Nothing Quite Like Off-Roading Utah

Categories: Jeep® Life 

By: Drew Simms

With five national parks, three national monuments and over 22 million acres of public land, Utah has quickly become one of my favorite states in the U.S. Over the last year, I have been lucky enough to spend time here throughout fall, winter and spring. My favorite of the three being late fall/early winter. Most of the parks have emptied out following peak season and the weather gets into that perfect range of 50s-60s during the days and 20s-30s at night. If you’ve never had a chance to experience the southwest, I highly recommend spending some time getting lost in the massive landscapes, and if you enjoy off-roading in the slightest, you’re going to love Utah.  

jeep vehicle off-roading
Always drive within your ability and experience level and consistent with conditions. Always off road responsibly in appropriate areas. 

Prior to living on the road, I had been to Utah twice. First time was a solo trip to Zion and Bryce Nationals Parks, and the second was an all-out road trip across the entire state, hitting the most popular spots and not venturing too far off paved roads with the rental car. As soon as I decided that I was going to be living out of my Jeep® Wrangler and heading west, I immediately got excited to get back to Utah, this time with a very 4WD-capable vehicle. I’d done all of the major national parks and wanted to find something a little more off the map. This led me to the Bonneville Salt Flats and Factory Butte, both on BLM, and both great places to get off the paved roads. For those of you that don’t know what BLM is, it’s public land owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Visiting BLM areas is always a great way to get away from crowds, because most people who visit Utah go to state or national parks where they have showers, fire pits and other amenities.

Bonneville Salt Flats

man laying on salt flat and jeep vehicle driving on salt flat
Soaking up the salt

I first made it out to the Salt Flats in September, when they are the most dry and safest to drive on. At first glance, it looks like a normal desert, similar to the floor of Death Valley, then your eyes trick you into believing it is covered in snow, until, upon closer inspection, you realize it is all dried salt. Bright white and crumbling salts veins under my bare feet, I spent the afternoon photographing my Jeep® Wrangler, driving up and down the flats, feeling like a kid with complete freedom on the endless desert floor. Though this would be a great spot to have a sports car or a motorcycle, my Jeep® Wrangler was great for ripping around the flats. But the real show is when the sun dips below the mountains on the outer edge of the flats, the sky lights up with some of the purest pastel colors I’ve ever seen; and the whole time, the white salt is absorbing and reflecting the fading sky. My biggest piece of advice when visiting the salt flats is to check the current conditions! Half the year, the flats are wet, and you won’t be able to drive on them. Although you can still walk out on the flats when they are wet, and these conditions can lead to pretty amazing views with the reflection on the water, you won’t be able to drive out.

jeep vehicle driving on salt flat

Factory Butte

view of factory butte

If you ever want to feel like you’re on another planet, pay a quick visit to Factory Butte in central Utah. Hands down one of the wildest landscapes I have seen over the last year. And, best part about it, you’re allowed to off-road. The area Factory Butte is located in is known as the Caineville Badlands and it’s a spot that takes your breath away with the pure scale of how massive the landscapes are. Dried-up clay, dirt and sand cut into giant plateaus that surround the area, making it look like an oversized mine and making me and my Jeep® Wrangler feel like a toy in a giant sandbox. It’s also home to one of my favorite camp spots, overlooking a thousand-foot drop-off with a view of layered buttes and endless desert below. Sunset with a view of Factory Butte and sunrise overlooking the desert floor is a must.

man hiking factory butte
man camping on factory butte

Always drive within your ability and experience level and consistent with conditions. Always off-road responsibly in appropriate areas.

view of factory butte

Capital Reef

view of capital reef

Right next to Factory Butte is another great off-roading spot, Capital Reef. I only spent two nights in the national park, but still was blown away by the free-standing pillars scattered throughout the park. My first night, I drove in late after a sunset near Factory Butte. As I made my way in, I started seeing these massive rock formations began to light up from the crescent moon. I hopped out of the Wrangler and spent the next few hours shooting the stars and lighting up the sandstone rock with my headlamp. Shooting at night is one of my favorite things to do. Experiencing places after everything quiets down, crowds fade away and it’s just you, alone under the stars, letting the moon cast light and shadows across the golden walls of Capital Reef. It’s also a great way to see national parks when visiting during peak season. Another great way to avoid crowds is to go during the off-season. For the most part, I almost always plan on visiting a certain spot specifically when the off season is. You definitely get fewer crowds, but you also have to sacrifice good weather for some more unpredictable conditions. I enjoy myself much more with a little solitude.

jeep vehicle off-roading

Zion

man hiking angels landing

Along with the salt flats and the Factory Butte area, Zion National Park is one of my favorite places to visit. I’ve been to Zion during all four seasons and endured every type of weather you could imagine. Zion is home to some of the most beautiful multicolored rock walls of anywhere I’ve been and also one of my favorite hikes in the U.S., Angels Landing. I’ve hiked Angels Landing in pretty much every weather condition. For sunrise, sunset, moonrise and most recently in a fresh foot and a half of snow. Back in January, I was in Salt Lake and saw that Zion was getting hit with a big snow storm. I grabbed some quick supplies and drove through a pretty brutal snow storm that night to make it to the trailhead for a sunrise hike. I’d done Angels Landing four times before, but this was the most beautiful I’d ever seen it. Snow so deep that I had to dig the chains on the trail out from underneath.

view of zion

I spent my morning sipping coffee on the ridge below the final climb to the top and enjoyed one of the most popular hikes in the U.S. all to myself. And finally, what better way to end a few days of winter camping than a quick jump into a hot spring.

man swimming and floating in a hot spring

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