The Culture Buff’s Guide to Southern Utah
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A trip through southern Utah, with its petroglyphs, dinosaur fossils, and ancient geology, is also a trip into deep time. Just keep in mind before you go that the ground you walk on is fragile and precious to Native Nations. Don’t touch, move, or take any artifacts you find, and when you can, stop at the visitor center before heading out on a trail or go with a Native guide so you can be sure you’re treating sacred sites with the utmost respect. For advice on how to responsibly experience some of Southern Utah’s rich history, we talked with Pat Gonzales-Rogers, executive director of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition.
Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument
In south-central Utah, Grand Staircase–Escalante is a massive and remote area full of geologic and human history. Here you can follow in the footsteps of dinosaurs on the Twenty Mile Dinosaur Trackway, where hundreds of tracks are preserved. Highly modern by comparison, the petroglyphs of the park’s Catstair Canyon are thousands of years old. These well-preserved monuments to the past are ideal for guided experiences with local outfitters.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
Along the Utah-Arizona border, the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is home to some of the most iconic and scenic land in the United States. From Goulding’s, located just north of the state line, book a Jeep tour with a Navajo guide to see sacred sites you can’t visit on your own. You can find lodging in Goulding’s, too, ranging from RV sites and tent camping to private villas and traditional hotel rooms. The park offers campsites steps from the Wildcat Trail, an easy four-mile loop that takes you around the stunning Mitten Buttes, and has a restaurant serving traditional Navajo dishes. Bring your binoculars or telescope if you’re an avid stargazer—the night skies here are some of the most pristine you’ll find anywhere.
Bears Ears National Monument
This vast swath of southeastern Utah is rich in the ancestral history of the Hopi, Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute, Ute Indian, and Pueblo of Zuni Nations. Once it’s safe to travel again, stop by the Friends of Cedar Mesa visitor center in Bluff to learn about the area’s history and its need for care. “Your real responsibility is to allow the next party to enjoy it just as much as you did,” says Gonzales-Rogers. Want to explore with a guide? Navajo-owned Ancient Wayves River and Hiking Adventures offers half-day tours and overnight guided backpacking experiences diving into the history and geology of Bears Ears.
Hovenweep National Monument
People have lived in the area now protected as Hovenweep National Monument for over 10,000 years. At this park in the southeastern corner of the state, you can hike to six ancestral Puebloan villages, built between 1200 and 1300. The first overlook on the Square Tower Group Trail, where you can see dozens of ceremonial buildings called kivas, is wheelchair accessible. Hovenweep is just over the state border from Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park, which Gonzales-Rogers recommends visiting as part of a trip to Bears Ears.
Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry
A few hours north of Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches national parks, you’ll find the densest collection of Jurassic dinosaur fossils ever discovered anywhere in the world. The Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, at Jurassic National Monument, contains the bones of at least 74 dinosaurs, and a mystery: why did so many meat-eating dinos die right here? Pick up a Junior Ranger booklet from the staff for a family-friendly, interactive way to explore the area’s natural history.
Looking for more adventure intel? Head over to Beyond the Parks, our interactive and in-depth guide to getting off the beaten path in southern Utah.
The wild canyons and mountains of southern Utah have been around for over 2.6 billion years, and we want to protect them for a few billion more. Do your part by following our Forever Mighty travel ethic.