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Five Must-Do Magical National Natural Wonders in Utah

1. Zion National Park. Located in southwest Utah, right next to the charming town of Springdale, this stunning 148,733 acre park, renowned for Zion Canyon's steep red cliffs, is one of the five most visited national parks in the country, drawing about 3 million visitors annually -- but do not let the people deter you. It is Utah's first federally designated park (1919), and features some of the oldest (150 million years or so) geological layers west of the Grand Canyon. Visit in March or April to avoid the biggest crowds. Backcountry hikers can find more than 100 miles of wilderness trails, while casual hikers will appreciate the 15 miles of paved trails. A visit would not be complete without attempting three hikes: Angel's Landing, a 5-mile (RT) strenuous hike (with first 2 miles paved trail) that begins at the Grotto Picnic Area in Zion Canyon and boasts amazing magnificent views upon reaching the top, but it is not for those with a fear of heights; Canyon Overlook Trail, a 1-mile (RT) trail in the East Canyon, which starts just east of the 1.1 mile Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel, and one that offers a great vista of the main canyon as well as Pine Creek; Emeralds Pool, a family-friendly 3-4 mile loop trail (depending on which pools you choose to visit) that begins across from Zion Lodge, offering stunning views of waterfalls, glistening pools, cliffs, and Lad Mountain, the Great White Thorne, and Red Arch Mountain.

2. Arches National Park. Located southeast Utah, just north of the town of Moab, this 76,679-acre park is known for its world-record concentration of 2,500 natural sandstone arches (2,000 named), including the must-see Delicate Arch, Tower Arch, and Landscape Arch, as well as other geological formulations, such as Balanced Rock. A paved scenic drive provides access to the major viewpoints within the park, with many easy trails providing opportunities for people to park their cars and explore some of the arches up close -- as well as some more adventurous hikes for those so inclined. A visit would not be complete without hiking these trails: Devils Garden Trail, a moderate 8-mile (RT if you hike the entire length) trail that begins at the trailhead at the very end of Devil Gardens Road (literally the end of the paved road), and in which you can see multiple named arches, including Landscape Arch (one of the largest natural spans in the world at 306-feet long), as well as Tunnel, Pine Tree, Navajo, Dark Angel, Double O, and Partition Arches; Delicate Arch Trail, a 3-mile (RT) moderately uphill trail that is best started at the Wolfe Ranch trailhead, and which continues to Delicate Arch, which at 64-feet high and 45-feet wide makes it the largest free-standing arch in the park; and Tower Arch Trail, a somewhat secluded 3-mile (RT) moderate trail that is best started at the Klondike Bluffs parking area in the northwest end of the park off of Salt Valley Road, and which offers views of the amazing Tower Arch (a 92-foot arch with n immensity that needs to be seen up close), as well as Parallel Arch and the Marching Men, a series of tall, thin towers that stand in a row, much like soldiers at attention.

3. Bryce Canyon National Park. Located in southern-southwestern Utah just west of Cannonville, this 45,835-acre park is home to the largest collection of hoodoos (odd, spire-shaped pillars of rock left standing from the forces of erosion) in the world, becoming a national park in 1928, and named for Mormon pioneer Ebenezer Bryce. People describe their experience visiting this park as surreal, beautiful, eerie, dramatic. (Personal side note: According to family lore, it is Bryce Canyon where my brother "saved" me from falling down a ravine -- after getting shoved by that same brother.) Around the canyon rim, ponderosa pine, fir, and spruce forests abound with wildlife. The hoodoos, tinted with all sorts of shades of color, make for prolonged viewing -- and canyons hikes offer the perfect opportunity for seeing some of them up close. Trails you should hike while in Bryce include: Mossy Cave Trail, a great starter trail for all ages, that runs about 1.1 miles (RT) through Water Canyon along a creek, past hoodoos and a waterfall, before ending at a mossy cave, with a trailhead of Scenic Rt. 12, between Tropic and Bryce; Rim Trail, an easy 11-mile (RT) that starts at Fairyland Trailhead and spans the rim of the natural amphitheater, providing amazing views of the hoodoos, and can include stops at all four main viewpoints, along with access to many side trails; Queen's Garden Trail, a 2-mile (RT) hike that begins at Sunrise Point, and continues along hoodoos that have garden-like features, and ending with Queen Victoria overseeing her garden; Bristlecone Loop, for tree-lovers, is a 1-mile (RT) hike that starts at Rainbow Point and continues through the highest elevation of the park (9,100-feet) for great vista and to a forest of bristlecone pines (some as old as 1,800 years!), blue spruce, Douglas fir, and white fir. Make sure you plan a side trip to Kodachrome Basin State Park (see our state parks to visit), which I actually prefer to Bryce.

4. Timpanogos Cave National Monument (including Hansen, Middle, and Timpanogos Caves). Located in north-central Utah, near American Fork, and part of a cave system on Mount Timpanogos in the Wasatch Mountains. The monument is surrounded entirely by the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, and visitors must stop at the Ranger Station to gain entrance and/or pay a fee for recreational sites within the National Forest. The trailhead for the hike up to the caves is right outside the visitor center. The 1-5 mile hike to the caves is steep (gaining 1,160 feet in elevation) but paved -- and worth it for the stunning vistas of American Fork Canyon and down into Utah Valley you'll get to enjoy on your way to a hidden underground world inside the caves. A guide meets you at the entrance and guides you through the colorfully decorated caverns. Once done, you take the same trail back down to the parking area. Cave tours are limited to 20 people, and fill up quickly in the summer, so consider purchasing tickets ahead of time (up to 30 days in advance) by calling the visitor center at 801-756-5238. Remember that while it may be more than 100-degrees outside, the temperature in the cave averages about 45-degrees. Note: Only open from May to September/October, and best to check before heading there. While in the area, consider some other wonderful trails in around the National Forest and Wasatch Mountain State Park.

5. Capitol Reef National Park. Located in Utah's south-central desert, with Fishlake Nation Forest to the west, Canyonlands National Park to the east, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Park to the south, this 254,251-acre park contains unmatched geological diversity, with its landscapes, carved through 200 million years, revealing a history of ancient oceans, swamplands, and desert climates. While the park was named after what looks like white rock domes and cliffs such as on the U.S. Capitol building, it is largely defined by the 100-mile long Waterpocket Fold, a monocline (a massive swath on the Earth's surface). It also contains red-hued canyons, massive monoliths (of Cathedral Valley), mountain lakes, and wide swaths of desert, though visitors will also find pinion, juniper, and cottonwood trees. Looks for Chimney Rock, Cassidy Arch (named after Butch Cassidy), The Castle, and Hickman Bridge. It became a national monument in 1937; a national park in 1971; and was designated as a Gold Tier "International Dark Sky Park" for excellent stargazing. Some good hikes include: Cassidy Arch Trail, 3.5 miles long (RT), a spur off of Frying Pan Trail, located in the central portion of the park, within the western walls of the Grand Wash, beside Scenic Drive, which is where you'll find the trailhead; Red Canyon Trail, a 5.6 mile (RT) hike that starts at the Cedar Mesa Campground, and includes views of the Henry Mountains, as well as Red Canyon, and into an amphitheater of high, Wingate sandstone walls; Headquarters Canyon Route, a 3.2 mile (RT) easy hike off of the Burr trail Road, that features sheer, vertical walls, and slopes of Navajo sandstone streaked with color, before heading into the Waterpocket Fold.

To see a list of all the national natural parks, monuments, and forests in Utah, go to our sister site, EmpoweringParks.com: Utah Natural Park Wonders.

EmpoweringSites.com CEO Dr. Randall Hansen Dr. Randall S. Hansen is an educator, author, and blogger, as well as founder and CEO of EmpoweringSites.com, a network of empowering and transformative Websites, including EmpoweringAdvice.com. Dr. Hansen has been helping empower people to achieving success his entire adult life. He is also founder of EnhanceMyVocabulary.com, MyCollegeSuccessStory.com, and EmpoweringRetreat.com. He is a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. Dr. Hansen is also an educator, teaching business and marketing at the college level for more than 25 years. Learn more by visiting his personal Website, RandallSHansen.com. You can also check out Dr. Hansen on Google+, as well as Dr. Randall Hansen on LinkedIn.


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