Fifty years ago, few travelers knew anything about Utah. Many Americans couldn’t even place it on a map, while international visitors were more likely to fly over the state than step foot in it. Those who did make it to the Beehive State were likely headed to a four-star resort nestled in snow-banked mountains.
But this has all changed. As more Americans have moved to the neighboring state of Colorado since the 1990s, interest in Utah has increased. Today, it’s known as one of the most rugged outdoor destinations in North America.
In fact, the state’s canyons, mountains, and deserts have attracted globetrotters from all corners of the earth. According to the state’s tourism report from 2019, one in 12 Utah visitors is from an international location. The state now sees upwards of five million visitors annually, who head to skiing and snowboarding destinations, as well as National Parks.
Travelers flock to Cataract Canyon to raft, to Angels Landing to hike, and to the White Rim Trail to mountain bike. But now that Utah has been established as a top-tier destination for nature-lovers, options for all types of travelers are expanding. It’s not just about the great outdoors, but a well-rounded vacation for a variety of interests.
Here are three reasons Utah is the next great vacation destination—with something on offer to suit everyone from mountaineers to city-slickers.
Reason 1: The Great Indoors
Aside from being known as the Beehive State (Utah’s official nickname), some refer to it as the Mormon State. In fact, international travelers might be shocked to find that local culture (and even law) is closely tied to Mormon traditions. This makes trips to major cities like Park City and Salt Lake City a tad more interesting, as these areas are unique cultural isolates in the US.
Beyond its unique cultural origins, Utah is also home to the US’s most prestigious film festival, the Sundance Film Festival. Each winter, the event is hosted between locations in Park City, Salt Lake City, and the Sundance Resort near Provo. With some 45,000 in attendance each year, Sundance is an incredible opportunity to take part in events celebrating cinema.
Lastly, Utah is known for its NBA team, the Utah Jazz. Located in the capital of Salt Lake City, this all-star team regularly sees almost 20,000 fans attend home games. Along with the team’s recent winning record, interest has increased given the availability of no deposit bonus codes from online sportsbooks. With no other major league teams in the state, the Jazz players are local heroes and live games are electric.
Reason 2: National Parks
Utah is home to five national parks, which are some of the most stunning and isolated in North America. These parks include Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Arches National Park, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef.
Internationally, photos of Zion National Park, located in the southern half of the state, often make headlines as iconic images of American life. Arches National Park isn’t far behind with its orange-red rock formations. Moab is another iconic destination, which is known for its smooth sediment formations.
Most visitors will be able to find countless locations via tourist guides. One key piece of advice is to always ask locals about unique destinations; Utah’s national parks cover thousands of square miles, which means there are more than a few hidden treasures (that many locals are happy to highlight).
Looking to get off the beaten path? Start at one of these locations: hike the Narrows in Zion, jeep tours of Hell’s Revenge in Moab, or cruise the Moki Dugway just outside of Arches National Park.
Reason 3: Storied Solitude
Utah’s natural offerings are unparalleled—but many head to one of the US’s last frontiers for a dose of introspective solitude. After all, spending time in the great outdoors isn’t just about tuning in with Mother Earth, but also tuning into our innermost thoughts.
Utah is likely to remain one of the greatest outdoor destinations because there’s plenty of room. Even at popular campsites in the heart of summer, it’s easy to get off the beaten track for a quick jaunt alone. While it’s important to be cautious and safe when hitting the trails solo, this is one of the region’s greatest offerings—and it has been for a while.
Travelers will be able to dive into the storied history of the state at most turns. First and foremost, there are areas that preserve and highlight the state’s indigenous residents. Local tribes, from Utes to Diné (Navajo) to Paiutes, call the state home. In areas like the Four Corners, tribes offer unique tours that highlight some of the area’s most ancient traditions, as well as modern lifestyles.
In some areas, this covers horseback tours. In other areas, it might be a local rodeo show. The state has a long history of ranching, as well as plenty of inter-county conflicts. Alongside stunning rock formations and mountains, travelers will find the remnants of Wild West outposts, including Kanab and Silver City.
Far Off the Beaten Trail
As mentioned above, Utah’s unique cultural history makes it one of the most memorable destinations in the US regardless of its national parks. But the state has plenty to offer in the way of ‘odd’ attractions, too.
Those with an interest in oddities will feel right at home in Utah. For example, there’s the Thistle Ghost Town near Spanish Fork Canyon, which has sat abandoned since 1983 due to mudslides.
Then there’s ‘Pando’, which is the world’s biggest and oldest living organism. Pando is the name given to a series of cloned aspen trees that have continually respawned over the last 80,000 years. That’s right – Utah is home to the world’s oldest living plant.
Just outside Salt Lake City, there’s a massive art installation known as the Spiral Jetty. A local resident of Rozel Point used a tractor-trailer to create a huge spiral in the center of the salt flat, which is visible from great distances. It’s become a kitschy destination for locals and tourists alike.
Lastly, Utah is home to one of the most famous paranormal locations in the world, Skinwalker Ranch. Near Ballad, Utah, this ranch is known for UFO sightings, crop circles, and a series of strange incidents involving local cattle. Historically, visitors could only drive by the spooky location, but recent ownership changes could see a tourist attraction pop up soon.
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