National Parks


Utah is a sparsely populated state

Arches National Park in Utah © John Crossley
The dominant features are canyons, large and small, but there are many other erosional formations such as rock arches found in the Arches and Natural Bridges Parks.

The state of Utah is located in southwestern USA about 500 miles east of the California coast and just west of Colorado and the Rocky Mountains. It encompasses about 85,000 square miles and has a population of just two million. Salt Lake City with 160,000 inhabitants is the only major city in the state. It is the spiritual center of the Church of Latter Day Saints more commonly known as the Mormons. Salt Lake City is home of the world-renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the repository of the worlds largest genealogical library maintained by the Mormon Church.

Utah contains one of the greatest concentrations of spectacular geological features in the world - these are found mainly in the south and east of the state where the land is largely bare rock of many amazing shapes and colours. For hundreds of miles, the landscape is dominated by twisting canyons, delicate arches, sheer mountains and ridges, spires and buttes. More than any other Southwest state, Utah provides the archetypal Western images of sandy desert deep canyons and towering red rocks.

Utah - Paradise for Outdoor Enthusiasts

Utah is a land filled with diverse landscapes and is home to some of the most beautiful adventure destinations in the world. Breathtaking mountains, awe-inspiring desert canyons, and beautiful valleys attract visitors from around the globe. The most famous outdoor destinations include the southern Moab area, five National Parks, Colorado River, Green River, and ski resorts in the Rocky Mountains. Popular ways to get out and experience these unique areas are river rafting trips, off-road 4x4 adventures, safaris, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, and skiing. All of these adventure activities highlight the amazing scenery throughout the whole state.

Southwestern Utah is known for its spectacular geology

Southwest Utah is known as Colour Country; this ranges from hot, relatively low areas around Cedar City to forested mountains 10 000 feet high, and is characterised by the many shades of colour and beautiful forms of the exposed rocks. Here is found the world-famous Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks, but there are many other variegated cliffs, canyons, domes and sand dunes that also deserve exploration.

The southeast of Utah is Canyon Country; the rocks also have a great variety of formations and colours, although they are more generally reddish. The dominant features are canyons, large and small, but there are many other erosional formations such as rock arches found in the Arches and Natural Bridges Parks. Most of the spectacular and unusual scenery is concentrated around the Green, San Juan and Colorado rivers and their tributaries, which have been steadily eroding the surrounding rock layers for millions of years. This area is part of the Colorado Plateau, a huge uplifted oval of land centred on the junction of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado which is locally known as the Four Corners region. The landscape has been altered much more recently by the construction of Glen Canyon Dam across the Colorado River - this flooded a large area of desert, obliterating the scenic but little-known Glen Canyon and creating Lake Powell which has become one of the Southwest's major recreational attractions..

Some Beautiful National and State Parks are located here

Most of the south and central parts of Utah are protected in National or State Parks, wilderness areas and National Forests; there are few towns or roads, and much of the country is still quite inaccessible. There are only three bridges across the Colorado River in Utah, over a distance of some 200 miles. The climate is dry for much of the year and hot - summer temperatures often exceed 110 F in many places - which has restricted human settlement and left the landscape largely unaffected by man. The protection of the region has continued with the establishment in September 1996 of the new Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument, the largest in the Southwest.

The northern mountains offer great ski resorts

To the north, the land becomes more mountainous - there are several major ranges including the Wasatch near Salt Lake City, and the Uinta, which has six major peaks over 13 000 feet. The far west of the state is largely barren, part of the Great Basin desert - a landscape of long flat valleys separated by narrow mountain ridges - which stretches right across Nevada into southeast California. The Great Salt Lake dominates the northwest, and is surrounded by a hundred miles of completely flat salt plains, remnants of an even larger lake. A lot of this land is used by the military for missile testing and remains closed to the public. Just a few hours' drive into the Wasatch Mountains east of Salt Lake City brings you to Snowbird and several other well-known resorts with some of the finest skiing in the USA.

From the stark landscape in the northwest to the dramatic forms of Monument Valley in the southeast, the variety of natural landscapes in Utah is almost endless. Some of the more popular National Parks can become very crowded, but it is easy to find solitude and tranquillity in beautiful surroundings across many areas of the state.


This map shows the location of the major natural features in Utah and some of the main roads, which tend to be few and far between in much of the state.

Written by: John Crossley
Top Photo Credit: © USATourist.com
Photo Description: Monument Valley