There’s no doubt that Utah’s phantasmic, Mars-like landscapes have allured many avid-travelers around the world. From its spectacular red-rock mesas, sedimentary canyons, to its boatload of national parks and monuments, this land promises for an epic adventure. Whether you wish to venture deep in the wild or sink into a natural pool at one of its national parks, below is a compiled list of free things to do in Utah for a weekend getaway:
1. Hike through the rugged trails of Zion National Park – South Utah
Zion National Park is a paradisiacal hiking spot for adventure spirits seeking solitude and moments of rumination. Located in the southwestern part of Utah, just close to the town of Springdale, the national park’s high plateaus, rugged canyons, Emerald pools and not to mention its 2000-foot reddish sandstone cliffs make it a must-visit attraction in Utah. The park is home to an eclectic range of hiking trails which vary in difficulty levels, and awe-inspiring vistas. Visitors are allowed to drive only through the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway between March and the end of October. This 1.1 mile-long (1.7 km) tunnel offers dramatic views of Zion Canyon. There are also many other trailheads such as the Zion Narrows, the Subway, and the West Rim which is quite remote, but breathtaking as well.
Free Hiking Trails – Zion National Park in Utah
One of the most popular hiking trails of the park is the Narrows, where most hikers prefer to hike this trail in the late spring or summer when the waters are at their lowest points. If you prefer to opt for a no permit route then it’s better to trek upstream from the Temple of Sinawava to Big Stream, which is 10 miles (16 km round trip). Unlike the downstream, you will need to obtain a permit to hike the 16-mile trail from Chamberlain’s Ranch. Though, it is better to skip this hiking trail when storms are in the forecast, as chances of flash floods are pretty high.
The 2-hour Pa’rus Trail is one of the easiest and convenient hiking trails in Zion National Park, where you don’t have to rely on the park shuttle buses. Whether you wish to stroll leisurely with your dog or use bicycles or wheelchairs, this trail makes it possible. If you’re an experienced biker, then the ideal trail is by taking the Pa’rus junction with the floor of the Valley to continue up to the Temple of Sinawava. Another trail is the Springdale, which connects to the park campgrounds to the town of Springdale, where hikers can find facilities such as accommodation, restaurants, and bike rental.
Practical Information about Zion National Park
The visitor’s center: The eco-friendly visitor’s center lies inside the south entrance of the park near Springdale. This is your one-stop shop to find maps and detailed information about Zion National Park.
Opening Hours: Spring: 8:00 am – 6:00 pm; Summer: 8:00 a.m – 7:00 p.m; Fall: 8:00 am – 6:00 pm; Winter: 8:00 am -5:00 pm
Note: Though some of the hiking trails are free to access, visitors will have to pay an entrance fee to the national park. You can find the park entrance booths at the end of the highway (pay an entrance fee or show a parking pass). Also, be cautious of the rockfalls which happen rarely. To keep you updated about the trail click here.
2. Check out Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument – South Utah
Designated as 1.9 million-acre of protected land in southern Utah since 1996, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument makes it a true haven for hikers, off-roaders, and canyoneers seeking for adventure. This fascinating outdoor museum is made up of about 200 million years of sedimentary cliffs and canyons segmented into three main regions, notably the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Escalante River (Canyons of the Escalante). The site doesn’t only have a picturesque topography but it also carries a legacy of an intriguing human history of the Fremont and Puebloan native people. Heading to this part of the state means combining an epic hiking trip with ancient site exploration.
3. Hike the Nine Mile Canyon
If you wish to combine an epic adventure with an exploration of some of the fascinating rock art, then hike from the town of Wellington, south of Price to the Nile Mile canyon. Lauded as the ‘world’s longest art gallery’, the 75-mile long Nile Mile Canyon is home to about 1000 rock art sites containing impressive pecked petroglyphs and painted pictographs made by Fremont and Ute Indians. Though few archaeological excavations have been carried out, archaeologists have made some amazing discoveries such as granaries, pit-houses, and rock shelters at the site. The phantasmic view of the flat canyon bottom will reel you back in time when past residents used the area for agriculture and cattle grazing. Some of the key spots of the canyon are the Great Hunt Panel, Big Buffalo, Fremont Village, and the Cottonwood Glen Picnic Area.
4. Meet the world’s largest organism- The Trembling Giant
What’s special about the Trembling Giant or Pando is the fact that it is seldom touted for being the world’s largest (13 million pounds) and oldest (around 80,000 years) living organism that covers about 106 acres (43 hectares) of land at Fishlake National Forest in Utah. This fascinating single organism has been able to spread itself from reproducing asexually, creating an enchanting grove of about 47,000 trees. You’ll always find it a relaxing feeling to be surrounded by the lofty quaking aspen, where you’ll get to hear the rustling sound of the leaves produced by the slightest gentle breeze. To make the most out of your experience with nature consider camping at a nearby dispersed camping area in the Fremont River Ranger District.
Note: Best time to visit the Trembling Giant is during the fall ( September to mid-December)
5. Discover behemoth aircraft at the Hill Aerospace Museum
You don’t have to be an aviation enthusiast to visit the Hill Aerospace Museum. The huge collection of the behemoth warfare aircraft displayed at the museum will not fail to grab your attention. No wonder hordes of tourists come to see every year these gigantic aircraft, which were once used by the Central Intelligence Agency. One of the many highlights is the Lockheed SR-71 also known as the ‘Blackbird’ which was designed as an undetected spy plane, developed under the black project. This strategic reconnaissance aircraft is known to be the fastest covering speed of 3,529 km/h and was used from 1964 until 1998. Another fascinating display is a replica of the ‘Trinity Device’- the nuclear weapon which was used as part of the Manhattan Project (World War II) by the United States Army at 5:29 a.m. on July 16 in 1945.
Address: 7961 Wardleigh Rd, Hill AFB, UT 84056
Opening hours: Mon – Sat: 09.00 am – 04.30 pm
6. Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
One interesting way to connect with animals is by visiting an animal sanctuary instead of going to a zoo, or an aquarium. And one such place in Utah is the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary which hosts around 1,600 abandoned animals including bunnies, cats, dogs, horses, pigs, and many more that need your attention. Operating since 1984 in the red rock canyons of southern Utah, this animal sanctuary is a true haven for abandoned animals who were saved from getting killed in animal shelters. The aim of the non-profit organization is to protect and provide a healing environment for these animals. While petting an animal here makes it a whole lot of difference, you can also spend an overnight in a cottage or at the RV site located on the sanctuary grounds if you wish to extend your experience.
Address: 2005 South 1100 East, Salt Lake City, UT 84106
Opening Hours: 08.00 am – 05.00 pm (daily)
7. Utah State Capitol
If you’re someone who admires refined architecture, then the 20th-century State Capitol must be on your list of places to visit in Utah. Perched on a hill facing downtown Salt Lake City, this neoclassic complex is lauded for its gorgeous Corinthian architecture and 52 towering walls. Its main interior section is decked out with sublime murals depicting the flying seagulls, and a painting made by William Slater. Thanks to the outstanding work of architect Richard K.A Kletting, the capitol has become a popular venue for social events and weddings.
Address: 350 N State St, Salt Lake City, UT 84103
Opening Hours: 09.00 am – 04.00 pm (free guided tour)