The Complete Adventurers Guide to Utah

When it comes to outdoor recreation, very few states compare to Utah.  When most people think of Utah, they think of skiing, national parks, funny alcohol laws or Mormons.  But what they don’t think about is the variety of recreation and adventure that Utah provides.

 

Possibly the Best Mountain Biking Anywhere

Utah has a variety of terrain for the avid mountain biker.  Even though Utah has plenty of alpine biking-trails, it has a different area that sets Utah apart from other potential destinations. The most unique area for mountain biking is Moab.  During the winter, trails in Moab are accessible and are free of snow year round. Moab has routes for all skill levels. This is a must do for anyone in the area. There are numerous businesses in the area that have bike rentals and trail books.  The best trails in the area are; The Slickrock Trail and The Porcupine Rim Trail. Actually there are hundreds of trails in the Moab area which ones you prefer are up to you.

If you are in Salt Lake area in the summer months, a number of ski resorts provide access for Mnt. Biking, such as; Deer Valley and Sundance.  They have on-site bike rentals so if you are in town for business, or don’t want to drag your own bike, you can still take advantage of what is offered.

 

Canyoneering In Utah

There aren’t a lot of states that offer this activity.  Some states have types of canyoneering, but very few have slot canyons. Slot canyons are deep and narrow and often require special skills and equipment.  For the adventurer, looking for something new and exciting, canyoneering definitely fits the bill. The two best areas for canyoneering are the Bears Ears National Monument, and the Robber’s Roost.  There are also more convenient options that are easily accessible North Wash and the more glamorous Zion, but the North Wash canyons are short, and Zion requires permits that may be difficult to get.

The Robber’s Roost area is named for the old west outlaws, who used to hide in the area to avoid lawmen.  It is remote and off the radar. Even locals don’t frequent the area as much as they could; it’s not the sexy option, but the canyons are long, beautiful and have lots of rappels.  Contrary to what the media says, it is in the Robber’s Roost area where Aron Rawlston amputated his own arm and became the subject of the movie “127 Hours”. The best canyons in the area are; Larry Canyon, Alcatraz Canyon, and for fans of the movie Little Blue John Canyon.

The Bears Ears area is also another fascinating region for canyoneering.  This is something that is really hit or miss. When the canyons have a lot of water in them, the fun factor makes them hard to beat. Without water they aren’t the best options available.  If you are new to the activity, you will have fun no matter what. Seasoned canyoneers should probably check with one of the canyoneering message boards to check water levels. The best canyons in the area are; Cheesebox, and The Black Hole.

 

White Water Rafting In Utah

Utah only has a couple sections of major whitewater. The bad thing about them is that they are in between large sections of flat water. However, the beauty of the area more than makes up for the endless miles of rowing.  Most people use motors to support their river trips if they are doing one of these sections. The biggest whitewater in the state is found in Cataract Canyon. The second biggest whitewater is found in Westwater, both are on the Colorado river and require permits.  At high water, Cataract Canyon has some rapids that become V’s in size. For 12 miles, it is rapid after rapid, for one of the best multi-day-whitewater runs.

For more family-friendly rafting,  the Moab Daily offers a few class III’s.  One of the most beautiful and remote stretches of river in the United States is Gray and Desolation Canyon on the Green River.  It offers some 60 rapids over 84 miles. The largest, which is a class III+, that can be bypassed. It is a great multi-day trip with little risk involved.    Gray and Desolation canyons also require permits.

 

Utah Has World Class Rock Climbing

Thanks to all the different types of geographical features found in Utah, Utah has the best rock climbing in the United States. The proximity of climbing near Salt Lake means your adventure begins less than 30 minutes after arriving at the Salt Lake Airport. Numerous climbing routes can be found in the granite-quartz walls of Little Cottonwood and Big Cottonwood Canyons.  Just south of Salt Lake County is Utah County, which features a climbing area suitable for people of all skill levels.

Rock Canyon, in Utah County, hosts numerous routes on both sides of the canyon walls. Large multi-pitch routes are on the left and on the right are the red slab routes.  The red slab routes are great for beginners and the upper slabs are challenging for more advanced climbers.

In Sanpete county just southeast of Utah County, is Maple Canyon.  Maple canyon is home to a narrow canyon called Box Canyon. The entire area is home to plenty cobblestone climbing routes.

Farther south and east is the Moab area.  The Moab area is home to several different climbing routes.  Wall Street is a unique and easily accessible climbing area just outside of Moab.  It is so accessible that many people choose to belay from their car. The Fisher Tower area is home to some of the best crack-climbing and big-wall climbing. This is where the Mission Impossible rock-climbing scene was filmed.

If bouldering is more your style of adrenaline, then check out Joe’s Valley.  Joe’s Valley has more than 350 routes ranging from V0 to V13 with the majority of them over V4.  Joe’s Valley is one of the premier spots in the world and has entertained world-class climbers from every corner of the globe.

 

Olympic Level Skiing

When people think of skiing in the United States, they almost always think of Colorado. The truth is: Colorado has nothing on Utah when it comes to skiing.  The powder in Utah is considered the lightest and fluffiest powder in the world. The ski resorts are first class, as the world discovered during the 2002 winter Olympics.  Unlike Colorado, Utah is cheaper, has shorter lines and the resorts are much closer to the airport than they are in Denver. Utah is the only place you can fly into an international airport, and be skiing within 45 minutes of your arrival.

If you are a skier that doesn’t like to share the slopes with snowboarders, Utah is the only place in the US with skier-only resorts.  Alta and Deer Valley provide some of the best ski opportunities in the world and snowboarders are not allowed. Alta is not the sultry option like Snowbird or Park City, but the slopes are so desirable that snowboarders have continually sued to try and gain access.  

A Wide Variety of Backpacking Trails

Whether you are into high alpine backpacking or desert backpacking, Utah has breathtaking scenery and classic trails.  It is an ideal destination for year-round backpacking trips. With under the radar classics like the Highline Trail, to highly acclaimed world famous trips like Buckskin Gulch, Utah is a destination for true backpacking enthusiasts.

In the winter, Southern Utah has classic opportunities in Bears Ears National Monument.  The Grand Gulch area is home to numerous trails and lots of different options from a single night to several days.  A tour through Grand Gulch is a tour through ancient Native American history. Grand Gulch features hundred of Indian ruins, many only accessible with a backpack and a couple days.

The Uintas, in Northeast Utah, are one of the few mountain ranges that run east and west.  The Highline Trail is an 80 mile classic that takes backpackers to the highest peak in Utah and 5 different mountain passes.

Snowboarding The Greatest Snow On Earth

One of the most popular winters sports is alive in the Beehive state.  Thousands of people flock to any number of resorts in order to snowboard.  With over 500 inches of snow every year, the Utah resorts provide a world class snowboarding experience.  Even though two of the best resorts are for skiing only, a couple resorts have shined for the snowboarding crowd.

Brighton located up Big Cottonwood Canyon is a favorite among snowboarding locals.  Brighton has 66 runs spread-out over 1000 acres and almost 2000 verticle feet. Its location makes it a quick trip from the Salt Lake Airport.  Because of this, it has become a favorite for out of towners also.

Located by social savvy town Park City, Park City Ski resort acquired Canyons after the 2017 season.  It is now the largest ski resort in the United States. The Canyons section features half pipes, ramps, and terrain parks.  Hone your skills on any number of runs or watch others from a number of elegant hotels at the base of the mountain.

 

 

Hiking In Utahs National Parks, Monuments Or Forests

Utah presents every type of geography imaginable. Almost all of it is within a half day drive from the major population center. Utah is home to 5 national parks and 9 national monuments, each one features hiking that is worthy of its own article.  From the legendary Angels Landing in Zion, to the little-known trails in Bears Ears, there are numerous options for hikers.

In Northern Utah, trails like Timpanogos take a full day, but offer views of Utah’s only glacier and peaks at one of the highest points along the wasatch front.  In the 50’s and 60’s there were organized hikes that featured thousands of people hiking it in one day. However, that was eliminated due to environmental concerns.  For easier day-hikes, there are great trails like Bells Canyon, and the Living Room. Ensign Peak is another short hike and the trail begins next to a historic Utah landmark, the state capital.

In Southern Utah, the trails have captured the imagination and lenses of numerous photographers.  A hike to the Red Volcano in Escalante is a slick rock desert hike that is still under the radar. In the Bears Ears National Monument a quick hike to the Citadel is another trip to ancient history.  The Citadel is an Indian ruin that is located on a peninsula hundreds of feet from the valley floor. Zion is home to numerous amazing hikes like, the Narrows, Angels Landing and the Subway. However, don’t miss Kanarraville which is outside the park and a lot less crowded but still packs a punch. Kanarraville creek flows through steep and deep redrock walls and over small waterfalls.

 

Kayaking For Beginners and Experts

Utah is a much better state for kayaking than it is for rafting.  Smaller violent and turbulent rivers make for some of the best creeking runs around.  In the northern half of the state, the upper Provo River makes for some of the best small kayak runs.

The Price river which starts at the dam and follows the highway through Castle Country.  At higher flows, the boulder gardens turn into turbulent rapids that challenge even the most seasoned kayakers.

One of the most beautiful kayaking runs is the Chute of Muddy Creek.  However, it is rare when there is enough water to make it runnable. When it is, there is a very small time frame and you have to be ready to go.

 

Caving Along The Wasatch Front

The Wasatch Front, which is the major population center, features access to numerous caves suitable for all skill levels.  Timpanogos Cave National Monument is a steep hike but the paved trail and tour guides make it suitable for families.

The southern part of the Wasatch Front, in the Utah County area, also has numerous technical caves. These caves require little vertical work and are suitable for beginners or intermediate spelunkers.  Located north of the Wasatch Front is Logan. Logan is home to more advanced caves with lots of vertical work.

Be forewarned most of the caves in Utah require an access key to get into.  If you don’t have the access key, you will be out of luck. Before you put caves on your agenda, when you travel to Utah, make sure you have a connection for caving.

 

Soaking in Utah Hot Springs

Utah is home to several hot springs.  The most prominent are Diamond Fork, Midway,  Meadow and Mystic Hot Springs.

Diamond Fork Hot Springs are also known as the Fifth Water Hot Pots.  These are the hippy, party, hot pots. Its a 45 minute hike to reach them. Beware, they are frequented by pot smokers, partiers and naked-old people; they are convenient, free and close.

The Midway Hot Pots are actually located at the Homestead resort in Midway, Utah.  If you are staying at the Homestead, the access is free. If not, you can get access for a fee.  These are large and commercialized with a swimming-pool style layout.

The Meadow Hot Pots were recently featured in the final episode of the TV show, Extinct.  They are family owned and are on private land. The owners have gladly allowed free public access as long as the area is respected.  There are three large hot pots. All are deep and can accommodate several people.

For a more hippy-feel with a little less ‘au naturale’ than you may experience at Diamond Fork, try the Mystic Hot Springs in Monroe.  This is a more commercial venture that has tubs, a large swimming area, and cabins. Old busses have been converted into sleeping quarters or you could be a trooper and pitch a tent.

 

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Andy Johnson

Andy Johnson had his first adventure at the age of 7 on a raft on the Green River. For the next 20 years he was an on again off again backpacker. Finally in 2005 he started working for an outdoor recreation store that immersed him in the outdoor lifestyle. His enthusiasm, and proficiency, earned him a position to write outdoor columns for a local newspaper with a distribution of 300K. Now he is a frequent guest writer for numerous outdoor websites, and currently spends his free time, creature crafting, canyoneering or backpacking.