Vast open space makes Utah nature’s playground. With 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. If you’re looking for a party, though, you should head to Salt Lake City. Significant to Mormons who worship in the city’s mega Temple, Salt Lake 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.
A Brief History
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 and local wildlife. After a few centuries, a change in location drastically changed people’s lifestyles. Migrating towards the Great Salt Lake, the native people learned to live and colonize the harsh desert.
Desert Archaic dwelling people eventually developed their own culture and became known as the Anasazi. Famous for inhabiting the Four Corners area, the Anasazi people are well-known for their fine crafts. Much of the time, the Anasazi people 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, these people began to colonize the Salt Lake Valley. This led to further expansions as Mormon settlements and communities were built throughout Eastern and Central Utah.
In today’s world, Utah is still very much a Mormon state. An estimated 62% of Utah’s population is Mormon. However, numbers seem to be dropping. Many people only know Utah for its Mormon ties. One benefit of this is that it has left most of the state’s beauty undiscovered.
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. This makes Utah the best place in the US to hike, bike, and ski.
As the capital of Utah, Salt Lake City is also the most populated area in the state. Just over 200,000 residents called Salt Lake City home. 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 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 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, and if you book a room at a nearby hotel, you don’t have to worry about catching a ride at the end of the night. 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, the 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 are not a practicing Mormon, you will not be able to enter the temple. Only the garden area is open to the public.
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. Salt Lake City is a well-rounded destination. Anyone can find entertainment here, and you won’t have to look very far.
Less than a one-hour drive from Salt Lake City in the Wasatch Mountains is the resort town, Park City. In 2002, Park City hosted the Winter Olympics, and every January, the resorts are flooded with Hollywood elite who attend 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 the winter months, 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 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 are still 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 all year round in Park City. 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.
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, Provo is well known for its Mormon ties. Brigham Young University is run by the LDS Church, and it’s 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 in Provo. The easy driving distance from both Park City and Salt Lake City make 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 sits 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. Swimming is permitted. However, it is best to take a dip in the designated swimming and sunbathing areas. As a State Park, there are shower facilities and picnics areas available for your use throughout the area.
While most people stay close to Antelope Island, there are plenty of other shore side areas that are just as delightful. Visiting different areas of the lake allows you to see different views of the water and surrounding mountains.
Visitors 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 the Rocks
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 thrilling 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.
Breathtaking and jaw-dropping are the only ways to describe Utah’s, 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. Zion is heaven for rock climbers. However, 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. With more hotels and restaurants, Springdale is located just outside of the park. Close by, and with more options for lodging and dining, the town has become a flourishing tourist area.
Points of Interest
Zion and Moab are certainly two of Utah’s most popular points of interest; however, with dozens of parks and monuments in the state, there is a lot to see in Utah’s stunning backyard.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, though it is safe to say that most people won’t be able to find an ugly view in Utah. A diverse and vivid landscape bring Utah 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.