Utah is undoubtedly one of the states best known for its natural wonders. The salt flats, steep cliffs, and bizarre rock formations make this state one of the most exciting places to experience the great outdoors. The National Park System in Utah has done a fabulous job of blazing interesting trails at all levels, with many accessible by wheelchair and shuttle bus. Here are the three best national parks in Utah for hikers. Wondering why the Grand Canyon didn’t make the list? Aside from the relatively low number of trails, the park is notoriously overcrowded. These two factors mean that serious hikers won’t get the best experience, unless of course you just want to say you hiked the Grand Canyon.
The Canyonlands are simply breathtaking. This enormous national park is located south of Moab, Utah, and is a destination for intense whitewater rafting, challenging 4X4 off-roading and of course, spectacular hiking. Of the 19 trails listed by the park, nine are considered “strenuous,” two “moderate,” and the rest “easy.” Even the “easy” trails have amazing views of Anaszi ruins, rock formations and endless landscapes.
Some of the most famous views in America are available to hikers at Canyonlands National Park. On the Chesler Park Loop (an 11-mile hike), less experienced hikers can elect to hike just three miles from the trail head and see the famous Needles rock formation. The equally famous Mesa arch is only a .6 mile hike. Experienced hikers willing to go the distance will truly experience the landscape and solitude of the area. The Pictograph Fork trail shows visitors rock art from thousands of years ago and provides views of the “Maze,” a labyrinth of rock formations.
Zion is the oldest national park in Utah. The park describes the hiking possibilities as “endless,” listing 29 different trails, ranging in difficulty from “easy” to “technical” (requiring equipment). The famous Narrows hike is one of the best canyon hikes in the world, and the trail can be tailored to any ability level.
The Orderville Gulch trails is an 11 mile one-way hike, perfect for learning canyoneering skills. The park offers a shuttle to the trailhead. The Subway trail is a semi-technical hike that takes seven to nine hours to complete, though it is just 9.5 miles. Completing this grueling journey requires swimming, waterfall climbs and rock scrambles.
Capitol Reef lists 18 trails, in varying levels of difficulty. The park is characterized by the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile bulge in the earth’s crust. Many of strenuous trails in the park are quite long (over 20 miles) but can be shortened for those hikers who want to challenge themselves with rock scrambles and trail-finding without the long distance.
The Burro Wash trail has multiple approaches, changing the difficulty level of the hike. one approach creates a “moderate” route, while the other requires rappelling and lots of experience to complete. There are some child-friendly routes at Capitol Reef that allow the whole family to see some beautiful scenery, without overly challenging short legs. Some of the lower trails are accessible by wheelchair.