Canyon Captures – My Favorite Photos of the Colorado Plateau National Parks

Nowhere else in the world will you find landscapes quite like those that characterize southern Utah, northern Arizona and southwestern Colorado.

Here, in the middle of the Colorado Plateau—and incidentally also at the top of the plateau—scattered woods alternate with high desert scenery. This region’s huge density of canyons and red rock formations sets it apart from all other places in the world.

Desert Landscapes Created by Water

Even though this is unquestionably a desert environment, it’s water that shapes it. It has been doing this for millions of years and continues to do so today. This is exactly what makes the Colorado Plateau a special place.

From the highest points of the Colorado Plateau, rainwater seeps into the soil or runs off across the surface, cutting its way to lower elevations. Almost all (90%) of this water is drained by the mighty Colorado River and its tributaries—the San Juan, Little Colorado and Green Rivers. A result of this age-old process is the region’s truly impressive number of rock formations. From rock domes, hoodoos and fins to natural bridges, arches and slot canyons, you find it all here. It’s truly a photographer’s dream destination.

An Abundance of National Parks

Luckily, the presence of such a wealth of natural beauty isn’t ignored by governing bodies. The Colorado Plateau is home to the second-largest number of National Park Service sites in the U.S. (Only the Washington, D.C. area has more sites.)

There are no fewer than nine national parks, sixteen national monuments and one national historical park. Four of these 26 sites are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Note that this huge number of visit-worthy sites doesn’t even include Monument Valley, arguably the most iconic place in this entire region. I know, amazing, right?!

Of the nine Colorado Plateau national parks, I visited eight during our road trip earlier this spring:

The only one I didn’t visit was Black Canyon of the Gunnison and that was mainly due to the adverse weather conditions at the time (read: impossible to camp because of snowfall). I’ll be back, though, to check that one off my list as well.

My Favorite Colorado Plateau National Parks Photos

As you know, I don’t go anywhere without my camera. Of course, it would’ve been ridiculous to not take my camera with me on my visits to these world-class Colorado Plateau national parks. Here are my favorite photos of the Colorado Plateau national parks. I’m honestly super-excited about sharing these because I just know you’ll like them.

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Established: 1962
Area: 341 square miles (884 km²)
Annual visitors: 800,000
What to see: Painted Desert, Blue Mesa, Puerco Pueblo, Painted Desert Inn, Agate House, petrified logs
What to do: Hiking, wilderness camping, cultural exploration
Fun fact: Petrified Forest National Park is the only national park home to a section of Historic Route 66.

The Blue Mesa, Petrified Forest National Park

View of the Blue Mesa, Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park road

Petrified wood in Petrified Forest National Park

Blue Mesa, Petrified Forest National Park

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Established: 1919
Area: 1,902 square miles (4,926 km²)
Annual visitors:
What to see: Yavapai Geology Museum, Rim Trail and Bright Angel Trail, Desert View Tower, and Mather, Hopi, Mohave and Lipan Points 
What to do: Hiking, scenic flights, sunrise and sunset watching, rafting
Fun fact: Grand Canyon’s landscape is so extreme that, as you go down, you pass seven of the nine life zones on earth. It’s said it’s like walking from southern Canada to northern Mexico. Because of its sheer magnitude and magnificence, Grand Canyon National Park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Yuccas in Grand Canyon National Park

Couple holding hands, Grand Canyon National Park

Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon National Park

Hiker at Plateau Point, Grand Canyon National Park

Lipan Point, Grand Canyon National Park

Zion National Park, Utah

Established: 1919
Area: 229 square miles (593 km²)
Annual visitors:
What to see: Emerald Pools, Court of the Patriarchs, Weeping Rock, Angels Landing, Observation Point, Virgin River, The Narrows
What to do: Hiking, camping, bird watching, cycling, rock climbing
Fun fact: When the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel was completed in 1930, its length of 1.1 miles (1.8 km) made it the longest non-urban tunnel in the United States.

Angel's Landing Trail, Zion National Park

Checkerboard Mesa, Zion National Park

Zion Canyon in Zion National Park, Utah

Echo Canyon, Zion National Park

Virgin River and the Watchman, Zion National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Established: 1928
Area: 56 square miles (145 km²)
Annual visitors:
What to see:  Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive, Wall Street, Thor’s Hammer, Silent City, and Sunset, Sunrise and Inspiration Points
What to do:
Horseback riding, hiking in Bryce Amphitheater, sunrise watching, stargazing
Fun fact: The world’s largest concentration of hoodoos, tall rock spires protruding from the bottom of desert basins and canyons, is found in Bryce Canyon.

Bryce Amphitheater in Bryce Canyon National Park

Hiker in Bryce Canyon National Park

Peek-a-Boo Loop Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park

Rock window in Bryce Canyon

Thor's Hammer in Bryce Canyon National Park

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Established: 1971
Area: 378 square miles (979 km²)
Annual visitors:
What to see: Orchards in Fruita, Chimney Rock, Cathedral Valley, Grand Wash, Hickman Bridge, Capitol Dome, Golden Throne, petroglyphs
What to do: Hiking, 4-wheel driving, fruit picking, learning about Native American culture
Fun fact: The park’s unusual name comes from the different rock formations in the area, specifically a red rock ridge that looks like a petrified reef and a white rock dome resembling the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Chimney Rock in Capitol Reef National Park

Barn in Fruita, Capitol Reef National Park

Desert landscape in Capitol Reef National Park

Grand Wash Trail in Capitol Reef National Park

Cohab Canyon Trail overlook, Capitol Reef National Park

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Established: 1964
Area: 527 square miles (1,365 km²)
Annual visitors:
What to see: Mesa Arch, Grand View Point, Horseshoe Canyon
What to do: Mountain biking, hiking, (4-wheel) driving, stargazing
Fun fact: The Green and Colorado Rivers cut through Canyonlands National Park, chiseling away massive canyons and dividing the park into four distinct districts: the Island in the Sky, Needles, Maze and Rivers districts.

Green River Overlook, Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park

Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park

Grand View, Cayonlands National Park

Gooseberry Trail in Canyonlands National Park

Shafer Trail, Canyonlands National Park

Arches National Park, Utah

Established: 1971
Area: 120 square miles (310 km²)
Annual visitors:
What to see: Delicate Arch, Landscape Arch, Double Arch, The Windows, Balanced Rock, Park Avenue, Courthouse Towers, Fiery Furnace
What to do: Hiking, stargazing, photography, sunset watching
Fun fact: Arches National Park boasts the highest density of natural rock arches in the world. There are more than 2,000 of them, ranging in length from three to almost three hundred feet.

View from Double Arch, Arches National Park

Private Arch, Arches National Park

Garden of Eden, Arches National Park

Double Arch, Arches National Park

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Established: 1906
Area: 82 square miles (212 km²)
Annual visitors:
What to see: Cliff Palace, Spruce Tree House, Balcony House, Long House, Cliff Canyon
What to do: Touring the cliff dwellings, hiking, immersing yourself in Native American culture and history
Fun fact: With more than 5,000 known archaeological sites, including no fewer than 600 cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde National Park is the largest archaeological preserve in the United States. Because of this immense cultural value, it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Cliff dwelling in Cliff Canyon in Mesa Verde National Park

Balcony House in Mesa Verde National Park

Spruce Canyon Trail, Mesa Verde National Park

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park

Cliff Palace view, Mesa Verde National Park

As always, if you did enjoy these Colorado Plateau national parks photos, please share this blog post with your friends and family—Facebook, Twitter, email, everything works. Thanks a million!

Have You Ever Visited Any of the Colorado Plateau National Parks? Which Ones? Share Your Story in the Comments Below!

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