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  • Dinosaur exhibits at the Natural History Museum of Utah in Salt Lake City
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    Immersive History in Salt Lake City

  • Views of the Colorado River and canyons in Dead Horse Point State Park near Moab, Utah
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    Moab: Where Dinosaurs Once Roamed

  • Hiking in Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah
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    Bluff, the Base Camp for Monument Valley and Natural Bridges

  • Stargazing in the Valley of the Goblins near Hanksville, Utah
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    Hanksville: Home to Hoodoos and Goblins

Desert plants surrounding the towering formations of Monument Valley in Utah
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Sara Winter

Utah Natural History Road Trip: Dinosaur Encounters and Geological Wonders

By Zaida Rios

  • Route distance:
    801.00
  • Suggested Time:
    6 days

From dinosaurs tracks to epic canyons, domes and arches, this Utah road trip will send you to breathtaking and otherworldly locales.

Set off on an extraordinary adventure that starts in Utah’s capital city, Salt Lake City, then winds through magnificent landscapes. This route highlights Southern Utah’s myriad of geologic gems and intriguing natural history. Bring your camera to capture the spectacular natural beauty this serene and rugged terrain offers. Fly into Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) and rent a car to start your epic road trip.

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Dinosaur exhibits at the Natural History Museum of Utah in Salt Lake City
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Matt Morgan

Immersive History in Salt Lake City

Known as a gateway to Utah’s legendary snow skiing, Salt Lake City’s welcoming spirit, brilliant street art and walkability make it a breeze to explore. Swing into modern coffee shops, popular restaurants and artisanal breweries as you explore this mountain metropolis. The star attraction, Temple Square in the heart of the city, should be your first stop. Take the free walking tour around this lovely, manicured square featuring attractions related to Mormon settlers and their heritage. Walk the grounds of the impressive Salt Lake Temple, the Mormons’ spiritual center, an architectural marvel that took 40 years to complete. Music lovers can watch rehearsals of the world-famous Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square every Thursday evening in the Tabernacle. While in town, check out the Natural History Museum of Utah. Set amid the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains, this museum offers five floors of captivating, interactive exhibits. The Past Worlds exhibit showcases replicas of dinosaurs that roamed the earth millions of years ago, and the Native Voices exhibit highlights eight Native American tribes that were Utah’s first settlers. As you leave the museum, walk to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail to hike along the path that used to be the shore of Lake Bonneville, which Utah was once submerged in thousands of years ago.

374 km
3.75 hours by car
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Views of the Colorado River and canyons in Dead Horse Point State Park near Moab, Utah
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Moab: Where Dinosaurs Once Roamed

From Salt Lake City, head south on the Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway that winds through a region known for its dinosaur fossils and footprints, spectacular canyons, sandstone geological formations and winding rivers. Travel 374 kilometers to Moab, a small desert town that holds the distinction of being nestled between two stunning national parks – Canyonlands and Arches, both known for spectacular landscapes. Leave your car behind and sign up with a Hummer or Jeep tour outfitter to properly explore places accessible only by an all-terrain vehicle. Beyond the benefits of four-wheel drive, these trips are led by experts who share their knowledge of the epic terrain. Next, head to the Moab Giants Dinosaur Museum for a one-of-a-kind journey that’s equal parts science and adventure. Hold on tight as you come face-to-face with a Megalodon – much larger than the modern-day great white shark – in a virtual experience at the 5D Prehistoric Aquarium. Walk in the footprints of giant dinosaurs on the outdoor dinosaur trail. From there, head 54 kilometers southwest of Moab to Dead Horse Point State Park, which was featured in the American movie, “Thelma and Louise.” It’s also home to a beautiful 6-kilometer loop hike with scenic overlooks of the Colorado River. Challenging ascents and breathtaking views will keep both mountain bikers and hikers happy. Before you hop back in the car, stop in the coffee shop inside the visitor center to get ready for the ride to Bluff, a little over two hours south.

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214 km
2.5 hours by car
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Hiking in Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah
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Jay Dash Photography

Bluff, the Base Camp for Monument Valley and Natural Bridges

Bluff is a quaint town that serves as a base camp for many outdoor adventures. Outfitters including Wild Expeditions can guide you on a rafting tour of the San Juan River or 4x4 tours of Bears Ears National Monument. Visit Bluff Fort Historic Site, a Mormon pioneer settlement, and stay at Bluff Dwellings Resort & Spa or Desert Rose Resort & Cabins. From Bluff, head southwest to Monument Valley and Goulding’s Lodge, where you can check out the visitor center and book a Jeep tour of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. Your trip will be enhanced by historic tales and Native American myths while exploring this movie setting for films such as “How the West was Won,” “Easy Rider,” “Forrest Gump” and Disney’s “The Lone Ranger.” Immerse yourself in this haunting and rugged desert landscape. Licensed Navajo guides who are privy to places that aren’t accessible on a self-guided tour make this a worthwhile option. Follow the 27-kilometer Valley Drive, where sandstone monoliths jut forth amid the russet desert plains. The Jeep tour makes stops along the way, where you can examine arches, petroglyphs and even tour Mystery Canyon, hidden in a remote corner and home to Ancestral Puebloan ruins. From here, travel to Blanding via the Trail of the Ancients, a 90-minute drive to Natural Bridges National Monument for scenery that is nothing short of spectacular. Three massive natural bridges – Sipapu, Kachina and Owachomo – carved by streams over millions of years are what people travel from far and wide to see. Your best bet if you’re limited for time is to take it all in along Bridge View Drive, a 14-kilometer loop. If you’re a stargazing fan, stick around after the sun sets. The night sky puts on quite a performance in the park. Natural Bridges National Monument was the world’s first International Dark Sky Park, so you can count on plenty of starlight and clear views of the Milky Way.

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231 km
2.75 hours by car
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Stargazing in the Valley of the Goblins near Hanksville, Utah
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Angie Payne

Hanksville: Home to Hoodoos and Goblins

From Bluff to Hanksville, cruise northwest on the scenic Bicentennial Highway dotted with russet canyons, natural stone bridges and postcard-pretty Lake Powell, a popular retreat along the Colorado River. Step into an otherworldly atmosphere with imaginative and winsome beauty in Goblin Valley State Park, located along the San Rafael Reef, a geological rocky outcropping part of the Colorado Plateau. Hike to the star attraction – The Valley of the Goblins, populated with eerie sandstone formations resembling mystical goblin-like creatures. Venture on any of the three main established trails; each sets you up for a scenic and whimsical journey as you wind into a maze of red rock formations. In this park, guests are permitted to wander off the trail to get a closer look or photo of the hoodoos and goblins – your Instagram followers may do a double-take. As the sun shifts across the copper-hued pillars, you’ll understand why this is such a special place. Feeling adventurous? Take a scenic detour 8 kilometers west of Goblin Valley to Little Wild Horse Canyon. This slot canyon – the term for canyons with narrow gorges – is ideal for those with kids in tow or beginners at canyoneering. Winding through countless formations and swirls gives you the sensation of being a true adventurer without any technical obstacles, making it the perfect way to end a phenomenal road trip. From Little Wild Horse Canyon, begin the 4.5-hour drive back to Salt Lake City for your return flight home. The towns of Green River, Helper and Price make ideal stopping points for a rest or overnight stay.