Millions flock to awe inspiring Utah every year. Despite the crowds, it's possible to hike a trail with not another soul in sight.
CORONA ARCH, MOAB
Starting from the East, you don’t have to travel far before you come across the ﬁrst internationally recognisable National Park. With more stone arches than anywhere else in the world, Arches National Park is a hikers paradise, boasting ancient formations that have to be seen to be believed. Its worldwide recognition brings thousands of visitors each year to the park. If hiking trails shoulder-to-shoulder with others isn’t your style, then there are plenty of hikes in which you’ll be able to experience the natural wonders of this unique area without the hustle and bustle.
Corona Arch is not part of the Arches National Park, which automatically makes it sound less spectacular than its more famous cousins down the road. Don’t be fooled though, the hike to Corona Arch is just as impressive as any of the multitude of hikes within the park, with the only difference being a high possibility of having this natural marvel all to yourself. The hike begins just outside Moab and after a short walk through the dry desert you’ll have your ﬁrst glimpse of the Arch. From there, you make your own path along the smooth sandstone surface until you are standing directly beneath the impossible arch.
FALSE KIVA, CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK
All of Utah’s best attractions seem to be a short drive from each other, and it’s difﬁcult to travel far without being surrounded by towering cliffs and winding canyons. Canyonlands National Park can be reached via a short 45 minute drive from Moab, and is packed with challenging hikes and amazing scenes. There are countless trails to choose from, but one stands out above the crowd as an adventure that will be remembered forever.
You won’t ﬁnd False Kiva mentioned in any of the tourist brochures. The only way to ﬁnd this remarkable track is by speciﬁcally asking the right questions at the information centre. They will arm you with a hand drawn map, warn you about the vague path and challenging conditions, and then it is up to you to ﬁnd the way. The ﬁnal destination of the hike is a huge cave overlooking an endless landscape of impossible rock formations, and on a clear day the Colorado River can be seen snaking its way through a deep canyon in the distance. Finding this trail is an adventure in itself, and I can guarantee it will be worth every step.
COYOTE GULCH, ESCALANTE
Highway 12 is known as one of the most scenic drives in the USA, and as you wind through steep canyons and open stretches of untouched desert you can easily see why. Somewhere along Highway 12 is the sleepy town of Escalante, which at ﬁrst glance seems like most other quiet country towns. However, Escalante is actually an epicentre for some of the most amazing and rugged hiking areas around. There are countless hikes through narrow canyons, winding rivers and other natural formations dotted around the town. You could spend months trying to hike them all.
Coyote Gulch is a classic hike, with numerous variations and no path markers, making it feel like you are exploring in a land where none have been before. The hike follows a small river which winds through a towering canyon with bright red sandstone walls. The path is vague and most of your time will be spent trudging through the shallow water, but the views cannot be beaten. After hiking though the extreme mid summer heat we spent the night camping under Jacob Hamblin Arch, cooling off in the soothing waters of the gently ﬂowing river and making camp on the perfect sandy bank. The morning sun made the towering arch glow a ﬁery orange as we heated our oats and soaked up this incredible area.
OBSERVATION POINT, ZION NATIONAL PARK
Zion National Park is one of the most visited parks in the US, with its steep cliffs and challenging hikes drawing visitors from all around the world. It’s so busy, that the main canyon road is closed for half the year, with the only access via regular shuttles services. This means many of Zion’s trails are wide, sealed paths, which carry thousands of hikers every day. For those that prefer hiking with less of a crowd, there are still walks in Zion that do not draw the same numbers. Observation Point has arguably the best view of Zion Canyon, and from its peak you can see all of the parks major attractions – minus the surrounding crowd of hikers. There are two main routes for this hike – one from the bottom of the canyon, with an elevation gain of more than 609m, and one from outside the National Park. The second option allows hikers to bypass the shuttle services, which opens up a number of advantages – the main one for me was being able to watch the sunrise from the peak. We began our hike in early hours of the morning, and watched the moon set over the stunning canyons and the stars move overhead. We sat perched on the edge at sunrise, and the Canyon walls were slowly illuminated by the rising sun.
LA VERKIN CREEK, ZION NATIONAL PARK
The La Verkin Creek section of Zion requires entering the park through an alternate entry point, which is over an hour’s drive from the main tourist trail. This means the number of visitors is substantially less, although the scenery is just as amazing. The best part about this section of the Park is not the trails themselves, or even the views along the way (even though they are still incredible) but rather the choice of pristine campsites offered for overnight hikers. The 10.9km hike to our camp spot was enjoyable, but in no way life changing. However once we arrived, we couldn’t believe our eyes. It was like all the best parts of our favourite campsites had been combined into one, and we had it all to ourselves. A shady patch of sand made for the perfect area to pitch the tent, which was situated right next to a pristine swimming hole. A gentle waterfall created a deep plunge pool, where we spent the whole afternoon relaxing in our little oasis, surrounded by the towering cliffs of Zion National Park. Of all the places I’ve pitched a tent, this one blew all the others away.
It’s tempting to hike only the most popular trails when you visit an area as renowned as Utah, especially when you are short on time. While these hikes are going to be impressive, it’s often those lesser known routes that will leave you with the best memories. Drive that fraction further and hike that extra kilometre, and I guarantee you will be able to ﬁnd a patch of Utah to discover all for yourself.
ZEBRA CANYON, ESCALANTE
Almost all the hikes around Escalante begin along one long, rough dusty track – Hole in the Rock Road. This road seems to be where the adventures start, and must have more trailheads scattered along it’s length than any other road I’ve encountered. One of those many unmarked trailheads leads to another unbelievable hike, and during my time here I didn’t see a single footprint, let alone another hiker. The trail to Zebra Canyon is completely unmarked – no warning signs, no estimated length and not even a name. It begins 12.5km down the Hole in the Rock Road, and once you leave the dusty carpark, you are instantly transported to another adventure. The walk takes you through the harsh desert, through dry river beds and across ancient rock formations. Towards the end of the 8.3km out and back hike, the “trail” abruptly ends – and from here on it’s up to you to ﬁnd your way. After a few wrong turns and more than one moment of confusion, an entrance to the sheer cliffs walls can be seen. The canyon gets narrower and narrower, until you are eventually scraping through tiny gaps that seem to get tighter and tighter still. Icy cold water appears out of nowhere, and as you wade through the chest deep water surrounded by sheer cliffs just inches apart, you’ll really feel the power of the area. The canyon ends as quickly as it started, and it is now that you’ll see where Zebra Canyon got it’s name. The bright red sandstone walls are stripped with dark lines and complex patterns, and it is totally possible to have this unique spot all to yourself.
MORE OUTDOOR ADVENTURES
- Discover vertical multi-hued sandstone and shaded canyons just a stone's throw from the glitz of Las Vegas
- Forming the basis of many an adventurer's daydream, the following hikes are high up on the 'must-do' list of anyone who lives to conquer the outdoors