10 Best Utah Backpacking Trips

Discover the best Utah backpacking trips across the state from easy but scenic one-night trips to multi-day backcountry adventures.

Reflection Canyon in Utah

Although Utah is most famous for its “Mighty Five” National Parks (Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce, and Zion), more than 70% of the state is classified as public land from national monuments to recreation areas to national forests to BLM areas, and the opportunities for outdoor recreation are expansive.

If you’re ready to stretch your legs on some longer multi-day hikes, here are 10 of the best backpacking trips in Utah, ranging from incredibly beautiful overnights to challenging week-long trips.


Best Utah Backpacking Trips – Mapped

1. Coyote Gulch Loop

  • Location: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
  • Trail Type: Loop
  • Distance: 10.6 miles
  • Suggested Time: 2 days, 1 night
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Permit needed? Yes
  • Best Seasons: Spring and fall

If you’re in the market for a relatively short but delectably sweet overnight hike, head to Coyote Gulch, which borders Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

This hike can be done in several variations, up to 22 miles in length, but this 10.6-mile loop hits many of the area’s highlights including two arches, a natural bridge, and numerous waterfalls.

First, stop at the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center in the town of Escalante to pick up your permit, inquire about road conditions and get the latest weather report.

The 10.6-mile loop is accessed by driving the notoriously rutted Hole in the Rock Road to the infamously sandy 40 Mile Ridge Trailhead. Depending on the road conditions, which change from year to year and season to season, you will likely need 4WD, especially for the deep sand on the last two miles to the trailhead. If your vehicle isn’t 4WD, you may be able to start the loop from the Hurricane Wash trailhead, 33.8 miles down Hole in the Rock Road.

Coyote Gulch’s biggest draw is the miracle of water in the desert. You’ll likely get your feet wet on this hike as the route follows and continuously crosses a perennial stream to its confluence with the Escalante River. Beware of flash flood danger in late summer and avoid this hike if thunderstorms are in the forecast.

Red rock dome arch in Utah with two windows open to the sky and stream running underneach
Coyote Gulch

From the 40 Mile Ridge Trailhead, the first mile is a bit of a sandy slog but soon you’ll enter the Crack in the Wall, a tight 18-inch wide fissure that drops you off the edge of the mesa into the canyon.

Plan to bring a rope to lower your backpacks through this section. The best campsites are found between miles 4 and 5 and water is found throughout the canyon seeping from natural springs trickling out of the canyon walls.

To exit the canyon, you’ll need to tackle a short scramble up some ledges just past Jacob Hamblin Arch. Inexperienced hikers may find this section intimidating, but there are often fixed ropes here to help protect the climb but you may want to bring your own.

Planning information

  • Permits: Permits are free, but you must obtain one from the Escalante Visitor Center in the town of Escalante, Utah.
  • Trailhead directions: There are several places you can start your Coyote Gulch hike. This loop starts at the parking area off of Fourty Mile Ridge Road
  • Important notes: The route can be dangerous due to flash floods. Check the weather before heading out and don’t attempt it if rain is in the forecast.

2. Reflection Canyon

  • Location: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
  • Trail Type: Out and Back
  • Distance: 15.2 miles
  • Suggested Time: 2 days, 1 night
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Permit needed? Yes
  • Best Seasons: Spring and fall

This adventurous overnight hike ends at one of the best sunset/sunrise spots in southern Utah, overlooking a uniquely squiggly arm of Lake Powell. This view of bright blue goosenecked bays bordered by towering Navajo sandstone cliffs was made famous by National Geographic and then Apple computers, which used an image of this vantage point in advertisements for the 2012 MacBook Pro.

Landscape view out over winding river through Reflection Canyon in red rock country of Utah
Reflection Canyon

You’ll need a reliable 4WD vehicle to drive the 50 miles of ruts and bumps down the Hole in the Rock Road to the trailhead. From there, you’ll need a strong sense of direction and a lot of water. There are no sources of water on this trek so you’ll need to carry enough for two days of strenuous hiking and a night of camping and cooking.

Before leaving Escalante, be sure to have the route downloaded on your favorite hiking app. Most of the route runs over slickrock and there’s no defined trail. Aim to follow the long line of cliffs on your right (west) as you hike south. If you stray too far east away from the cliffs you’ll end up in a maze of often impassable slot canyons.

About five miles from the trailhead, you’ll turn southeast to head towards the overlook. From here, you’ll be treated to magnificent views from sunset to stars to sunrise.

Planning information

  • Permits: Permits are free, but you must obtain one from the Escalante Visitor Center in the town of Escalante, Utah.
  • Trailhead directions: The parking area is off Hole-in-the-Rock Road
  • Important notes: You must bring enough water for two days and one night of hiking and cooking. There is no water on the route.

3. Lower Hackberry Canyon

  • Location: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
  • Trail Type: Out and Back
  • Distance: 12.4 miles
  • Suggested Time: 2 days, 1 night
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Permit needed? Yes
  • Best Seasons: Spring and fall

Travel back in time to visit a historic cabin and the beautiful Sam Pollack arch on this overnight trek into Lower Hackberry Canyon.

Located at the southern end of the Cockscomb, an imposing and colorful ridge of uplifted sandstone, Lower Hackberry Canyon winds into the heart of the comb, following a beautiful creek that runs most of the year.

About four miles into the hike, you’ll reach Frank Watson’s cabin. Built in 1914 using cottonwood logs harvested on-site, this one-room cabin was restored in 2021 and is an excellent example of a 100-year-old homestead.

Intrepid hikers may also want to seek out an even older abode in the nearby side canyon: a small food storage granary, some grinding stones, and an intriguing humanoid pictograph found nearby in a hidden alcove.

After exploring the cabin and the side canyon, hike another half mile north up Hackberry Canyon to the confluence with Sam Pollock Canyon where you’ll find some great tenting options under the cottonwood trees.

Following Sam Pollock Canyon to the northwest, in another 1.5 miles you’ll reach the spectacular Sam Pollock Arch.

a man stands near the Sam Pollock Arch on the Hackberry Canyon Trail
Sam Pollock Arch | Photo: Mary Caperton Morton

Planning information

  • Permits: Overnight permits are free, but must be obtained at a Grand Staircase-Escalante Visitor Center or at developed trailheads.
  • Trailhead directions: Start your hike from the Lower Hackberry Trailhead near Kanab, Utah.
  • Important notes: The AllTrails map below doesn’t include the 3-mile round trip hike up to Sam Pollock Arch.

4. Paria River to Lee’s Ferry and Buckskin Gulch

  • Location: Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area
  • Trail Type: Point to Point
  • Distance: 40 miles
  • Suggested Time: 4 days, 3 nights
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Permit needed? Yes (and they are competitive)
  • Best Seasons: Spring and fall

Get your fill of world-class slot canyons on this 40-mile route that starts in Utah and ends at the Colorado River in Arizona.

The Paria River is a major tributary of the Colorado, joining the Colorado River at Lee’s Ferry upstream of the Grand Canyon.

Along the way, you’ll spend two whole days in a narrow slot canyon with an optional side trip into Buckskin Gulch, one of the world’s longest continuous slots.

Permits for both the Paria and Buckskin Gulch are extremely competitive with only 20 people a day allowed into the Paria. See permit info below.

The Paria’s stunningly beautiful setting makes this a popular hike but it’s important to know that it is also extremely challenging. For much of the trek, you’ll be repeatedly crossing the creek and often wading in the water as well as dodging ubiquitous quicksand.

Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon

Spring and fall are the most desirable months but freezing water temperatures early and late season can make for miserable conditions.

In the summer, the canyon dries up and turns into a furnace while late summer monsoons can deliver deadly flash floods in these inescapable canyons.

If you manage to snag a permit during a good weather window when the Paria is running but not too high, you’ll be in for some of the most beautiful days of your life.

After leaving from the White House trailhead, the canyon begins narrowing down into its legendary slot, passing between towering red walls of Navajo sandstone.

Just after 7 miles, you’ll pass the confluence with Buckskin Gulch with a few campsites near the junction. A side trip up the narrow corridor of Buckskin Gulch is a must-do. This is one of the most beautiful and harrowing slot canyons on Earth!

Woman stands in Buckskin Gulch slot canyon in Utah
Buckskin Gulch | Photo: Jono Melamed

Back in the Paria, you’ll continue south, following the endless twists, turns, and meanders into the ever-deepening and narrowing slot. Keep your eyes out for springs seeping from the walls. These are your best water sources, as the Paria itself is usually too silty to filter.

After more than 30 miles in the narrows, the canyon widens as it approaches its mouth at the Colorado River. Here you’ll find Lee’s Ferry, a historic crossing of the Colorado that now serves as the put-in for rafting trips into the Grand Canyon.

Planning information

  • Permits: Permits for Paria Canyon are very competitive. They become available on the first of the month 3 months ahead of the month you want to hike (for example, May dates are available on February 1st). You can apply for Paria Canyon permits at Recreation.gov.
  • Trailhead directions: There are multiple trailheads available for Paria Canyon. For the route above, start your hike from the White House Trailhead near Kanab, Utah.
  • Important notes: Since this is a point-to-point hike you will either need to set up your own car shuttle or arrange one. There are several outfitters that you can book with.

5. The Boulder Mail Trail

  • Location: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
  • Trail Type: Point to Point
  • Distance: 15 miles
  • Suggested Time: 3 days, 2 nights
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Permit needed? Yes
  • Best Seasons: Spring and fall

Until the 1930s, the remote town of Boulder, Utah received its mail by mule, transported via the Boulder Mail Trail. Running in a fairly straight line between Escalante and Boulder, the Mail Trail crosses three major canyons and a lot of slickrock.

With precipitous drop-offs and deep water sections, the route is not for the faint of heart and it’s a wonder that the postal mules regularly traversed it with few mishaps.

The Mail Trail can be hiked in either direction but since the Boulder trailhead is almost 1,000 feet higher in elevation than the Escalante trailhead, most people hike from east to west for a net downhill hike, ending in Escalante.

Most of the route is well-cairned but you’ll want to be familiar with navigating on slickrock and have the route downloaded on your favorite hiking app before you begin.

Silhouette of hiker standing on overlook with views out onto Utah slickrock landscape
Photo: Mary Caperton Morton

The three major canyons, from east to west, are Sand Creek, Death Hollow, and Mamie Creek, each with its own character.

Water is usually found in both Sand Creek and Death Hollow and less reliably in Mamie. Death Hollow is the deepest and arguably loveliest of the three canyons, requiring an 800-foot descent down through Navajo sandstone benches into the canyon.

In Death Hollow, you’ll likely get your feet wet as you follow the creek for about a mile. Avoid the brushy banks as they’re often rife with poison ivy. Also, flash floods are a real danger here so be sure to check the weather before you commit to this hike.

The slickrock climb out of Death Hollow is marked by cairns and is easy to miss. The other route continues downstream to where Death Hollow meets the Escalante River.

You’ll also cross a fourth, unnamed canyon before reaching the Escalante trailhead. In total you’ll gain and lose around 2,500 feet of elevation throughout the 15-mile trek, going from Boulder to Escalante.

Planning information

  • Permits: Free permits for overnight Boulder Mail hikes are available at any Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument visitor center.
  • Trailhead directions: Start your hike from the Boulder Mail Trailhead near Boulder, Utah.
  • Important notes: Since this is a point-to-point hike you will either need to set up your own car shuttle or arrange one. There are several outfitters that can help you out.

6. Bullet Canyon to Grand Gulch

  • Location: Bears Ears National Monument
  • Trail Type: Point to Point
  • Distance: 20 miles
  • Suggested Time: 3 days, 2 nights
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Permit needed? Yes (and they are competitive)
  • Best Seasons: Spring and fall

More than 1,000 years ago, this complex of deep serpentine canyons in what is now Bears Ears National Monument was a neighborhood inhabited by hundreds of people.

Many generations of families made a living here by growing food and hunting wild game and living in multi-roomed dwellings, often situated under overhanging cliffs. They also created art by painting and etching the walls of the canyon.

But as the climate became warmer and dryer, resources became scarcer and people began building defensive dwellings and food storage structures high on cliff ledges, reachable by only seemingly superhuman feats of athleticism and bravery. Around 700 years ago, people left the canyon, moving into larger Pueblo communities to the south and east.

Thousands of ancient dwellings are found throughout the Bears Ears region but Grand Gulch is famous for the density and preservation of sites. Today, Grand Gulch is preserved as an outdoor museum, with many artifacts and relics left in place.

Open air kiva from Native American sight in Bears Ears National Monument in Utah
The Grand Gulch area of Bears Ears National Park is preserved as an outdoor museum with many sites like this kiva | Photo: Mary Caperton Morton

All visitors to this fragile and sacred place must follow all Leave No Trace principles, as well as additional guidelines for visiting archaeological sites, including:

  • Leaving everything where you find it
  • Not eating in or near sites (food attracts rodents)
  • Not entering structures
  • Not climbing or leaning on walls
  • Not touching or breathing on rock art

Permits for this trip, which follows Bullet Canyon to Grand Gulch to Kane Gulch, are competitive and all hikers, including day hikers, need to check in at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station before exploring the area.

Water remains scarce in these canyons so be sure to check with the rangers that springs are flowing or you may need to carry water for your entire trip.

Planning information

7. Under the Rim Trail plus Rigg’s Spring Loop

  • Location: Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Trail Type: Point to Point
  • Distance: 31.8 miles
  • Suggested Time: 3 days, 2 nights
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Permit needed? Yes
  • Best Seasons: Late spring, summer, and fall

Bryce Canyon is one of the country’s smallest national parks, only covering 55 square miles of land. But what the pocket-sized park lacks in size it makes up for in scenery. It boasts an incredibly colorful hoodoo spire-studded amphitheater that has been scooped out of the high-elevation Paunsaugunt Plateau.

Bryce is famous for its awe-inspiring overlooks but backpackers can get to know the park’s hoodoos, windows, and slot canyons on a more intimate level on the Under the Rim Trail.

Landscape views over Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah with red rock and hoodoo features
See the hoodoos and impressive Bryce Canyon landscape up close on the Under the Rim backpacking trip | Photo: Mary Caperton Morton

This 23-mile trail begins at Rainbow Point in the south and runs north to Bryce Point, skirting the forested base of the plateau’s eastern edge. For bonus miles, add on the 8.8-mile long Rigg’s Spring Loop at the start of your trek.

Park shuttles connect all of the overlooks, including Rainbow Point and Bryce Point, making for easy logistics at the start and end of your hike.

Bryce Canyon reaches elevations over 8,000 feet, keeping this park much cooler in the summer months than the rest of Utah’s red rock country, which is often too hot for summer exploration. But even with cooler temperatures, water is still scarce in the amphitheater. Always check with park rangers about water availability before beginning your trek.

Some hikers elect to leave a water cache at the junction of the Under the Rim trail and the Swamp Creek connector trail. Bottles must be labeled with the hiker’s name and permit dates and must be packed out at the end of your hike.

Planning information

  • Permits: Permits for backcountry camping in Bryce Canyon National Park can be obtained online through Recreation.gov. Permits are available up to three months in advance. Permits may also be available on a walk-in basis at the Visitors Center.
  • Trailhead directions: Start at Under the Rim Trailhead.
  • Important notes: The map below only shows the 23-mile Under the Rim Trail. You also have the option of adding on the 8.8-mile Rigg’s Spring Loop at the start. For transportation, use the Park shuttle to get to/from the trailheads.

8. West Rim Trail

  • Location: Zion National Park
  • Trail Type: Point to Point
  • Distance: 14.1 miles
  • Suggested Time: 2 days, 1 night
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Permit needed? Yes (permits are competitive)
  • Best Seasons: Spring and fall

Take the scenic footpath route into Zion via the West Rim trail. This 14-mile route starts at Lava Point in the Kolob Canyons unit of Zion, northwest of the main part of the park.

Lava Point sits at nearly 8,000 feet of elevation, while Zion Canyon dips down to 4,000 feet, making this a net downhill hike.

For the first 6.5 miles, you’ll be treated to sweeping views of Wildcat Canyon and the West Rim of Zion before beginning your descent at Cabin Spring into Zion Canyon where you’ll end at the Grotto Picnic Area.

With a little planning and a lot of luck, you could also apply for a permit to hike Angel’s Landing, which you’ll pass on your way down into Zion. A new lottery system was implemented in 2023 to limit the number of hikers on the notoriously narrow route, but it’s worth trying for a permit since it’s a spectacular hike (if you don’t mind heights!)

The West Rim’s higher elevation makes this route possible during the hotter summer months, but you should be prepared to spend part of the day in the shade and hike in the cooler morning and evening hours.

There are nine designated campsites along this route and water is usually available from several springs and natural sources along the way but be sure to check availability before you start your hike.

Backpacker hiking on rock ledge in high country of Zion National Park
Enjoy incredible views as you descend down into Zion National Park on the West Rim Trail | Photo: Mary Caperton Morton

Planning information

  • Permits: Half of the available permits for the West Rim Trail can be obtained online through the Zion Wilderness Reservation website. Note that you need to reserve a campsite for each night of your trip. The other half of the campsites are available on a walk-in basis at the Zion National Park Visitor’s Center.
  • Trailhead directions: The West Rim Trailhead is located near Lava Point in the northern section of Zion National Park.
  • Important notes: There are several private shuttle operators that provide transportation to the West Rim Trailhead. The Zion National Park shuttle does not provide service to this trailhead.

9. Mount Timpanogos

  • Location: Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest
  • Trail Type: Out and Back
  • Distance: 14.3 miles
  • Suggested Time: 2 days, 1 night
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Permit needed? No
  • Best Seasons: Summer and early fall

Towering over the greater Salt Lake City metropolitan area, Mount Timpanogos, affectionately known as “Timp”, is the second-highest peak in the Wasatch Range, reaching 11,753 feet in elevation.

The 14.3-mile round trip hike to the summit gains over 4,400 feet of elevation and for many people, is best broken up into an overnight hike.

The trek begins at the Timpooneke trailhead, next to the Timpooneke campground, and follows the South Fork River past Scout Falls up into Timpanogos Basin. Most people elect to camp here, near Emerald Lake, and tackle the final climb up to the saddle and scramble along the windy ridge to the summit.

On top, you’ll be rewarded with unparalleled views of the Great Salt Lake Valley, Utah Lake and Provo Canyon. Mountain goats are often spotted on the surrounding cliffs and ridges.

Beware of lightning danger in the summer, though. It’s best to be off the summit by early afternoon to avoid thunderstorms.

This hike can also be done from the Aspen Grove Trailhead, which has a similar mileage and slightly more elevation gain, meeting the Timpooneke route near Emerald Lake.

Woman sitting on summit of Mount Timpanogos in Utah with beautiful mountain ridge vista behind her
Enjoy incredible vistas on the summit of Mount Timpanogos, the second highest peak in Utah’s Wasatch Range

Planning information

  • Permits: No permit is needed to hike Mount Timpanogos
  • Trailhead directions: Start at the Mount Timpanogos North Trailhead. Alternatively, you can start at Aspen Grove Trailhead and even make it a loop backpacking trip.
  • Important notes: Mount Timpanogos is known for late afternoon thunderstorms. Aim to be off the mountain by early afternoon.

10. Uinta Highline Trail

  • Location: Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest
  • Trail Type: High Uintas Wilderness
  • Distance: 104 miles
  • Suggested Time: 9 days, 8 nights
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Permit needed? No
  • Best Seasons: Summer

Utah’s most famous long-distance hike follows the crest of the Uinta Mountains, an east-to-west running mountain range in the northeast corner of the state. Along the way, you’ll tag King’s Peak, the highest point in Utah at 13,528 feet and known for being one of the most remote high points in the state.

Landscape photo of King's Peak and Uintas Mountain Range in Utah
The Highline Trail passes under the shadow of King’s Peak, the highest point in Utah at 13,528 feet. Hikers have the option to add 1.2 miles to the summit

The Highline Trai can be hiked in either direction, but most thru-hikers elect to go from east to west, starting at McKee Draw and ending at Hayden Pass near Mirror Lake.

The trail crosses eight named mountain passes, all over 11,200 feet of elevation, altogether gaining and losing over 16,000 feet of elevation.

Water abounds on this route and can be found in many small creeks and alpine lake basins and meadows. In between the passes, you’ll dip back into aspen groves and pine forests, which can give some cover during the afternoon thunderstorms that often roll across the mountains in late summer.

The hiking season can be short in the Uintas, especially in deep snow years when the passes may remain snow-covered until late July or August.

Planning information

  • Permits: No permit is needed to backpack the Highline Trail
  • Trailhead directions: If starting in the east (the most popular direction), start at McKee Draw Trailhead. The western trailhead is on Hayden Pass.
  • Important notes: If you plan on doing the full Highline Trail, you’ll need to have a resupply plan as the route does not pass through any towns.

READ NEXT

Utah is home to unlimited outdoor adventures. Here are a few more Utah blog posts to help you plan an epic trip to this incredible state:

Have you done any backpacking trips in Utah? What are your favorite trails and routes? Which of these are on your bucket list? Let us know in the comments!

Bearfoot Theory | Looking for an adventure in Utah? Look no further than these top backpacking trips! From the red rock canyons of Zion National Park to the remote wilderness of the Uinta Mountains, Utah offers some of the most stunning and diverse landscapes in the country. Whether you're a seasoned backpacker or a beginner, this blog post will guide you through the best backpacking trips in Utah, with tips on planning your trip, what to pack, and what to expect on the trail.

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