Utah is a state full of natural beauty and incredible activity, from the ski slopes and archaeological digs to the film festivals of Salt Lake City. There's plenty here to attract your adventurous student group so here are six reasons to visit Utah!
Dinosaurs - According to National Geographic and other sources, Utah is the ultimate dinosaur state. New archaeological digs have uncovered an unprecedented number of prehistoric dinosaur bones and better yet, you can visit them. Dinosaur National Monument has one of the highest concentrations of Jurassic dinosaur bones in the world though you won't want to miss out on the sites at Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, Moab Giants Dinosaur Park, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. See the dig sites in person and also stop by the Natural History Museum of Utah displaying the latest fossil finds.
National & State Parks - Nature and wildlife are very dear to the heart of Utah and they've gone to great lengths to preserve the natural wildernesses and wildlife habitats for native animals. The national and state parks of Utah cover much of this protected land from the highest snow-capped peak to the deepest slot canyons and caverns. Outdoor recreation, whether it's something as passive as photography or as active as rock climbing, Utah is the place to be. Explore the heights and depths of beautiful Zion National Park or view herds of mule deer at Bryce Canyon National Park, bison grazing at Antelope Island State Park, or bighorn sheep in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. Whitewater raft on the rivers, boat or swim on the lakes, ski down the best snow in the country, or simply picnic and experience the awe of the wild.
Winter Sports - Maybe you've heard but skiing in Utah is kind of a big thing. Utah natives pride themselves on maintaining the top ski resorts in the country with the number one ranked destinations for snow, the best lifts, easy access, and the best lodges for service, dining, lodging, and grooming. Three of North America's top 10 ski resorts reside in Utah, including the number two position, Snowbird, followed by Alta in third and Solitude in tenth. Salt Lake is also TripAdvisor's number one choice for "American Bargain for Skiing." Just so you know how serious Utah is about skiing, let me tell you that there are 14 ski resorts in the state, 11 of which are located less than an hour from the Salt Lake City Airport.
History - There's so much history running through the veins of Utah that it's difficult to reduce it to a single paragraph. Before we had the history of the Mormon immigrants we had the Old West, and well before that there were the Native Americans who called this uncharted territory home. There are ancient dwelling sites and rock art, many of which are located in Hovenweep National Monument and Edge of the Cedars State Park, though there are more Native American heritage sites spread throughout the state. There are also many annual events that commemorate various aspects of the Native American culture in Utah.
I did say it was too much history for one paragraph, didn't I? Let's fast forward a little bit through time and visit the Old West when pilgrimages were being made across the untamed frontier. We have an idea, from cowboy films, about what the Old West was, complete with gunslingers and outlaws, hardened ranchers, and tough as tacks Marshals. Part of it, at least, was true. You can visit evidence of these difficult yet exciting times at ghost towns like Silver Reef and Grafton near the incomparable Zion National Park. Both ghost towns have different histories as to why they went dark but they're interesting all the same.
Faith - Faith is something that drives the entire state of Utah, and has for centuries. According to sources, Salt Lake City is tied with Israel as the "most attractive" faith-based travel destination. Whether or not this is explicitly true, you can't deny that faith plays a huge role in the state's infrastructure and history. It all goes back to 1847 when Brigham Young brought a group of migrating Mormons to the Salt Lake Valley. From then on, the city grew and prospered, Temple Square was built, and it became the mother church for all LDS members. Though the temple itself is closed to all but members of the LDS church, visitors to Temple Square can explore almost 35 museums, galleries, and landmarks surrounding. Listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform and practice, visit the Family History Library (the largest of its kind), and discover Brigham Young and Joseph Smith's histories at the museums.
Astro-Tourism - The thing with stars is that they're incredibly difficult to see when you have light pollution clouding the atmosphere. This simply means that any light whatsoever, even a single lightbulb, produces light pollution enough to cloud our view of the galaxy. Dark Sky Parks dot the state of Utah, bringing thousands of visitors in to view the Milky Way like never before. These certified parks have the lowest amount of light pollution in the state and are world-renowned for their viewing opportunities. Canyonlands National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument, and Hovenweep National Monument in Southeast Utah are incredible destinations though you also have options in Southern Utah at Capitol Reef National Park and in the North with North Fork Park in Ogden Valley. These are all Dark Sky Park Certified though there are also a few "Sanctuaries of Natural Darkness" where you can explore the night sky to your heart's content.