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2 Must-See State Parks in Utah

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We enjoy camping in our rooftop tent and have spent several years exploring the Western United States when we have the chance to travel.

Kodachrome Basin State Park

Kodachrome Basin State Park

Why Are Utah's State Parks Often Overlooked By Visitors?

Utah is a land of many wonders and is home to some of America's most spectacular national parks. From the majestic, wind-sculpted earth and stone of Bryce Canyon National Park, to the colorful cathedral-like canyons of Zion National Park, there's definitely enough to see in those two parks alone to keep visitors coming back year after year.

Aside from Utah's amazing national parks, there are also several sprawling national monuments, including Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, with its thousands of acres of pristine desert wilderness that beckon would-be explorers looking to get away from the crowds.

Utah's National Parks Can Get Crowded

Utah's national parks tend to get quite crowded at times, especially Zion N.P. and Bryce Canyon N.P. Visitors may encounter long lines when entering the park and may find parking—especially for RVs—a major challenge during the peak season, which starts in early summer and lasts until the end of August.

Thankfully, there are some wonderful alternatives, in the form of Utah's many state parks. Two of our favorite Utah state parks, Kodachrome Basin State Park and Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, offer scenery that easily rivals the large national parks nearby—without the big crowds.

1. Kodachrome Basin State Park

In 1948 the leader of a National Geographic expedition named the area Kodachrome Basin, after the brand of the film once favored by many professional photographers. Kodachrome Basin State Park is perhaps Utah's most photogenic state park, with 67 towering monolithic stone spires—known as sedimentary pipes—and acres of wind and water-carved earth and stone.

Things to Do at Kodachrome Basin State Park

  • Dark Night Skies: Kodachrome Basin State Park is an International Dark Sky Association park. Those who camp for the night can experience some of the clearest and darkest skies in North America. If you do plan on visiting the park after dark, be sure to bring along a pair of binoculars or a telescope. During the summer the park offers regular "star parties", where visitors are able to look through several high-powered telescopes that may be focused on distant planets and galaxies.
  • Hiking: There are six family-friendly trails in Kodachrome Basin State Park totaling 12 miles in length. These are multi-use trails that are also open to horseback riders and cyclists. All the park's trails are also pet friendly but be sure to bring lots of water for your pet and avoid the hottest part of the day.
  • Camping: There are three main campgrounds in Kodachrome Basin State Park, with a total of 61 sites that can be reserved. There are hot showers, flush toilets, firewood, potable water, and even laundry available for campers.
  • Prehistoric Sites: Traces of human habitation in Kodachrome Basin State Park date back more than 10,000 years. One of the most intriguing sites—whose origins are largely unknown—are the rock carvings at "Indian Cave" (see photo below.) The origin of these mysterious hand-shaped etchings has been attributed to long-vanished tribes of Native Americans, who once called this area their home.
  • Majestic Grosvenor Arch: One of Utah's least visited, but most impressive natural arches, Grosvenor Arch, is located just outside the park.

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Mysterious hand shaped etchings in "Indian Cave" at Kodachrome Basin State Park.

Mysterious hand shaped etchings in "Indian Cave" at Kodachrome Basin State Park.

2. Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, near Kanab, Utah, is another beautiful park that's still less visited than nearby Zion N.P. While visitors won't find any colorful towering rock formations here, they will be treated to a wonder of nature found nowhere else in the world. Pink sand—which originated from the same red rocks that make up the nearby Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument—has been blowing here, grain by grain for thousands of years, forming a large area of sprawling, colorful sand dunes.

The dunes of Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park were created by three factors: sand, high winds, and a unique channeling of the wind caused by the notch between the Moquith and Moccasin mountains, which over the past 15,000 years has funneled billions of tiny grains of sand into this one particular area.

Things to Do at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

  • Hiking: There are several family-friendly (and pet-friendly) trails leading to the edges of the dunes, where visitors may see the tracks left by some of the park's smallest inhabitants—rare desert beetles who live nowhere on earth but in Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.
  • ATV Riding: ATV rentals and tours are available for those who want to tackle some of the huge dunes. An area of the park has been set aside for off-road vehicles. Dune buggies are very popular here, with some visitors traveling from all across America to spend a week or more testing their skills in the sprawling sand playground.
  • Wildlife Watching: Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is the only home of the Coral Pink tiger beetle, a fascinating insect whose entire life cycle occurs on and under the dunes. When rain fills depressions between the dunes, several species of animals, including toads and salamanders, which have remained dormant for years may emerge. Scientists believe that some of these animals are able to remain in a dormant state for up to several decades, waiting for just the right conditions to emerge and reproduce.
Tracks of the Coral Pink Tiger Beetle.

Tracks of the Coral Pink Tiger Beetle.

The Best Time to Visit Utah's State Parks

Kodachrome Basin and Coral Pink Sand Dunes state parks are best visited in the spring before desert temperatures begin to reach toward the 100s. While these two amazing parks aren't nearly as crowded as some national parks, they can get more visitors just after school has let out in the spring, and just before it goes back into session in the fall.

Those who are able to visit on a weekday during the off-season, such as when we visited Kodachrome Basin State Park in September, may find that they have trails and campground amenities largely to themselves.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Nolen Hart

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