Utah’s national parks are spectacularly beautiful, but these once serene places can often be filled with crowds. Instead of hiking with the herd, venture to hiking destinations beyond Utah’s Mighty 5. Whether you love trekking through the desert or summiting peaks, we have a hike you’ll love at one of these beautiful alternatives to the national parks.
1. Square Tower Loop Trail at Hovenweep National Monument
Distance : 2 miles roundtrip Difficulty : Easy
Not far from bustling Mesa Verde National Park, find a far less-explored set of Ancestral Puebloan structures in Hovenweep National Monument. This site protects multiple towers and buildings along the Utah-Colorado border that are more than 700 years old. There’s no fee to visit, and you can even bring your dog along if you keep him on-leash. While you can spot a few of the ruins from the car, you’ll need to venture onto the hiking trails to view the most famous sites. Follow the Square Tower Loop to get up close to the Square Tower Group structures and loop around Little Ruin Canyon before returning to the visitor center. Add on Tower Point to see the remains of the multi-story tower.
2. Frary Peak on Antelope Island State Park
Distance : 6.16 miles roundtrip Difficulty : Challenging
Utah is home to the Great Salt Lake—the second largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere—and the best place to view it is from Antelope Island. For epic lake panoramas, climb 2,100 feet to the top of Frary Peak. It’s the highest point on the island, and the summit views are well worth the six-mile hike. Be aware if you’re coming from sea level, this mountain tops out at 6,596 feet—so you may feel winded on the strenuous hike up.
3. Lava Flow Trail in Snow Canyon State Park
Distance : 2.5 miles roundtrip Difficulty : Moderate
Find the Zion National Park vibe without the crowds at St. George’s Snow Canyon State Park, a wonder carved in the red and white Navajo sandstone. Hiking trails abound through this canyon, but the most fascinating trek leads you underground. The park’s Lava Flow Trail winds through a lava field past informational signage before leading down into three lava tubes dating back to eruptions 1.4 million years ago. Once in the tubes/caves, light ceases and cell phone service disappears. Come prepared with a real flashlight if you plan to amble, as the jagged rocks can be a tripping hazard. Past the last tube entrance, don’t miss the scenic park overlook.
4. Spooky and Peek-a-boo Slots in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Distance : 3.5 miles Difficulty : Challenging
Utah’s slot canyons have long beckoned visitors to explore their hidden, twisting caverns, but the special skills and repelling equipment make it a challenge for beginners. At Escalante’s Spooky and Peek-a-boo Gulches, no ropes are required for these narrow, natural slots. Formed over millennia by rushing water rushing eroding the rock, hiking them is like climbing an adult-sized jungle gym. While you won’t need ropes, you will need courage. Spooky is one of the narrowest slots you’ll find, and not for claustrophobic types. Be prepared to take off your pack and climb up and down throughout the trek. Note that just reaching the slots requires a 26-mile drive down the unpaved Hole-In-The-Rock Road, and the hike in can be hot on summer days.
5. Dead Horse Point Overlook and West Rim Trails in Dead Horse Point State Park
Distance : 2.5 miles Difficulty : Moderate
Escape the crowds of Moab for out-of-this-world views at Dead Horse Point. The unpleasant name references a time when cowboys used the point as a natural corral for wild horses because cliffs on all sides meant no escape. They chose the horses they wanted and set them free, or left them to die at this waterless point. Today, the horses are long gone, replaced with a visitor’s center, hiking trails, and even an espresso shop in high season. From the overlook parking lot, it’s a quick 200-foot walk to the famous view of red rock and the Colorado River 2,000 feet below. Link this quick jaunt to the West Rim Trail, the parks longest at 2.5 miles, and hike along the cliffs, sandstone, and slickrock before taking the Meander Overlook spur. This trail across the slickrock leads to unreal vistas of the Colorado River and Shafer Canyon.
6. First Valley in Goblin Valley State Park
Distance : 3-mile range Difficulty : Easy
Wander through a labyrinth of natural rock hoodoos in the Valley of Goblins, a three-mile protected area where you’re free to roam and climb as you please. These mushroom-shaped rocks are called “goblins” and tower up to 150 feet above the flat desert landscape, forming what’s best described as a Smurf village on Mars. You’ll find the First Valley just down a flight of stairs from the picnic pavilion, and you can spend hours wandering and exploring. Use a map if you like to know where you’re going, or let yourself get lost amongst the hoodoos.
7. Timpooneke Trail to Mount Timpanogos in American Fork Canyon
Distance : 15 miles roundtrip Difficulty : Challenging
Regarded as one of Utah’s most scenic peaks, Mount Timpanogos stands watch over the valley at the height of 11,749 feet—making it the second tallest in the Wasatch Range. You’ll find the Timpooneke Trail just north of Provo, and trekking to the top and back requires a full day. But you’ll find that climbing past blooming wildflower fields, cascading waterfalls, and wild Bighorn Sheep make the journey worthwhile. At the top, step inside the summit shack to sign the registry then take in 360 views of the Salt Lake and Utah Valleys.
Written by Jenny Willden for Matcha in partnership with Gregory Mountain Products and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
featured image by Kai Gradert