Utah's National Monuments

Utah's National Monuments

By Jake Wilhelmsen
April 19, 2018 | Updated November 07, 2023

Millions of people travel to Utah each year to tour Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion national parks. And it makes sense. They’re incredible. But Utah has about four states’ worth of other attractions that are just as beautiful and usually a lot less crowded. Read on to learn more about Utah's nine incredible national monuments and start planning your next road trip today. (Hint: San Juan County would be a good place to start.)

Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument

Kane and Garfield Counties

A huge variety of formations, ecosystems and world-class paleontological sites exist in this monument’s three distinct regions. The remote Grand Staircase region rises in broad, tilted terraces of sedimentary Technicolor, hiding a vast network of slot canyons within it. The Kaiparowits Plateau region is wild, arid and remote, rich with canyons and Late Cretaceous fossils. The Escalante Canyons region contains many popular hiking and canyoneering destinations like Calf Creek Falls.

Bears Ears National Monument

San Juan County

Named for a pair of buttes that rise attentively from the horizon, Bears Ears is rich in both scenery and history. The monument is made up of beautiful sandstone canyons, forested mesas and breathtaking buttes, but it's the region's cultural significance that earned it national monument status. It's home to rock art, ancient dwellings, ceremonial kivas and countless other artifacts, some as many as 13,000 years old. And the views ain’t nothin’ to sneeze at, neither.

House on Fire cultural site in Bears Ears National Monument

Hovenweep National Monument

San Juan County

A monument for those who don't mind getting pretty out there. You might feel like the first person ever to set foot in Hovenweep National Monument, but you’re not. Hunter-gatherers beat you to it by 10,000 years at least, passing through with the seasons. Ancestral Puebloans followed by settling down there around 900 CE. Visit the six groups of structures these ancient inhabitants left behind, and be sure to stay the night to enjoy some International Dark-Sky Association certified stars.

Rainbow Bridge National Monument

San Juan County

Just south of Lake Powell is Rainbow Bridges National Monument, a massive sandstone half-circle the Navajo culture holds sacred as a symbol of deities who bring clouds, rain and rainbows. It was nearly inaccessible to tourists before Glen Canyon was flooded in 1966, but the shores of Lake Powell’s Forbidding Canyon (just a name, not a description) now approach Rainbow Bridge’s long evening shadow, making it just a long boat ride and a short hike away.

Natural Bridges National Monument

San Juan County

Natural Bridges National Monuments is home to three massive natural bridges, all with Hopi Indian names: Owachomo ("rock mounds") is dangerously delicate; Sipapu ("the place of emergence") is among the longest natural bridges in the world (just behind Rainbow Bridge); Kachina ("dancer") is a massive hole punched through a gooseneck in Armstrong Canyon. Each is tiger-striped with desert varnish and startling in its own way, posing semi-permanently along the nine-mile loop of Bridge View Drive.

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Iron County

You'd be forgiven if the colorful spires of Cedar Breaks remind you of a certain nearby national park. This under-the-radar monument is like a part of Bryce Canyon grew up and moved out of the house. The rim of Cedar Breaks is 10,000 feet above sea level — that’s 1,000 feet taller than Bryce — and it drops a full 2,000 feet before it bottoms out. Paiute inhabitants in the region once called it “Circle of the Painted Cliffs,” describing the colorful bands of shale, limestone and sandstone revealed by eons of uplift and erosion.

Timpanogos Cave National Monument

Utah County

Hike to the top of Mount Timpanogos and you can look out approximately forever. But those who are feeling more introspective can travel inside the mountain at Timpanogos Cave National Monument. This cave is majestic to behold, but to do so you must be part of a guided tour. Tickets for the basic tour are $12, with more expensive options like a Lantern and Intro to Caving tours. Each tour which will teach you about stalactites, stalagmites, cave "popcorn," helictites, draperies, flowstone and the bats that know those features like the backs of their wings.

Dinosaur National Monument

Uintah County

Kids have notoriously bad judgment regarding clothing, movies and what to do with boogers, but there are two childish preoccupations adults would do well to (re)adopt. First, trampolines. (Have you jumped on a trampoline lately? It’s like you’re flying.) And, second, dinosaurs. Dinosaur National Monument has an incredible collection of Jurassic era fossils (over 1,500 bones!), including some of the best-preserved skeletons ever found. You'll be reading illustrated library books by flashlight under the covers for weeks after this visit.

Jurassic National Monument

Emery County

Still got dinos on the mind? The archaeological excitement's not over. Take a trip to the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry at Jurassic National Monument and you'll be in the presence of the densest collection of Jurassic era fossils ever discovered. Over 12,000 bones belonging to at least 74 individual dinos have been discovered so far. The quarry is still an active research site, so there may be even more on the way. Take a trip to see the monument museum and enjoy some short hikes like the Rock Walk trail through a fossil-rich region of the park.

Bonus: Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

San Juan County

(This monument doesn't carry a U.S. designation, but its status as a Navajo Nation Tribal Park earns it a similar status.)

Monument Valley is what wind and water can make with enough time and creative license. It’s home to the iconic East and West Mitten Buttes and so many other iconic backdrops from John Ford/John Wayne westerns. You’ll see the sky, bigger and bluer than you could imagine. You’ll see the earth, red, rough and unpredictable. And you won’t see much of anything else. Stand stranded at its center, struck by the area's astounding simplicity.

Bonus: Golden Spike National Historical Park

Box Elder County

The Union Pacific Railroad met the Central Pacific Railroad at Promontory Summit on May 10, 1869, finally tying America together by rail. Train fanatics and students of Western history can relive this moment at the site’s museum, where you'll learn about both steam engine history and technology. There are even daily train arrivals featuring replicas of the original "Jupiter" and "119" steam locomotives, along with costumed reenactments of the 1869 Golden Spike ceremony on Saturdays in the summer.