Utah is famous for its breathtaking national parks like Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Arches. However, beyond these iconic destinations lies a treasure trove of hidden gems waiting to be discovered. In this blog post, we are going to share 12 of our favourite secret things to do in Utah and why we think you’ll love them, too!
From surreal landscapes to natural wonders, this stunning state offers a diverse array of lesser-known attractions that are just as wondrous as its famous parks. Although many of these places take a little extra effort to get to, you cannot miss these things to do in Utah!
Our favourite way to travel is by campervan. Utah is incredibly van-friendly and it is the cheapest way to get around. There are a ton of campgrounds to choose from and endless public land where you can camp for free. If you do not have a van, a 4X4 Jeep with a roof tent would be our next best recommendation.
IMPORTANT: If you are using public land to camp, ALWAYS make sure to leave no trace. Respecting these areas and keeping them clean is the only way we can all continue to enjoy them for years to come.
In this blog post, we’ll explore 12 hidden gems that will leave you speechless, all outside the boundaries of national parks. So, pack your bags and get ready for an off-the-beaten-path adventure in Utah!
Bonneville Salt Flats
drive up access
Located west of the Great Salt Lake near the Nevada border, the Bonneville Salt Flats is a vast deposit of white salt that stretches as far as the eye can see. There are several pull-offs and areas to stop along the highway where you can admire them.
Depending on the recent weather and rainfall, there are typically both flooded and dried salt flats in this area. We visited a flooded section at sunset and could not believe how beautifully the surface mirrored the endless sky above. The salt can be sharp so water shoes or something else to cover your feet are always a good idea.
*When we visited, there were several stuck vehicles being towed off of the salt flats. We would not recommend attempting to drive on them. It’s just not worth the risk!*
Fifth Water Hot Springs
Hike in access: 7.2 kilometres & 194 m of elevation gain
Tucked away in Diamond Fork Canyon, Fifth Water Hot Springs offers a secluded and soothing escape. These tiered natural hot springs, surrounded by a turquoise blue river, provide the perfect opportunity to relax and unwind.
The hike to these hot springs is 7.2 kilometres with 194 m of elevation gain. They can get busy so go early in the morning or later at night to escape the crowds.
These colourful hills, composed of clay-rich bentonite soil, exhibit an otherworldly palette ranging from vibrant reds to deep blues and purples. Hiking through this unique terrain is what we would expect to find exploring Mars. We would highly recommend visiting for sunrise or sunset when the colours really come alive.
Getting here is a bit of a challenge, but it is absolutely worth the extra effort. You can either take a tour or visit the Bentonite Hills on your own. If you choose the latter, a 4X4 vehicle is required to make it all the way. We were exploring in our campervan, so we drove as far as we could and hiked the rest.
Valley of the Gods
drive up access
Located in the southeastern part of the state, Valley of the Gods was one of our favourite things to do in Utah. This remote and lesser-known destination offers a mesmerizing desert landscape that rivals its famous neighbour, Monument Valley.
The Valley of the Gods Scenic Road boasts breathtaking views of the towering red sandstone formations, dramatic cliffs, and vast open spaces. While there are no maintained hiking trails within Valley of the Gods, adventurous souls can explore the area on foot.
We actually enjoyed Valley of the Gods more than Monument Valley because it felt more remote and easier to explore. There are several free campsites scattered throughout the area. Sleeping under a star-studded sky with the silhouette of towering buttes as your backdrop is an unforgettable and immersive outdoor experience.
Hike in access: 24.5 kilometres & 477 m of elevation
Tucked away in the remote wilderness of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Reflection Canyon is a hidden gem that captivates all who venture to its shores. Carved by the Colorado River, Reflection Canyon is renowned for its striking beauty and mirror-like reflections. The towering cliffs around it are streaked with vibrant hues of red, orange, and pink.
Because of the distance involved, Reflection Canyon is a popular overnight hike in Utah. A permit is free, but you must acquire one from the Escalante Visitor Center (in the town of Escalante, UT) before driving to the trailhead.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes
hike in access: 1-4 kilometres depending on how far you go
One of our favourite things to do in Utah near Kanab is to visit Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. This enchanting natural wonder showcases massive sand dunes that are pink in colour, providing a stark contrast against the surrounding forest.
Visitors can hike, sandboard, or even ride off-road vehicles on these ever-shifting dunes. There is even a campground available if you would like to stay the night.
Jacob Hamblin Arch
hike in access: 22 kilometres & 170 m of elevation gain
Jacob Hamblin Arch is a remarkable example of the geological wonders that can be found in the canyons of Utah. Carved over countless centuries by wind and water, the arch is absolutely spectacular. The only downfall of visiting is the time and effort it takes to get here.
This journey begins with a 2-hour drive down a washboard gravel road. There are 4 trailheads that people use to access the arch, but we would recommend Hurricane Wash Trailhead. It is located 53 kilometres down Hole-in-the-Rock Road. Although it is typically accessible with a 2WD vehicle, 4X4 will be more comfortable. From here, it’s a 22-kilometre round-trip hike to visit the arch.
Spooky & Peekaboo Slot Canyons
hike in access: 7.3 kilometres & 178 m of elevation gain
Hidden within the intricate labyrinth of Escalante’s backcountry, Spooky and Peekaboo Slot Canyons offer a thrilling adventure for those who dare to enter. These slot canyons are known for their unique geological formations. The towering sandstone walls gradually narrow and twist upwards, creating a one-of-a-kind experience.
This hike can be done as a loop that includes both canyons. Most people begin with Spooky Slot Canyon as there is a bit of a climb to get in at the beginning. DO NOT attempt this hike if you are claustrophobic or have a fear of getting stuck.
As you navigate the tight spaces, you’ll gain a newfound appreciation for the forces of nature that have sculpted this unique landscape over millions of years. We would not recommend bringing small children or pets on this trail.
drive up access
Perched high on the cliffs in central Utah, Moonscape Overlook transports visitors to a lunar-like landscape. Aptly named for its resemblance to the surface of the moon, this off-the-beaten-path adventure was one of our favourite things to do in Utah. There is a wild camping area just beside this overlook that makes sunrise visits a breeze.
To get here, drive east from Hanksville on Highway 24. You will turn right (north) onto Factory Butte Road and then left on Coal Mine Road. As soon as you turn off Highway 24, the roads turn to dirt and cell service disappears. A 4X4 vehicle is recommended and an offline map is essential!
The Great Chamber (Cutler Point)
4X4 drive/hike in access: strenuous 4X4 drive + 1 kilometre & 89 m of elevation
A trip to the Great Chamber near Kanab was at the top of our list of things to do in Utah before visiting. Although this natural amphitheatre takes some planning to visit, it is sure to leave you awestruck. The best way to visit this phenomenal place is by tour or to rent a 4X4 Jeep.
Because you are driving through deep sand for 17 miles, a 4WD with high clearance is a must. We aired down our tires to 20 PSI before embarking across a river and onto the sandy roads. Once you reach the parking area, there is a short hike up into the chamber.
The access point is located HERE, just off Johnston Canyon Road. You will need an offline map to follow as nothing is labelled in this off-road area.
Dead Horse Point
Located just outside of Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park is a hidden gem that offers fantastic views. With its dramatic overlooks and rugged beauty, this stunning destination reminded us of Horseshoe Bend in Arizona with a fraction of the crowds.
Meadow Hot Springs
Situated in central Utah near the small town of Meadow, this hidden oasis is a can’t-miss destination. Meadow Hot Springs is composed of several pools of varying sizes, each with its own temperature and mineral content. These hot springs are on private land but the owners kindly allow guests to visit.
The crystal-clear waters, heated by underground geothermal activity, are surrounded by picturesque rural landscapes. While Meadow Hot Springs may not have the recognition of some of Utah’s more famous attractions, its off-the-beaten-path location adds to the allure.