Though typically known for world-renowned national parks, the mountainous and arid State of Utah is also home to over 40 different state parks, which are all bucket list worthy. So while the throngs of crowds and mobs of tourists are almost literally banging on the gates of the Mighty 5—Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion—just know that Utah’s much less-visited state parks are quietly waiting to be explored.
Here, 5 of our favorite Utah state parks to start exploring first. All are family friendly, and all provide a variety of outdoor recreation for anyone and everyone.
Bear Lake is a beautiful area that sits high in the Rocky Mountains on the Utah-Idaho border. Only a 2-3 hour drive from Salt Lake City, this is a popular park to visit, and the lake is a spectacular aqua-blue color due to minerals suspended in the lake. The water and sandy beaches are perfect for visitors seeking offshore activities such as boating, fishing, and SUP-ing. Make sure to treat yourself to the famous Bear Lake raspberry shake during your visit; August brings a harvest of delicious raspberry crops that bring tourists from around the world to enjoy the berry goodness. Bear Lake is a fantastic place to take your kids and pets are allowed as well.
Antelope Island is the largest island in the Great Salt Lake, and it’s accessed via a 7.2-mile causeway. Only 35-40 minutes away from Salt Lake, Antelope Island has a unique variety of wildlife that is spread throughout the 28,022 acres. There are 25 miles of backcountry trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding, and primitive campsites and RV camping is available as well. Nature watching, boating, and water sports are also some great activities to enjoy at the island. During winter, visitors engage in snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. There are free-ranging bison, bighorn sheep, mule deer, pronghorn antelope and many other desert animals that roam the park’s beautiful landscape.
If you’re driving along I-15 southbound towards Utah County, you might see some paragliders and hang gliders flying high in the skies on the east side of the freeway. The Flight Park State Recreation Area is one of the areas where these fliers launch from, and it is known worldwide as one of the best training sites for both paragliding and hang gliding. The Flight Park is jointly managed by Utah State Parks and Recreation and the Utah Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association. Several companies offer tandem hang gliding and paragliding experiences for those who want to experience a flight, and it’s definitely worthwhile. Approximately 700 pilots fly the point and nearly 30 percent of them are from out of state or out of the country. There’s an area for onlookers to sit and enjoy the paragliders and hang gliders. Take a picnic and make it a relaxing night.
Sand Hollow is set among a gorgeous red sandstone landscape, and the warm blue water of the Sand Hollow Reservoir is popular for boating and fishing. It’s also a great location for kitesurfers to glide across the water and pull some tricks in the air. In addition to water sports, hiking, camping and nature watching, visitors can also explore and ride the sand dunes of Sand Mountain in an off-road vehicle. Camping is allowed in designated campsites with quiet hours between 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Pets are allowed on leash, must be controlled at all times and cleaned up after. Sand Hollow is approximately 297 miles south of Salt Lake City.
Snow Canyon is a year-round 7,400-acre desert park that offers 16 miles of hiking trails, technical rock climbing, horseback riding, year-round camping, nature studies, wildlife viewing, and some magnificent photo opportunities. The towering sandstone cliffs also feature peaks and valleys of jumbled black lava rock interspersed with serpentine sandy washes. It really is quite the view while hiking and the trail goes from red sandstone to black lava rock around the lava caves. Any outdoor recreation and adventure in Snow Canyon should be approached with caution in the dead of summer, as the heat can be stifling. Ideal times to go to Snow Canyon are during spring and fall. Carry at least one liter of water per person. Rock climbing is permitted in designated areas only.