Things to do / Travel Guide
You won't have problems finding spectacular panoramas or photo opportunities in southern Utah. In fact, whether it's massive, magically balancing boulders, alien-looking rock formations, or canyons so vast they challenge the imagination, these landscapes are so wondrous you'll catch yourself checking the map to make sure you didn't take a wrong turn and end up on another planet. These are sights of such grandeur and color they truly require seeing to believe. And seeing is what these scenic overlooks are all about!
Scenic Overlooks in Red Rock Country near Moab
In a region that is defined by its spectacular scenery, earning the title of "best view" is no easy task. The main overlook at Dead Horse Point is certainly a strong competitor for the title, if not the winner itself. The lookout point, located in Dead Horse Point State Park near Moab, offers visitors a 270º view over the Colorado River and its side canyons from an extraordinary 6,000 feet above sea level. Perched upon this lofty point, you'll feel dizzy absorbing the expansive views below. The Colorado River snakes its way through the canyons 2,000 feet below the overlook, where a wide expanse of sheer cliffs, eroded ridges, buttes, pinnacles, and cliffs can be viewed, with the La Sal Mountains in the far distance. The small park, covering just a few square miles, is located 18 miles off U.S. Highway 191 near Moab. It can be reached via a four-mile side road off the main approach to Canyonlands.
Scenic Overlooks in Arches and Canyonlands National Park
A visit to Arches or Canyonlands National Park will expose you to some of the region's most famous natural attractions. Along the main road in Arches National Park, visitors of all ages will be struck with wonder by an enormous (55-foot-high) boulder balancing on a narrow rock spire, 73 feet up in the air! Balanced Rock is certainly one of the most famous - and unbelievable - attractions in the park, but the natural wonders don't stop there. You'll likely recognize this Delicate Arch from Utah license plates, magazine covers, stamps or postcards - the world's largest (and possibly, most beautiful) freestanding arch towers above the photographers. The view from Delicate Arch Viewpoint, presents the giant sandstone bridge glowing red in the distance against the dramatic landscape and snowcapped La Sal Mountains beyond. Hikers willing to make the effort can make the round-trip hike to the base of Delicate Arch in about 2.5 hours.
In Canyonlands National Park, the Island in the Sky District, which is actually a large mesa similar to Dead Horse Point (but much larger), has several lookout points that provide views of the surrounding park and distant areas, in addition to the strange geological feature known as the Upheaval Dome. The Dome appears to be a large crater, but actually consists of a huge circular pit about a mile in diameter and 1,000 feet deep, surrounded by rings of rocks uplifted several thousand feet from the ground below. From atop this "island" mesa, visitors may also opt to check out Grand View Point and Green River Overlook, where other cool geological features, including Monument Basin, the White Rim, the Orange Cliffs, and the vicinity of the Green and Colorado Rivers, prove breathtakingly expansive from the lookout points above.
Scenic Overlooks in Bryce Canyon National Park
As you drive along Bryce Canyon's scenic roads you'll be tempted to pull over at practically every turn. It will be for good reason - the unique rock formations that make the park famous resemble a children's fairyland playground, a mix of whimsical spires, arches, and mazes carved out of the colorful rock. Known as "hoodoos," these delicately-carved formations rise out from natural amphitheaters and against the pink cliffs of the park, which is actually the eastern slope of the Paunsaguant Plateau rather than a canyon itself. Some of the highlights are:
- Fairyland Point - From the angle at Fairyland Point, the rock formations take on fanciful shapes, providing a chance to get some interesting close-up views of the limestone structures. A distinct rock structure known as the "sinking ship" is one highlight, set against the backdrop of the Aquarius Plateau and Navajo Mountain in the distance. The lookout point is located between the entrance station and the park boundary, one mile off the main road, so it can be easily missed.
- Sunrise and Sunset Points - About one mile past the visitor center, these points offer panoramas of Bryce Amphitheater, the largest natural amphitheater in the park.
- Yovimpa Point and Rainbow Point - Located at the end of the Bryce Canyon's main scenic drive, they're the highest points in the park at around 9,000 feet. The spot is 17 miles south of the visitor center, and offers expansive views of much of the southern Utah region. On the clearest days, you can even see into New Mexico!
Scenic Overlooks near Cedar City
The Zion Overlook, about 17 miles east of Cedar City, provides a sweeping panorama of the deep canyons of Zion National Park to the south. Note that the parking area is accessible only to eastbound traffic along State Road 14. Another magnificent view of Zion National Park is available from the high perch of Strawberry Point, 30 miles east of Cedar City. From the 9,000-foot-high perch, travelers will get breathtaking views of the ridges, canyons, and mountains south of the Markagunt Plateau, and can spot Zion National Park and even the Arizona Strip. Narrow canyons cut out of the Pink Cliffs can be seen on both sides below the viewpoint. Strawberry Point is accessible from State Road 14 by a gravel road between mileposts 32 and 33.
Scenic Overlooks in Zion National Park
Practically all the sights in Zion National Park can be considered spectacular, but there are several specific lookout points that offer exceptionally beautiful or unique views of the landscape. At the Court of the Patriarchs Viewpoint in the Zion Canyon section of the park, a trio of peaks known as the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) can be seen to the west, overlooking Birch Creek. The lookout point is just a short walk from the parking area. Even better views can be seen with a short half mile hike from the spot.
Kolob Canyons Road, in the extreme northwestern section of the park, is laced with pullouts and climbs to the Kolob Canyons Viewpoint, an overlook that offers great views of the Finger Canyons of the Kolob. The road begins just off I-15 at exit 40. The drive is about 11 miles roundtrip to the overlook. Lava Point offers another perspective of the landscape from the Kolob area - offering a striking panorama of the Cedar Breaks area to the north, Zion Canyon narrows and tributaries to the east, the Pink Cliffs to the northeast, and Mt. Trumbull in the Arizona Strip to the south. To get to Lava Point, travelers should drive Kolob Terrace Road about 44 miles roundtrip from the small town of Virgin on State Road 9.
Scenic Overlooks at Lake Powell
Hite Overlook is located at the edge of the cliffs opposite the Hite Marina of Lake Powell. It is situated about 600 feet above the lake, offering an excellent panorama of the lake and the Colorado and Dirty Devil Rivers to the northeast.
Scenic Overlooks at the Grand Canyon North Rim
Most travelers who make it the Grand Canyon's North Rim head over to Bright Angel Point, located at the southern end of the entrance road to the park. It's a short, easy walk from the point's parking area to the Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge, offering a classic overall view of the canyon. A paved, half-mile round trip trail takes visitors from the lodge to the Bright Angel Point, offering dramatic views into Roaring Springs and Bright Angel Canyons.
Another developed viewpoint is Point Imperial, located at the highest point on the North Rim at 8,803 feet. It overlooks the Painted Desert and the eastern end of the Grand Canyon, where the narrow walls of Marble Canyon become dramatically wider. From this point, visitors will see layers of red and black Precambrian rocks not visible from Bright Angel Point. Point Imperial is accessible via a winding scenic drive. Cape Royal is another popular point for panorama shots up, down, and across the canyon. It's a great spot for watching the sun rise or set, where you can see the Colorado River framed through the natural arch of Angels Window. It is accessible via a paved trail from the main road.