From Skiing to Sand Dunes: Outdoor Adventures in Southern Utah

From hiking and biking to stargazing and rock climbing, there’s no shortage of outdoor adventures in Southern Utah. Home to The Mighty Five national parks – Zion, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef National Park, the region attracts outdoor enthusiasts with its dynamic landscape, natural beauty and sense of wonder. So, whether you’re looking for little-known trails off the beaten path or the best slopes for winter skiing, you’ll find all this and more in Southern Utah.

Fun for All Seasons in Brian Head, Utah

Four hours from Salt Lake City, this rural mountain village is known as the “Highest Resort Town in America,” with a peak elevation of over 11,300 feet. The scenery in Brian Head, Utah, is breathtaking, with towering red cliffs, alpine forests, and meadows of fresh, blooming wildflowers.

A sunny fall day in Brian Head, Utah. Photo Courtesy of Kit Leong.

There are plenty of things to do in Brian Head, whether you’re looking for a thrill or want to take in the area’s natural beauty. For those who love a challenge, there are plenty of trails for hiking and mountain biking. Prefer to take it easy? Take a scenic drive from Parowan to Panguitch for gorgeous views of Cedar Breaks National Monument, Brian Head Resort and Panguitch Lake (a popular summer and winter fishing spot).

And, of course, no trip to Brian Head would be complete without a ride on the Alpine Slide or taking a dip in one of the many hot springs in the area.

Dashing Through the Snow in Brian Head

The winter season in Brian Head transforms the Dixie National Forest into a gorgeous winterscape of fresh, powdery snow and sparkling icicles. At Brian Head Resort, snowboarders and skiers flock to the slopes thanks to its base elevation of 9,600 feet. Surrounded by snowcapped rock formations, this top ski destination offers two towering mountains: Giant Steps and Navajo, with slopes perfect for beginners and experienced skiers. There are 71 runs, eight chair lifts, and three surface lifts between these two connected mountains.

Skiing at Brian Head Resort in Southern Utah.

Giant Steps provides downhill slopes perfect for all levels of ability, whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced. Snow tubing is available on Navajo Tube Hill, where a 75-foot vertical drop takes your breath away. The exhilaration of speeding down the slope on an inner tube as the beauty of Brian speeds by you is a truly immersive experience. Though the track is over 550 feet long, the ride’s pace will have you down the mountain in seconds, and if a steep vertical drop isn’t enough for you, the Giant Steps Tube Hill offers a mind-bending 100-foot vertical drop with 600 feet of slope.

Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah. Photo Courtesy of Terry Ott.

After a day on the slopes, head just a few minutes south of Brian Head Peak to the Cedar Breaks National Monument, a half-mile-deep gorge home to cross-country skiing, snowmobile trails, and a variety of wildlife. The monument is open all year round, but winter is the best time to explore its 10,000-foot elevation & half-mile-deep geologic amphitheater. At night, the crystal-clear night skies create the ideal canvas for stargazing.

Can’t-Miss Summer Experiences in Brian Head

Brian Head becomes a bustling hub for summertime activities when the snow melts and the flowers bloom. For those who want to get out on the water, there are plenty of options for fishing, boating, and rafting on the nearby Colorado River. Bristlecone Pond is an excellent spot for catch-and-release fly fishing, while the lakes at Mammoth Creek Park are perfect for canoeing, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding.

If you’d prefer to explore the area on two wheels, there are over 100 miles of mountain biking trails to choose from in Brian Head alone. The Sidney Peaks Trailhead, the starting point for multiple hiking and mountain biking trails in the Dixie National Forest, features several beginner-friendly and moderate to challenging trails. The Sidney Peaks Trail is a mountain biking trail that is 4.6 miles long with moderate difficulty and is just one of the many trails around one of the tallest mountains in the area, Sidney Peak.

Hiking in Southern Utah. Photo Courtesy of DCrane.

For camping enthusiasts, the Yankee Meadows campground is home to nearby towering red rock formations like Noah’s Ark and Grand Castle. If you plan a more extended camping excursion and seek scenic hiking trails, head to the Dixie National Forest. There are multiple campgrounds dispersed throughout the region, as well as cabin rentals. And the hiking trails? Abundant. The Noah’s Ark Trail is one of the more popular routes and will take you up through steep and rugged rock formations for spectacular views of Noah’s Ark and Vermillion Castle.

Finally, don’t miss a chance to ride the gondola to the top of Brian Head for Instagram-worthy panoramic views of the region.

Bryce Canyon National Park

An otherworldly landscape of red rocks and hoodoos, Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the most popular national parks and extends more than 35,000 acres.

A natural bridge rock formation in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. Photo Courtesy of Ekaterina Pokrovsky.

The hoodoos at Bryce Canyon come in all shapes and sizes, and the best way to see them is by hiking one of the many trails throughout the park. Bryce Amphitheater has the largest concentration of hoodoos and is accessible to visitors year-round. Bryce Canyon offers numerous trails, from easy to strenuous hikes. Most notably, the Rim Trail, which offers sweeping views of the canyon, and the Fairyland Loop Trail, take you through a forest of hoodoos and allow you to take in the sights at Boat Mesa and the Sinking Ship.

Mossy Cave and Queen’s Garden are unique Bryce Canyon National Park trails. Mossy Cave is a short path that leads to a small cave and waterfall. The track is mostly flat, with a few gentle inclines. The Queen’s Garden trail is a bit longer at 1.8 miles, but it takes you through some of the most beautiful parts of Bryce Canyon. Beginning at Sunrise Point, you’ll hike through the canyon and see hoodoos spread out like a vast rock garden, hence the name.

The Southern Scenic Drive is an 18-mile route featuring nine scenic overlooks, from Yovimpa Points to the Natural Bride and numerous pull-offs to hike and picnic. This route is open to vehicles year-round, but high elevations frequently experience temporary closures during the winter season.

In addition to hiking, Bryce Canyon is a great place for stargazing. Thanks to its clean air, lack of light pollution, and high elevation, the park has some of the darkest night skies in the United States. Designated as a Gold Tier International Dark Sky Park, Bryce Canyon has full moon hikes available where you’ll see the stars with an experienced guide.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

A 1,200-acre state park between Mount Carmel Junction and Kanab, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is one of Southern Utah’s more popular outdoor spots. And it’s easy to see why. From the park’s rose-colored dunes to the winds constantly transforming the landscape, the park offers an ever-changing environment to explore.

The best times to visit are during spring and fall, a prime time for sand sledding or sandboarding on the dunes. The sand is cool, and the air is clear, perfect for sledding down the slopes. If you don’t have equipment, don’t worry – you can rent gear outside the park. ATV excursions, hiking, and camping are also popular activities that attract visitors. Avid campers will find two campgrounds with fire pits, restrooms, showers and picnic areas.

An ATV excursion on the sand dunes in Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in Southern Utah.

Beyond the park, just five miles north of Kanab, you’ll find the Moqui Caverns and Moqui Cave Museum. This unique attraction is a series of ancient caves once inhabited by the native Moqui people. The cave museum contains artifacts and exhibits that tell the story of these early inhabitants. More than 180 dinosaur tracks are inside Moqui Cave – a big hit with the kids. It’s also a great way to escape the heat; the cave temperatures never rise above 65 degrees.

Whether you’re seeking an adrenaline rush on powder-covered slopes or hiking through stunning red-rock formations, Southern Utah is the perfect playground for outdoor enthusiasts. So, pack your skis, hiking boots and tent – adventure is calling.

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