive pillared courthouse.
A desert region or scrub lies close to the town, which leads on to the mesmerizing marshlands on the edge of the Great Salt Lake. The area is also home to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, providing the perfect spot to observe the natural habitat.
Huntsville was founded in 1860 by Jefferson Hunt – a brigadier in the American Army’s Mormon Battalion.
To the east lies a dramatic landscape of rolling green valleys, painted red and gold in autumn. For the best autumn colors, Ogden Valley is the best bet for any leaf peeper.
To the west, Huntsville hugs the shores of the Pineview Reservoir, making fishing and boating prime summertime activities.
For colder outdoors entertainment, you should make a beeline to Snowbasin Resort. This is one of America’s oldest ski resorts and has been in continuous operation since opening in 1939; it even hosted the downhill events of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.
The genuinely tiny, tree-lined town of Torrey is home to less than 200 residents. Notable for being the gateway to exploring the Capitol Reef National Park, Torrey is a world of low-key living and understated charm.
Sitting at 6,800 feet above sea level, the area is a refreshing summer retreat, where visitors enjoy laid-back lodging and a selection of local restaurants.
The Thousand Lake Mountain – with its rusty sandstone canyons and green forests – is just a few minutes from the town itself, offering abundant opportunities for hiking, kayaking or fishing.
The wholesome, family-orientated town may be quiet, but it also plays host to the Cowboy Music and Poetry Festival, which draws tourists to the town in the summer months.
With its roots in the mid-1800s, Spring City is much more than just a farming town. Spread throughout Spring City are many examples of Mormon pioneer architecture; there are big stone buildings, like the late 19th century Spring City Chapel and the impressive Spring City School (1899).
With Danish and other Scandinavian immigration encouraged towards the end of the 19th century, the north side of Spring City became known as “Little Denmark.” Places like the 1876 Justesen-Olsen House and the Rasmus Jensen House – dating to 1900 – are a testament to this new influx. Just walking the streets of Spring City and admiring the pretty houses and buildings here is the order of the day.
The once cut-off town of Mouth Pleasant began to change with the arrival of the railway in 1890. The town saw an influx of wealth after this time; subsequently, much of the architecture along the main street originates from the early 19th century.
Walking around Mount Pleasant can feel like stepping back in time. Many of the houses around the town are turn of the century buildings with large grassy lawns.
The Wasatch Academy is part of Mount Pleasant’s proud heritage; this private school dates back to 1875. The original schoolhouse is now a museum, which provides an interesting insight into the Mormon Pioneer heritage in the area.
Just north of the Arizona border, Kanab is often referred to as “Little Hollywood” because of the sheer amount of film and television that have been at least partially filmed in this Kane County town. These include the TV series The Lone Ranger, the original Planet of the Apes, and John Wayne’s Stagecoach.
Kanab is also well placed for some fantastic canyoning and hiking opportunities; the nearby Buckskin Gulch is the longest, deepest slot canyon in the United States – possibly in the world.
This surreal landform is augmented by other famous landscapes in the area, like the thin Wire Pass and the famously beautiful Coyote Buttes, where you’ll find The Wave, a swirling, otherworldly rock formation.
Fans of cross-country skiing rejoice: there’s a dedicated resort for you at Soldier Hollow. It was here during the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics that the cross-country skiing events were held.
Located in Wasatch Mountain State Park – also great for its regular downhill skiing – this park is a prime spot to come for golf (it boasts two courses), as well as summer hiking.
Deer Creek Dam and Reservoir is a perfect spot for boating and just relaxing by the waterside during the warmer months.
For a spot of unexpected scuba diving, head to Homestead Resort, where an active caldera keeps the water mild all year round.
With a list of hit movies under its belt, the scenery around Moab is simply stunning. Many Westerns have been filmed around here, reflecting the hardy landscape. The weirdness of the landscape, with its desolate and alien feel, has suited many sci-fi films too, including Star Trek and John Carter.
Nearby, Arches National Park boasts a wealth of arches, like the teetering Delicate Arch. The Fisher Towers look dramatic any time of day, but especially at sunset, and the Canyonlands National Park combines buttes, canyons, and mesas in a colorful haven of red rock.
Mountain Biking fans should head to the Slickrock Trail, but you probably already know about this 10.5-mile loop circling ancient sea beds and petrified dunes.