person exiting the side door of their winnabego motorhome

8 Spectacular Utah Destinations Outside the National Parks
Guide to less-busy parks and other hidden gems in Utah for RVers!
By: Peter Holcombe

person exiting the side door of their winnabego motorhome

You are planning the road trip of a lifetime in Utah - Arches, Zion, and Bryce. But once you start researching park entrance regulations and campground availability, you realize that everything is booked solid for the entire next year. You wonder to yourself, now what?!? Never fear, some of Utah's most spectacular locations actually lie outside of the national parks.

No state has captured my attention like Utah. It is a geologic and recreational masterpiece. I’ve been exploring southern Utah for 30 years and still have so much more I want to explore and discover - it’s no wonder Utah has a high concentration of national parks! They are spectacular, and something everyone should experience for themselves. But as I sit here writing this in Moab (May 2022), I can’t drive into Arches National Park without a “Timed Entry Reservation.” This is due to a record-setting number of visitors over the past few years and is the National Park Service's attempt at reducing the impact of so many visitors. 

Now you need to go on recreation.gov three months prior to your visit and secure an entry reservation. This is a really tricky thing as many of us don't plan our travels that far in advance and know the exact day we want to enter a park three months in advance. There are a few limited reservations available the day before, but I have found them to be very competitive and also hard to plan for. 

scenic shot of red rocks

So, if you find yourself headed to Utah without advanced reservations for the national parks, there is still a vast playground for you to explore in your trusty Winnebago. A great place to start is the Utah State Parks: they are less crowded and offer world-class scenery and wonderful campgrounds. Listed below are some of my favorite destinations that don't require endless hours spent online to win a reservation. 

1. Goosenecks State Park

We have all seen the iconic Horseshoe Bend made famous through Ansel Adam's photograph. Well, how would you like to see something twice as spectacular and skip the crowded paid parking lot full of tour buses? Head to Goosenecks State Park. 

This is the famous Goosenecks of the San Juan River. You can camp perched on the rim of these deep, meandering river bends. The river cut through 300-million-year-old rock and is a sliver of green almost 1,000 feet below the rim. Quite a sight to see! 

Camping is allowed all along the rim, but only the first handful of sites offer picnic tables and close access to restrooms. But, if you don’t mind a bumpy road, you can drive for a mile along the rim and camp almost anywhere you like. You won't find hookups or water, but you will have solitude, world-class views, and even some cell phone reception. It’s hard to beat for $5 per vehicle and no reservations are required. 

people looking down on goosenecks state park in utah

Website: https://stateparks.utah.gov/parks/goosenecks
Summary: Wild off-grid camping on the perch of a 1,000-ft canyon rim.
Difficulty: Paved to park, then gravel to the first few sites, then rocky and bumpy to more remote camp spots on the point.
Ideal season: Year-round, but summers are hot.
Notes: Bring your own water, no amenities or hookups.
Dog friendly: Dogs allowed on leash.
Cost: Day pass $5 per vehicle for up to 8 people; camping $10 per night.
Location: NW of Mexican Hat, UT. From Mexican Hat, take UT-163 east for 3.9 miles then turn left (north) on UT-261 N for 0.9 miles, then turn left onto UT-316 W for 3.5 miles. 
GPS coordinates: 37.174235, -109.927212 (Google Map Location)

2. Dead Horse Point State Park

Dead Horse Point sits adjacent to the Island in the Sky area of Canyonlands National Park. As of the time of writing, Islands in the Sky hasn't required reservations. So, these should be two parks that you see together. They sit north of Moab - about a 40-minute drive. 

Dead Horse Point is the result of millions of years of erosion. This dramatic point offers views of the Colorado River and surrounding canyons that lie thousands of feet below. Sitting on the point watching the sunset is so dramatic and shouldn’t be missed. There is a full-service campground with hookups, and they also rent yurts for friends who don’t have an RV yet. 

The park features great mountain biking trails and even rental bikes. Also, if campgrounds aren’t your ticket, and you prefer to boondock, there are vast BLM lands just outside the park with abundant dispersed camping options. Just use the app i-Overlander for those options. Note that high clearance 4WD vehicles might be needed to access some of these locations. 

scenic view of red rocks

Website: https://stateparks.utah.gov/parks/dead-horse
Summary: A wonderful scenic park perched on the canyon rim high above the Colorado River adjacent to Canyonlands National Park/Island in the Sky district. Many hiking and biking trails.
Ideal season: Year-round. Summers are hot.
Notes: Sunsets are popular to view from the point.
Dog friendly: Dogs allowed on leash.
Cost: Daily $20; camping w/partial hookups: $50 per night.
Location: From Moab, head north on US-191 N for 11 miles, turn left onto UT-313 W and go 14.6 miles, turn left on UT-313 to the park's entrance. 
GPS coordinates: 38.470824, -109.740611 (Google Map Location)

3. Kodachrome Basin State Park

Named after the iconic Kodak film for its rich dramatic colors, this park features 67 stone spires and multi-colored sandstone hills surrounding the park. The park offers great hiking, horseback, and mountain bike riding. Also 10 miles to the South is Grosvenor Arch, an intricate double arch that is a must-see. 

If you are coming from the south, use the Cottonwood Road to have a scenic/adventurous approach to the park. Read more about Cottonwood Road below (number 7 on this list).

The park offers three great campgrounds that offer 13 full hookup sites if needed and flush toilets and showers. 

red rocks in utah

Website: https://stateparks.utah.gov/parks/kodachrome-basin
Summary: 67 spires, unusual color, famous movie filming locations, camping.
Trail type: Many hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking trails.
Ideal season: Year-round. Summers are hot.
Notes: Grosvenor Arch is 10 miles outside the park and worth a visit (GPS 37.454250, -111.833168).
Dog friendly: Dogs allowed on leash.
Cost: Day-Use Fee: $10 per vehicle, camping $25-$35 partial hookups.
Location: From Cannonville, UT, Follow Kodachrome Rd. 7.2 miles SE to park entrance.
GPS coordinates: 37.514211, -111.988799 (Google Map Location)

4. Goblin Valley State Park

Do you know what a hoodoo is? You will after a visit to Goblin Valley. A hoodoo is a slender spire of rock formed by erosion. Goblin Valley has hundreds of hoodoos congregating in one valley making for quite a sight. Wandering through these hoodoos might make you think you are on Mars. You can even camp amongst them and the in canyon nooks. 

The campground offers 25 sites and two yurts with 14 RV spaces. You can also go canyoneering with a guide if you don’t have the proper experience and equipment. This will let you rappel into the Goblins Lair, a 70-foot natural sandstone cave. Check with the park for more info on access and a permit. 

Goblin Valley also has one of the darkest night skies on earth and is a wonderful place to watch and photograph the Milky Way. During the day, mountain biking and disc golf are other popular activities. 

scenic view of red rocks

Website: https://stateparks.utah.gov/parks/goblin-valley
Summary: A sea of unique hoodoos, great camping, and hiking.
Trail type: Hiking & biking
Ideal season: Year-round. Summers are hot.
Notes: Disc golf and night sky viewing.
Dog friendly: Dogs allowed on leash.
Cost: $20 private vehicle, camping $35 (no hookups).
Location: From Hanksville, UT, go north 19.6 miles, then turn west on Temple Mt Rd/W. Temple Jct. for 5.2, then turn SW on Goblin Valley Rd. For 6.7 to park entrance. 
GPS coordinates: 38.575186, -110.706653 (Google Map Location)
 

5. Hole in the Rock Road to Devils Garden

Hole in the Rock Road is 55.5 miles of rocky ruts and washboard (with some nice-graded gravel too). Sometimes it’s much better but if rain is in the forecast, it is better to wait for another day. But this historic Mormon trading route accesses one of Utah's most amazing sights. 

Please note this is only suited to smaller more adventurous vehicles. No problem in my Winnebago Revel, but not suitable for the diesel pusher or even Class C RVs with lower clearance and inexperienced off-road drivers. 

Twelve miles down Hole in the Rock Road, you will find a signed turnoff to the wonderfully bizarre Devils Garden. At the parking area, you will find a short trail that takes you through some very interesting geology of spires and arches. This is a wonderful place to picnic and stretch the legs. 

Going further down Hole in the Rock Road you will find the Dry Fork of Coyote Gulch Trailhead. This is the start of the hike to access Peek-a-boo and Spooky Slot Canyons. (More in the next section).

person shining a flashlight up into a dark cave

Website: https://www.visitutah.com/places-to-go/parks-outdoors/grand-staircase-escalante/escalante-canyons-section/family/devils-garden
Summary: A wonderful short hike through dramatic hoodoos and arches.
Approximate time: 20min-1hr
Hike Difficulty: Easy
Trail type: Slickrock and dirt trail
Ideal season: Spring or fall. Summers are hot.
Notes: Low commitment and super scenic, pit toilet, tables.
Dog friendly: Dogs allowed on leash.
Cost: Free
Location: From Escalante, UT, go east on UT-12 for 5 miles to Hole in the Rock Rd., then go south for 12.2 miles to BLM-225 and turn right (west) for 0.3 miles to Devils Garden trailhead.
GPS coordinates: 37.585599, -111.414797 (Google Map Location)

6. Spooky & Peek-A-Boo Slot Canyons

26.3 miles from Highway 12 down the Hole in the Rock Road, look for the Dry Fork Road to the left. This will lead a short way to the trailhead outlined in small stones. 

These are two canyons you can explore in a single day-hike. They are both non-technical but do require some rock scrambling to travel through the whole canyons. Dogs are allowed but the scrambling will make this not an ideal adventure for the pup. 

Spooky is a very narrow canyon so if you are claustrophobic it might not be your jam, pun-intended. But for those who make the journey, you will be rewarded with an otherworldly view of a classic slot canyon and the glowing quality of light from the sunbeams bouncing off the walls. 

If going, make sure to have a full fuel tank, lots of water, and food as there are no amenities or services. Sometimes you might not even see another adventurer for days. The road is clay and can become impassible if wet, so don't try this unless it's dry. Also, note that any wash or canyon can flash flood. 

It could be disastrous to be in a canyon with rain in the forecast , so make sure to plan accordingly. Anytime but in the heat of summer is ideal. But note that it will be colder inside the canyon so bring a fleece or jacket. 

man squeezing between rocks in a cave

Website: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/utah/peek-a-boo-and-spooky-slot-canyons
Summary: Two classic Utah slot canyons that can be accessed on one 6-mile hike. 
Approximate time: 2.5-4 hour.
Difficulty: Moderate trail to wildly narrow and scrambling slot canyon.
Trail type: Slickrock and dirt/sand
Ideal season: Spring or fall
Notes: You can do both or just one. Easy out and back trail to canyon mouths.
Dog friendly: The scrambling nature is not dog friendly
Cost: Free
Location: From Escalante, UT, head east on UT-12 for 5 miles, then turn SE on Hole in the Rock Rd. and follow this for 26 miles, turn left (east) on BLM 252/K9285 for a short rocky distance to the trailhead. 
GPS coordinates: 37.476611, -111.220213 (Google Map Location)

7. Cottonwood Road

This is a desert dirt road overland route going from Utah 89 in the south of the state to scenic highway 12 at Cannonville, UT. This can be a great way to reach Kodachrome Basin State Park from the Kanab, UT, or Page, AZ areas. 

Cottonwood Road is a 47-mile dirt road that passes through an amazing assortment of badlands and canyons. There are many boondocking options in small pullouts and down side roads. You will need a free camping permit from Grand Staircase National Monument, found at many of the trailheads along Cottonwood Road. 

Cell service is spotty at best, so this is a true adventure and you should prepare the same as advised for Hole in the Rock Road with full fuel and water tanks, food, and plenty of space on your camera's memory card. Hiking boots are good to have as there are great hikes at the many trailheads along this road. I loved the Cottonwood Narrows Hike that is an out and back. It’s a flat easy hike through a dramatic canyon.

winnabego motorhome driving down a road in utah

Website: https://www.visitutah.com/places-to-go/parks-outdoors/grand-staircase-escalante/scenic-backways/cottonwood-canyon-road
Summary: A super scenic drive with access to great hikes in the side canyons.
Approximate time: 47 miles, time can vary depending on the number of stops. Typically 2-6 hrs or more. 
Road type: Graded dirt/gravel, washboard.
Ideal season: Year-round. Summers are hot.
Notes: Free camping permits are available along the road at many of the trailheads.
Dog friendly: Dogs allowed on leash.
Cost: Free
Location: Cottonwood Rd goes south from Cannonville, UT, (passing Kodachrome Basin State Park) to its junction on UT-89 to the east of Toadstool Hoodoos trail. 
GPS coordinates: Mid-point of the road at Cottonwood north Narrows: 37.401790, -111.847382 (Google Map Location)

8. Fisher Towers

The Fisher Towers are massive sandstone fins creating gothic mud-covered spires. These Towers have been the scene of many movie sets and the home to some of America’s most adventurous rock climbs. The Titan is the tallest freestanding rock tower in the United States. 

Starting from the parking lot is a classic 2.6-mile out and back hike (5.2 miles roundtrip) through the Fisher Towers, passing across the toe of the Titan. This trail weaves a seemingly impossible path under the towers and through the canyons below. A new whimsical view is around every corner and rise. 

This is a must-do hike when traveling Utah Hwy 128 (the River Road) from Dewy Bridge to Moab. Plan for a half-day to explore the towers. Sunset makes the towers a glowing red color and is the best time to witness their full glory. Also, there is a small campground for tents or small camper vans with pit toilets at the trailhead. 

scenic view of red rocks

Website: https://www.blm.gov/visit/fisher-towers-national-recreation-trail
Summary: A maze of soaring sandstone towers surrounds you on this moderate hike to a high ridge above Onion Creek.
Hike Distance: 5.2 miles out and back (go all the way or turnaround when you like).
Approximate time: 2 to 3 hours
Difficulty: Moderate; 650-foot elevation gain.
Trail type: Single-track dirt and slick-rock trail.
Ideal season: Year-round. Summers are hot.
Notes: Hiking only, bicycles not allowed.
Dog friendly: Dogs allowed on leash.
Cost: Free
Location: Drive north of Moab on US 191 and just before the Colorado River, turn east onto UT 128/River Road. Follow this paved highway for 21 miles to a turn for “Fisher Towers.” Turn right (south) and follow a well-maintained dirt road for another 2 miles to the parking lot and small campground.
GPS coordinates: N 38 43.489', W 109 18.531' (Google Map Location)

Where are your favorite places to RV in Utah? Please share in the comments!

Comments

User commented on June 1, 2022 12:46 PM
you forgot the north of Utah, Logan Canyon and Bear Lake are spectacular