Moon Salt Lake, Park City & the Wasatch Range
Local Spots, Getaway Ideas, Hiking & Skiing
By Maya Silver
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- Flexible itineraries, from weekends in Salt Lake or Park City to day trips to nearby ski resorts and state parks
- Strategic advice for outdoors lovers, families, craft beer enthusiasts, festival-goers, and more
- Outdoor adventures: Ski the legendary powder at one of Cottonwood Canyons’ four resorts, kayak the otherworldly Great Salt Lake, and venture into the vast Uinta Mountains and picnic by a high alpine lake. Climb to the top of Mount Timpanogos for sweeping views, test your nerve on a steep rock-climbing route in Little Cottonwood Canyon, or marvel at the fall color in Wasatch Mountain State Park
- Must-see highlights and unique experiences: Immerse yourself the Wild West-meets-Hollywood vibe of Sundance, uncover Mormon history at Temple Square, stroll Ogden’s historic main street, and kick back with a craft beer at one of Utah’s many emerging breweries
- Honest advice from Park City local Maya Silver on when to go, where to eat, and where to stay
- Full-color photos and detailed maps throughout
- Focused coverage of Salt Lake City, Park City, Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, Ogden, the Great Salt Lake Desert, the Wasatch Back, Oakley, Kamas, and the Uintas
- Thorough background on the culture, weather, wildlife, and history
DISCOVER Salt Lake, Park City & the Wasatch Range
8 TOP EXPERIENCES
Planning Your Trip
Explore Salt Lake
EXPRESS ITINERARY: SALT LAKE CITY AND PARK CITY
BASE CAMP SALT LAKE: THE COTTONWOOD CANYONS
THE WASATCH BACK: PARK CITY AND BEYOND
SUNDANCE SURVIVAL TIPS
THE WASATCH FRONT: SALT LAKE CITY AND OGDEN
THE SUNDANCE KID
ON THE SPIRITED TRAIL
UTAH’S LIQUOR LAWS
GET OUT ON THE WATER
In 1861, Mark Twain took a trip you might be about to embark on yourself. By stagecoach, he rode into Salt Lake City through the mountains where he saw “the most stupendous panorama of mountain peaks.” With equal parts curiosity and fascination, he encountered Mormonism, speculating about polygamy and chatting up Governor Brigham Young. On horseback, he rode 17 miles from the city to “the American ‘Dead Sea’”—the Great Salt Lake. After his sojourn in Utah, Twain summed up Salt Lake City and its mysterious Mormon ways as “a fairy-land” and the mountains ringing it, a “sublime spectacle.”
Well over a century later, a similar trip awaits today’s visitor to the Wasatch. The capital is still the best place in the world to learn about Mormonism, though religion is no longer the sole heartbeat of the city. Balanced by a strong LGBTQ+ community, growing ethnic populations, and defiant counterculture, Salt Lake City offers a lot more than the Mormon experience to the traveler, from funky boutiques to funky beers. And if you’re curious about Mormonism as Twain was, or want to get in touch with your own religious roots, Temple Square and other historic sites offer a glimpse into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Culture aside, Salt Lake City is also base camp for a more modern stripe of adventure. Journeys to the capital’s nearby natural wonders and adventures go a lot faster by car than horseback, so you can easily visit the Great Salt Lake on a half-day or day trip. Another popular excursion from the city is a venture into Big or Little Cottonwood Canyon, our capital’s unofficial backyard.
Rising up around the city is the Wasatch Range of the Rocky Mountains. Salt Lake and the Ogden area fall into the Wasatch Front, on the western side of the mountains. On the eastern side of the range lies the Wasatch Back—Park City, Sundance, and a slew of small towns that make for quieter getaways.
From one of those towns—Kamas—the Uinta Mountains soar higher than any in the state, topping out well over 13,000 feet (3,962 m), and uniquely running east-west. Both the Wasatch and Uinta Mountains can be explored via the hundreds of miles of trails, or, come winter, by skiing at one of the Wasatch’s 10 resorts, which are buried in upward of 500 inches (12.7 m) of legendary powder every winter.
Whether you bike, hike, ski, climb, or ride across these mountains, the sublime landscape of the Wasatch remains a wilderness that beckons the wild inside us all.
8 TOP EXPERIENCES
1 Ski or ride legendary powder at one of 10 ski resorts in the Wasatch.
2 Step into the shoes of an Olympian on the bobsled track at the Utah Olympic Park.
3 Hear the famed Tabernacle Choir sing in Temple Square.
4 Traverse a moon-like landscape and compose mind-bending photographs at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
5 Discover Spiral Jetty, the world’s most famous land art, in the Great Salt Lake.
6 Watch film premieres and catch sight of celebrities at the Sundance Film Festival, the country’s largest independent film fest.
7 Get a taste of local spirits and craft brews). You can even ride Town Lift from Park City Mountain to High West Distillery & Saloon for sips of award-winning bourbon.
8 Summit Mount Timpanogos for sweeping views of the state.
Planning Your Trip
Where to Go
Salt Lake City
Some come just to tour, explore, and shop Utah’s capital. For those who view Salt Lake City as merely base camp for adventure, it’s still worth allocating at least half a day to check out the main attractions. Family-friendly activities also abound. The metropolitan Salt Lake City area spans many distinct neighborhoods, including the downtown, university campus, 9th and 9th, Sugar House, the Avenues, and Capitol Hill.
Like any place on the National Historic Register, Park City is a transportive experience. While the businesses lining Main Street are in fine shape, they are by and large original structures, rebuilt after the 1898 fire burned down much of Old Town. Most visit Park City with an objective in mind—such as skiing, biking, or attending the Sundance Film Festival—but nearly all take time to wander Main Street, window shopping and eventually grabbing, say, a bison burger at No Name Saloon & Grill.
Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons
Salt Lake City has two backyards: Big Cottonwood Canyon and Little Cottonwood Canyon. Up both lie camping, hiking, climbing, and, of course, skiing. There’s Alta and Snowbird, which are connected, allowing you to ski both in one day. Head to Solitude if you’re seeking what its name suggests. And Brighton is considered by more than a few a best-kept secret. Travel time from Salt Lake City can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours depending on your destination and weekend ski traffic.
Once the bad boy of Utah, Ogden was home to brothels, moonshiners, and outlaws. Today, it’s cleaned up its act, but is still a blast to visit. Ogden is also just a 30-minute drive to skiing at Snowbasin, Powder Mountain, or Nordic Valley Ski Resort. Along with nearby Eden, Ogden also has a handful of distilleries and breweries worth the trip here in their own right.
The Great Salt Lake
Utahns love to hate the Great Salt Lake. The place is a little weird. Optical illusions at the sprawling white Bonneville Salt Flats. The bird-lined land bridge to Antelope Island. And the brooding Spiral Jetty land art. Fair warning: There’s also occasionally a rotten egg smell produced by algae blooms, and hatches of minuscule sand fleas (don’t worry, they don’t bite). But this otherworldly landscape is definitely worth exploring.
The Wasatch Back: Heber to Sundance
Opposite Salt Lake City on the back side of the Wasatch Mountain Range lies Park City. But that’s not the end of the story. On the backside are a string of charming towns, including family-friendly Heber and “Little Switzerland” (aka Midway), as well as Sundance Mountain Resort. The latter is a mandatory overnight stop for couples looking to escape it all, and also a great day trip for scenic lift rides, hiking, and tasty milkshakes. Just south of Sundance lies Mount Timpanogos, the most legendary peak in the Wasatch Range.
Kamas, Oakley, and the Uintas
The Uintas are the only range in the United States that runs east-west, rather than north-south. But the real reasons you should visit are the mind-blowing panoramas and bottomless wilderness. It would take a lifetime to really get to know the Uintas, but give it all the time you can spare for a day hike or camping experience under epic night skies. Kamas and Oakley, the unofficial gateways to the Uintas, offer fun post-hike refueling options.
When to Go
Deciding when to visit the Wasatch all depends on what you hope to do. If you want to ski, the time to go is obviously winter. But to beat the crowds and find great deals, skiing in late fall or early spring is another great option. Resorts tend to open around Thanksgiving, and while some close mid-April, others keep the lifts spinning until the snowpack will no longer suffice—through May some years, to the Fourth of July on others. Snowbird has the reputation for staying open the longest of any ski resort in the Wasatch.
You may also want to come in the winter just to behold the snow-covered mountains, not to mention that Danish feeling of hygge that comes with winter in the Wasatch—wood-burning fires, sleigh rides, and mugs of something strong. And it’s not all about downhill skiing—Nordic trails, winter hiking with snowshoes, and ice climbing are just a few examples of other ways to explore outdoors in the cold. The one other consideration for a winter visit is whether you want to vie with crowds. Over Christmas, during the Sundance Film Festival (late Jan.-early Feb.), and on busy holiday weekends like Presidents’ Day, lodging books up early and slopes can get dangerously crowded.
Summer is actually the most popular time to visit the Wasatch, providing ease of travel and countless outdoor activities (including mountain biking, golfing, hiking, and water sports, to name just a few) that are more accessible and less expensive than winter sports tend to be. Summer is also the season of festivals, and you’ll often find parts of downtown Salt Lake and Park City’s Main Street closed for events.
Fall is my favorite time in the Wasatch because it’s a little quieter throughout the region and the cold air decks our hills in psychedelic shades of orange, red, and yellow. And while the days are shorter, we lose the oppressive midday heat that can be hard to stomach in the peak of summer. Generally, most of the summer activities continue on through autumn with less crowded trails. Our fall is short, however, with foliage usually peaking in September, and snow beginning to fall that same month or soon after.
Spring is perhaps the riskiest time to visit the Wasatch, because you never know what you’re going to get. It’s often a wet time of year, not a warm time of year, with snow pressing on through May or into June, and cold rain muddying up the trails everyone is so eager to get back on. That said, you’ll find great lodging and dining deals during this time—just don’t count on the ability to adventure outside.
Explore Salt Lake
Express Itinerary: Salt Lake City and Park City
Taking a long weekend to discover the Wasatch? Check out the urban and alpine highlights alike on an express trip through the capital and the state’s favorite ski town.
Arrive in Salt Lake City early and plan a visit to Temple Square around one of the free daily performances of the Tabernacle Choir. Pick and choose how many museums, visitors centers (there are two), and other attractions you take in at Temple Square, depending on your appetite for Mormon history. For the full experience, get lunch at The Lion House Pantry. Go shopping and strolling around the 9th and 9th neighborhood, where you can look for souvenirs at Cahoots and get dinner at Pago. Head to one of the city’s many craft breweries for a drink before calling it a night.
In the morning, head straight to Gourmandise and order breakfast, plus a box of pastries (or even a cake, if you’re feeling decadent) for later. Take the scenic route to Park City via Emigration Canyon—this is the way the Mormons headed into town over a century ago! Stop at one of the Foothills attractions, like the Natural History Museum of Utah, and consider a short hike along the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, accessible behind the museum. Continue on through Emigration Canyon and stop for lunch at the iconic Ruth’s Diner. Emigration Canyon will connect with East Canyon and take you straight to Park City via I-80. When you arrive in Park City, head to Old Town in the early evening to stroll up and down Main Street, get a drink at No Name Saloon & Grill, and grab dinner at High West Distillery & Saloon.
Before breakfast, stroll around the McPolin Farm and get some impressive sunrise shots. Then head out for a hike at Deer Valley or at Park City Mountain Resort, before getting lunch at a base-area eatery like The Farm or the Glitretind Restaurant. If it’s the off-season, head to Old Town again to eat before making the drive back to Salt Lake City. This is also a great time to pocket some souvenirs and check out some of Main Street’s many art galleries.
Base Camp Salt Lake: The Cottonwood Canyons
Whether you’re headed to the Wasatch in summer or winter, make Salt Lake City your base camp for adventure in the city’s unofficial backyard: the Cottonwood Canyons. Staying in the Sandy/Cottonwood Heights area, at the Hansen House B&B, for example, will position you closest to the canyons.
Plenty of resort, sidecountry, and backcountry skiing awaits in both Cottonwood Canyons. Skiers and snowboarders who want to maximize time on the slopes may wish to lodge at the ski resorts, while others who want to plan a rest day in between or take advantage of the greater diversity of dining and lodging options in an urban area can consider Salt Lake City their base camp.
Unless you’re a snowboarder, get a ticket transferrable between the canyon’s adjacent resorts, Alta and Snowbird, and ski the best of both worlds. You hit Snowbird first on the drive up, so park and start from there. If you’re a snowboarder, Alta only allows two planks, so just plan to ski Snowbird.
Brighton and Solitude are your two options in Big Cottonwood. Solitude skis like its name suggests—ditch the crowds and find quiet powder turns plus plenty of backcountry access. Brighton is beginner-friendly, family-friendly, low-key, and a park rat’s paradise.
If you’re visiting Salt Lake City in the summer, take day trips into the Cottonwoods for first-rate hiking and rock climbing. Bear in mind that dogs are not allowed in either canyon.
Cecret Lake is a great jaunt if you’ve only got a couple hours to visit the Cottonwoods. It’s also very accessible and makes for a nice sunrise/sunset hike. If you’re looking for a longer excursion, consider summiting Mount Pfeifferhorn, the third-highest peak in the Wasatch.
One of the most popular hikes in Big Cottonwood Canyon is Donut Falls, which crescendos in a scramble over slick rock to view the waterfall that descends through a hole in a rock into a small watery cave (hence, the name). A somewhat less trafficked and arguably more scenic hike heads to Lake Blanche.
The Wasatch Back: Park City and Beyond
The Wasatch Back lies on the eastern side of the Wasatch Mountain Range. Park City is its most well-known town, but there are several other communities to discover in this region. As little as a 30-minute drive from the Salt Lake City International Airport, a long weekend getaway to the Wasatch Back can be filled with equal parts adventure and serenity.
Arrive in Park City in the morning and go on a hike or snowshoe to work out your travel ya-yas. Head to the Kimball Junction area for lunch at 11Hauz and then spend the afternoon at the Utah Olympic Park, where you can learn about Olympic history, take a tour, and get your adrenaline pumping on the tubing hill or bobsled track. Then check into your lodging and head to Old Town in the evening for strolling, shopping, and dinner at Tupelo.
Get breakfast at Windy Ridge Café and stock up on baked goods and sweets (the makings of a decadent lunch on the go!) at Windy Ridge Bakery across the parking lot. Then head through Kamas into the Uintas. Drive to the summit of Mirror Lake Scenic Byway and get your scenic shots (the summit at Bald Mountain Pass is just under 30 miles/48 km from Kamas; the road closes at mile marker 14.6 from around November through May). On the way back down, stop for a hike, cross-country ski, or snowshoe at one of the many trailheads. Then head to Midway and get dinner at Midway Mercantile on Main Street before going back to Park City for the night.
Spend the morning hiking in Wasatch Mountain State Park, doing some Nordic skiing at Soldier Hollow, or golfing at one of the three courses in the area, followed by a soak in the Homestead Crater. An alternative plan with young kids: Head to Heber to ride the Heber Valley Railroad. Get lunch at Back 40 Ranch House in Heber before departing.
The Wasatch Front: Salt Lake City and Ogden
On the western side of the Wasatch Mountains lies the Wasatch Front, Salt Lake City, its many outlying areas, and Ogden to the north. This is by far the more urban side of the Wasatch, but just over a dozen miles east of Ogden, the towns of Eden and Huntsville offer skiing and a reprieve from the bustle.
Start your day in Salt Lake City by heading to Temple Square in the morning. Tour the grounds, staying for a show from the Tabernacle Choir. In the afternoon, take a short hike on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail starting from the foothills of the city. Then get dinner at Laziz Kitchen and head downtown to Bar-X for drinks.
Next, you’ll head to Ogden—but plan to stay in Ogden Canyon or in Eden or Huntsville,
- On Sale
- Dec 8, 2020
- Page Count
- 328 pages
- Moon Travel