Torrey’s the kind of place where you can get a diner slice of apple pie and a Zagat-approved ribeye steak; where Patagonia pullovers pair perfectly with bolo ties and cowboy hats; where tourists line up for drinks at the general store but certain favored locals pull up outside, honk, and get the cold stuff delivered straight to their car. A little bit country, a little bit resort town and lot bit quaint, Torrey is the perfect place for winding down and gearing up for adventure, for traipsing through Capitol Reef then cooling down at the Sunset Series, where artists, musicians and culture-makers regale. You can’t turn around in this place without bumping into a women’s music festival or a dark sky park. Are you catching the theme yet? It’s the best of both worlds.Local tip: Sunglow Trail
Get that fresh hiking glow and watch the redrock get illuminated too. The Sunglow Trail just east of Bicknell is a moderate one-mile out-and-back with just enough scrambling and exactly the right reward: watching the canyon light up with golden rays.
Summertime and the livin’ is easy on this high plateau that feeds the thirsty canyons of Capitol Reef and Escalante below. A cool, forested dome of rock dotted with 80 lakes and endless streams, the mountain’s a surefire way to get your solitude fix while angling (literally) for your supper. Spend the day wandering the pines and nights perfecting your fish fry before tucking into bed beneath a blanket of stars. Make sure to find a prominent point and stare into the wilderness wonderland below. If you’re with a friend, sweep your hand across the horizon and promise to bequeath to them everything the light touches. (You’re not lying! Almost everything the light touches is national park or monument, i.e. public land, and therefore really does belong to your friend already. Hopefully she appreciates the gesture and knows how to share.)
When God was baking the world, he put some land in a hot, hot oven and pinched a 100-mile fold into its perfect golden crust. The result? The Waterpocket Fold, a clash of fault lines at the center of Capitol Reef is a remote red rock country crammed with cliffs, arches, orchards and streams. One of the most magnificent of Utah’s national parks, it’s also one of the least visited, which means there’s plenty of space to do a power stance on a rocky pinnacle and shout your barbaric yawp into the void. Hungry from all that yawping? Head down to Fruita, where you can get some homemade fruit pie from the fruits of some old pioneer-era trees, then make for the monoliths of Cathedral Valley, where earthen temples of the sun, moon and star variety will keep your humanoid ego in check.
If you didn’t know they gave awards to highways, you’ve probably never been on UT-12 which was justly named an All-American Road in 2002. Bookended by the creamsicle hoodoos of Bryce Canyon to the southwest and the domed white rocks of Capitol Reef to the northeast, this bodacious babe of a byway bags a lot more bird’s-eye views before it’s done. Whether you fancy the slickrock spectacle of Grand Staircase–Escalante, the petrified forests of the plateau, or the truly hair-raising drop-offs on the Hogsback Ridge, there’s a pull-off somewhere in the mix with your name on it. Torn between my way or the highway? Choose the byway and never look back (except to get one last look at that preserved Ancestral Puebloan village, of course).
Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument
Life feeling too tame? Head to where the West is still wild and become the feral backcountry animal you were always meant to be. The hearty and hale should hike into the Kaiparowits Plateau, a rugged highland where the water is scarce, the views are screaming and the canyons reward the persistent. The curious-but-slightly-more-cautious can drop into the canyons carved by the Escalante River, where plants spring out of natural seeps, wildlife lurks around every corner and the desert gets generous with secret swimming holes. The extra-curious can suck in their stomachs and try one of the area’s many slot canyons, where the only thing narrower than the walls is your sideways body. But after dieting comes dessert, as the Vermillion Cliffs offer up a rocky layer cake of peaches, whites and greens. All said, it’s enough wildness to stave off a midlife crisis.
San Rafael Swell
Utah’s got scads of hoodoos and spires, slot canyons and designer soda shops, but it’s only got one swell. Created over eons by Utah’s geologic force of choice — upheaval! — this backwater beauty of an earth-blister has slowly eroded into a warren of buttes, canyons and pinnacles, plus a whole valley of rock goblins for the strong of heart. Think of the place as a kid sister to Utah’s official national parks that’s making up for lack of federal designation with an epic amount of try. Get lost (carefully) in one of the many gentle canyons and roadside hikes or take it up a notch with some technical canyoneering. In the end, you’ll be sitting pretty in a secluded campsite, laughing at all the Joneses and Jensens and Johnsons duking it out for a sleep spot in one of the crowded big-name parks.
WHERE TO STAY
Cougar Ridge Lodge — For when you want to bowl, canyoneer and work on your golf swing.
Capitol Reef Resort — From luxury cabins to Conestoga glamping wagons. Oh, and llama adventures.
Cowboy Homestead — All the most comfy parts of cowboyism.
WHERE TO EAT
Cafe Diablo — The devil’s in the details at this rustic spot for southwest fusion.
Broken Spur Steakhouse — Nine out of 10 outlaws highly recommend, would return.
Slackers — Where ’90s mall rats get their burgers.