WHY VISIT UTAH
Phenomenal national parks, world-class skiing, and a thriving brewpub scene that belies the state’s dry reputation: welcome to Utah.
The Beehive State’s national parks are a whirlwind of wind-carved canyons, chequerboard rock faces, fragile rock arches, and vermilion spires. You can climb sculpted sandstone at Capitol Reef or barrel down Class V rapids in Canyonlands’ Cataract Canyon. Weave through Fiery Furnace’s labyrinthine canyons at Arches or snap sunset at Bryce Canyon as an army of hoodoos goes to sleep. Throw any fear of heights to one side and hike the nerve-racking trail to Angels Landing for outstanding views over Zion National Park.
Not enough for you? How about tracking a stegosaurus (or at least its fossil) at Dinosaur National Monument? Or take a drive along Heritage Highway 89 for a dose of classic Americana. Unleash your inner cowboy and saddle up at a dude ranch for some cattle wrangling. Then test your mountain-biking mettle on the legendary Slickrock Trail in Moab.
Utah’s adventures don’t stop when the snow falls. You can test the state’s claim to have ‘the greatest snow on earth’ and launch yourself into vertiginous chutes at a world-renowned line-up of ski resorts in the Wasatch Mountains, or arm yourself with peeps and a shovel and hit the backcountry for untracked powder and rollercoaster tree runs.
Grab a couple of days’ urban action in Salt Lake City. The Church of the Latter Day Saints might spring to mind when you think of Utah’s capital city, and the Salt Lake Temple does dominate the town. But Salt Lake is also home to state-of-the-art museums (check out the super-modern Natural History Museum of Utah or The Leonardo for starters), thriving student and LGBT communities, and packed pubs where you can plot your next escapade.
WHAT TO SEE IN UTAH
- Zion National Park: of the handful of red rock national parks in southern Utah, one can make the case that Zion is the cream of the crop. There are 229 square miles to explore and a superb trail system to access every corner of the park. The way the sheer walls of the canyons rise 2,000 feet from the valley floor is truly surreal. This is nature at its most expressive. The trails here allow for easy hikes like the Riverside Walk and real challenges such as Angels Landing. There is canyoneering, rock climbing, rappelling, and other extreme sports to enjoy or you can just kick back in one of the on-site lodges and soak up the scenery.
- Park City: the most sophisticated ski resort town in Utah is Park City. It’s a cozy little Victorian silver mining hamlet situated at the base of three separate ski areas and overflowing with cool holiday amenities. The dining, nightlife, and cultural arts here is some of the best in the state. Each winter the famed Sundance Film Festival reappears to complement the reliably good skiing. Summers open up the hills to incredible mountain biking, hiking, fishing, kayaking, and other sports. Simply put, Park City is packed with things to do whether you’re an outdoor junkie or not.
- Salt Lake City: Utah’s main city sits between the Wasatch Mountains and the Great Salt Lake, and is the headquarters of the Mormon religion. Far from stodgy, Salt Lake City has a solid cultural arts scene, some interesting museums, and stunning landmarks like the Mormon Church at Temple Square. Recently, the capital has relaxed its Puritan alcohol rules and encouraged the nightlife to evolve. Salt Lake makes a superb base for daily excursions into the Wasatch Mountains and offers many beautiful city parks and recreation areas right in town. The city is also considered one of America’s premier golfing destinations.
- Moab: the small, fairly remote town of Moab serves as the base camp for outdoor recreation in the eastern red rock canyons of Utah. This tourist town itself is quiet and relaxed, with plenty of amenities for visitors. But Moab is really famous for its red rock mountain biking scene and proximity to Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. The options for hiking, camping, climbing, and outdoor recreation in the immediate area is extraordinary. It also sits astride the Colorado River for rafting and fishing excursions and next to the Manta La Sal Wilderness for alpine adventures.
- Canyonlands National Park: the largest national park in Utah is not a place to pop into for an afternoon walk. Canyonlands is a vast maze of sandstone canyons, spires, mesas, and other geological wonders. There are easily accessible portions of the park like the Island in the Sky District which offers scenic drives, vantage points, and short hiking trails. The Needles is an area where people tend to spend a few nights exploring its Salvador Dali spires and ancient Native American remains. The Maze is even more remote, offering a genuine backcountry adventure with virtually no one else on the trail.
- Provo: utah’s second-largest city is best known as the home of Brigham Young University. The university provides much of the city’s cultural and sporting events, along with several nice museums and performing arts venues. Provo is also a good base for trips into the Timpanogos Cave National Monument and the marvelous gardens at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi. The Wasatch Mountains are on the doorstep and Utah Lake State Park is next door for great boating conditions. Just south of Provo is the small town of Springville, Utah’s Art City, as it likes to be known thanks to its excellent art museum and local galleries.
- Lake Powell: covering much of the southeastern corner of Utah is the vast Lake Powell with its deep blue water and countless finger coves that create one of America’s most enjoyable boating destinations. With red rock canyons rising on all sides and more coastline than the entire Pacific coast of America, Lake Powell requires about a week to properly explore. Many people rent houseboats to get around, a perfect way to combine accommodation with transport. Plenty of natural attractions await, such as the sacred Rainbow Bridge National Monument, but only if you have a boat.
WHEN TO GO TO UTAH
The best period to visit Utah is from June to September.
Utah enjoys a distinct four-season climate. In summer the days are hot, with cool nights. In winter, the temperatures are low with snow in the north. The climate varies from north to south and from desert to mountain. Summer days are hot in the desert but temperatures drop dramatically at night.
There is no truly bad time of the year in Utah. Even the cold winters are busy in the Wasatch Mountain ski resorts like Part City and Snowbird. Down in the extreme southwest corner of the state, the winter months are actually quite mild and sunny, with average highs in the mid-50s (°F) around St George. Summers are rather hot in Utah, except in the mountains where the temperatures are just perfect. Most tourists visit Utah during the traditional American summer holidays between late June and mid-August.
The best seasons for a visit to Utah are spring and fall when there are very few tourists in the national parks. As a bonus, this is also when the weather is at its most pleasant. Both seasons enjoy daytime highs in the 70s (°F) and loads of sunshine. These shoulder seasons almost always have reduced hotel rates in popular tourist towns like Moab, Park City, and St George. In Canyon Country, you can also find very good room rates during the winter months when hardly anyone ventures into the national parks due to the chilly weather.
WHAT TO DO IN UTAH
Ski the best snow on earth
Office workers in Salt Lake City often get the day off when the nearby mountains get a fresh dump of powder — that’s how special Utah’s soft white snow is. It’s effectively like skiing on a bowl of confectioner’s sugar with jaw-dropping views of the Wasatch Mountains. The best part about Utah, though, is that resorts like Snowbasin and Alta are less than half an hour from downtown SLC, meaning you don’t need to fight traffic or shell out for a pricey ski town hotel to enjoy it. If you do feel like balling out, you can’t go wrong with a couple of nights in Deer Valley or Park City.
Following is a list of typical festivals and celebrations of Utah.
- Sundance Film Festival: this famous independent film festival has been running for years now, sponsored by the actor Robert Redford and his Sundance Resort. Screenings of new and exciting films are held all over Park City, which serves as the base for this hugely popular festival in January. You’ll need to book your rooms months in advance to have any hope of sleeping in Park City during this great film festival.
- St George Art Festival: the weather in St George in March is simply sublime, so the city holds its annual outdoor art festival to celebrate. With a strong focus on the American West, thousands of visitors and artists flock to this city to show off their work, buy, and sell art and other crafts. It’s a lively week to be in St George, with plenty of side events planned.
- Utah Shakespearean Festival: the small city of Cedar Rapids holds a little-known secret. It’s a haven for thespians, with one of Utah’s most vibrant theater scenes. From June to August the city hosts a series of special plays by both local and visiting professional theater groups. Most of the plays are by Shakespeare, but a handful of original contemporary plays are also performed during the festival period.
- Deer Valley Music Festival: when the snow melts from the ski resort of Deer Valley, people turn their attention to outdoor activities of another kind. This is festival season in the alpine valleys of the Wasatch Mountains, and one of the highlights is the music festival at Deer Valley each July. Many different genres of music are represented, and the outdoor setting could not be prettier.
- Utah State Fair: in September when the weather begins to enter that perfect zone the capital Salt Lake City hosts the annual Utah State Fair. Like all American state fairs, there are fun carnival rides, tasty fair food, a rodeo, and livestock shows. Live concerts and another entertainment round off this hugely popular event that runs for several weeks, starting in mid-September.
- Oktoberfest: the ski resort of Snowbird hosts a number of great festivals during the summer and fall when the ski slopes are closed. Its annual Oktoberfest event is one of the highlights because it’s the only one of its kind in Utah. German food, music, dancing, and of course loads of beer, are featured at the resort to a backdrop of beautiful golden aspens changing color on the slopes. The taps turn on for a week in early October.
HOW TO REACH AND TRAVEL THROUGH UTAH
Utah is one of those states that has virtually no efficient intrastate transport system. Without a car you’ll be very restricted, especially considering that nearly all of Utah’s highlights are located well outside of any town or city. Interstates and rural highways alike are extremely scenic in Utah, a nice bonus when driving between destinations. All of the major car hire chains have offices at the airports and in the major tourist cities. Rent by the week to get better deals on the daily rate.
There are taxis in the largest Utah cities like Salt Lake, and Provo, and in the hot resort towns such as Park City.
Travelers who want to take their time getting to Utah can hop on Amtrak’s California Zephyr line which runs between Emeryville and Chicago. This train stops at Salt Lake City, Provo, Green River, and Helper. The views are outstanding from this train line and the seats are very comfortable. Fares, however, are little different than the cost of a quick flight into Salt Lake City. Within the state, TRAX light rail trains run frequently between Sandy, downtown Salt Lake, and the University of Utah. The commuter train called FrontRunner is another rail option for transport between Ogden and Salt Lake.
The options for long-distance bus travel within Utah aren’t much better than the train. Greyhound operates buses into Utah’s main cities from around the country but doesn’t offer much connection within the state. Fares are certainly cheap but the comfort level of the Greyhound buses leaves something to be desired. The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) operates daily buses between Ogden and Provo, as well as a few other regional destinations.
Main airports are:
GENERAL INFORMATION ON UTAH
health tips & vaccination: none
local currency: US Dollar
local time zone: GMT-7 (-6)
electricity: type A and type B (120V – 60 Hz)
WHAT TO DO IN UTAH
typical food in Utah
- Utah Scones
- Bear Lake Raspberries
- Fernwood Mint Sandwiches
- Utah Tomatoes
- Pastrami Burgers
- Ice Cream Shakes
- Green Jello
- Utah Corn
- Dutch Oven Dinners
- Green River Melons
- Fry Sauce
- Aggie Blue Mint Ice Cream
- Brigham City Peaches
- Utah Honey
- Funeral Potatoes
- Fernwood Mint Sandwiches
- Frog Eye Salad
- Apple Beer
souvenirs from Utah
Unless you are a fan of Mormon crafts and literature, the state of Utah doesn’t offer visitors a great deal of special locally-made products. The shopping scene here is like that of every other state in America. Big shopping malls dominate, while downtown districts contain a decent smattering of independent stores.