Utah is known for its world-class skiing around Park City as well as its “Mighty Five” national parks, including Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Arches. But there’s much more to explore in this state, which is also home to red rocks, dinosaur fossils, and otherworldly landscapes. While the scenery is impressive, Utah is also a playground for high-octane activities such as whitewater rafting and mountain biking on “slickrock” sandstone. Whether you’re looking to relax or get the adrenaline going, here’s a look at five lesser-known hidden gems around the state.
Located about 30 minutes outside of Park City, this area’s big draw is the Homestead Crater, an underground geothermal spring located at the Homestead Resort. (Think of it as Utah’s version of a Mexican cenote.) Visitors can easily reach the spring via a covered tunnel, so there’s no hiking or rapelling required, but reservations are essential. While sunlight streams through the crater’s opening, visitors can swim, snorkel, or do paddleboard yoga in the warm, mineral-rich water that stays around 95 degrees. While you’re floating, be sure to look down to spot any scuba divers swimming below you.
Insider Tip: Stop for tea or lunch at the nearby Blue Boar Inn, which looks like it was transplanted from the Swiss Alps. Keep an eye out for taxidermied boars used throughout as décor.
Red Fleet State Park
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Although Utah is filled with dinosaur-related spots, one of the lesser-known areas for amateur paleontologists is Red Fleet State Park in Eastern Utah. Take a three-mile hike, or rent a canoe or kayak to explore the shoreline of the lake, which is home to 200-million-year-old tracks belonging to three-toed dinosaurs. The best times to view the tracks is early morning or late afternoon (overhead sun makes them harder to spot). If small children have a hard time finding the tracks, do what guides do: pour some water in the footprint to make it more visible. Obsessed with fossils? Some areas along the shore are covered with a crumbly shale. Dig around and you can easily find tiny fossils in the shale, with the most common being fish scales and shells. Enjoy the hunt but leave the rocks behind as removing anything from the lake is prohibited.
Insider Tip: Guests can spend the night here in rented teepees.
This tiny town in southeastern Utah was originally settled in 1880 by pioneering Mormons via the legendary “Hole in the Rock” expedition, which involved blasting and chiseling through rock. Today, Bluff is home to about 320 people, but it makes an excellent base for exploring San Juan County. Book an all-day rafting trip through Wild Rivers Expeditions, where guests can gently cruise down the San Juan River, where lucky visitors might spot bighorn sheep and wild horses. The trip includes stops to see petroglyphs at Butler Wash and the remains of an ancient Puebloan home, in between soaking up views of the red rocks, canyons, and the Mexican Hat rock formation. From Bluff, it’s a short drive to the Valley of the Gods and Gooseneck State Park, as well as Monument Valley.
Insider Tip: Book one of the new rooms at the Desert Rose Inn and start your day with blue-corn pancakes at the stellar Comb Ridge restaurant, but note that it’s only open a few days a week because the owner travels to source her ingredients.
Arches is one of the most spectacular national parks in Utah—hiking out to iconic Delicate Arch, which appears on the Utah license plate, is a must-do for any visitor. But if you want to see arches without the crowds (or entrance fees), head to the Corona & Bowtie Arches Trail near Moab. The hike is about three miles on slickrock, so be sure to wear a hat and bring plenty of water as there is little shade. The hike also involves scrambling up a ladder, but the view of Corona Arch, a partly freestanding arch with a 140-foot opening, is well worth the effort.
Insider Tip: Make time to visit nearby Potash Road Petroglyphs, which can be viewed from a car.
Dinosaur National Monument
Northeastern Utah, in the area around Vernal, is known for being the home of Dinosaur National Monument, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Don’t miss the park’s wall of bones, a preserved slice of enclosed quarry wall where visitors can touch the embedded fossils (there are more than 1500). But there’s much more to Dinosaur National Monument than fossils—you can also view petroglyphs here. Be sure to pack a picnic lunch to eat near the Josie Morris Cabin, the remains of a homestead that was formerly occupied by a female cattle rancher for about 50 years.
Insider Tip: End your day with a craft brew from the Vernal Brewing Company, such as the Allosaurus Amber.