5 Stunning Utah State Parks Without the National Park Crowds
Where to stay: You can camp in Goblin Valley, but if you’d rather have a soft bed than a sleeping bag, drive an hour west to Cougar Ridge in Torrey, where you can fire up the BBQ in your own private casita and sip a cold beer and review the breathtaking sights of your day.
Walk ancient lava trails and view fossils at Escalante Petrified Forest, one of Utah’s most underrated state parks.
Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
Nestled between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks, Escalante Petrified Forest is one of Utah’s most underrated, surprising, and all-around best state parks for escaping the crowds. Angelica Ramirez-Alvarado, a professional mountain biker and manager of the REI store in Farmington, Utah, recommends the park for hiking, a wealth of technical routes for rock climbers and, of course, mountain biking. Hike through ancient lava trails on meandering trails like the 1.6-kilometer (1.0 mi) Petrified Forest loop, and view petrified dinosaur bones and shell fossils at the visitor center. Escalante includes a pretty reservoir which is also popular for canoeing, paddling and fishing. All of this lends itself particularly well during the warmer months, when the region’s hot desert temperatures hit 100 degrees.
Lodging at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park: Camping is available, but it’s hard to beat the stylish and super-comfortable Escalante yurts with breakfast included—this base camp is a short drive to more outdoor adventures at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
The view at San Rafael Swell Recreation Area easily explains the park’s nickname: Little Grand Canyon.
Recreation area San Rafael Swell
West of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, the 2,800-square-mile “Swell” is essentially a sprawling geological outcrop defined by deep canyons and knolls, colorful bands of eroded sandstone, and massive, upright-sloping slabs of stone. “Imagine the Grand Canyon,” says Ramirez-Alvarado of the San Rafael Wedge’s view of a canyon and a distinctive national park double called Little Grand Canyon. The upside of the experience here is that you can also ride a bike, pitch a tent nearby, and bring your dog. Hit the scenic Goodwater Rim Trail, which runs all the way along the Wedge, or come in the spring to float the San Rafael River’s Class I-II rapids. This is a remote Bureau of Land Management (BLM) area with no access to potable water. So be well prepared no matter when you visit it.