Take a Photo Safari at Arches National Park
Photograph by David Hessell, National Geographic Your Shot
For visitors with camera in hand, Arches National Park offers limitless possibilities. Delicate Arch is the most familiar photographic target in the park, an iconic image of the American West. But it's only one of the countless photo ops available here—from sweeping vistas to intimate close-ups of the park's many stone features, nearly anywhere one turns a lens can produce a great image.
Arches is always colorful, but the rich reds and other amazing hues here change dramatically at the rising and setting of the sun, and these “magic hours” produce the best images. To help photographers get started, the National Park Service has created a helpful table of the park's notable features and the times of day when they show themselves in their best light. Armed with this information, and the local times of sunrise and sunset, visitors can create visual memories to share with friends and family and keep Arches alive in their own minds long after they've returned home.
Take a Hike in Zion National Park
Photograph by Tom Bean, Alamy
There are a lot of great places to lace up your boots in Utah's parks, but the footloose will never forget Zion. Ascend into blue skies on the Angels Landing hike, an adventurous climb up a 1,488-foot formation of red sandstone. The trail's lower reaches meander along the riverbank and ease upward through forests to Walter's Wiggles—where the vertiginous might go no farther. Nearly two dozen dizzying switchbacks, flanked by sheer drop-offs, are worn right into the rock. Thankfully, handhold chains have been bolted into the face to safeguard the trickiest stretches en route to stunning views atop Scout Lookout.
Down on terra firma but no less exhilarating is the trek through the canyons of Zion Narrows, where views of wide-open spaces are replaced with a narrow view of the world between 2,000-foot-high canyon walls that in places are no wider than 20 feet apart. The trail wanders along—and often through—the waters of Virgin River on the canyon floor, and backpackers can overnight deep in the canyon.
Dig Into the Past at Dinosaur National Monument
Photograph by Bernd Jonkmanns, laif/Redux
Long before humans walked these lands dinosaurs dominated the Utah landscape. Though 149 million years have passed, visitors can still peer into their world and even touch their ancient fossils at Dinosaur National Monument.
The famed Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry was a 20th-century treasure trove of dinosaur fossil finds. Today the Quarry Exhibit Hall offers a prime view of some 1,500 Allosaurus, Apatosaurus, Diplodocus, Stegosaurus, and other dinosaur fossils locked in a wall dating back to the late Jurassic.
Visitors can learn about the dino world and the history of paleontology at the site, which began in 1909 when Earl Douglass discovered this slice of the Morrison Formation that was once a river sandbar on which animal carcasses collected and eventually became fossilized. Dino discoveries continue to the present day in Dinosaur National Monument's vast wild spaces, where modern scientists continue to uncover the 149-million-year-old secrets locked away in stone.
Run the Rapids in Cataract Canyon
Photograph by Blaine Harrington III, Alamy
Utah is known for some of the world's most inspiring desert scenery, but the state has a wet and wild side as well. Above their confluence both the Colorado and Green Rivers boast stretches of flat water that are perfect for taking in the passing scenery. Below the rivers' meeting point, those in search of aquatic adrenaline will find 15 miles of churning excitement in Cataract Canyon.
Guided runs include Brown Betty, Mile Long, Satan's Gut, and several other notable rapids that rage through the 2,000-foot-deep, red-walled canyon in Canyonlands National Park. It's possible to take a jet boat trip for a one-day sampling of some heavy white water. But a better experience would be taking three to six days to travel downriver in smaller motorized or oar-driven craft. More leisurely trips allow visitors to immerse themselves in the river and canyon environment, camping out and even taking side excursions like little traveled hikes along the route. Families take note: Because Cataract Canyon boasts some of the state's largest and most challenging rapids, these trips aren't suitable for small children.
See How Mountains Were Born at Capitol Reef National Park
Photograph by Anthony John West, Corbis
Capitol Reef National Park showcases a dynamic period in Earth's history, when a massive upheaval gave birth to the Rocky Mountains between 50 and 70 million years ago.
When the Earth's crust uplifted it wrinkled here into the massive and enduring Waterpocket Fold, a steep mass of cliff and canyon in which rock layers on the west side have been thrust 7,000 feet higher than they are on the east. The sedimentary layers seen in this formation, which settlers called a reef, expose nearly 200 million years of Earth's history and hold evidence of ancient swamps, rivers, deserts, and even a shallow ocean that once existed here.
The park is home to many other geological wonders, testaments to eons of erosion that produced spires, arches, and sandstone domes. The capitol-like domes and Waterpocket reef earned the area its English name, but the rich hues of all this rock led Native Americans to know the area as the "land of the sleeping rainbow.”
Take a Navajo-Guided Tour of Monument Valley
Photograph by Richard Nowitz, National Geographic
Navajo Tribal Park's stunning scenery epitomizes the Old West thanks to John Wayne and the many Western movies filmed here, but the iconic area has a far older human history that continues to the present day.
The park's jaw-dropping mesas, mountains, and unique sandstone formations are under the jurisdiction of the Navajo Nation and lie within a 17-million-acre reservation. The Navajo are incomparable guides to their area's natural splendors, including those off the beaten path, and visitors who explore with them will also learn much about the Navajo people's proud history and the rich cultural traditions rooted to this sacred land.
Several outfitters within the Navajo Nation offer vehicle tours and, for the more adventurous, opportunities to explore the park on foot or horseback.
Follow the Sun at Bryce Canyon National Park
Photograph by Jeremy Duguid Photography, Getty Images
The incredible Bryce Canyon landscape, dotted with thousands of rocky pinnacles and spires called hoodoos, demands active exploration. But even the hardiest adventurers need to kick back and enjoy the scenery. Sunset is an excellent time to do just that and cap a long day with a spectacular show of sky and light played out across a timeless landscape of soaring, colorful rock. For early risers the sunrise offers an equally spectacular show over a cup of coffee—and fewer other viewers.
The park's 38-mile (round-trip) scenic road accesses a number of incredible viewpoints, including the aptly named Sunset Point—which overlooks Silent City, Thor's Hammer, and other famed hoodoos—and Sunrise Point, where visitors gaze northeast over Boat Mesa and the Sinking Ship. But don't limit yourself to these best known locales when so many other (and quieter) options exist.
Park rangers note that most named viewpoints offer eastward views that capture first light, including the popular Bryce Point. At day's end, Inspiration Point and Paria View also come particularly recommended for their sunsets by those who work in the park every day.
Ride at Dead Horse Point State Park
Photograph by David Epperson, Getty Images
This colorfully named park, so dubbed during the era when cowboys corralled wild mustang herds on the high mesa 2,000 feet above the Colorado River, offers stunning views into neighboring Canyonlands National Park and across the surrounding landscape.
There's no better way to enjoy the views than from the saddle of a mountain bike, and the park's easy- to moderate-rated trails are suitable for family adventure. The Intrepid Trail System offers a variety of singletrack loops and slickrock sections that allow all ages and abilities to experience incomparable cliff-top and canyon vistas. The park's trails can be ridden year-round, though care should be taken with the midday heat that's common in summer months.
The park is also a terrific first outing for bikers new to the area. And for those searching for more advanced terrain, the area is a gateway to the extensive and legendary riding opportunities to be found around nearby Moab.
Become a Biathlete, Winter or Summer
Photograph by Ivana Radu
Fresh off viewing the Sochi Olympics many Americans are reacquainted with the sport of biathlon, which combines Nordic skiing and target shooting. If you've ever wondered how athletes get started in such a sport, or hope to give it a go yourself, look no further than Wasatch Mountain State Park. The park was home to the 2002 Olympic biathlon and cross-country skiing events, and the trails from these games are a lasting legacy.
No experience is needed to don a bib actually worn in the 2002 games, shoulder an air rifle or Olympic .22-caliber upgrade, and ski or snowshoe (run or bike during the warmer months) your way to an Olympic adventure on the same trails and targets once used by the world's very best. Those who wish to skip the shooting can simply ski or ride this excellent trail network located just outside Salt Lake City.
Spot (or Herd) Bison in Great Salt Lake
Photograph by Christian Heeb, Getty Images
Antelope Island, the largest island in Great Salt Lake, is reached by a seven-mile causeway, an exciting drive that skims just above the surface of the lake and offers incredible views of the nearby Wasatch Mountains.
Once arrived at Antelope Island State Park, visitors can enjoy wildlife in plenty. Birders thrill to millions of shorebirds gathering along the island coasts. Inland, visitors can spot free-ranging animals, including bison, California bighorn sheep, mule deer, and speedy pronghorn antelope—North America's fastest land animal. While pronghorns are native to the island, the bison herd, which ranges from 550 to 700 animals, is descended from 12 individuals brought here in 1893. The truly adventurous, and horse-savvy, can even take part in the park's annual bison roundup. Held each fall, the event takes stock of the island bison, inoculates the animals, and auctions off a few surplus beasts to keep the herd at a manageable number. Armchair cowboys can simply enjoy the spectacle from a safe distance.
The Latest From National Geographic Travel
From paragliding the Grand Tetons to cave explorations in Kentucky, these six wild adventures in the U.S. turn vacations into calls to action.
Discover the world through this Top Chef alumna's unique lens (and palate).
Richmond zips away from its sleepy Southern past with a blend of modern culture, cuisine, and international sport.
Get the scoop on the newly designated U.S. World Heritage Site with this helpful guide.
Get your fill of adrenaline by mountain biking in one of the sport's birthplaces.
Is the postcard obsolete? We asked, and readers responded by sending in an array of postcards as diverse as the senders themselves.
Find out why this seasoned travel journalist chose to make Hong Kong her hometown.
Discover little-known havens where you can soak up seascapes, fishing villages, and local lore.
Use this guide to take the nation's capital by foot, and your next workout could be monumental.
Headed to Victoria Falls? Read this before you go.
2015 Traveler Photo Contest
Explore the submissions, share your favorites, and check back for the winning images.