The list below is totally my own opinion based on growing up and living here most of my life. I did not contact any government agency, travel bureau, opinion poll. These are not necessarily the most visited, the most promoted, or the most well known. They are not even necessarily my favorite. They are simply in my opinion 10 sites that are unique, world caliber, and worth coming to Utah to visit. Give me your opinion, which are your top 10?
1- Delicate Arch:
To me this is the embodiment of Utah. The arch is always an inspiration to me of grace and strength, of lonely splendor. Perched on the edge of a sandstone bowl looking for all the world as if it would easily blow over, yet when viewed up close it is massive. The hike to see it takes you over rock and desert sand, the arch is hidden until at the last you walk past a rock wall and it stands right in front of you.
Moab area: Delicate Arch is located in Arches National Park. Within the park are many wonderful sites, truly unique and amazing. Moab is the nearest city. Within the Moab area are many other sites worth visiting; Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, Scott Matheson Nature Preserve, Colorado river (float trips and white water rafting), and the Manti-Lasal mountains to name a few.
2- Rainbow Bridge:
Carved as water pushed underneath it, this bridge is the highest and largest rock bridge/arch in the world. 290 feet high from the river bed it is a sacred site to the Navajo- for them it took a spiritual quest and several days on horseback to reach this magnificent span. You can still get to it over land with a navajo guide, but Lake Powell made it accessible by boat. From Wahweep Marina it is an hour or two boat trip up the lake and then into the side canyon to a dock. The walk to the bridge varies in length depending on the lake level. We saw it when no water flowed beneath it. When the lake is at full capacity the river bed below the bridge is full.
Lake Powell: a man made reservoir (from the Colorado River) in the middle of a very dry desert with 1960 miles of shoreline ( I think that is based on full capacity). Of course some of that shore line is sheer red rock walls hundreds of feet high, however there are plenty of sandy beaches and side canyons for exploration, history and fun. The city of Page and the Glen Canyon Dam are in Arizona, most of the lake in Utah.
3-Great Salt Lake:
Among the largest salt lakes in the world with an average of 12% salinity (between 10-25%, second only to the Dead Sea; the oceans are about 7%) the Great Salt Lake is an amazing part of Utah that Utahns often ignore after a cursory look. It is formed from the leftovers of a very large Lake Bonneville which covered this area 10,000 years ago. Some of the features:
-Antelope Island: This is the place to see the lake up close and personal. (The Great Salt Lake State Park at the south end of the lake has become less than desirable. Don’t go there, go to Antelope Island.) Until 1970’s this was a private island and inaccessible. Now most of the island is opened up and is a state park with a nice visitors center. There is a resident herd of buffalo that are regularly rounded up and counted. There are antelope. There are two beach areas with camping and showers. The old farm buildings can give you an idea of what life was like here in the ‘50’s. If you want to wade out in the lake to float you must walk a long ways, it is a shallow lake (20-25 ft at the deepest). But yes you can float very easily. Be warned though, tiny brine flies abound on the shore and the last time I did this I came back coated in brine shrimp -They are tiny and the only thing that lives in the lake. Brine shrimp eggs are harvested and sold to fish farms as food.
-Spiral Jetty: A classic in landscape art by Robert Smithson. Though I had heard about this being built and had seen pictures and wanted to go visit, not long after it was built the lake rose and it was drowned. Only in the last few years has it appeared again. It was at the Tate Museum of Modern Art in London that I happened across the film the artist made in conjunction with the jetty. I was fascinated and determined to visit. What a wonderful experience. Not only is it landscape art, it is experiential art. One must navigate the dusty desert roads to reach this remote spot on the lake where the water is a natural reddish color. The process of arriving becomes part of the viewing pleasure. And then there it was, smaller than I expected, encrusted with salt from its long burial, a jetty of volcanic rock spiraling out into the water. Walking along it became a process as well, walking towards the center, seeing the lake from each prospective and then returning to that point and seeing it anew. Absolutely wonderful and well worth the effort of the whole day’s trip. Bring a picnic, (there are definitely NO services for miles and miles), watch the pelicans wing past, bring a tent, spend the night, watch the stars reflect off the lake.
-Bonneville salt flats: Left overs from the ancient lake, they are so flat and large that you can see the curve of the earth. Get to them from I-80 west of Salt Lake. They are still used for racing cars.
-Bear River Bird Refuge. A stop over for Wilson’s Phalarope, Tundra Swans, American Avocets, and White Faced Ibis among others, this is a major migratory bird watchers paradise.
-Summer sunsets can be spectacular
Alta/Snowbird: Consistently listed in the top ten for best snow, best ski experience, best terrain. Alta is the reason Utah’s snow is “the greatest snow on earth”. Formed when the wet winter snows cross the dry Great Basin Desert, the snow that falls as it hits the Wasatch mountains is dry powder. Average snow fall is about 500 inches a season. If you only ski once,,,make it at Alta.
Deer Valley/ Park City: And if you want less hill time and more resort time you should try the east side of the Wasatch. These resorts are also consistently in the top ten for North America for best overall experience and the snow is just as good.
LDS church headquarters: It is well known that Utah’s claim to fame is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints (LDS, Mormon). Temple Square is where the most famous, but not the only, LDS temple is located. On the square you will also find the tabernacle and visitors centers. The tallest building in SLC is still the 27 floor church office building east of the temple. North of Temple Square is the new Conference Center. West of Temple Square are the Genealogy library and history museums.
Genealogy Library: The largest collection in the world for genealogical records, books, reference, and help in finding your ancestors.
I chose this as the poster child for the petroglyphs and pictographs left by ancient people which are scattered across the state. The Great Gallery is in Horseshoe Canyon a part (though not contiguous) of Canyonlands Natl Park. A moderate 3 mile hike through a sandy river bottom will bring you to an alcove where an awesomely impressive display is located. Its purpose lost in time I can’t believe it was not a spiritual and sacred site, approach it with reverence.
Other ancient american areas of note in the state:
-Nine mile canyon
7-Calf Creek Falls
Part of the fairly new Grand Staircase-Escalante Natl Park, Calf Creek Falls are found in the Escalante wilds. The road between Boulder and Escalante (who BTW is Father Silvestre Escalante who along with Father Dominguez led an exploration of the southwest in 1776) is an eye-popper. The falls are located 3 miles down a box canyon which was fenced off to keep in cattle. The pool at the bottom is a wonderfully refreshing plunge on a hot summer day.
Nearby-- hikes in the Escalante wilderness, various slot canyons, Grosvenor Arch, ****scomb ridge, Kodachrome Basin, Burr trail, Anasazi State Park in Boulder.
The prototypical western movie setting. The monument is located on reservation land. The area is remote, dry, empty, and truly impressive. With flat desert floor giving rise to monolithic plateaus, the Navajos who still call this home give tours and share their home with us.
Four corners- the only place where four states meet, “four corners” depicts the entire area. This is Native American land both ancient and modern.
9- Zion and Bryce Natl Parks
Well okay, this entry was due to popular vote. When the world comes to visit- they visit these parks. In a walk through the visitors centers you are just as likely to hear French or German, Italian or Japanese as English. The parks are wonderful, no doubt about it, come see for yourself.
10- Unfortunately number 10 is too wonderful to share. I love the soft evening light on the honey colored rock, the sudden summer downpours, and the care and artistry of the area. It is not well known, despite information being given. I would like to keep it that way.
I hope you can visit and enjoy Utah like I do.