Utah Holiday Planning Guide
A huge but sparsely populated land, Utah remains a major holiday destination offering plenty of year-round outdoor vacation ideas, including skiing, snowboarding, hiking, boating, horseback riding, and camping. The rugged terrain, defined by towering mountain peaks, deep canyons, and vast deserts, seems custom-made for adventurous nature lovers. With five national parks, the state has no shortage of pristine wilderness areas, causing many tourists to overlook the cultural attractions of its towns. Salt Lake City, the state's capital, features the headquarters of the Mormon Church, and draws over 5 million annual visitors. Utah also hosts several major film festivals each year, attracting young movie buffs from around the world.
Places to Visit in UtahSalt Lake City
: A staple of many Utah itineraries, this city is the state capital and attracts visitors with its rich and interesting history, religious buildings, and impressive local scenery.Moab
: A small town playing a major role in Utah tourism industry, this urban area of around 5,000 people offers excellent access to famous rock formations, a wealth of businesses offering outdoor experiences, and many comfortable places to eat and relax. Wasatch Range
: Stretching 260 km (160 mi) from the Utah/Idaho border into the center of the state, this mountain range offers a considerable amount of outdoor activities, with world-class ski resorts and climbing opportunities within striking distance of the state capital.Park City
: With a population of 8,000, this welcoming town provides visitors with plenty of outdoor activity opportunities (the town was a location for the 2002 Winter Olympics) and a humble town center, featuring restaurants, museums, and accommodations.Springdale
: A small town located close to a national park, Springdale provides tourists with an exciting range of outdoor activities in the impressive surrounding landscape, welcoming local eateries, and heritage sites detailing the history of the park and the town itself.Arches National Park
: A land of attractive and iconic scenery, this national park is home to 2,000 sandstone arches, each colored a startling natural red, offering great photographic opportunities whatever the weather, and accessible by group tours in 4x4s or on a range of short hikes.Bryce Canyon National Park
: A wild and isolated sightseeing stop off--though one happily connected by road--this park features eye-catching rock pillars assembled in clusters, displaying the stunning red pigment of the sandstone and making for great photo opportunities and hiking routes. Canyonlands National Park
: Carved by rivers over millions of years, the canyons and buttes in this national park provide wonderful walking and hiking routes over their red and orange-hued landscape, giving visitors a wealth of photo opportunities, and a wilderness experience in the dry desert climate. Capitol Reef National Park
: An expansive area of cliffs, canyons, and buttes, this national park offers hiking, biking, and walking opportunities, great spots for climbers to take the cliff faces, and ample, jagged scenery for budding photographers to experiment with.Zion National Park
: Famed for its towering cliffs of Navajo sandstone, this national park attracts visitors drawn to impressive scenery, birds of prey, and outdoor activity opportunities.
Things to Do in Utah
Popular Utah Tourist AttractionsMonument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
: This park strives to preserve the Navajo way of life and features an otherworldly landscape of rugged sandstone hills and soaring rock spires.Temple Square
: With monumental architecture and buildings of importance to the spiritual identity of many Utah residents, this square represents one of the main places to visit in Utah and is a sprawling ode to Mormon history and influence in city.Dead Horse Point State Park
: Geologically impressive and evocatively named, this state park features a stunning amount of hiking trails, displays a wealth of history from the Wild West, and scenery that startles by its sheer vastness. Deer Valley Resort
: Known as one of the best ski resorts in the country, this Utah attraction offers comfortable and luxurious accommodations, interesting entertainment to appeal to a range of age groups, and--of course--fantastically well-maintained slopes.Angel's Landing
: A viewpoint offering an extensive panorama of a national park, this spot is accessible only to confident, fit, and experienced adventurers. The view is angelic, but the route up to it is something closer to demonic.The Narrows
: The river has carved this canyon over millennia and still flows through portions of it, meaning visitors have to swim, wade, and paddle through sections, though the scenery and experience will be worth the trouble for those who are willing and able.Zion's Main Canyon
: A centerpiece of a popular national park, this canyon offers natural and man-made features of great interest, seven hiking trails around its massive interior, and a visitors center and museum with a wealth of information regarding the history of the site.Park City Mountain Resort
: This resort was used for the snowboarding events during the 2002 Winter Olympics, so it comes with a rather large seal of approval, offering slopes and bowls for beginners and pros, comfortable lodgings, and onsite equipment rental.Canyons Village at Park City
: Offering an impressive arrange of sporting activities throughout the year, this resort has become exceptionally popular with visitors from across the globe, drawn to the quality of its slopes, equipment, and introductory classes. Navajo/Queens Garden Loop
: A great way to see the canyon from different perspectives, this organized hiking trail takes you deep into the astonishing geological feature and back out in a clearly defined route.
Planning a Utah Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Utah with Kids
The atmosphere of the expansive rural areas and the interesting and activity-led bustle of the urban mean that you'll find plenty of places to visit in Utah with children of all ages. Salt Lake City
represents a great place to start your adventure, with museums, zoos, and other attractions that offer a gentle introduction to the small-town and big-nature feel of the state, with the backdrop of the local scenery offering a constant reminder of the wilderness left to explore. A modest town with adventure on its doorstep Moab
is a comfortable place to stay with kids when diving into the surrounding landscape and enjoying one of the many outdoor activities popular in the area. For full-on wilderness with kids who are of age and capable, consider staying in one of Utah's large, protected natural environments, such as Canyonlands National Park
. Ample lodging and campgrounds let you spend the night looking out into the vast sky, after a day spent walking the red sandstone lands and exploring the many natural and man-made attractions here.
Things to Do in Utah with Kids
Utah attractions are numerous and--to the extent that they are primarily natural--multipurpose. They appeal to people of many ages, for many different reasons. For real, catch-all children's entertainment, head to one of the area's playgrounds and amusement parks. Treehouse Children's Museum
tows the line between museum and play area--before landing firmly on the side of the latter. Its range of performances and themed zones will keep kids entertained for hours, and give adults a decent period of relaxation. For something more cerebral, head to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
for an inspiring introduction to the way of life of Native Americans populating the area, both in the past and in the present. Finally, for those that want to get active, try a trip to Park City Mountain Resort
for a range of outdoor sports whatever the season. Having hosted events in the 2002 Winter Olympics, the resort now prides itself on offering activities for guests of all ages and abilities, so it's a great place for first lessons and for turning pro.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Utah
Utah tourism has grown up around its natural features, yet the industry has come of age in recent years, allowing families to plan their trips around a range of tastes and abilities, knowing that it's not all going to be adventuring in the wilderness. With family-friendly accommodations, restaurants, and shops, the urban areas--even those of seemingly modest proportions--are ready to accommodate and attend to visitors who stay, or just visit for the day, whatever their age group. That being said, it is important to respect the natural world in the state, and to plan in accordance with the temperature, scenery, and distances between attraction. With kids in particular, it may be a good idea to take guided day trips when heading out into the wild, as experienced local guides will be able to advise on routes, timings, and local services. Otherwise, it is important to stay mindful of the limitations of any member of your group--whatever their age might be--when planning a trip into the remoter areas.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Utah
Cuisine of Utah
During your stay in Utah, you'll have to look a little harder than in other places to see the local culinary identity. As a majority Mormon state--and, in fact, the most religiously homogeneous state in the country--the food culture has grown up around the structure and character of the religion, and it isn't a culture that is easily transferred into restaurant or cafe scenes. Traditionally Utahan dishes are composed of items on hand in the store cupboard or fridge, and are designed to feed as many mouths as possible. They are therefore very domestic and familiar in tone, taste, and style, and are usually served in large dishes, as big table centerpieces at potlucks. Utah loves Jello-O more than any other state in the nation, with a huge amount of savory and sweet variations available in the main urban areas, such as Salt Lake City
. Also, you'll find places in the main towns serving Funeral Potatoes (an "all-in" dairy and potato bake) and Frog's Eye Salad, a sweet pasta dish. Try taking a tour of the local eateries in Park City
and see how these traditionally domestic dishes are being brought into an urban dining scene. Make sure to enjoy the fruits of the local winemaking industry, by taking yourself to Moab
and its vineyards and wineries.
Shopping in UtahSalt Lake City
, as a modern, thriving, and welcoming urban center, will have what you need to enjoy your vacation in Utah, with outdoor and sporting gear, mainstreet goods, and tech products all high on the agenda. You can also pay a visit to Moab
and its numerous independent businesses ideal for finding souvenirs. With galleries selling original artworks (many inspired by the town's fantastic surroundings) and locally made arts and crafts, this town represents a nice place to browse and talk to local people about their designs. The farmers market in the center remains popular with locals and visitors alike, while the vineyards and wineries present locally sourced tipples to take with you by the bottle. So much of the state's daily life takes place outdoors, so if you have forgotten anything to protect you from the weather, head to Park City
for an array of outdoor and sports shops.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Utah
History of Utah
Since around 8,000 BCE, humans have lived in the land now known as Utah. Paleolithic, Desert Archaic, Freemont, and ancient Puebloan peoples all established settlements, communities, and agricultural production in the region, long before the Columbian era of European exploration in the Americas. Perhaps the most famous pre-European inhabitants of the land are the Navajos, who arrived in the early 16th century and developed a strong connection with the land, establishing trade with local tribes, and waging wars to defend their territory. Set among some of the nation's most iconic scenery, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
offers visitors an educational experience, with exhibits, talks, artifacts, and architecture all working in conjunction to introduce the Navajo people and their unique culture.
European exploration of the area began in 1540, though up until the 19th century colonial presence remained limited to trappers and those passing through in the hope of finding the Californian coast. In 1847, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (more commonly known as Mormons) settled in the area and established a community based on the reformationist teachings of Brigham Young. The religious identity of those early colonizers continues to exert a major influence on the state's daily life to this today, with a majority of the population members of the church. Head to Temple Square
, a huge complex in the center of the capital city, to see buildings dedicated to guarding the faith and bettering the outreach of the religion. The temple, assembly hall, museum, and other ceremonial or heritage buildings comprise one of the most popular tourist attractions in Utah. For a wilder taste of colonial history in the state, visit Bluff Fort Historic Site
. This reconstructed Wild West town displays its history proudly, with homes, vehicles, and a slew of other artifacts.
Wranglings at state and federal level delayed Utah's acceptance into the Union, primarily because Mormonism advocated polygamy, an unsavoury notion for the mainstream American society. Once polygamy was officially dropped from church teachings, Utah became the 45th State of the Union in 1896. Since then, modernization has complemented the impressive natural surroundings of Utah, with tourism increasing primarily thanks to the unique red sandstone landscape and ancient rock formations. Testament to the state's growing popularity and pull, Salt Lake City
was named the host of the 2002 Winter Olympics, leading to further development of the state's infrastructure and attractions. Venues that were used during the event, such as Park City Mountain Resort
, remain world-class sporting arenas and resorts, attracting many visitors throughout the year.
Landscape of Utah
Utah tourism has taken off primarily because of the region's singular topography and geology. Take a trip to Bryce Canyon National Park
to see the extreme examples of red sandstone architecture particular to this state. Head to the iconic Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
for a photogenic landscape stretching into the horizon, and a Native American reservation that offers new perspectives on the environment. For another view of the state's extreme landscapes and, at times, baffling diversity of nature when left to its own devices, head to Bonneville Salt Flats
, an otherworldly scene of flat, glistening land, open to the public and traversable by a range of motorized vehicles.
Holidays & Festivals in Utah
Utah state observes the same public holidays as the rest of the United States and, given the religious identity of the majority of its citizens, makes a particularly large and exuberant effort around the traditional Christian festive period. Salt Lake City
represents a particularly impressive place to see the Christmas lights, displays, and traditions, with many of the celebrations centering around Temple Square
. One of the world's most famous and critically revered film festivals, the Sundance Film Festival comes to Salt Lake City
, Park City
, and Ogden
each year in January. If you can't plan your Utah trip for that event, remember that the same urban areas host smaller cultural events throughout the seasons, with the state capital also hosting celebrations dedicated to honoring Utah's heritage and religious traditions. Moab
rounds off the year with music festivals showcasing local talent and bringing international stars to the state.
Utah Travel Tips
Climate of Utah
While its mountainous areas feature a great diversity of weather, Utah primarily experiences a semi-arid to desert climate. Because of the state's elevation, winters are extremely cold and snowy. Summer days are hot, while nights can bring an extreme drop in temperature due to the region's elevation and the openness of much of its terrain. Snowfall is common throughout the state, and has been responsible for Utah gaining a reputation with winter sports enthusiasts. A dry state, Utah does not offer suffer thunderstorms or tornadoes. Bring a range of clothing for your holiday in Utah to protect yourself from the unexpected temperature changes.
Transportation in Utah
Most international visitors, and those traveling from far away states of the United States, arrive at the international airport in Salt Lake City to begin their vacation in Utah. The state is well-connected with a good range of transportation options available to visitors, whether you wish to travel using private or public alternatives. Highways remains a good choice for those heading to and through the national parks, while light rail services are popular for those traveling in the capital city. A bus service offers a good option for those traversing the Salt Lake Valley, connecting the urban areas and providing impressive views of the scenery.