Why Utah Makes a Mighty Good Road Trip

Jun 25, 2018

Perhaps it’s not surprising that “Thelma & Louise,” arguably the greatest road movie ever, was filmed in Utah. There’s nothing like driving an open highway that stretches to the horizon or the sense that the state’s monumental backdrops are putting on a show just for you.

Over the years, many a visitor has tried to capture the feeling of freedom on a Utah road trip. Here’s why you should too.

There are five national parks

The U.S. has 60 national parks spread among 28 states, but Utah is more blessed than most. Known collectively as “The Mighty 5,” its parks are all within driving distance of one another.

Each has a distinct character. Bryce Canyon’s hundreds of red rock pillars (known as hoodoos) stretch as far as the eye can see. Arches is known for -- you guessed it -- its 2,000 sandstone arches, formed over millions of years. Zion, the state’s oldest national park, is full of greenery and wildlife.

To get the most out of them, consider purchasing an $80 annual pass, which covers admission for up to four people, and your vehicle if applicable. It’s cheaper than paying admission fees one-by-one and can be used at any national park in the U.S.

There are more dinosaurs than Jurassic World

Thanks to blockbuster movies, dinosaurs are all the rage again. If you have kids in tow, consider giving your road trip a prehistoric theme. It’s a great angle for approaching the unique geology of the national parks, and a drive around Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Byway brings you to the giant lizards’ former stomping grounds.

Dinosaur National Monument is the star attraction – the main exhibit hall houses 1,500 fossils, and bones are easily visible from surrounding walking trails.

Some of the best food is by the roadside

Roadside dining can conjure up images of overpriced, sad-looking gas station sandwiches, but Utah challenges you to think differently. Some of its best restaurants are in between the big cities.

Photo by Ace Kvale courtesy of Hell's Backbone Grill

Hell’s Backbone Grill, located in a remote town on the road from Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef National Park, serves food from local ranchers and its own gardens, earning high Zagat praise and a James Beard award nomination. Further west, Brian Head Resort has become an unlikely destination for lovers of Kansas City-style barbecue. In central Utah, Cluff’s Car Hop lures burger-hungry travellers from Interstate 15.

You can burn calories, not just rubber

Sadly, pushing the pedal to the metal isn’t going to work off the meal you just ate. Fortunately, Utah’s natural features provide good motivation for an exercise-oriented pit stop.

The state has a lot of rocks, and big ones at that. Why not climb one? Or become a cowboy or cowgirl for the day -- there are horseback riding trails in four out of Utah’s five national parks. If rafting is your thing, Canyonlands National Park is your place.

The simplest idea is a good old-fashioned walk. Perhaps the most famous is the one up to Delicate Arch (pictured). Or try Monument Valley’s 6-kilometre Wildcat Trail -- the area has been the backdrop for countless Hollywood westerns, and over your two- or three-hour hike, you’ll feel like you’re in one.

It’s surprisingly easy to get started

Spectacular images of natural landscapes may lead you to believe Utah is impossibly remote. But Canadians are lucky -- most major airports have direct flights to Salt Lake City (pictured) or Las Vegas, and either makes a good starting point for a road trip. Search for suggested itineraries based on the amount of time you have.

If you’re booking now, fall is a good time to go. Daytime temperatures are warm but comfortable, and you’ll encounter fewer tourist buses along the road than in summer. Keep an eye on WestJet and Air Canada sale pages, where flights are routinely discounted.

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