Kanab, Fruita, Moab, and more. Discover the 7 best outdoor towns in Southern Utah, which is more than just a geographical location—it’s a playground for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. With its five awe-inspiring national parks, eight national monuments, and 43 state parks, Utah calls to adventurers and wanderers alike.This article may contain affiliate / compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer here.
Our 7 Favourite Outdoor Towns in Utah
Kanab, Fruita, Moab, Springdale, Bryce Canyon City, Escalante, and Hanksville rank as our favorite destinations when exploring Southern Utah. Each visit to these remarkable towns has been a unique experience, and our repeated journeys there only deepen our appreciation and longing for their distinctive beauty and charm.
These seven selected outdoor towns serve as gateways to Utah’s most iconic natural wonders, each offering unique experiences that make them destinations in their own right.
These towns are strategically located and provide the best access to all five of Utah’s National Parks—Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion. This makes them perfect base camps for explorations and ideal stops for an epic Utah National Parks road trip. From rock climbing in Moab to hiking the surreal landscapes of Kanab, these towns offer a diverse range of experiences that cater to adventurers of all types.
Whether you’re planning a weekend getaway, an extended vacation, or a road trip through the heart of Utah Mighty 5, this guide will introduce you to the best outdoor towns in the state.
Kanab – Utah’s Little Hollywood
Our list opens Kanab, a town where we’ve spent many weeks, repeatedly endeavoring to win the coveted permit to the Wave. Over time, we’ve visited this enchanting location more than a dozen times, each visit deepening our connection to its unique landscape and activities.
Often overlooked among outdoor towns in Utah, Kanab is a hidden gem located about 3 hours from Las Vegas and 6 hours from Salt Lake City. Known as “Utah’s Little Hollywood” due to its history as a filming location for Western movies, Kanab offers more than just cinematic nostalgia.
The Best Outdoor Activities in Kanab
Hiking: The Wave and Beyond
Kanab is the starting point for one of the most sought-after hiking experiences in the U.S.—The Wave. This surreal sandstone formation requires a permit, but the experience is worth the effort. It’s a hike that puts Kanab on the map as one of the best outdoor towns in Utah.
Off-Roading: Coral Pink Sand Dunes
If you’re into off-roading, the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park offers a sandy playground for ATVs and dune buggies. It’s a unique way to enjoy Utah’s diverse landscapes.
Animal Sanctuary: Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
Visit the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary for something different but equally rewarding. It’s the largest no-kill animal sanctuary in the U.S., offering tours and volunteer opportunities.
Great Chamber: A Hidden Sandstone Marvel
The Great Chamber at Cutler Point is a lesser-known but awe-inspiring sandstone alcove. It’s a photographer’s dream and a unique spot that adds to Kanab’s reputation as one of the best outdoor towns in Utah.
Toadstool Hoodoos: A Geological Wonder
These mushroom-shaped rock formations are a must-see and offer excellent photo opportunities. A short hike will take you to this fascinating geological wonder.
Tips for Visiting Kanab
Where to Eat?
For a local dining experience, try Rocking V Cafe. They offer a range of options, including vegetarian and gluten-free dishes.
Where to Stay?
The Canyons Boutique Hotel is a charming place to stay, offering comfortable rooms and excellent service. For campers, the Crazy Horse RV Campark provides a more rustic experience.
Our Tip: Be sure to explore our comprehensive guide on activities and attractions in Kanab. This captivating town offers enough adventures and sights to fill a week or two with endless discovery and enjoyment, ensuring you’ll never find a dull moment.
Moab – Gateway to Arches and Canyonlands
Moab is the adventure capital of Utah. Nestled in the state’s southeastern part, Moab is a must-visit outdoor town that serves as the gateway to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. But its appeal goes beyond just being a starting point for park visits; it’s a destination filled with outdoor activities that cater to adventurers of all types.
It’s about a 4-hour drive from Salt Lake City, 7 hours from Las Vegas, and 6 hours from Denver, making it accessible for both weekend getaways and extended vacations.
The Best Outdoor Activities in Moab
Rock Climbing: A Climber’s Dream
Moab is a rock climber’s paradise. The sandstone towers offer a variety of terrains that cater to both beginners and seasoned climbers. One of the best spots is Wall Street, where you can climb while enjoying views of the Colorado River.
Mountain Biking: The Slickrock Trail
If you’re into mountain biking, you’ve probably heard of the Slickrock Bike Trail. This trail is famous in Moab and known worldwide for its unique sandstone landscape. I recommend going early in the morning to avoid crowds.
Jeep Tours: Hell’s Revenge and More
For those who prefer four wheels to two, Moab offers a range of Jeep tours. Hell’s Revenge is a popular trail that takes you through some of the most scenic landscapes. It’s an adrenaline-pumping experience that you shouldn’t miss.
Delicate Arch: The Icon of Utah
Delicate Arch is one of those spots you’ve got to see to believe. Hike to Delicate Arch is one of the best things to do in Arches. A moderate hike will take you up close to this stunning formation. The view is especially magical during sunset. Trust me; it’s worth the hike. Pack a headlamp, as it’s quickly getting dark after sunset.
Canyonlands Overlook: A Panoramic View
For a panoramic view of Moab’s rugged beauty, head to the Canyonlands Overlook. It’s an excellent spot for photography or simply soaking in the vastness of the landscape.
Tips for Visiting Moab
Where to Eat?
Don’t miss the Moab Brewery for some local flavors. They offer a range of craft beers and a diverse menu that caters to all tastes. I recommend trying their Dead Horse Ale.
Where to Stay?
Consider staying at Red Cliffs Lodge for rooms with stunning Colorado River views or Sorrel River Ranch Resort & Spa for a luxurious experience. Devils Garden Campground in Arches National Park is a popular choice for campers.
Fruita – A Historic Settlement in Capitol Reef National Park
Fruita is a unique entry on our list of Utah’s best outdoor towns because it’s inside Capitol Reef National Park. Moreover, Fruita is a historic settlement offering a unique blend of natural beauty and cultural history. It’s about a 3.5-hour drive from Salt Lake City and around 7 hours from Las Vegas, making it a bit of a journey but well worth the effort.
The Best Outdoor Activities in Fruita
Hiking: Hickman Bridge and More
Fruita provides easy access to some of Capitol Reef’s most scenic hikes. One of my favorites is the Hickman Bridge trail, a moderate hike leading to a stunning natural arch.
Driving Cathedral Valley Loop
The Cathedral Valley Loop is a must-do for those who love scenic drives. This backcountry route takes you through some of Capitol Reef’s most remote and stunning landscapes. Note that a 4WD vehicle is essential for navigating this rugged terrain, making it a true adventure and solidifying Fruita’s status as one of the best outdoor towns in Utah.
Fruit Picking: An Orchard Experience
Fruita is famous for its historic orchards, where you can pick your own fruit depending on the season. It’s a unique activity that sets this small town in Utah apart.
Scenic Drive: A Journey Through the Park
One of the best ways to take in the beauty of Capitol Reef is through the Scenic Drive that starts in Fruita. The drive offers multiple viewpoints and short trails.
Sunset Point: A Palette of Colors
For a breathtaking sunset experience, head to Sunset Point. The way the setting sun illuminates the red rock formations is something you have to see to believe.
Tips for Visiting Fruita
Where to Eat?
While Fruita doesn’t offer dining options, visit Gifford Homestead and try their delicious homemade pies. The nearby town of Torrey has several eateries. I recommend the Capitol Reef Inn & Café for some local flavors.
Where to Stay?
The Fruita Campground is the go-to option for staying inside the park. The Capitol Reef Resort in Torrey offers luxurious accommodations if you prefer a hotel.
Our Tip: For an unforgettable trip to Fruita, don’t miss our curated list of the 21 best things to do in Capitol Reef. Drawing from our personal adventures in the park, we’ve also crafted a detailed Capitol Reef itinerary, guiding you through its most thrilling activities and hidden gems.
Springdale – Your Doorstep to Zion National Park
If you’re searching for the best outdoor towns in Utah, look no further than Springdale. Located just outside the entrance of Zion National Park, Springdale is the perfect base camp for exploring one of Utah’s most famous natural wonders. The town is about a 4.5-hour drive from Las Vegas and approximately 5 hours from Salt Lake City.
The Best Outdoor Activities in Springdale
Hiking: The Narrows and More
Springdale offers access to some of the most iconic hikes in Zion National Park. The Narrows hike is a must-do, where you’ll wade through the Virgin River surrounded by towering canyon walls. A permit is now required for the renowned Angels Landing trail.
Rock Climbing: A Vertical Playground
For those who love ascending heights, Springdale provides numerous rock climbing opportunities. Routes like Moonlight Buttress offer challenges for even seasoned climbers.
Canyoneering: A Unique Adventure
Canyoneering combines hiking, climbing, and sometimes even swimming. It’s a unique way to explore the hidden corners of Zion, and Springdale is the best outdoor town in Utah to start your canyoneering adventure.
Watchman Tower: Sunset Views
One of the most photographed spots in Zion, the Watchman Tower offers stunning sunset views. A short hike from Springdale will get you to this iconic viewpoint.
Emerald Pools: Nature’s Oasis
Small pools and waterfalls make up the Emerald Pools, another must-visit scenic spot easily accessible from Springdale.
Tips for Visiting Springdale
Where to Eat?
Check out the Bit & Spur Restaurant and Saloon for a taste of local cuisine. They offer delicious Southwestern fare and a variety of craft beers.
Where to Stay in Springdale?
If you’re looking for a comfortable stay, the Cliffrose Lodge & Gardens offers rooms with breathtaking views of Zion’s cliffs. For a more rustic experience, the Watchman Campground is a popular choice among visitors.
Bryce Canyon City – The Closest Stay to Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon City is the closest you can get to Bryce Canyon National Park, making it a top pick among the best outdoor towns in Utah. Located just a stone’s throw away from the park’s entrance, this small town offers unparalleled access to some of Utah’s most unique geological formations.
It’s about a 4-hour drive from Las Vegas and approximately 4.5 hours from Salt Lake City, making it an accessible destination for those looking to explore the famous hoodoos of Bryce Canyon.
The Best Outdoor Activities in Bryce Canyon City
Hiking: Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden
Bryce Canyon City is the gateway to some of the most iconic hikes in Bryce Canyon National Park. The Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden trails offer close-up views of the park’s unique hoodoo formations.
Horseback Riding: A Different Perspective
For a unique way to explore Bryce Canyon, consider a horseback riding tour. It’s a different perspective that allows you to take in the park’s beauty while giving your legs a break.
Scenic Flights: A Bird’s Eye View
If you want an adrenaline-pumping experience, scenic flights over Bryce Canyon are available. It’s a unique way to capture the park’s grandeur and makes Bryce Canyon City one of the best outdoor towns in Utah for adventure seekers.
Sunrise Point: A Hoodoo Morning
There’s nothing like watching the sun rise over a forest of hoodoos. Sunrise Point is one of the best spots to catch this magical moment.
Bryce Point: Panoramic Views
Bryce Point is a must-visit for a sweeping view of the Bryce Amphitheater. The overlook offers a panoramic perspective of the park’s intricate formations.
Tips for Visiting Bryce Canyon City
Where to Eat?
Ruby’s Inn Cowboy’s Buffet & Steak Room is a popular dining option, offering a variety of Western dishes that cater to all tastes.
Where to Stay?
The Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn is a convenient and comfortable lodging option. The Bryce Canyon Pines Campground offers a more rustic experience for those who prefer camping.
Escalante – The Heart of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Escalante is a treasure among the best outdoor towns in Utah, serving as the central hub for explorations into the vast Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Located in south-central Utah, it’s about a 5-hour drive from Salt Lake City and approximately 6 hours from Las Vegas.
The Best Outdoor Activities in Escalante
Hiking: Lower Calf Creek Falls
One of the most popular hikes in the area, Lower Calf Creek Falls, leads you to a stunning waterfall. The trail offers a mix of desert and riparian landscapes, making it a must-visit for anyone exploring Escalante.
Slot Canyons: Peek-a-Boo and Willis Creek Slot Canyon
The Peek-a-Boo and Willis Creek are must-visit spots if you’re up for a thrilling adventure. Navigating these narrow, striped passages is both challenging and rewarding, solidifying Escalante’s reputation as one of the best outdoor towns in Utah.
Scenic Byway 12: A Drive to Remember
The Scenic Byway 12 runs through Escalante, offering access to multiple trailheads and viewpoints. It’s one of the most scenic drives in America and a great way to see the area if you’re short on time.
Devil’s Garden: A Playground of Rock
This easily accessible area offers a collection of hoodoos and arches to explore freely. It’s an excellent spot for photography.
Hell’s Backbone: A Drive on the Edge
For those with a head for heights, Hell’s Backbone is a narrow road with steep drops on either side, offering some of the most breathtaking views in the area.
Tips for Visiting Escalante
Where to Eat?
Escalante Outfitters Cafe is a local favorite, offering delicious pizzas and a selection of local beers.
Where to Stay?
The Shooting Star RV Resort offers unique Airstream accommodations, while the Escalante State Park provides camping options for those looking to be closer to nature.
Hanksville – A Desert Oasis for Adventure
Hanksville is a small but mighty contender on our list of the best outdoor towns in Utah. This unassuming town is a gateway to some of Utah’s most iconic red rock landscapes, including Goblin Valley State Park and the San Rafael Swell. Hanksville is about a 3.5-hour drive from Salt Lake City and approximately 5 hours from Las Vegas.
The Best Outdoor Activities in Hanksville
Off-Roading: Factory Butte
Factory Butte is a mecca for off-roading enthusiasts. The area offers various trails ranging from beginner to expert, making it a must-visit for anyone looking to kick up some dust.
Hiking: Goblin Valley State Park
Just a short drive from Hanksville, Goblin Valley State Park offers a unique hiking experience among its bizarre and fascinating rock formations, known as “goblins.”
River Rafting: Dirty Devil River
The Dirty Devil River offers an exciting rafting experience for those who love water sports. The river’s challenging rapids make Hanksville one of the best outdoor towns in Utah for river rafting.
Swing Arm City: An Off-Roader’s Paradise
This area is a popular spot for dirt biking and ATV riding, offering a unique landscape that’s perfect for these activities.
Temple Mountain: A Geological Marvel
Temple Mountain offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding red rock country, making it a perfect spot for photography or simply soaking in the beauty of nature.
Tips for Visiting Hanksville
Where to Eat?
Stan’s Burger Shak is a local favorite, offering classic American fare like burgers and shakes.
Where to Stay?
The Whispering Sands Motel offers basic but comfortable accommodations. For a more rustic experience, the Goblin Valley State Park campground is a great option.
Best Outdoor Towns in Utah – Final Thoughts
In summary, Utah’s 7 best outdoor towns offer an unparalleled blend of adventure, natural beauty, and cultural richness, making them essential stops on any Utah road trip. Whether it’s the adrenaline-pumping off-roading in Hanksville or the awe-inspiring hikes in Moab, each town brings its unique flavor.
Our top tip? Don’t miss out on scenic drives like Cathedral Valley Loop in Fruita, especially if you’re an adventure junkie with a 4WD—these drives offer some of the most breathtaking vistas you’ll ever see.
If you’ve been struggling to plan the perfect Utah getaway, look no further. These towns solve the problem of ‘where to go’ and offer myriad activities that will satisfy any traveler. They are the perfect launchpads for exploring Utah’s National Parks and other natural wonders in national monuments or state parks.
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