Bryce Canyon City aerial view, Utah. Entry point for national park.

These Small Towns in Utah Come Alive in Summer

Utah is a land of extremes, from snowy mountains in the north to red-rock deserts in the south, and temperatures ranging from below 0°F in the winter to as high as 100°F in the summer! Despite the scorching summer temperatures, this state draws masses of summer tourists to many of its normally sparsely populated towns, which is no surprise given it is home to destinations like the “Mighty 5” (Utah’s five world-class National Parks) in the south, an abundance of mountains and lakes in the north, and the state’s fascinating and unique history and culture. Depending on your interests, activity level, and willingness to go off the beaten path, there is a small town in Utah just for you!


Exterior view of The Kanab Heritage Museum, via Kit Leong /
Exterior view of The Kanab Heritage Museum, via Kit Leong /

The desert outpost of Kanab, Utah is centrally located only a couple hours’ drive from the Grand Canyon and multiple world-famous national parks, but you do not need to go that far for otherworldly geological formations and epic hiking destinations. Squeeze through one of the world’s deepest and longest slot canyons at Buckskin Gulch, dip your toes in pink sand at Coral Pink Sand Dunes state park, or try for a coveted hiking permit at The Wave: an ancient wave-shaped sandstone formation.

The beauty of this surreal landscape wasn’t lost on filmmakers either. With over 100 movies and TV shows filmed here, including many classic westerns, the town has become known as “little Hollywood”. Today you can walk among the historic movie sets where John Wayne and Clint Eastwood made their names, and saddle up like an old cowboy for a ride through the canyons. Once you’ve experienced the awe of the landscape and history, experience the “aww” at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. Take a tour of thousands of acres of picturesque wilderness and visit the >1500 rescue animals that live there. You’ll be sure to leave with fuzzy feelings (and maybe a new fuzzy adventure buddy). Plus, with New American cuisine, artisanal baked goods, and vegan wood-fired pizza, this middle-of-nowhere town has mouth-watering options to satisfy everyone after a day in the desert sun.


Mystic Hot Springs in Monroe, Utah
Mystic Hot Springs in Monroe, Utah

The unassuming town of Monroe in central Utah might be overlooked if not for its famous Grateful-dead-inspired hot springs and lodging at Mystic Hot Springs. While this may not seem like the ideal activity during a sweltering summer day, the dry desert temperatures drop steeply in the evening, making a night-time hot spring soak quite enjoyable. First used by the nomadic indigenous tribes, and later by European settlers, Mystic Hot Springs has now become a mecca for hippies and artsy crowds. A soak in the natural red rock pools or vintage cast-iron bathtubs is sure to result in a mystical experience that will live up to the placename. Perhaps the most quirky and unique thing about this place is the lodging. From log pioneer cabins to groovy restored vintage buses, you won’t find a more eclectic and one-of-a-kind stay!


Ticaboo Lodge at the Ticaboo Resort in Utah
Ticaboo Lodge at the Ticaboo Resort in Utah, By David Curtis - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, File:Ticaboo Lodge.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

You have probably never heard of the tiny town of Ticaboo, Utah, but if you are on social media, you have likely seen images of the nearby Lake Powell, a stunning bright blue reservoir tucked within the colorful sandstone of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. This attraction brings in 2 million visitors a year, who swim, boat, fish, and photograph in this remarkable place. The Ticaboo Lodge is a great jumping-off point to explore the recreation area. In addition to comfy beds and American cuisine to fuel your adventures, the lodge provides all the gear and guides for any activity you can think of including paddling, UTVing, and canyoneering.

Garden City

Aerial View of Garden City, Utah on the shore of Bear Lake
Aerial View of Garden City, Utah on the shore of Bear Lake

When you see the turquoise waters that Garden City overlooks, you may wonder whether you boarded the wrong plane and arrived in the Caribbean instead of Utah. In fact, you are looking at Bear Lake, aptly nicknamed “the Caribbean of the Rockies”, a warm freshwater lake that stretches from northern Utah into southern Idaho. This lake is unsurprisingly a tourist hotspot during the summer, with paddleboarding, boating, and water skiing being popular ways to enjoy the beautiful waters. August is a great time to visit and experience the delicious Raspberry Days festival, where you can indulge in the locally famous raspberry shakes, listen to live music, and watch both a street parade and a boat parade!

Bryce Canyon City

Small tourist town with sign for resort hotel near National Park with subway fast food restaurant in Bryce Canyon City, Utah
Small tourist town with sign for resort hotel near National Park with subway fast food restaurant in Bryce Canyon City, Utah

If you want to visit one of the “Mighty 5” parks in summer, Bryce Canyon (accessible from Bryce canyon city) is your best bet to avoid sunburns and heatstroke. The high elevation of this park makes Bryce 10 to 20 degrees cooler than its fellow parks, and it also tends to see fewer crowds than its nearby sister park, Zion, making it a great summer destination! And you will not regret visiting this desert park. The red, pink, and white hoodoos towering overhead, and ancient gnarled bristlecone pines (some 1,000 years old!) against a stark-blue desert sky, look like something out of a Dr. Seuss story. And while the scenery is stunning during the day, this park is also renowned for its night sky, one of the clearest in the United States, where you can see over 7,000 stars with the naked eye!


Street view in Panguitch, Utah
Street view in Panguitch, via UtahDeltaOFF /

A quintessential Western pioneer town, much of Panguitch’s historical charm has been preserved as part of the National Registrar of Historic Places. Soak in the simple pleasures with a walk around the main drag, check out the selection of antiques, souvenirs, and cowboy attire, and fill your belly with traditional Western food. And if that doesn’t meet your small-town charm quota, stick around for the Quilt Walk festival, which includes parades, quiltmaking classes, and a heritage fair! If you are looking for more action, Panguitch is also an ideal base camp for exploring Zion, Capitol Reef, and Bryce National Parks. A trip to Panguitch wouldn’t be complete without a stay at one of the beautiful historic red-brick inns.


Cityscape view of small ski resort town of Alta from Albion Basin, Utah in summer and Little Cottonwood Canyon, via Andriy Blokhin /
Cityscape view of small ski resort town of Alta from Albion Basin, Utah in summer and Little Cottonwood Canyon, via Andriy Blokhin /

A town more well-known for its world-class ski hills than a summer vacation destination, Alta is an oasis of summer wildflowers and waterfalls just outside of Salt Lake City. The ski resort town becomes a playground for mountain bikers of all skill levels, and hiking trails radiate out in all directions up the mountains, into the meadows, and through the canyons. Wildflower enthusiasts will revel in the Wasatch Wildflower Festival which includes guided, sustainable tours and live music! Being a resort town, Alta also has a booming spa industry. Wind down from your outdoor activities with a relaxing massage, facial, or body wrap at the luxurious Alta’s Rustler Lodge.


Whether you are looking for some slot canyons to shimmy through, an almost-Caribbean vacation a little closer to home, or a quirky and memorable stay in a restored 1970s bus, the small towns of Utah will deliver everything you need and more! Why not make a road trip of it and pop into mountain towns, historic main streets, and desert canyons, and experience all of the amazing summer festivals these small-town gems have to offer?   

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