13 Must See Photography Locations on Your Next Utah Road Trip!!
Updated: Aug 2
Known for its natural diversity ranging from arid deserts, mountain valleys and thriving pine forests, I've always dreamt of discovering Utah with my camera! In may of 2022, my partner Pete and I set aside the time and planned out a jam packed photo tour.
Below I'm going to dive in to our two week roadmap across Utah, sharing locations and everything photo worthy to note for those individuals seeking adventure on a time crunch. But first a hearty mention to Jennifer at North Campervans. Without our trusty dodge caravan this trip wouldn't have been possible!
Our pick up and registration in Calgary was seamless! Jennifer had thought of everything we could possibly need for two weeks on the road, and before we knew it we were off and ready to live our off-grid dream in the desert. From a two burner stove, propane gas, utensils, a roof top carrier and a comfortable bed, this road trip was luxury and the most affordable way to both adventure and vacation.
Visit the North Campervans website here: https://northcampervans.ca
I'd also love to mention a couple apps that helped us on our journey:
For everything on the road, including showers, laundry facilities, campgrounds and wild camping (BLM) areas, https://www.ioverlander.com is for you! Anytime we travel, we rely heavily on this app and its never let us down!
Due to the off-road nature of this trip, https://www.gaiagps.com was a great addition and recommended by a friend. I'm not sure we would have made it to half the locations we visited without use of this app for coordinates.
First stop, Hanksville! This small town in Wayne Country boasts heavy hitting views! Most of the surrounding land is BLM and individuals are free to disperse and camp throughout. Capitol Reef National Park, only 30 min away, was unfortunately a location we didn't have time to explore properly, but the incredible features outside of the park are well worth the journey.
Fuel up and grab water at Hollow Mountain before hitting the road.
1. Factory Butte
Just 25 minutes from Hanksville, the sheer size and recognizable flat topped peak that is Factory Butte rises up from the ground below! This incredible sight sits in isolation and is the prominent feature of the entire landscape. A mix of sand, rock and incredible intertwined textures stretch out from the base weaving like vines for kilometres in every direction. A literal photographers dream, especially at first and last light! While we never had the conditions we were hoping for, I have seen these otherworldly textures absolutely catch fire in the desert sun.
Dirt roads encircle this pinnacle, providing access to all vantage points. But off-road vehicles really have the advantage here of getting up close and personal. This was our campsite and base for two nights.
2. Moonscape/Skyline View
Only a few minutes from Factory Butte, not far off the beaten path you can find this otherworldly viewpoint and one of my favourite locations of the entire trip. It almost felt extraterrestrial, a literal visual of what landing on the moon might look/feel like.
A popular camp spot, you will often find fellow van dwellers and off-road rigs enjoying this site, but during our first night, we had this place all to ourselves.
We arrived late evening for sunset, walked around and scoped out the beautiful landscape from every direction as shadows cast across the valley floor! We couldn't tear ourselves away. The sky turned from pink to blue, with Factory Butte looming in the distance. If the sky had been clear overnight, this would have been a beautiful spot to capture astrophotography, but we welcomed a full nights sleep under a cloudy sky, waking up with the morning sun.
About 10 minutes outside of Hanksville down Moon Walk Road is the gateway to what I'd assume living on Mars actually looks like. Past the private Mars Research Station is an aerial photographers paradise. The textures, colours and patterns within the bentonite hills will blow your mind.
The road leading in wasn't too technical, and we had no issues with our two wheel drive. We spent one sunset, and one sunrise at this location taking in the landscape from the ground and from above.
4. Rainbow Hills
You won't find this particular spot on the map. In fact, a local photographer was kind enough to share this location with me. But out of respect, I'd like to keep this particular location private.
A helpful hint...not far away from Coral Reef National Park. If you use your imagination, research the area and are open to doing a little exploring, I have no doubt you'll come across this gem of a location.
We visited during mid day, an unusual time to capture photography, but the blue skies in contrast with red and pastel hills was a treat to the eyes and to the camera.
5. Long Dong Silver
Located between Hanksville and Factory Butte, an unassuming dirt road leads you to this mind boggling landscape. It feels as though you've been transported to middle earth. Although the trail to this spectacle is meandering and short, I would recommend getting an early or late start to avoid the mid-day heat.
My only regret is that we weren't able to make it for sunset or sunrise as I can just imagine the soft glow of light catching these two jagged spires as they tower up to the sky. We will definitely visit again in the future and ensure best light is a priority.
Leaving the Hanksville area late afternoon, we decided to head west through Torrey. This charming little town was packed with restaurants and we were pleased to find a little Mexican Diner for dinner. If we had more time, I definitely would have stayed the night, but we continued south finding BLM land to camp out for the night before making our way to the Zebra Slot Canyon early the next day.
6. Zebra Slot Canyon
Location: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Distance: 5.2 miles (out and back)
This short and narrow slot canyon is said to rival Antelope Canyon in Arizona minus the crowds, and is definitely worth the trip. The meandering trail is well marked and easy to follow, but make sure to start your trip early and bring lots of water, as the desert sun is a force to be reckoned with.
Soon after entering the canyon, the walls begin to narrow. For several feet, you'll need to wedge yourself and slide sideways through the canyon before reaching the zebra coloured section.
For photography and overall comfort given the scorching heat, I would recommend getting an early start before the sun is overhead. The painted walls will be washed out, and the richness and depth of colour will be lost. Also be sure to check the weather, as this is a flash flood zone and can be very dangerous.
From Zebra Slot Canyon to our next destination we could have driven 3.5 hours on the dirt service road, but chose the highway adding an extra hour, but also extra comfort to the journey to Lake Powell. We enjoyed the drive thoroughly but sadly passed by Bryce Canyon National Park. A definite bucketlist location for our next trip.
7. Alstrom Point Lake Powell
Located in the Glen Canyon National Park Recreation Area, Lake Powell includes both sides of the Arizona and Utah border. It is somewhat of a challenging viewpoint to get to where a high clearance vehicle is recommended, however we found the dirt road in fair condition until the remaining 2-3 miles where we hiked the remaining road on foot to the viewpoint. I was somewhat disappointed to see the low water levels, but otherwise this incredible landscape did not disappoint!
We camped out for the night where we originally left the vehicle perched on a cliff overlooking the water, which arguably is one of the most scenic locations I've ever van camped at.
From Alstrom Point, we drove 4 hours dipping down into Arizona to Monument Valley. Had we had more time in the area, we would have loved to have checked out the Kanab region, White Pocket and Horseshoe Bend. These are all areas we have saved and mapped for the next trip.
8. Monument Valley
The energy of this place was unmatched and exceeded all my expectations. We actually decided to splurge and spent a night at the View Hotel given this was the halfway mark of our trip. We enjoyed sunset, blue hour and sunrise on the viewing deck overlooking the sandstone buttes and spent the day exploring the Monument Valley Scenic Drive.
With only one night in the area, we spent quite a bit of time chatting with the local Navajo community and look forward to our return and spending more time with local guides off the beaten track.
Definite photography spots to note in this area include John Ford Point, Artist Point, the Forest Gump Road, Camel Butte and the Three Sisters.
From Monument Valley, we had hoped to have time to explore Ship Rock and even as far as White Sands National Park, but again will save these locations for another extended trip.
Three hours later and we landed in Moab, home to some of the most stunning red rock landscapes on earth. We found BLM land to camp for the night with plans of hitting sunrise at Mesa Arch.
9. Canyonlands National Park
With only two nights in the Moab region, visiting Mesa Arch at sunrise was a no brainer. But what I didn't expect was the hoards of photographers also set on this same location.
Arriving at 5:20, nearly 4o minutes before sunrise, a line of tripods already obstructed the archway. With a little patience and careful maneuvering I was able to capture this scene just as the sun rose and to this day is one of my favourite captures from the entire trip.
Not featured, but definitely deserving of a spot within these listed locations is Green River Overlook. After sunrise we parked, made breakfast and enjoyed coffee over this breathtaking landscape, and had we had the time, would have returned for sunset.
10. Arches National Park
There is so much to see in Arches! I could have spent at least three days here, but given we only had a full day and night to explore the region, we focused on two locations. The Double Arch and The Delicate Arch.
We spent a few hours at the Double Arch from golden hour, sunset and through blue hour, before hiking up to the Delicate Arch to watch the Milky Way rise. It was a magical day though and through and a definite highlight from our Utah trip.
11. Malboro Point
This location was not the easiest to find, and we spent more time than I'd like to admit trying to find the right dirt road. But it is not to be missed if you have the time and the effort is well worth the reward. We ventured in as far as we felt comfortable with our two wheel drive and hiked the remaining 3 miles on foot.
This beautiful viewpoint is next to the border of Dead Horse State Park and overlooks the Green River and deep into Canyonlands National Park. We visited for sunset and blue hour, but would love to see these buttes light up for sunrise.
From Canyonlands and Arches National Park we made our way back towards Salt Lake City with a quick stop over at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
12. Bonneville Salt Flats
You can't possibly make a trip to Utah without stopping at this location found west of the Great Salt Lake. Stretching over 30,000 acres, this unique natural feature is located along I-80 near the Utah-Nevada border.
Perfectly flat and salt crusted, the textures were out of this world. There is a magnitude of BLM land available to camp at around this area, but we only visited for sunset.
13. Pink Lake
Just before we started our long journey home to the Rockies, we stopped over at two separate locations to view the pink lake. Found 2 hours drive from Salt Lake City, follow maps to the Promontory Road.
One of the most surreal locations providing the most perfect divide in the Great Salt Laket; one half pink, the other half blue, can be found at the Railway Causeway. Salt patches and cracks created the most incredible patterns and was a drone pilots paradise.
Afterwards we ventured to Spiral Jetty. Another famous viewing spot and apparently the place to swim if you're looking to experience the salt lake to the fullest.
Truth be told the pink lake as a whole was one of the photography spots I was looking forward to the most. The colours, textures and patterns from above are just so amazing and I couldn't get over the pink! I can't wait to return on our next trip and hit both of these locations for sunrise.
I hope this blog inspired some of you to hit the open road with your camera. It goes without saying, that this rugged terrain of the American Southwest should be on everyones bucket list to explore. I feel we only scratched the surface.
If you have any further recommendations please don't hesitate to leave them in the comments. I'm always on hunt for new locations myself!
This blog post was written in partnership with North Campervans