There are some incredible places in Utah, but many are too overcrowded. Skip the 5 National Parks and come check out what Utah’s Canyon Country can offer! Discover nature that not many know of like ancient remnants, one-of-a-kind nature, and quaint accommodations. Check out everything you must see when visiting Utah’s Canyon Country.
What to do in Utah’s Canyon Country
Monticello & Prehistoric Sites
If you’re coming from the national parks a great place to start with is the Needles District from Canyonlands. Feel on top of the world at Needles Overlook where you can see for miles! The terrain is a bright orange with red and blue hues. See hoodoos, steep canyons, needles and smooth sand. Then, drive down to the Needles District itself to explore what you just saw! Don’t forget to stop at Newspaper Rock along the way. It’s just off the side of the road and is basically a rock that has so many petroglyphs and stories it’s a prehistoric newspaper! There are a few hikes to choose from ranging in difficulty once you arrive at Needles. Be sure to pack water and sturdy shoes.
Not too far of a drive away is Monticello. The small town has unique accommodations including the Grist Mill Inn. The Inn is one of the most unusual places to stay but it is a fun experience nonetheless. Some say the rooms are haunted and it is known that there are hidden passageways all throughout the place! Each room is different, each with its own charm. There is a delicious restaurant inside called the Granary Bar and Grill. We highly recommend trying the sweet potato fries!
As you embark on your journey through San Juan County start with some history at the Edge of the Cedars Museum. Their displays are educational and there are tons of artifacts! There is even a Puebloan kiva outside that you can explore. Climb down the ladder and see what it was like to be inside their homes.
There are many other Ancestral Puebloan sites in Utah’s Canyon Country like one of the most famous, Hovenweep National Monument. It’s about an hour road trip east from Edge of the Cedars. Hovenweep was once occupied with over 2,500 residents! There are 6 prehistoric villages scattered around a little desert canyon. The hike to see multiple castle, kiva and village remnants is about a 2-mile loop from the Visitors Center. It’s an extremely fascinating stop because some of the structures are balancing on cliffs, or even built into boulders!
After you’ve learned all about all the prehistoric sites and artifacts head to Recapture Pocket to see some hoodoos! This area is only accessible by rough dirt roads so make sure to have a high clearance vehicle. The road washes out from rain time to time, so check the weather before you go. Walk right up to and even in between red hoodoo formations. It’s a fun area to explore!
Bluff & Jaw-Dropping Nature
A great place to stay for the night is Bluff which isn’t too far from Recapture Pocket. Bluff has more prehistoric petroglyphs on a rock panel called Sand Island. It’s just down the road from a few accommodation options like the gorgeous, Bluff Garden Cabins. These cabins are extremely cozy and spacious. They each have a patio to lounge on facing the backyard. Get the best sleep of your life in the extra comfy beds to prepare you for your next adventure!
Bluff is truly the gateway to adventure. Within an hour’s drive in many directions, you’ll find incredible nature! Begin at Gooseneck State Park where you’ll see a winding river cut through layers of canyon walls. Gooseneck is a sight you can only really see to believe. The intensity of this place will leave you breathless with how steep the canyon is, and how many perfect curves the river makes. It is very similar to Horseshoe bend, except there are 3-4 bends!
Valley of the Gods is nearby and considered a “miniature” Monument Valley. Rock formations are located all around this 17-mile dirt road loop. It’s actually even better than Monument Valley because you can drive and hike around the formations! This park is a photographer’s dream! The red structures are phenomenal to see and capture.
The perfect last stop to make is Natural Bridges National Monument. Located about 1.5 hours from Bluff taking the Moki Dugway Scenic Byway. The Moki Dugway will actually lead you above Valley of the Gods which is a view in itself. Natural Bridges is unlike any other place you’ve seen so far. The stunning white canyon is hidden below the road, but once you look in; it’s fascinating! There are giant nature-made bridges all around. Hiking to the Owachomo Bridge is a quick half-mile round trip hike. This bridge is booming tall, but thinnest of them all in the park. There are other awesome bridges to see as well like the Sipapu and Kachina Bridge.