There are so many great outdoorsy things to do in Utah - and many of them are in the southwest area that can be easily reached after a flight to Las Vegas. Make that glitzy city your gateway to awesome National Parks, fantastical rock formations, star-gazing, mule rides and horse-riding into canyons, and more great things to do in Utah.
Bonus: enjoy free hikes and other programs led by Park Rangers, in the National Parks.
See also: Utah Ski Resorts: Utah claims to have "The Greatest Snow on Earth" and has nine ski resorts within an hour's drive of the Salt Lake City airport.
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Zion is sure to be high on anyone's "must see" list of top things in Utah. Just an hour and a half drive from the Las Vegas airport, Zion is another National Park on the "Grand Circle" of outstanding red rock scenery. Bus shuttles run stargazing on a 90-minute loop; hop off at the Visitors Center to learn about the Park, hop back on to get to popular hiking trails. Biking and horse-riding are other ways to explore Zion. Stay in nearby Springdale, or in Zion Lodge right in the park.
For families: Zion has a Junior Ranger program, and kid-friendly trails. The Park is open late-- visit by moonlight.
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Bryce Canyon National Park
Definitely on any list of top things to do in Utah, and part of the "Grand Circle" of National Parks with stunning scenery: this Canyon is famous for its red rock "hoodoos". Our About.com Guide advises: take "half a day for a hike below the rim, and half a day to drive the park road and enjoy the Bryce Canyon vista points. Stay for sunset and to enjoy night skies if you can."
Family activities at Bryce Canyon include "Just For Kids" ranger-led program; Junior Rangers (a terrific program in National Parks); moonlight hikes and Night Skies at Bryce*. See also What You Need to Know When Visiting Bryce.
See a great Highway 89 driving route, that includes Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, and more.
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04 of 10A memorable experience, a bit out-of-the-ordinary, and an easy thing to do in Utah... Bryce Canyon has one of the best astronomy programs in the National Parks system, with frequent ranger-led stargazing sessions. Cedar Breaks National Monument is another excellent "dark sky" destination in southwest Utah - check for "Star Parties".Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Head to the rustic little Visitors Center and check out the handheld units for a self-guided GPS-activitied video tour. (Rental fees benefit park programs.) Then stroll to the overlook for a vista of "hoodoo" formations in Cedar Break's huge amphitheater. Cedar Breaks has several overlooks; hiking trails; camping; a wildflower festival; and beautiful fall colours. Visit the National Park site for free activities led by Park Rangers (-- free guided hikes, daytime talks, evening programs), "Star Parties", and winter road closures.
06 of 10An out-of-the-ordinary thing to do in Utah... This animal sanctuary is known for being the home of Dogtown as featured on the National Geographic tv channel, but it is also much more: visitors love their experience at this extensive sanctuary,which is set in magnificent red rock scenery in Angel Canyon. Call in advance for free tours. Location is in Kanab, Utah, a 4-hour drive from Las Vegas, and within a 100 miles of three National Parks: Bryce Canyon, Zion, and the Grand Canyon North Rim. Cabins or cottages available nearby. Lots of volunteer opportunities!
07 of 10Family-friendly Ruby's has been the place to stay near Bryce Canyon for a good long while, and is a hub of activities. Now branded as the "Best Western Ruby's Inn", Ruby's has a lodge and newer suites accommodation across the street; RV park and campground, too. Dining choices include a barbeque (--mouth-watering, when we sampled--) plus country-style entertainment. Horse-riding is available, and the ride into Red Canyon is recommended. Other activities include mountain biking, ATV's, scenic flights, and snowshoeing and snowmobiling in winter.
08 of 10Perhaps not your first thought, about things to do in Utah-- but every summer, Cedar City hosts an ambitious Shakespeare Festival in both indoor and outdoor theaters. Kids age seven and up can attend; Shakespeare's comedies are easy for kids to like, with their funny sight gags and cases of mistaken identity. Some cool features about Shakespeare in Cedar City: an hour-long backstage tour (separate ticket); pre-performance Greenshow with entertainment in the courtyard; post-performance seminars the morning after, with actors in costume; child care available across the street so that parents can watch the performance while their wee kids have fun.*Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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Brian Head Ski Resort
One of the top things do to in Utah is ski, on "The Greatest Snow On Earth": there are seven different ski resorts within 40 miles of Salt Lake City. The southwest area of the state has a ski resort, too, near Cedar City: family-friendly Brian Head, 30 miles north of Cedar City, off the I15 which runs from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and further north. This affordable small-scale ski resort (50 runs, 500 acres) sits at 10,000 feet, up a long winding mountain road. Brian Head also has tubing, horse-drawn sleigh rides, spa.
10 of 10Families with older kids, and especially mothers and daughters looking for some bonding time, can head to this resort near St. George Utah and enjoy large suites, healthy food, daily guided hikes in the surrounding red rock scenery, and spa treatments.
* Always check destination web sites for updates.