Explore Utah: The Beginner’s Travel Guide To Exploring Utah

Utah Travel Guide - Neighbor Blog

Utah is a popular travel destination in the United States. With world-class hiking, biking, and skiing and plenty of other attractions that don’t require hiking boots, it’s no wonder millions of people visit Utah every year.

With so much to explore, how do you make the most out of your trip? This complete Utah travel guide for beginners has all the information you need about popular destinations, transportation, storage solutions, and all things Utah.

Utah Visitors Guide

From dainty forests and mighty mountains to rocky cliffs and vast deserts, Utah is full of allure and wonder. The diversity of activities available can make planning a trip overwhelming. Below is a quick guide to Utah’s many attractions and which ones might be a good fit for you and your family.

Outdoor Adventures

Outdoor recreation is a Utah trademark. You can backpack through dense pine forests in the northern mountains or squeeze through redstone slot canyons in the southern deserts. With scenic overlooks, visitor centers, and tourist-friendly towns dotting every highway, you’ll never have to look far for your next adventure.

Winter Activities

Utah has arguably some of the best snow in the world, making it a popular destination for winter sports. You can hit the slopes at one of the many world-class ski resorts in the state, go ice skating at Olympic Park, or check out Utah’s very own Midway Ice Castles. If you love snowboarding, skiing, snowmobiling, tubing, skating, and all other kinds of winter fun, you’ll love Utah winters.

Downtown Salt Lake City

Downtown Salt Lake is a short drive from the airport and has more than enough things to keep the whole family busy for your entire trip, so don’t worry if outdoor activities aren’t your style. In the downtown area, you have easy access to outdoor malls, museums, parks, and one of the most iconic attractions in Utah, Temple Square.

Utah’s Demographics

Utah is the 13th most massive state in the United States, spanning 84,899 miles. About 3.16 million people call Utah their home with the majority of the population living in Salt Lake City and surrounding areas. Read below for a list of interesting facts about Utah.

Median Salary: As of 2016, the median salary in Utah was $65,977, more than $8,000 above the national median.

Average Home Price: While the price of real estate in Utah varies greatly by location, the average home value is $279,746.

Capital City: Salt Lake City is both the capital and most populous city in Utah.

State Bird: Utah’s state bird is the California Gull in commemoration of the gulls that saved farmers’ crops in 1848 by eating hords of crickets.

Utah State FlagState Flag: Utah’s flag features the state seal in the center of a dark blue background. The seal contains a beehive and the word “industry” symbolizing hard work and a bald eagle which stands for protection in peace and war. On either side are sego lilies symbolizing peace and American flags demonstrating Utah’s commitment to the United States.

Famous Restaurants: There are a variety of dining experiences available to travelers in Utah. Some iconic restaurants include Hell’s Backbone Grill in Southern Utah, La Caille Restaurant near Salt Lake City, and Communal in Utah Valley. Check out this list from Only In Your State for some of the other top restaurants in Utah.

National Parks: Utah ranks third in the nation for having the most national parks, coming in behind California and Alaska. With 5 stunning parks all within 5 hours of the airport, touring national parks is one of the most popular things to do in Utah.

Colleges in Utah

Utah is well-known for Brigham Young University, the flagship school of the state’s dominate religion. Along with BYU, there are 33 colleges and universities located all over the state. Here is a list of the top ten universities in Utah:

  1. Brigham Young University — Provo, UT
  2. University of Utah — Salt Lake City, UT
  3. Westminster College — Salt Lake City, UT
  4. Southern Utah University — Cedar City, UT
  5. Utah State University — Logan, UT
  6. Dixie State University — St. George, UT
  7. Utah Valley University — Orem, UT
  8. Weber State University — Ogden, UT
  9. Snow College — Ephraim, UT
  10. Western Governors University — Salt Lake City, UT

Utah’s Mighty 5

You’ve probably heard all about Zion and Arches national parks, but the other three parks in Utah are just as spectacular. Here’s a look at each national park and why you should take time to see them all.

Capitol Reef National Park

About 3 ½ hours from Salt Lake CityCapitol Reef National Park

One glimpse at the stunning landscapes of Capitol Reef will make you understand why the Navajos called it the Land of the Sleeping Rainbow. The canyon walls are made of sedimentary rocks naturally colored in vibrant shades of red, orange, purple, blue, and white. This national park is full of scenic views, rich history, and great hikes.

In addition to hiking, biking, and camping, here are some of the other awesome things you can do at Capitol Reef:

  • Take the Scenic Drive. Capitol Reef’s Scenic Drive is about 8 miles long and provides breathtaking views of different features in the park.
  • Pick fruit. The orchards planted by early settlers are still maintained and open to the public. You can pick fresh fruit to enjoy inside the park or purchase some to take home.
  • Tour the town. A handful of pioneer families settled in the Capitol Reef area over a century ago. Some of their buildings including a schoolhouse and blacksmith shop are still standing today. You can tour the old town and visit the bakery to get world-famous pies.
  • Look at petroglyphs. There are several incredible rock art panels in the park left by ancient people. You can find one of the most impressive collections of petroglyphs right off the highway near Capitol Reef’s visitor center.

Arches National Park

About 4 hours from Salt Lake City

Arches National Park is home to the famed Delicate Arch, one of Utah’s most iconic features. Delicate Arch is just one of thousands of breathtaking arches, pinnacles, and other rock formations in the park. A 40-mile paved road winds through the park with various trailheads and scenic overlooks along the way.

Here are just a few of the adventures available at Arches National Park:

  • Delicate Arch. The hike to Delicate Arch is a moderate 3-mile round-trip hike. You’ll get to experience incredible views all along the way.
  • Windows area. If you’re looking for a shorter hike, the Windows area will give you the most bang for your buck. A short walk will take you to some spectacular arches including the Double Arch.
  • Devil’s Garden. From this trailhead, you can get to tons of arches and other incredible features. The world’s longest arch, Landscape arch, is just 1.6 miles from the parking lot. If you’re an experienced hiker, you’ll want to try the rugged 8-mile Devil’s Garden Primitive Loop.
  • Fiery Furnace. The fiery furnace is one of the most scenic adventures in the park featuring narrow passages, rock fissures, and sandstone fins. You’ll want to reserve a guided tour if you plan to trek through this striking labyrinth.

Bryce Canyon National Park

About 4 hours from Salt Lake City

Visiting Bryce Canyon National Park is like stepping into another world. This park has the largest collection of hoodoos (tree-shaped rock pillars) in the world. The stone forests of Bryce Canyon span over hundreds of miles, with several hikes and focal points to explore.

Here are a few highlights of the park:

  • Stargazing. Bryce Canyon has equally breathtaking views at night as it does during the day. You can participate in stargazing programs during summer months and see the spectacular display of starlight spilling out across the park’s endless skies.
  • Free Shuttle. To cut down on road congestion, a free shuttle goes around the park daily. The shuttle is a great way to travel between trailheads and overlooks easily.
  • Scenic Points. There are several scenic points throughout the park that provide sweeping views of all the incredible rock formations. Sunset point is one of the busiest scenic points, but it is a must-see for all first-time visitors!

Canyonlands National Park

About 4 ½ hours from Salt Lake CityCanyonlands National Park

Being the most rugged and undeveloped national park in Utah, Canyonlands National Park attracts adventurers and thrill-seekers from all over. The park is full of mesas, slot canyons, and buttes formed by the Green and Colorado rivers. The Canyonlands area is divided by rivers into three separate areas known as districts.

Here is a brief overview of each area:

  • Island in the Sky. This is the most popular and accessible district in Canyonlands. This district sits atop a mesa, giving you a bird’s eye view of the stunning landscape below. You can also hike to the Mesa Arch in this area.
  • The Needles. This district is a wonderland of rock spires and fins protruding up from the ground. Although more remote than Island in the Sky, The Needles offers plenty of trails and overlooks to enjoy the incredible rock formations.
  • The Maze. The Maze is the most remote and rugged of all the districts in Canyonlands. The wild landscape is a perfect playground for serious adventurers and those prepared with basic survival skills.

Zion National Park

About 5 hours from Salt Lake CityZion National Park

This dazzling display of towers and gorges is Utah’s earliest national park. Zion National Park is the third most visited national park in the U.S, boasting colorful canyons, majestic mountains, and picturesque plant life. You can see the breathtaking scenery up close by hiking, backpacking, rafting, canyoneering, and camping at the park.

Here are a few of the many world-famous hikes available at Zion:

  • Emerald Pools. This easy 3-mile round-trip hike is perfect for the whole family. The trail follows a lush stream to three different levels: the lower, middle, and upper emerald pools.
  • Angels Landing. The most iconic trail at Zion is Angels Landing. This rigorous 5-mile round-trip hike will take you 1,500 feet off the canyon floor to some of the most spectacular views in the world.
  • The Narrows. This hike takes adventurers through a shallow river with colossal canyon walls rising on either side. Bring your water gear if you plan to take this stroll through the water.
  • The Subway. An adventure for seasoned hikers, The Subway is one of the most impressive slot canyons in Utah. You will have to splash through water, scramble across ledges, and repel your way through this hike.

Utah Public Transportation

Utah is a large state with vast stretches of rural countryside, so renting a car is common among travelers. While car rentals are convenient, you might be able to get to all your destinations by relying on Utah’s public transportation.

For statewide travel, you have two main options.

  • Greyhound Buses. Buses travel along all the major highways in Utah, stopping in cities as far north as Logan and Tremonton along with eastern Green River and southern St. George. Visit Greyhound’s website to plan your trip.
  • Amtrak. The California Zephyr, considered one of the most beautiful train rides in the United States, runs from San Francisco to Chicago with a few stops in Utah. The train cuts across the state from Salt Lake City to Green River, so your destination may be along the route. See the whole route on Amtrak’s website.

For travel in Salt Lake and surrounding areas, Utah Transit Authority (UTA) offers buses and rails.

  • UTA Buses. There are UTA bus routes all over the urban area surrounding Salt Lake. You can check out UTA’s trip planner to find bus routes that fit your needs.  
  • Frontrunner. The Frontrunner train is a popular transportation choice for Utah locals and visitors alike. The train runs 89 miles through northern Utah with 16 stops for riders to get on and off. Look at this UTA rail route map to see the Frontrunner’s entire course.
  • TRAX. The best way to get around Salt Lake City is by using TRAX. This rail services all the major attractions in Salt Lake including Temple Square, Rio Tinto Stadium, Vivint Smart Home Arena, University of Utah, and the SLC International Airport. There is a fare-free zone in downtown Salt Lake City for both TRAX and buses.

30 Fun Things to do in Utah

  1. Lagoon- Lagoon is an amusement park located just north of Salt Lake with fun for the whole family.
  2. Water Parks- Cool off during the summer by visiting Seven Peaks or other water parks in Utah.
  3. Hiking- No matter where you go, there are plenty of hikes for every level of hiker.
  4. Parades- The Days of ‘47 parade in Salt Lake is a must-see, but there are several small parades happening all over the state during July.
  5. City Festivals- Summer is festival season! Most cities have an annual celebration with food, fun, and fireworks.
  6. Rodeos- From professionals to youngsters, you can find all kinds of rodeos all over the state.
  7. Hogle Zoo- Located in Salt Lake, the Hogle Zoo is 42 acres of diverse creatures and ecosystems.
  8. Geocaching- This is guaranteed to be the most high-tech treasure hunt you’ve ever been on.
  9. Antelope Island- This island is located in the middle of the Great Salt Lake and covered in wonders of nature.
  10. Trampoline Parks- Release your inner child at one of the many trampoline parks in Utah.
  11. Outdoor Concerts- Along with the Rooftop concert series in Provo and Twilight concert series in Salt Lake, there are concerts all over during festival season.
  12. Hot Air Balloons- You can find hot air balloon festivals popping up all across Utah during summer months.
  13. Alpine Slide- Zoom down a mountain on one of the longest slides in the world, located in Park City.
  14. Thanksgiving Point- Thanksgiving Point has it all–museums, movies, gardens, golf, and fun for everyone.
  15. Renaissance Festivals- You can dress up, joust, and see amazing shows at summer medieval faires in Lehi and Cedar City.
  16. Temple Square- See beautiful gardens outside and find a variety of things to do inside at Utah’s most iconic square.
  17. Baseball- Catch a Salt Lake Bees game during their season from April to September.
  18. Waterfalls- Utah is full of unique and breathtaking waterfalls.
  19. Shakespeare Festival- This theater festival in Cedar City is hailed as one of the the best professional theater events in the nation.
  20. Tracy Aviary- The Tracy Aviary is a great place to learn about and interact with birds of all kinds.
  21. Utah Olympic Park- Get a close look at winter olympic-style events at Utah’s offical Olympic Park.
  22. Heber Valley Railroad- This old-time train takes a scenic trail through Provo Canyon.
  23. Living Planet Aquarium- Experience aquatic life at this massive aquarium.
  24. Timpanogos Cave- This cave is a popular tourist destination and lots of fun to explore.
  25. Biking- Rent bikes to ride around Salt Lake City, or try mountain biking on one of Utah’s many trails.
  26. Outlet Shops- Find great deals at outlet malls located in both northern and southern Utah.
  27. Museums- There are tons of free museums in Utah where you can learn and have fun.
  28. Star Parties- You can go to an official star party hosted by the Salt Lake Astronomy Association or just find a clear spot to do some star gazing yourself.
  29. Sundance Film Festival- This popular event brings in celebrities from all over to see films and enjoy Park City during the winter.
  30. Hot Springs- Enjoyable during warm or cold weather, Utah has plenty of hot springs to choose from.

Storage in Utah

If you’re planning to visit Utah and need somewhere to park your ATVs and store your outdoor equipment, try using Neighbor. Month-to-month contracts make it easy to find secure low-cost storage for your vacationing needs or moving needs if you decide to just move to Utah permanently.


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