Exploring Utah’s National Monuments

Utah is jammed packed with some of the most beautiful National Monument’s and we think you should get out and explore them.

There is no better time than now to get outside and show your support for our precious outdoor spaces. Utah in particular, is a state that is truly rich with breathtaking outdoor spaces to explore, with some of the country’s best national and state parks, national forests, lakes, and canyons.

It’s hard to play favorites, but these Utah monuments top our ‘must-see’ list:

Bears Ears

This national monument has stirred up a lot of controversy recently—and with good reason. As the state’s youngest monument, it lays claim to one of the most fascinating cultural landscapes in the country, with nearly countless Native American ruins (think pottery, rock art, cliff dwellings, and ceremonial kivas) stretched across the jaw-dropping scenery of Bears Ears’ 1.35 million acres of sandstone canyons, mesas, and forested buttes.

Activity options are almost as overwhelming as Bears Ears sheer size, with everything from hiking, backpacking, and trail running to mountain biking and off-roading. Bonus: from certain areas of Bears Ears you can also easily access the three huge, stream-carved natural bridges at the aptly-named Natural Bridges National Monument.

READ: Hottest Hiking Destinations in the U.S.

Grand Staircase-Escalante

At 1.9 million acres, Grand Staircase-Escalante takes up the same space as the state of Delaware—an expanse so vast and desolate that it was one of the last places in the Lower 48 to be cartographed. The staircase refers to the series of plateaus that drop from Bryce Canyon, moving south toward Arizona’s Grand Canyon through a series of cliff-drops named after the striking colors of the rocks—Pink Cliffs, as well as Gray, White, Vermillion, and Chocolate.

Grand Staircase-Escalante takes up the same space as the state of Delaware.

The monument’s name also references the Escalante River—and the canyon it has carved. Taken together, there are legions of hiking and canyoneering trails through slot canyons and across ridgelines and vistas, as well as fishing, horseback riding, and off-roading.

Cedar Breaks

This monument is effectively the penthouse suite of the state’s collection of opulent natural landscapes. It sits at 10,000 feet, overlooking a massive canyon carved into the desert some 2,000 feet below. Inside this natural coliseum are a heady collage of stone spires, arches, pinnacles, and slot canyon mazes, all of it cast in the intoxicating hues of the southwest—red, yellow, purple, and magenta.

READ: Guide to Canyonlands, Utah

Dixie National Forests surrounds Cedar Breaks, its dense alpine meadows punctuating Cedar Breaks’ seeming desolation with bursts of green ponderosa pine trees and the bone-white trunks of the aspen groves. Outdoor options abound—and the monument also sits a modest three miles from Brian Head Ski Resort, making it one of the only national monuments close to one of Utah’s famed ski resorts. But its elevation also means it’s often the coolest place in the state during the often hot and humid summer.

Hovenweep

The archeological treasure that is Hovenweep may not get as much attention as the vast Bears Ears or Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park—which honestly makes us love this Utah national monument even more. Hovenweep used to house more than 2,5000 people back in 900 AD—but now it remains bathed in undeveloped solitude, which is appropriate given that “Hovenweep” is the Ute word for “deserted valley.”

Hovenweep used to house more than 2,5000 people back in 900 AD.

Amidst all that silence, you’ll find five well-preserved ruins stretched across a 20-mile-wide footprint of mesa tops and canyons. You can explore the monument via horseback or on foot, and arrange for camping/backpacking as well as rafting. And its proximity to the Four Corners also means that Mesa Verde and Monument Valley are both within striking distance.

Dinosaur

Tucked in the northeastern corner of the state, the land now afforded national monument status was discovered by paleontologist Earl Douglass in 1909 while he was searching for fossils and stumbled across this massive formation layered with prehistoric plant and animal remains. The official borders now stretch across 210,344 acres. Naturally you can take in the fossils, many of which have been partially exposed but left intact in the rock, so you can grasp how integrated the flora and fauna are to the surrounding landscape.

But the monument also boasts some of the state’s best rafting on the Green and Yampa rivers, including Class III and IV rapids in the Green’s Lodore Canyon, and rough and rugged backcountry ready to be explored on day hikes or on multi-day backpacking trips.

Utah is not only populated by National Monuments, it is also home to four stunning National Parks.

We recently sent Lauren Steele and Paddy O’Connell to test our gear in the heat in Canyonlands National Park. Check out the beauty and unpredictability of the harsh Utah desert, here:

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