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5 lesser-known Utah playgrounds you need to explore ASAP

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Zion, Arches, Bryce… yawn.

You liked the national parks before they were cool. You don't want a guided tour. You find shuttle buses gauche. Asphalt is the lazy man's trail. And enough of the camera-toting red-rock-arazzi!

You want something different, something wilderness-retro. The kind of thing you'd find on rack 5 at a backwater thrift store — if there were thrift stores for giant natural areas.

Never fear, trendsetter. We've got just the thing: Five out-of-the-way outbacks you can bring back in style.

5. Bonneville Salt Flats


Four out of five race car drivers agree: Ancient arches have nothing on this dried-up inland sea. Nothing can grow here except the world land-speed record.

Sure, not everyone wants to walk out onto 30,000 acres of salty desert dazzle and see the curvature of the earth, but that leaves more room for the artists, daredevils, and sodium-deficient outlaws who call this place home.

Hey, maybe you'll break the sound barrier in your souped-up Pontiac Bonneville. Even if you don't, you'll still check "see desolate wonderland" off your bucket list...and you'll still have a collector's item in that Pontiac (RIP).


4. Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park


Before we get into how amazing these sand dunes are, let's take a minute to debate the actual color of the sand. Plain old orange? Brick? Earwig larvae? Peach? Carrot? It's hard to say. There's no need to debate how fun this place is though. There are plenty of trails and dunes to ATV and OHV your heart out. Find Coral Pink just this side of the Arizona border, and ride hard through winter.

While you’re there, try:

• Sandboarding (yep, it's a real thing)

• Hiking (Peekaboo Canyon)

• More OHV riding at Elephant Butte


3. Great Salt Lake


The Greatest Salt on Earth. The lake will lure you in with its sheer size--the largest body of water between the Great Lakes and the Pacific Ocean. Or if you don't dig superlatives, it will give you substance: Its salinity can reach 27%, making the average ocean relatively sweet and you relatively floaty. As for animals, there are big (700 head of bison on Antelope Island) and small (enough brine shrimp to overtake us if they ever got organized).

So come down from the hills. Come hiking, tubing, snowmobiling or cross-country skiing. Just don't come thirsty.


2. San Rafael Swell


Rave to your annoying neighbor about Canyonlands, help him pack his minivan, then hightail it two hours northwest. You'll have the San Rafael Swell's buttes, pinnacles and mesas all to yourself without the hassle of lesser humans. If you see something cool, go ahead and name it after yourself! No one will even notice. Clamber through the canyons cutting into the massive rock dome (that's the "swell"part) or join the convocation of gremlins at Goblin Valley State Park. Remember: It's gawk-and-awe country, so bring a camera.


1. Little Sahara Recreation Area


If you're going to name yourself after the world's baddest desert, go "Little" or go home. (Cuz ain't nothin' like the Sahara. Respect.) Little Sahara, with 60,000 acres of windswept dunes, plains and plateaus, is devilish in its diminution. Perfect for caravans of motorcycles and RV nomads. There's enough adventure to get you bragging and enough amenities you won't die from it.


Travel Tip: Pack for the weekend, not for the rest of your friggin' life

Yes, the three boxes of prom pictures and letter jackets in your trunk are important, but will you use them this weekend? (If so, that's gonna be one weird trip.)

You need:

  • Sturdy shoes
  • Sandals
  • Sunblock
  • Water
  • Licorice
  • Almonds
  • Warmer coat than you think
  • Probably pack pants, but bringing two t-shirts is borderline prissy
  • Check the emergency kit and pack it last

Note: A used glo-stick and some craft scissors are a kit, but they aren't an emergency kit Pack the car the night before you leave. It'll give you time to remember what you forgot. The Donner Party rushed out the door and look what happened to them.