Utah’s national monument lands tell ancient tales of our planet’s earliest land formations and inhabitants.
Traveling south and east from Salt Lake City, wind into Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, discovering a host of surrounding gems. Each of these stops can stand alone as an abbreviated get-away, depending on your timetable. From the state capital, to a round-up of charming small towns, Utah’s hospitality runs as deep as her slot canyons and meandering rivers.
Ready to continue exploring? Then let’s hit the road again on part two of our Eastern Utah road trip. (You’ll find part one, which began in Salt Lake City, here.)
Grand Staircase-Escalante, Boulder and Capitol Reef
The cities of Boulder and Escalante are ideal for exploring the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument lands, surrounding these two quiet towns about two hours south of Big Mountain. (Four hours south of Salt Lake City.)
Escalante and Boulder are midway between the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon on the south side and Capitol Reef to the north. Capitol Reef’s points of interest are the Hickman Natural Bridge, a wall of Puebloan petroglyphs, and the historic 19th century Mormon Gifford Homestead (long known for its baked goods) sitting among a collection of fruit orchards. Depending on the season, you may be able to do a little fruit picking of your own in the “Fruita” district. Arrive early at the Gifford House for freshly baked pies made onsite. The most desolate section of Capitol Reef is Cathedral Valley, accessible only by four-wheel drive vehicle.
Canyon Country Lodge
Newly built in 2017 by a local family who have been in Escalante for generations, Canyon Country Lodge features a large indoor swimming pool and hot tub, along with casual dining and breakfast for convenience in a lodge-type setting well-suited for families and small groups. The Lodge has two electric bikes available to reserve for daytime use around the area.
Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
Only half a mile north of the Lodge, visit the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park and hike or bike the Eagle View Trail. A self-guided tour will take you down a path of 150 million-year-old petrified rocks, once serving as gigantic shade trees for the dinosaurs who roamed here. Take this easy to moderate hike to be rewarded with reservoir views at the summit, an invigorating start to the day. After visiting the Petrified Forest, reserve a few hours to hike Calf Creek Falls for a waterfall view you won’t soon forget.
Boulder Mountain Lodge
Nearby restorative Boulder Mountain Lodge sits in the heart of the wonders around Utah’s Scenic Byway 12, among an 11-acre bird sanctuary. Pull up a chair, take a deep breath, and bask in some bird-watching on the peaceful pond just outside your room. Eco-conscious Boulder Mountain Lodge even offers charging stations for your battery-powered vehicle. The award-winning Hell’s Backbone restaurant opens each May for an extra special on-site dining experience with organic, seasonal and sustainably sourced foods from the restaurant’s own six-acre farm.
Sights & Scenes
Stop by neighboring Anasazi State Park Museum for a glimpse at the artifacts from one of the largest settlements of ancient Puebloans west of the Colorado River. Tour a replica of a six-room pueblo and walk through the short exhibit highlighting Anasazi culture. For a quick meal, you can’t miss the museum parking lot’s cutest Chevy Bluebird Bus (it’s really blue), home to Magnolia’s Street Food. Open seven days (breakfast and lunch), Magnolia features breakfast burritos with local ingredients to fuel up for your day. One of the most scenic and picturesque drives in Utah, the Burr Trail Scenic Backway begins in Boulder, passes through the Grand Staircase-Escalante, continues (unpaved) through Capitol Reef National Park, reaching Glen Canyon Recreational area to the South.
Monticello: Visit Canyonlands and Arches National Parks
Three hours east of Boulder, and four hours south of Salt Lake City, escape the potential mayhem of Moab and opt for a more secluded stay at Glamping Canyonlands. To the south, you can hike all day at nearby Canyonlands National Park’s Needles District.
Island in the Sky
On the north side, pair a visit to Arches National Park with Canyonlands’ Island in the Sky. Then detour over to Dead Horse State Park while on the north end of Canyonlands. The Islands’ Mesa Arch affords unparallelled Canyon views and sunrise photography, followed by a series of relatively short hikes which can be savored over several hours.
Eastern Utah: A Lifetime of Memories
No matter where you roam from Salt Lake City, Eastern Utah delights visitors with a lifetime of travel memories. No official passport is required, but be sure to pick up your National Parks Passport book at any visitor center to commemorate your journey.
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Cover photo courtesy Brian Maass
Brian and Dana Maass are married and live with their dog Chester in Round Rock, Texas. When not working their day jobs, they can be found traveling, writing, capturing scenic photos, exploring the Hill Country, and serving the community. Follow them on Instagram at @Dana_Maass_Adventures and @Brian_Maass_Adventures.