Updated 02.07.2020: When it comes to visiting Utah, boomers will find plenty to see and do. The entire state is an active traveler’s paradise. But Alan and I are particularly drawn to the fun places to go in Southern Utah.
You could spend most of your southern Utah vacation exploring the Mighty 5—Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. But if you’ve been there and done that, it’s time to experience the hikes, four-wheel-drive-trails, history and scenery that the region has to offer. We’ll get you started by sharing our five of our favorite southern Utah destinations.
Adventure at Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument
Scenic Byway 12 stretches through Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument as the road travels from Torrey to Panguitch, Utah. It doesn’t take long to understand why the road is designated an All America Byway.
Grand-Staircase Escalante contains a series of plateaus that descend from Bryce Canyon to the Grand Canyon—thus the name Grand Staircase. You’ll discover cliff views, slot canyon adventures, four-wheel-drive roads to explore and plenty of hiking. It’s hard to know which southern Utah adventure to choose first.
Alan and I have fond memories of a hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls in the Cave Creek Recreation Area of Grand Staircase-Escalante. The drive on Burr Trail Road left us wanting more, as did exploring the Devil’s Garden. We’ll return, that’s for sure.
On our list for next time: A hike in Coyote Gulch.
Dark Skies and Arches at Natural Bridges National Monument
Although Arches is the Utah national park most known for impressive sandstone arches, Natural Bridges National Monument offers a less crowded option. Natural Bridges National Monument scenic drive introduces visitors to three sandstone bridges: Sipapu, Kachina and Owachomo.
Hike to each bridge, enjoy a picnic lunch or stay into the evening for the amazingly dark sky. International Dark-Sky Association named Natural Bridges as the first International Dark Sky Park.
Where to stay: Blanding is the closest town to Natural Bridges National Monument. Bluff isn’t quite as convenient but makes a central headquarters for visiting the region. Staying at Desert Rose Inn in Bluff is our preferred option.
On our list for next time: Sign up for a ranger-led stargazing evening, even if it does mean driving back to Blanding or Bluff late at night.
Dramatic Views at Dead Horse Point State Park
Most visitors to the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park motor on by the turn off to Dead Horse Point State Park. They’re making a huge mistake!
Alan and I enjoy driving the road through the park, taking time to stop at all of the overlooks. It’s a land of vertical cliffs and extreme climate changes.
We recommend packing a picnic lunch to enjoy at the end of the road. You’ll be rewarded with a view of the Colorado River, 2,000 ft. below.
On our list for next time: Drive Shafer Trail for the ultimate Canyonlands four-wheel-drive adventure.
We always carry the Benchmark Utah Road and Recreation Atlas when exploring Utah. Don’t rely on phone apps as connectivity in remote areas is scarce.
Make Bluff your headquarters for travel in Southern Utah
If you’re visiting Monument Valley on the border of Arizona and Utah, keep on driving Highway 63 until you reach Bluff. When Alan and I are looking for fun places to go in southern Utah, Bluff is our preferred headquarters.
We had a blast on a January trip for the Bluff Balloon Festival. On a fall trip, a 4×4 drive on Comb Ridge Wash Trail introduced us to Anasazi ruins that we viewed from the roadside. Next time, we’ll take the hike!
Where to stay: Desert Rose Inn & Cabins offers cabins and luxury-style hotel rooms.
On our list for next time: Enjoy an early summer float down the San Juan River.
Remote beauty at Valley of the Gods
Are you looking for Monument Valley type scenery without the crowds? Visit our favorite off-the-beaten-path Utah destination—Valley of the Gods.
Alan and I have explored the area on a southern Utah trip in the fall when golden wildflowers decorated the valley floor. But we also enjoyed a winter experience when snow provided an interesting contrast to the red buttes.
Located on BLM land, Valley of the Gods has no hiking trails or facilities, just a curvy dirt road with lots of room to pull off and explore. And it’s close to Goosenecks State Park and the Moki Dugway.
Where to stay: Valley of the Gods Bed and Breakfast offers off-the-grid lodging with delicious breakfasts.
On our list for next time: Explore nearby Bears Ears National Monument.
Planning a trip to Utah? Take a look at our Utah travel planning resources. You’ll be glad you did!
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