Best known for its epic red rocks, narrow slot canyons, and stunning slopes, Utah’s landscape is a diverse wonderland. Nearly two-thirds of the state is public land, which means that visitors are granted unlimited access to amazing views and unforgettable adventures.
Much of Utah is rural, so if you’re looking for a party, you’ll need to head to Salt Lake City. Significant to Mormons who worship in the city’s mega Temple, the city has recently attracted those who are less tied to a religion.
Laidback lifestyles have turned Salt Lake City into the epicenter for the state’s nightlife. Just outside of Salt Lake, the party continues in Park City. Once the site of the Winter Olympics and the annual host of the Sundance Film Festival, Park City has become a major tourist destination. Whether you’re eager to explore the urban culture or desperate to head into the wild, Utah has a little something for everyone.
So, strap on your shoes and grab a map — Utah’s superb landscape awaits.
History of “The Beehive State”
Similar to many states in the US, Utah was first inhabited by Native Americans about 12,000 years ago. These people lived in the Great Basin and survived off of the land. After a few centuries, a change in location drastically affected people’s lifestyles. Migrating towards the Great Salt Lake, the native people learned to live within the harsh desert.
Desert Archaic-dwelling people eventually developed their own culture and became known as the Ancestral Pueblo. Famous for inhabiting the Four Corners area, the people are famous for their fine crafts. Much of the time, the Ancestral Puebloan lived uncontacted until Shoshone, Ute, and Navajo tribes began to move into the territory.
Spanish explorers drifted towards Utah after leaving Santa Fe, New Mexico in the 1500s. By the 1800s, mountain men flocked to the state, which paved the way for the Church of Latter-Day Saints. More commonly known as Mormons, the people began to colonize the Salt Lake Valley, expanding their settlements and communities throughout Eastern and Central Utah.
In today’s world, Utah is still very much a Mormon state with 62% of the population identifying as such, though numbers seem to be dropping. Misconceptions and stereotypes aside, Utah’s history has helped keep it rural and wild. With smaller cities and communities, much of the land has not been developed making Utah the best place in the US to hike, bike, and ski.
Capital City of Salt Lake City
As the capital of Utah, Salt Lake City is also the most populated area in the state with 200,000 residents. The suburbs spread out to encompass an estimated population of 1.2 million. Situated in the Salt Lake Valley, the city and its suburbs are best known for their beautiful backdrop, trendy restaurants, and walkable downtown area.
Visitors will love perusing the city streets as they encounter hip cafes and bougie boutiques. The food is delicious, and a diverse array of dining options means that you can eat pancakes for breakfast or sushi for dinner.
When the sun goes down, the city’s vibes don’t stop. Surprisingly, for being home to a large non-drinking Mormon population, the city’s nightlife is fun. A sharp turn from the Prohibition-like past, bars can now serve guests over 21 and with a valid ID. Speakeasy-style bars and drinking clubs are popular venues with more calm atmospheres.
Downtown Utah is the best place to go bar hopping or enjoy a date night, especially if you book a room at a nearby hotel so you don’t have to worry about catching a ride. Everything is within walking distance and easily accessible for a night on the town.
Aside from the nightlife, Salt Lake City’s major attractions include the Mormon Temple Square, Utah State Capitol Building, Hogle Zoo, Red Butte Garden, and the Natural History Museum of Utah. All of these venues are open to the public, however, if you’re not a practicing Mormon, you won’t be able to enter the temple. The garden area, on the other hand, is accessible.
All of Salt Lake city’s highest-rated attractions are family-friendly. All ages can enjoy the various sites as they spend the day learning more about Utah’s history, culture, and lifestyle. Children will especially love the fun activities at Temple Square or Hogle Zoo. Moreover, those looking to get on the snow will have 9 ski resorts within 1 hour of Salt Lake City to choose from.
With lots to see a do, Salt Lake City is a well-rounded destination where anyone can find entertainment.
Less than a one-hour drive from Salt Lake City, in the Wasatch Mountains, is the resort town of Park City. In 2002, Park City hosted the Winter Olympics, and every January, the resorts are flooded with Hollywood elite attending the Sundance Film Festival. Both events have made this little area a hotspot destination in Utah.
When the festival is not being held, Park City’s resorts and Winter Olympic features are still magnets for tourists. During winter, people flock to the slopes to ski or snowboard. Snowmobiling and snowshoeing are two other options for big adventurers. The leftover ski jumps from the 2002 Winter Olympics are also still in use and used for training future athletes.
In the summer, the top activities are hiking, biking, fishing, rafting, and horseback riding. Just like the winter months, the Olympic venues remain open, and guests can pay to take a ride on a bobsled or zip line over the ski jumps and down the mountain.
Luxury resorts are also a big attraction year-round in Park City as world-class accommodation is guaranteed here. The two top resorts are the Deer Valley Resort and the Park City Mountain Resort. All of the resorts in the area offer excellent options for losing, dining, shopping, and slopes.
Provo: The First Morman Settlement
Outside of Salt Lake City, the first settlement that the Mormons founded was Provo. Situated higher up in the mountains and on the shores of Utah Lake, it’s well known for its Mormon ties. Brigham Young University is run by the LDS Church and is a popular institute for active Mormons.
Aside from the Mormon religion, Provo has become a popular city for tech startups and the film industry. Close to the Sundance Mountain Resort, Provo sees quite an impact from the annual film festival as tourists flock to the area. The city is home to a few museums, including collections of fossils, art, and replicas.
Provo’s wild side is a major attraction because the area is so beautiful. Thick forests, epic slopes, and an idyllic lakeside location ensure that you can hike, bike, ski, or ride around. The easy driving distance from both Park City and Salt Lake City makes Provo just another place that is perfect for a weekend trip with friends or family.
The Great Salt Lake
About 20 minutes outside of Salt Lake City you’ll find the shores of the Great Salt Lake. The largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere, the lake is a must-see attraction.
Antelope Island State Park is the most visited area on the lake because of the white sand beaches and clear water. With 12% salinity, the water is incredibly buoyant. While swimming is permitted, it’s best to take a dip in the designated swimming and sunbathing areas. As a State Park, there are shower facilities and picnic areas available for your use throughout the area.
While most people stay close to Antelope Island, there are plenty of other shoreside areas that are just as delightful. Visiting different areas of the lake allows you to see different views of the water and surrounding mountains. Guests can also book a boat tour or visit the marina to get out on the water.
A visitor’s center provides more information on the history, formation, and activities within the park and greater lake area. An elevated view of the lake is provided by the visitor center’s outdoor deck.
Gateway to Moab
Close to the Colorado River and on the eastern border of Utah, Moab is a small but unforgettable destination. Arches National Park is famous in Moab, and it features hundreds of red rock formations. Huge mesas and buttes blanket the area and help create some of the park’s stunning natural rock arches.
Hidden within the rocks is history at its finest. Tucked away in corners are Native American rock are dinosaur tracks. These are remnants of days past, and they are thrilled to explore and see while you hike through the park.
Moab and the park are best known as being the ultimate destination for mountain bikers and rock climbers. However, dozens of trails throughout the park are open to hikers and trekkers. As a dry area, people on foot will most likely enjoy Moab during the spring and fall months. Temperatures are cooler during these times, so you can try to beat the heat.
The town of Moab itself is rather small. With only a few main streets, there isn’t a lot to do. Lodging and dining are available. However, you shouldn’t expect to find an abundance of options. Quiet but friendly, Moab’s downtown area feels cozy and warm. With a few microbreweries, you can also refresh yourself before heading back out to the red rocks.
Zion National Park
Breathtaking and jaw-dropping are the only ways to describe Zion National Park. Located in the southwest area of the state, Zion’s red rock canyons, Virgin River, and Emerald Pools are reminiscent of Eden.
There are hundreds of areas in the park that have become hotspots. The most visited sites include the Narrows, Emerald Pools, Angels Landing, and Observation Point. While Zion is heaven for rock climbers, you can also explore the park on foot, raft, or by bike.
Zion Lodge is the park’s only accommodation. As a popular lodge, reservations fill up quickly. Most visitors to Zion stay in the nearby town, Springdale, which offers more hotels and restaurants. Close by, and with more options for lodging and dining, the town has become a flourishing tourist area.
The Mighty Five National Parks
While Zion and Moab are certainly two of Utah’s most popular outdoor locations, there are dozens of parks and monuments in the state to explore. Bryce Canyon National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and the Capitol Reef National Park are three more options for outdoor enthusiasts, rounding out the state’s famous “Mighty Five” national parks.
Each offering its own unique views, Bryce Canyon boasts crimson-colored hoodoos while Canyonlands is known for having sprawling desert landscapes. Capitol Reef, on the other hand, is home to Waterpocket Fold, which is a wrinkle on the earth’s surface. Hikers, bikers, and photographers will truly love visiting any of these natural sites.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, though it’s safe to say that most people won’t be able to find a bad view in Utah. A diverse and vivid landscape brings the state to life as people explore the state’s famous rocks and canyons.
When you aren’t in the wild, the fun can be had in Utah’s capital city or mountain resorts. For an unforgettable adventure, we guarantee that Utah will be at the top of your list.
And to add to your Beehive State adventure, consider stopping by one of the numerous hot springs in Utah.
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