National Parks and Monuments in Utah


Postcard of the Temple of Sinawava in Zion National Park, 1919-1930.

Utah's "Mighty Five" national parks (Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion) were established between 1909-1964 in the red rock desert regions of the state. 
Originally, their twofold mission was to a) protect the scenic beauty of these areas from private development, and b) make the scenic wonders accessible for the public to enjoy through tourism. As new thinking about wilderness and ecological science evolved over the twentieth century, these values were incorporated into the parks' guiding philosophy as well. Today, more than 15 million tourists from all over the world visit Utah's national parks, monuments, and historic sites each year.  
Utah is also home to eleven more National Park Service sites. These places are significant because of their human histories, geology/geography/fossils, and recreation.
  • Six National Monuments - Cedar Breaks, Dinosaur, Hovenweep, Natural Bridges, Rainbow Bridge, Timpanogos Cave
  • Three National Historic Trails - Mormon Pioneer Trail, Pony Express Trail, Old Spanish Trail
  • One National Historic Park - Golden Spike
  • One National Recreation Area - Glen Canyon (Lake Powell)

The images in this collection were created at some of Utah's most popular national parks and monuments between the 1930s and the 1960s.


  • What types of natural landscapes were selected to become national parks in Utah?
  • What Utah landscapes and ecosystems are not represented in the Mighty Five national parks? Why do you think that is?
  • What other types of sites does the National Park Service manage in Utah? How are they similar or different from the five national parks?
  • What do you notice about the ways that tourists experienced the parks? How are they different from today? How are they the same?
  • How many symbols of the American West can you find in the images? Why do you think these symbols were used in the national parks?
  • What other cultural symbols can you find?

What Do You Think?

  • How do you think people got to the national parks?
  • How did the ability to travel determine who could enjoy the parks?
  • What do you see in these photos that surprises you the most?
  • What kind of tourist encounters did the early park managers work to create?
  • How are the ways people played in and used the parks different from today? How are they the same?


Alfred Runte, National Parks: The American Experience, Fourth Edition (University of Nebraska Press, 2010).

Richard West Sellars, Preserving Nature in the National Parks: A History (Yale University Press, 1997).

National Park Service,, and, accessed July 10, 2020.