Southern Utah offers stunning panoramic views, dynamic landscapes and a rich cultural tapestry of people and history.
Utah has more than its fair share of breathtaking views and well-photographed natural attractions. The picturesque red rocks, slot canyons and vast skylines are impressive, especially for first-time visitors. It is easy to forget, however, that once you get out of the main tourist destinations of Zion, Arches and Bryce Canyon National Parks, there are still miles of sparsely populated and sublime high desert country to discover.
Sleep & Relaxation
Known as the gateway to Capitol Reef National Park, Torrey is a small town with a population of less than 300 permanent residents. It is located just eight miles from the national park, making it a natural home base for travelers. After a full day of hiking or canyoneering, adventurers can look forward to relaxing in the pool or booking a spa treatment at Torrey’s newly renovated Red Sands Hotel & Spa. The pet-friendly hotel offers a yoga room and star-gazing deck for those looking for a serene moment in the desert. The onsite restaurant provides delicious meals, including an enormous breakfast burrito – perfect fuel for a day spent outdoors.
See & Do
Even the most veteran outdoor enthusiasts can’t help but be impressed by the massive red rocks, cliffs and canyons in Capitol Reef National Park. Although it is the least visited of the five national parks in Utah, it still gets more than 1.1 million visitors yearly. Still, the area is so vast there are times when adventurers will find solitude among the gorgeous red stones. Capitol Reef National Park offers camping, hiking and canyoneering, where visitors can wiggle their way through tiny slot canyons while exploring the immense domes and bridges in the heart of red rock country.
Goblin Valley State Park, a landscape of oddly shaped sandstone formations jutting from the earth, was formed by wind, water and erosion. The area was discovered in the 1940s and then designated as a state park in 1964. These days visitors can play, climb and explore amongst the rock formations known as goblins and even repel down a 90-foot drop into Goblin’s Lair. This slot canyon is accessible by foot, but dropping down into the dark, cool cavern via harness and rope is one of the experiences the state park is known for.
Run by husband and wife team Christopher and Melissa Hagedorn, Get in the Wild Adventures not only have extensive knowledge of the area, they offer several adventures for visitors of every age and experience level. Although some feel comfortable hiking and canyoneering solo, many visitors maximize their experience by hiring an experienced guide. Get in the Wild Adventures offers yoga in the wild, repelling, canyoneering, photography tours and more, leaving the worry of gear, know-how and the fear of getting lost to the pros.
Eats & Drinks
South of Torrey is one of the most remote towns in the United States – Boulder, Utah. With a population of only 226, it surprises many that one of the most celebrated restaurants in the southwest chose Boulder as its home. Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm, run by chef-owners Jen Castle and Blake Spalding, is in its 23rd season and was recently named a 2022 James Beard Foundation Semifinalist for Outstanding Restaurant. The food is scratch-made from the farm or as close as possible, and as the yearly accolades prove, it is delicious. At Hell’s Backbone, there is an eclectic mix of come-as-you-are backpackers, fine diners and the occasional wedding or two.
Debunking the claim that small towns are food deserts, Torrey and the surrounding area have an impressive assortment of restaurants to choose from. Hunt and Gather opened amid the pandemic, but with their farm-to-table mentality and abundance of indoor and outdoor seating areas, there is rarely an empty table at the family-owned restaurant. Across the street, Etta Place Cider showcases the flavors of Utah apples in their hard cider. At the same time, Sweetgrass Coffee House and Wild Rabbit Cafe not only serve up delicious scratch-made pastries and coffee, but they also support other Utah purveyors in the process.
Cover photo from Michael Kundle
Gabi De la Rosa lives in Houston with her husband and three children. Visit her on Instagram @gabioftheroses_htx