I’m a Utah Local, having a severe case of wanderlust, and don’t’ always have deep pockets to travel the world. For me, hiking is the best thing you can do in this state no matter what time of year, and virtually costs little to nothing. There are a plethora of places to choose from like Bryce Canyon, Moab, Kodachrome Basin, Goblin Valley, Zion National Park, Kannaraville, Ruin Park, Bears Ears etc.. Here are a few of, what I consider to be, the Best Hikes in Southern Utah.
Best Hikes in Southern Utah
Angels Landing in Zion National Park
So many hikers flock to this area in the dead of summer, causing gridlock on very narrow passes, and exposing themselves to sweltering heat. The best time to do this hike is in the Autumn or early spring if you really want to ENJOY it. This is considered the off-season, there are far less crowds, the sun is positioned just right, the temperatures are cooler, and the views are just as good.
At the first part of the hike it seems easy, then you start to make your way up the first set of switch-backs which are completely exposed to the sun. Once you get past these, you turn into the canyon for the second set of switchbacks which are a little more shaded. You reach the false angel’s landing after this point and then have to brave your way across a very narrow, and long stretch of mountain. Once you reach the end of this natural bridge, you utilize the chains to scramble your way up the rocks.
This is the area that only allows one person to pass at a time, so you can see why it’s better to go when it is less crowded. If you are trying to squeeze past someone who fears heights, the brain does terrible things to your sense of self-preservation and no one else’s safety matters. So just be alert and aware of the people who pushed themselves a little too far to do this hike.
As you crest the top of the last mountainous trail, you will be greeted by the true Angel’s landing. You can see why it was named as such, because of the expansive view that greets you and the coveted photo at the edge (mind your step, too many tourists have been on the news who have fallen off the edge trying to get a good photo).
Angel’s Palace in Kodachrome Basin State Park
Kodachrome Basin State Park is a little-known area, that is not too crowded …. yet. I hesitate to put this hike on here because the area is so raw, open, and virtually untouched. When we hiked this, it was late October and when we paid the fee to enter the park, the park ranger said we were only the third person that day to come into the park. The amenities here are limited, so make sure to bring your water and pack out your garbage. This hike is dog friendly, so feel free to bring your pooch – just don’t let them run free because of the delicate crusts on top of the sand that take hundreds of years to form.
There are over 67 monolithic stone spires, called sedimentary pipes that dot the landscape here. My favorite one was called Angel’s Palace. The trail is easy to hike, there isn’t much water or shade on the trail which is why doing it in Autumn or winter is the best time. The markings on the trail are not clear but if you follow the stacked rocks (called cairns) and you should be ok. You will know when you reach the Angel’s Palace, a massive natural white palace on the top of the mountain that truly looks like it is the home of angel’s or some other worldly creature will greet you as you round the last corner to the desert paradise.
Corona Arch in Moab
This is one of my favorite hikes in Moab. It is a fairly easy hike but does require a little bit of scrambling and a short ladder climb at one point. This Moab hike is dog friendly, and there are ways to get them up the scramble areas safely- but they need to be in a harness and not be afraid of heights; they should also be able to follow simple directional commands.
As soon as you get up over the ladder, you can see Corona Arch. You can call the end of the hike right there, but I would make your way over to the arch, stand under it and bask in this natural red rock wonder. If you really want to make this a special trip, bring a picnic in your pack and let the dogs run amuck while you replenish with delectable delights.
Little Wild Horse Canyon in Goblin Valley State Park
The first part of this hike is very exposed to the sun as you walk through a very rocky riverbed. You continue up the river bed, past some trees, and may need to wade through a bit of water in a few parts so bring a towel to wipe off your feet (or bring water shoes). There is a parking lot here, as well as an outhouse, there are a few spots on the trail for you to filter water, but I would suggest packing it in.
You round the dried-up river bend and see the first part of little wild horse canyon. A conglomeration of red rock and white rock mixed together with smooth buttery sides of sandstone. As you make your way into the canyon you will encounter areas where you will have to use all four limbs to get up, around, above, below crevices, boulders, alleyways and turns. Be sure to make a bit of noise as the canyon can get a bit crowded at times if you go later in the day. Also note that there is an area into the main part of the canyon that unless you can fit your dog into a backpack, they won’t be able to go up over the massive boulder you have to get over.
Goblin’s Lair – Goblin Valley State Park
Start the hike off in Goblin Valley, there is a massive parking lot, with outhouses, picnic tables and shade from the sun. If you are facing Goblin valley, walk to the left, take the trail around the back side of the Goblin Valley mountain, go past the gigantic sand dune on the right, and keep going til you see a mass of boulders that have fallen. Make your way up through these boulders and you will come upon a deep cavern which is Goblin’s Lair. Many people end up rappelling into this cavern as the climb down into it can be dangerous with slick sand, and crumbling surfaces. If you want to try your luck, and think it is worth the risk – do so at your own peril (but I have seen many people climb down and out without issue—they were VERY fit though). You can also get permits from the ranger’s station at the entrance to the park to Rappel into the cavern for a mere $2, be sure to bring your own gear and pack it out as well.
Despite the name, this place is truly a majestic wonder to behold. Often it is confused with horse-shoe bend, but is in fact Deadhorse Point State Park. There is the easy way to get here and the harder way to get here. You can drive straight up to Deadhorse Point overlook, or you can walk the trail. The trail is long, but mostly flat and each bend near the edge of the cliffs produces a magnificent view of the deep canyons below, where a river twists around and cuts through the canyon. I would recommend going near sunset, as the way the light plays on the rocks as it sinks into the horizon is mesmerizing, and once the sun goes down you will be witness to one of the few Dark Sky Parks left in the United States.
This hike takes you up narrow slot canyon that ends in a beautiful cascading waterfall amongst the red rocks near St George Utah (just outside the town of Kannaraville). It is a hike that does require permits as of 5/1/18, so make sure to get those before hiking this trail. Once you are on the trail, there is no way to get to the waterfall unless you pass through 3-8 inches of water to get there. It is in a canyon so would recommend some wetsuit boots if you go in the winter, and water shoes if you decide to go in the summer. Either way, this hike is very rewarding at the end no matter what the season is.
This hike is in the Moab area, with the famed arch that so many photographers take a sunrise of. Head over to Canyonlands National Park and is an easy hike for all ages. There is no fencing, or way to protect small children from tumbling down the 1,200ft cliffs into Buck Canyon so MAKE SURE YOU HANG ONTO THEM. Again, too many people end up on the news here because they aren’t watching kids or are trying to take selfies. Please do not climb on top of the arch, the sandstone is very delicate and is routinely worn away by rain – don’t be that person who ruins a cherished Utah landmark by trying to conquer nature. The trail itself is only 0.5miles loop. To get there just drive 6.3 miles south of the Island in the Sky Visitor Center and turn left (east) into the Mesa Arch Parking Area. The trail is clearly marked and easy to follow.
Snow Canyon State Park
There are so many wonderful hikes to choose from in this 7,400 sq mile state park, but if I had to choose one for you to do – I would tell you to do the Snow Canyon Lava Tubes. These Lava tubes are just that, old lava with caverns and caves ripe for the exploration. The trail is clearly marked and can get busy in the afternoons, so try and hit this one a bit early. It is about 3.5 mile loop, at the trailhead you will start the Butterfly trail which turns into the Lava Flow trail. There will be an overlook along the trail, and if you back track and explore the two lava tubes, you will run into a 15-foot cave, or continue west along the trail to find the largest cave in the park. If Lava tubes aren’t your thing, no problem, there is plenty to choose from.
When you first drive up to this trail you can see the Fisher towers from the parking lot, but I highly recommend taking the trail out and around the side. The trail is a little deceiving because you must head away from the Fisher towers and then climb down into the canyon. There are boulders, and panoramic peaceful views of the landscape that has been utilized by several Hollywood productions. If you are lucky, you may even see rock climbers trying their skills on the Titan, the largest of the Fisher Towers which is technically difficult for climbers to master.
Bryce Canyon Rim Trail
This trail starts at Sunrise Point (or Sunset Point) and is flat and easy. This portion is only 0.9 miles but is an out and back and gives you the best views, great for nature walks, and bird watching. The moderate portion of this trail though, connects Fairyland to Bryce Point and the elevations changes can be brutal. This part of the trail is 5.5 miles, it is better to do this portion in the spring or fall as the temperatures from the reflection of heat off the rocks and sands can get quite dangerous. If you decide to brave the entire Bryce Canyon Rim Trail it is a whopping 10.7 miles and will give you a workout should you choose to do the entire route. If you do decide to do the entire route though, it will gift you the most picturesque views that Bryce Canyon has to offer.
Morning Glory Arch – Near the Moab Area
I saved the best for last, this hike has all the elements of a fantastic hike and experience for me. You start off on a clearly marked trail in one of the best parts and most visited areas of Utah. It starts out as a well packed trail, then turns into sand, with beautiful weeds, trees and red rock surrounding you on your journey. There is water available along the trail for you to filter if needed, and plenty of both sunny and shaded areas. Spring and Fall the trail is not very crowded, you can take your dogs with you, and at the end, you get a view of one of the longest arches in the park. It may not look like it, but once you get underneath the arch, you will witness just how expansive the arch really is. Just mind the Poison Ivy that tends to grow at the base (don’t want to ruin the trip).
There you have it, these are some of my favorite trails in Southern Utah or best hikes in Southern Utah that I personally have been to, hiked, and have wonderful memories surrounding each one. I have yet to visit all the secret places, but these are the ones that I find to be the most rewarding, have legend and folklore attached to it, and are incredibly satisfying once you complete them.
As Always…..Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See YOU on the Flip Side.