15 Best State and National Parks in Utah

From dense, snow-covered mountains to deserts with Mars-like rock formations, the best state and national parks in Utah have it all.

The view from Bryce Point in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.
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One of the best things about Utah is that it's home to some of the most astonishing — and varied — landscapes in the world. The state has expansive deserts, dense forests, and snow-covered mountains, some of which are preserved and protected in national and state parks.

Utah is probably best known for its national parks, nicknamed the "Mighty Five." You don't have to stray too far off the beaten path to see something otherworldly and awe-inspiring, like the Navajo sandstone cliffs of Zion National Park or the 2,000 natural arches that arc over the desert in Arches National Park. In addition to the state's five national parks, Utah has a whopping 44 state parks, including the otherworldly Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park and the sandy beaches and bright blue waters of Bear Lake State Park.

Here are 15 of the best state and national parks in Utah.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park

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The hallmark of this blockbuster park in southern Utah is its vast cliffs, made of sandstone and situated at the edge of the Colorado Plateau. Massive precipices like these can be found in other parks, but none are quite as prominent as those found in Zion National Park. For a slightly more remote adventure, try a wilderness hike in Kolob Canyons, the narrow slot canyons spread throughout the park.

Deer Creek State Park

The sunsets at Deer Creek State Park are some of the state's best, which is why you'll want to reserve a campsite and spend a few days staring up at Mount Timpanogos and playing in the refreshing Deer Creek Reservoir. Kids (and kids at heart) can book a zipline tour or play the day away at the Island Aqua Park.

Bear Lake State Park

Scenic blue Bear Lake State Par
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You don't have to head south to experience Caribbean-blue waters. Northern Utah is home to Bear Lake, a freshwater lake with a stunning turquoise tint (thanks to calcium carbonate deposits). Around the lake, which is found in Bear Lake State Park, you can fish, boat, or just sit back and relax on the sandy shores.

Dead Horse Point State Park

Dead Horse Point State Park has made a name for itself thanks to its stellar stargazing, but the immense, high-desert park is worth a visit in the day, too. Hiking trails criss-cross the park, which has deep canyons and wide-open deserts.

Bryce Canyon National Park

The view from Bryce Point in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.
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About 80 miles from Zion is Bryce Canyon National Park, home to famous hoodoos. These jagged, whittled rock pillars that shoot straight up and out of the ground were originally created by river sediment. A popular starting point for hikers is Sunset Point, where among the many odd-shaped limestone deposits you'll spot Thor's Hammer — the most well-known hoodoo of them all.

Goblin Valley State Park

Bryce Canyon National Park isn't the only place to see hoodoos in Utah. The aptly named Goblin Valley State Park has plenty of the odd rock structures, which look surprisingly like goblins. You can explore the Little Wild Horse slot canyon by day and camp among the "goblins" at night.

Sand Hollow State Park

Sand Hollow State Park at sunset
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The crown jewel of Sand Hollow State Park is the gigantic 1,322-acre reservoir, which beckons boaters of all stripes to explore its bright blue waters. The park also draws plenty of ATV traffic and campers who come to sleep under the stars on the reservoir's sandy beaches.

Arches National Park

For stunning night shots, try driving through Arches National Park after dark. The elongated, weather-hollowed rock shapes (termed "fins" by geologists), look striking against a speckled canopy of stars. During the day, visit some of the park's renowned arches of red rock (there are over 2,000 of them). Some of the most popular arches include Delicate Arch, Turret Arch, and Double Arch.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

Coral Pink Sand Dunes near St. George, Utah
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Colorado has the Great Sand Dunes National Park, but in Utah, the sand dunes are pink (yes, really). The color really pops at sunset, when the giant mounds of sand appear to be pinkish red. While sunset is a prime time to be at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, make sure to visit during the day, when you can rent sleds and slide down the giant dunes.

Snow Canyon State Park

Snow Canyon State Park has over 38 miles of hiking trails and over 15 miles of equestrian trails among its 7,400 acres. Along the trail, visitors are treated to views of soaring sandstone cliffs and glimpses of the rare desert tortoise.

Utah Lake State Park

Aerial view of Utah Lake Park with Provo Airport behind
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It's all about the water at Utah Lake State Park, home to Utah's largest freshwater lake. Boating and fishing are the park's biggest draws, but people also come just to go for a swim — the average water temperature hovers around 75 degrees (not too cold, not too hot).

Capitol Reef National Park

Because Capitol Reef National Park tends to be less crowded than the other Utah national parks, you might feel as though you have the Waterpocket Fold all to yourself. Richly-colored sedimentary rock is exposed in the park's famous formation — a 65-million-year-old, S-shaped ripple in the earth's crust — allowing for huge cliffs and jagged skylines, similar to those found in Zion.

Jordanelle State Park

Scenic view of the Jordanelle State Park in Utah
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Set above the beautiful Heber Valley in the Wasatch is Jordanelle State Park. The park is popular with boaters and fishers, but people also come to explore the myriad hiking trails or to set up camp under the stars.

Canyonlands National Park

Not only is Canyonlands National Park the largest in Utah (a sweeping 337,598 acres), but it also features the best of all the other parks rolled into one: giant mesas, wild rock formations, and thousands of miles of hikeable canyons. Biking is also popular along the desert-like White Rim Road, though visitors should consider the spiritual side of the park, too. From Island in the Sky, you can see up to 100 miles in any direction. Not a bad place to contemplate your next move.

Goosenecks State Park

The Milky Way over the San Juan River at Goosenecks State Park near Mexican Hat, Utah
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In the southern part of Utah, near the border with Arizona, is Goosenecks State Park. The state park is best known for its cliff top views over the San Juan River, which winds through the park in a tightly coiled S-shape.

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