20 Must Do Adventures In Utah

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Utah is home to some of the most diverse landscapes and adventures in the United States. Whether you’re looking for some skiing at one of the 15 ski resorts or want to explore the deserts in one of Utah’s 5 National Parks, there’s a little bit of something for everyone.

Why is Utah a good place for adventures?

One of the best things about Utah is the diversity, so you really can DO IT ALL. Yes, you can be enjoying a powder ski day one day and the next, be down in the warm southern air hiking through a slot canyon. Best of all, most of the best adventures that you can do in Utah are things that just about anyone can do with no special skills.

You don’t have to be an expert to enjoy adventures in Utah, you just have to do a little homework. In fact, we’ve taken our kids to do almost every single one of these adventures in Utah, so I know that you can do it.

20 must do adventures in Utah

Before you go out on an adventure in Utah

There are a couple of basics that you’ll need for any adventure that you want to do in Utah.
The first is a good backpack and we’ve compiled a list of the best backpacks that you can use for just about anything.

Second, make sure you have good shoes. All of these adventures are very active, so if you take care of your feet, they’ll take care of you. Read all about the best kids hiking shoes and the best active sandals for kids.

Third, always carry plenty of water with you. I personally use this old school water bottle, though I notice my kids drink more water without me reminding them if I give them one of these. Dehydration will knock you out FAST, especially in the high altitude of Utah, so always be prepared. We also keep a jug of water in our car on every adventure, just in case we need a little extra.

Best Adventures in Utah

1. Hike through a slot canyon

Utah is known for its slot canyons that seem to appear out of nowhere all throughout the desert.   While some of these canyons require a good amount of technical knowledge with rapells, climbing, and even swimming through icy potholes, there are plenty that are nontechnical recommended in this book.  Just last year we took our kids (ages 2-12) down Spooky and Peekaboo slot canyons and absolutely loved it.   

hiking peekaboo canyon with kids

Best time of year to hike a Utah slot canyon

Slot canyons can be hiked all year round, though make sure you do your homework so you know what to expext. If you are hiking a canyon where you will have to swim in potholes, avoid going in winter as they will likely have ice in them. Also, never go into a slot canyon when rain is in the forecast for the entire drainage area, as flash floods are very likely and deadly.

hiking spooky slot canyon

2. Skiing in the Cottonwood Canyons

Utah’s well known for having “The Greatest Snow on Earth”, and this isn’t just a marketing ploy.  The snow here is INCREDIBLE since it usually has a low moisture content making it very light and fluffy for those perfect powder days.  The terrain in both Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons is absolutely incredible, offering not only incredibly steep expert terrain but also a huge variety of beginner and intermediate runs.  To top it all off, the Cottonwood Canyon resorts (Solitude, Brighton, Snowbird, and Alta) are only 25 minutes from downtown Salt Lake City. If you’re headed to Solitude (our fave), check out all our insider ski tips.

girl skiing steep terrain

Best time of year to ski Utah

For the best snow conditions, January-March is the best time to go.   Make sure to check out all the best Utah ski deals before you head out.

3. Explore Goblin Valley’s hoodoos

Spending time in Goblin Valley feels a bit like spending the day on Mars.  The hoodoos that fill the valley will literally make you feel like you’re on another planet.  This is a great place for kids and adults alike. There are lots of little side canyons, caves, and rocks to explore, and if you’ve ever wanted to have a really epic game of TAG or HIDE AND SEEK, this is probably the best place ever.  Goblin Valley can make a great trip on it’s own, combined with hiking through Little Wildhorse slot canyon, or it also makes a great day trip from Moab.

GOblin Valley Utah Hoodoos

Best time of year to explore Goblin Valley

Goblin Valley can get really hot in the middle of the summer, so if you like cooler temperatures head there in the spring or fall.

4. Mountain bike the Wasatch Crest Trail

If you’re looking for some of the best mountain views in the Wasatch Mountains outside of Salt Lake City, then the Wasatch Crest Trail is exactly the ride for you.  This advanced intermediate trail starts at Guardsman Pass outside of Park City and continues down into Millcreek Canyon. Along the way, you’ll race through groves of aspen trees, stare in awe at the huge peaks all around you, and see some of the best alpine views in Utah.

This mountain bike trail is typically done as a shuttled ride, since it’s primarily downhill, so make sure to enlist a friend to help with the drive.  

boy riding mountain bike

Best time of year to mountain bike the Wasatch Crest Trail

The best time of year to bike the Wasatch Crest Trail is in the summer. As a courtosy to others, do not ride the trail if it’s muddy as that does a lot of damage to the route.

5. Raft the Gates Of Lodore on the Green River

If you’ve got a few days and are looking for a trip that will blow your mind, then plan on rafting down the Gates of Lodore section of the Green River.  Here, the river winds its way through the towering canyon walls of Dinosaur National Monument. This section of the river takes from 3-5 days to float down and gives you a taste of some serious whitewater as well as some nice calm stretches where you can enjoy the Canyon beauty.  Permits are required to float this section so unless you have extensive whitewater experience, it’s best to go with a guide when floating this section of the Green River. Suggested for ages 8+

gates of Lodore rafting Green river

Best time of year to raft the Gates of Lodore

The Gates of Lodore can technically be run all year round, though it is much easier at higher water. The water peaks in June and can get rougher then, and July, August, and September usually have good flows still but more mild rapids.

6. Swim in the Great Salt Lake

There aren’t many places where you can swim in a body of water as salty as the Great Salt Lake.  In fact, because the Great Salt Lake is much saltier than the ocean, it’s really easy to float there.  Now don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a glamorous experience, but it is a pretty cool one. You’ll likely run into some bugs and of course a bit of smell from all the brine shrimp in the lake.  From personal experience, I recommend grabbing some goggles before you get in the water – it burns like crazy if it gets in your eyes because it’s so salty.

swimming in the great salt lake

Best time of year to swim in the Great Salt Lake

The best place to access the lake for swimming is from Antelope Island, though because of the biting gnats, avoid going from April-June.

7. Hike the Zion Narrows

The Narrows is a hike through the narrowest section of Zion Canyon with the Virgin River flowing through it.  There is no trail, just a river…and that’s what you hike up. This hike is absolutely stunning and is a great way to cool down from the Southern Utah heat.  Good shoes for hiking in the water are a must.  Make sure to read all about the best outdoor sandals for kids if you’re taking your family, though I personally always wear these for water hiking.

hike the zion narrows

Best time of year to hike the Narrows

A hike through the Zion Narrows is best done in late spring or summer, as water temperatures can get quite cold.

8. Hike to Delicate Arch

Looking for the arch that’s been made famous on the Utah License plate?  This is the one. Delicate Arch is located inside of Arches National Park and is one of the most iconic hikes in the area.  Yes, it is also one of the more crowded hikes, but the views are absolutely worth it. To beat the heat and some of the crowds, leave from the trailhead first thing in the morning or about 2 hours before sunset.  There are a few places where there’s a bit of exposure along the trail, so if you get nervous about things like that, keep that in mind. We’ve hiked it with all 5 of our children and it wasn’t too hard for any of them (though I did hold their hands TIGHT in those exposed areas).  

If you plan to do more exploring in Arches or Canyonlands National Park check out our best hikes with kids.

delicate arch hike with kids

Best time of year to hike to Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch is a very popular hike, so it can get very busy during the spring and summer months. If you want to visit Delicate Arch without the crowds, make sure to go in the fall or winter.

9. Go Boating at Lake Powell

If you love spending time in the water, you’re going to LOVE Lake Powell.  Lake Powell was created when the Colorado River was dammed and the red rock canyons of Glen Canyon were filled with water.  This place is a boaters paradise! Whether you want to waterski, kayak, cliff jump, or just relax on the boat or beach, you’ll find a little something for everyone.  One of the most popular things to do at Lake Powell is to rent a house boat so you can stay anywhere you want on the water. With hundreds of miles of shoreline, and countless hidden side canyons it’s easy to get lost, so grab this book before you head out.

boating at lake powell

Best time of year to visit Lake Powell

Lake Powell is best visited from late spring to early fall, though water temperatures are the warmest in August and September.  

10. Visit Calf Creek Falls

If you’re heading down near Escalante (a great area for slot canyons), you absolutely cannot miss a visit to Calf Creek Falls.  The falls is about 3 miles down the trail and is one of the best desert hikes that I’ve ever been on. A beautiful canyon to hike up and an absolutely stunning waterfall at the end. 

calf creek falls with kids

Best time of year to visit Calf Creek Falls

In the spring and early summer, the water is still quite frigid, though if you’re hot a dip in the pool feels incredible. Even in the spring and fall the air temperature can get very hot in the canyon so make sure to take plenty of water.  

11. Explore the Najavo Loop at Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the most geologically unique places in all of Utah.  With just a simple hike, you can get up close and personal with some of these unique fins, hoodoos and rock striations.  One of the most popular hikes, which will take you down into Wall Street is the Najavo Loop. While you can do this hike in just a couple of hours, make sure to stay at least 3 days to explore all the unique features in Bryce Canyon National Park.  Some of the hikes in Bryce Canyon can get a little tough, so make sure you’re wearing proper hiking shoes.

bryce canyon from above

Best time of year to visit Bryce Canyon

While most people visit Bryce Canyon in the summer, it can be quite stunning (and less crowded) in the winter.  Also, make sure to note that the elevation at Bryce Canyon is very high, so it’s significantly colder than most of Southern Utah.  

12. Hike Big Cottonwood Canyon

Located right outside of Salt Lake City, Big Cottonwood Canyon is one of the best places to hike and explore in the Wasatch Mountains.  In the summer, head up to the alpine lakes of Brighton Resort for an instant escape from city life. Catherine and Blanchard lakes are some of the most beautiful, and this area is quite popular with hikers on the weekends.  This area is so stunning, that you’ll probably forget that you’re just 20 minutes away from Salt Lake City.  

hiking lake catherine brighton resort utah

Best time of year to hike Big Cottonwood Canyon

Hikes in Big Cottonwood Canyon are best done in the summer as snow is usually on the ground from October until May.  

13. Hike Mt Timpanogos

If you drive anywhere in Utah Valley, you’ll instantly notice Mt Timpanogos towering over the entire area.  This massive peak is not only the most easily identifiable landmark in the area, but it’s also one of the most amazing mountain hikes in all of Utah.  With a pretty steep elevation gain and a 15 mile round trip hike, this is not for the faint of heart. However, the views from along the trail as well as from the peak are worth all the effort.  If you’re in decent shape, you should be able to hike this trail without many problems, though it may take a bit longer depending on your fitness. Last summer, we took our 7, 9, and 12 year old and all three of them were able to summit. Do yourself a favor and invest in good hiking shoes as there is a lot of vertical feet covered on this hike.

hiking mt timpanogos with kidw

Best time of year to hike Mt Timpanogos

This hike is best done in the late summer and early fall.  Snowfields need to be clear before the trail can be safely accessed, so check current reports before hiking.

14. Paddleboard or kayak Flaming Gorge

If you’re looking for a chance to really escape the crowds that are all over the Wasatch Front and southern Utah, Northeastern Utah is packed full of hidden gems for adventurers.  One of our favorite things to do in the area is to go paddleboarding and kayaking at Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Read our aritlce all about paddlesports at Flaming Gorge where we give you the inside scoop on the best paddling routes around the lake.

paddleboarding with kids on flaming gorge reservoir

Best time of year to paddle Flaming Gorge

Flaming Gorge watersports are best enjoyed in the summer when both the air and water temperatures are warmer.

15. Discover dinosaur fossils

Are you a dinosaur lover?  A visit out to Dinosaur National Monument is a must-do (yes, even for adults), where there is so much to learn and explore about dinosaurs.  Our family always loves to visit the quarry, where you can get an upclose look (and even touch) at a wall full of gigantic dinosaur fossils.  While you’re there, make sure to check out these great Dinosaur area hikes and mountain bike trails.

vernal dinosaur

Best time of year to visit Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Monument is great to visit all year round. In the winter, the crowds are especially low, and since many of the exhibits are indoors, you don’t have to worry as much about the cold.

16. Rock Climbing in Maple Canyon

If you’re a climber, Utah has plenty of routes that will keep you challenged and pushing your limits.  However, if you want a really unique area to climb, check out Maple Canyon. This canyon is made up of all conglomerate rocks, so it will challenge and test your climbing skills in a way that few other places in the state will.

Best time of year to rock climb Maple Canyon

Best done it warm weather since climbing on cold rock can be incredibly difficult. 

17. Drive a 4×4 in Moab

Are you a 4×4 enthusiast?  Then Moab will be like paradise for you.  With tons of trails all over the slickrock to really put you and your rig to the test this is the ultimate playground for grown-ups.  Whether you’re into rock crawling or scenic trails, there’s so much variety that you’ll easily find something to love. Interested in trying out some great 4×4 trails in Moab, but don’t have a tough off-raod vehicle?  There are plenty of places where you can rent a vehicle that’s suited just to off road trails, and many shops will even deliver to the trailhead for you.

drive a 4x4 in moab utah

Best time of year to 4×4 in Moab

Moab is great yearround, though the summer months can get very hot.  If you want to avoid the crowds, head to Moab in the winter.  

18. Explore the Lava tubes at Snow Canyon State Park

Snow Canyon State Park is located just outside of St George in Southern Utah.  While this may seem like an unlikely area to find lava tubes, that’s exactly what they are.  There are several lava tubes, which are really just like large caves, that you can explore in Snow Canyon.  The tubes range from about 15 to 50 feet deep and can get quite dark inside, so make sure to bring a flashlight with you.

Best time of year to explore the lava tubes

The lava tubes are best explored in the winter, spring, and fall to avoid the summer heat as you hike out to the tubes.  

19. Hike the High Uintah Wilderness

Just over an hour outside of Salt Lake City, you’ll reach Uintah National Forest and the High Uintah Wilderness.  This is the perfect place to get away from the crowds, find some solitude and really enjoy the massive mountains in Utah.  Whether you’re looking for a multiday backpacking trip through the wilderness, or a simple afternoon hike with the kids, you can find a bit of everything in the Uintah’s.

lake naomi high uintah wilderness with kids

Best time of year to hike the Uintah’s

Summer is the best time to go.  The road through the National Forest is not plowed in winter so the area is not accessable to cars then.  

20. Mountain bike Park City

Park City has one of the best mountain biking systems in the entire nation.  There are mountain bike trails EVERYWHERE and the whole town is really bike friendly.  If you’re looking for a beginner area, make sure to head to Round Valley, and for some advanced downhill rides, head to the lift serviced trails at Park City Resort.  If you want an area that has something for everyone, make sure to check out the Trailside Bike Park. There are short trails there to help every level of rider, and the playground and park there make it incredibly family friendly

mountain biking with a baby toddler

Best time of year to mountain bike Park City

To mountain bike in Park City, the trails need to be dry. Most years that is from about May-October, though depending on the weather the riding availability may vary.

Ultimate guide to utah adventure

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