Turret Arch in Arches National Park
Photograph by Tom Bean, Alamy
A look through the formation known as North Window gives a view of Turret Arch and the hint of a rainbow. Arches National Park contains more than 2,000 natural arches—the greatest concentration in the U.S.
Zion Narrows in Zion National Park
Photograph by Scott Sady, Alamy
Hiking this 2,000-foot-deep passage of sandstone in Zion National Park means sloshing right through the North Fork of the Virgin River. Hiking poles are recommended because the river is a force to be reckoned with—sandy banks, rocky stretches that require boulder hopping, and swift water.
Cycling in Capitol Reef National Park
Photograph by N Eisele-Hein, LOOK-foto/Getty Images
A cyclist has the road to himself in Capitol Reef, a park so remote that the nearest traffic light is 78 miles away. Unpaved side roads are subject to sudden flash floods; sticking to the ten-mile, paved Scenic Drive is recommended.
The Maze in Canyonlands National Park
Photograph by Jeremy Wade Shockley, Aurora Photos
A confusion of clefts and spires marks the Maze, a remote region of solitude in Canyonlands National Park. This pristine park, an expanse of canyons, mesas, and river gorges, has some of the most remote and difficult-to-reach areas in the National Park Service; most of Canyonlands is accessible only to hikers, boaters, and mountain bikers.
Wildlife in Bryce Canyon National Park
Photograph by David Santiago Garcia, Aurora Photos
Ears perked, a young mule deer peers out from the safety of trees in Bryce Canyon National Park. Other mammals in the park include black bears, mountain lions, elk, pronghorn, golden-mantled ground squirrels, and Utah prairie dogs.
Zion Canyon in Zion National Park
Photograph by David Wall Photo, Getty Images
A trail zigzags its way out of Zion Canyon, cut by a million years of flowing water. Unlike the Grand Canyon, where you stand on the rim and look out, Zion Canyon is usually viewed from the bottom looking up. This vertical topography keeps most of Zion's 2.5 million yearly visitors between canyon walls.
Delicate Arch in Arches National Park
Photograph by Christian Heeb, laif/Redux
Delicate Arch is the most famous attraction in Arches National Park—and likely the world's best known arch. The ingeniously designed trail leading to the arch hides it from view until the last minute—providing a dramatic reveal that’s well worth the effort.
Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef National Park
Photograph by Niebrugge Images, Alamy
One geologic feature dominates the landscape of Capitol Reef National Park: Waterpocket Fold, a hundred-mile-long fold in Earth's crust, exposed as a high ridge running north-south through the long, narrow park. The word "reef" was applied by early pioneers to the sort of long, high ridge that was a barrier to travel.
Puebloan Granary in Canyonlands National Park
Photograph by Prisma Bildagentur, AG/Alamy
A grotto along the Aztec Butte Trail shelters an ancient Puebloan granary and provides a sweeping view of the Islands in the Sky region. Granaries like this were used by Indians to store corn more than 700 years ago.
Rock Walls in Bryce Canyon National Park
Photograph by Jaspal Jandu, Alamy Stock Photo
Pine trees shoot up where they can in Bryce Canyon National Park, a relatively small (at 56 square miles) wilderness of varied and colorful rock formations.
Landscape Arch in Arches National Park
Photograph by Prisma Bildagentur AG, Alamy
The rocks of Utah's Colorado Plateau—colorful and relatively easily eroded—compose some of the most beautiful scenery found in North America: arches, spires, fins, hoodoos, and other formations of infinite shapes. Five national parks protect and offer access to much of this terrain.
Here, a full moon rises over Landscape Arch, one of Arches National Park's many attractions. A narrow ribbon of stone 306 feet long, Landscape Arch is one of the world's longest freestanding natural arches.
Horseback Riding in Capitol Reef National Park
Photograph by Norbert Eisele-Hein, JAI/Corbis
Red rock and blue sky: Horseback riders in Capitol Reef National Park get a Technicolor treat worthy of a classic Western movie. This central Utah park has enough varying backdrops to keep riders thinking they’ve passed through a series of extravagant film sets.
Rappelling in Zion National Park
Photograph by Whit Richardson, Aurora Photos
A canyoneer rappels down Pine Creek Canyon, a popular spot in Zion National Park for adventurers. Many of the remote gorges in the park’s 232 square miles are so well hidden that early surveyors overlooked some that are 20 miles long.
Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park
Photograph by Ira Block, National Geographic Creative
Bryce Canyon National Park's wilderness of phantom-like rock spires—including the eroded columns called hoodoos—attracts more than a million visitors each year. The park's astounding rock formations and cliffs are part of the geologic series of rock layers called the Grand Staircase, which covers 20,000 square miles and includes the Grand Canyon.
Rafting in Canyonlands National Park
Photograph by Peter McBride, Aurora Photos
A calm Colorado River flows past rafters camped out for the night in Canyonlands National Park. This red-rock park affords the rare opportunity of floating two legendary rivers—the Green River also runs through here.
Navajo Loop Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park
Photograph by Ed Freeman, Getty Images
The Navajo Loop Trail leads hikers along a series of switchbacks before entering a narrow, steep-walled gorge called Wall Street. One thing visitors here won't find: noise. Acoustic studies have found that the natural silence in Bryce equals the quality of a sound studio.
Emerald Pools in Zion National Park
Photograph by Tim Fitzharris, Minden Pictures/Corbis Images
Water pours off a cliff face to tumble into one of Zion's Emerald Pools. An elevation difference within Zion of nearly a mile means the park encompasses a wide array of habitats, from deserts with juniper and cactus to high plateaus with ponderosa pine and quaking aspen.
Fiery Furnace in Arches National Park
Photograph by Whit Richardson, Aurora Photos
A hiker takes in an overview of the Fiery Furnace section of Arches National Park. Here you see a world standing on end—hoodoos, spires, and slabs 200 feet high, all glowing red at sunset.
Grand View Point in Canyonlands National Park
Photograph by Inge Johnsson, Alamy
At Grand View Point, in the Islands in the Sky region of the park, the panorama is as advertised—grand. Canyonlands protects one of the most unspoiled areas of the vast Colorado Plateau, a high-desert region of stark rock formations, deep river-cut canyons, and sparse vegetation that receives less than ten inches of rain in an average year.
Hickman Bridge in Capitol Reef National Park
Photograph by Robert Harding World Imagery, Alamy
The natural formation known as Hickman Bridge stretches 133 feet in Utah's Capitol Reef National Park. Though one of the lesser known of the Southwest's national parks, Capitol Reef offers many rewards, from striking rock formations to fascinating human history.
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