Thanks to some highly successful promotion by the Utah Office of Tourism, people across the globe now know that “Mighty 5” refers to national parks in Utah and not a group of superheroes.
Unfortunately, that heightened awareness carries a price. Utah’s five national parks are often so busy that visitors wait hours to enter or are even turned away. If you’ve been stalled in traffic at Zion, Arches, or Bryce Canyon, you understand.
On holidays or other times when you know the parks will be jammed with tourists, a good alternative is to visit one of Utah’s spectacular state parks. Many offer breathtaking scenery to rival that of the Mighty 5 but with much smaller crowds.
Here are five state parks worth a visit.
The scenic overlooks of this park are often compared to views of the Grand Canyon. Just over 30 miles from Moab, it’s a worthy destination when Arches is overly crowded.
The park gets its name from a gruesome legend.
Around the turn of the century the point was used as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa top. One time, for some unknown reason, horses were left corralled on the waterless point where they died of thirst within view of the Colorado River 2,000 feet below.
Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
Escalante Petrified Forest State Park is located at Wide Hollow Reservoir, a small reservoir that is popular for boating, canoeing, fishing, and water sports. The park includes a developed campground with RV sites. There is also a pleasant picnic area.
On the hill above the campground you can see large petrified logs. A marked hiking trail leads through the petrified forest.
At the Visitor Center you can view displays of plant and marine fossils, petrified wood, and fossilized dinosaur bones over 100 million years old.
Sand Hollow State Park
Red rock and red sand meet warm, blue water at Sand Hollow, which is one of the most popular state parks in Utah. This is a great place to camp, picnic, boat, fish, and ride ATVs.
ATV trails run over sand dune access to Sand Mountain in the park, and additional trails are located nearby.
Sand Hollow Reservoir’s warm water makes it ideal for skiing and other water sports. Anglers fish for bass, bluegill, crappie, and catfish.
Quail Creek State Park
The reservoir at Quail Creek State Park boasts some of the warmest waters in the state, plus a mild winter climate. It is a great place to boat, camp, and fish.
Water sports are popular here during the long warm weather season, and boaters and fishermen enjoy the reservoir year-round. Anglers fish for largemouth bass, rainbow trout, crappie, and other species.
Nearby attractions include St George City and Red Cliffs BLM Recreation area.
Goblin Valley State Park
This park is filled with thousands of unusual mushroom-shaped rock formations called “hoodoos.” Originally named Mushroom Valley, it gained official recognition as a state park in 1964.
The landscape is appropriately described as otherworldly. The movie “Galaxy Quest” was filmed here because of the location’s alien appearance. In fact, not far from the park is the Mars Desert Research Station, established to “better educate researchers, students, and the general public about how humans can survive on the Red Planet.”
Of course, there are many other state parks to visit. Antelope Island is great for viewing wildlife. The Great Salt Lake offers amazing views of the lake and beautiful sunsets. Bear Lake is unique with its beautiful beaches and turquoise-blue water. Then there are Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Goosenecks, and more. All have features that make them worthy of a trip.
So if you want to see some of Utah’s natural beauty but you want to avoid the crowds, skip the Mighty 5 and head for a state park instead.
Sometimes a day trip isn’t about where you’re going. Sometimes it’s just about going. About straying off the interstates and hitting the back roads to see what you can find.