Salt Lake City: Plan the Perfect Weekend Getaway

Eric Jay Toll Avatar

A view of Salt Lake City

The writer was hosted.

Sitting next to the lofty windows in a restaurant at 11,000 feet (3,350m) up in the Wasatch Mountains, through the cleft between the towering mountains, I believe I could see the mountain where we hiked earlier in the day.

This was a getaway to Salt Lake City and Utah. Arriving, there’s the Great Salt Lake on one side and the west slope of the Rocky Mountains on the other. It meant a morning hike under a warm spring sun and an afternoon skiing down the slopes.

All that is oh so close to downtown SLC.

Visit the less crowded Capitol Reef National Park near Torrey in Salt Lake City.
Capitol Reef National Park near Torrey, Utah, is a less-crowded alternative to Zion National Park and one of five in Utah. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

Why Salt Lake City in Utah for a Getaway

Salt Lake City is a year-round destination for a weekend or a couple of weeks.

Of course, he had a bit of bias, but Ryan from Visit Salt Lake City told our group of writers, “Salt Lake City has a lot to do on its own, and it’s in the center of many other places to see. It’s a really vibrant place for a getaway.”

Time is what counts when planning a getaway to Salt Lake City. The Utah capital delivers a nice taste of urban dining and activities, yet it’s minutes from wilderness and recreation paradise.

The city itself is a weekend destination, and with more time, you can explore Utah’s five national parks, six national monuments, four national trails, historical sites and the second largest of America’s national recreation areas.

Feeling like “I’ve got to get out of town,” the city is a perfect weekend destination. If feeling like “I’ve got to get to another planet,” Salt Lake is the ideal base camp for exploring some of the world’s most surreal landscapes.

Read More: Best Things to Do in Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City has City Creek; a creek that runs through the middle of a shopping center.
City Creek is a year-round creek running through the middle of a shopping center in Downtown Salt Lake City. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

Why Salt Lake City for Weekend Getaways

We were doing the short personal “battery” recharge over a few days and a later trip to Red Rock country. Salt Lake is central to an amazing center for a weekend trip, a week’s road trip or an escape-the-world bucket list adventure.

One nice feature of downtown Salt Lake City is its walkability. We could walk to nearly all the major destinations from our downtown hotel.

What to Do in Salt Lake City

Dining

Salt Lake City has various restaurants for all tastes and budgets. Sources like Trip Advisor and Yelp have reasonably comprehensive listings. The best bet is to go local. Eating at a same-place-everywhere national chain can be saved for home. Ask the hotel concierge or front desk for recommended local dining spots.

Utah once had a challenging reputation for enjoying beer, wine or cocktails. Much of that changed with the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. You can get a drink in Utah.

The Mormon Tabernacle, the home of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City
The Mormon Tabernacle, with its antique pipe organ, is the home of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Open to the public, the Tabernacle served as a central gathering place for the Mormon faithful and a community center. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

History

Like some early New England colonies, Utah was settled as a theocratic territory with the arrival of the Mormons on July 24, 1847, Pioneer Day, a significant state holiday. Utah is a state rich in history, and it’s the spiritual and geographic center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City retains many of its historic buildings and areas.

Temple Square is the center of the faith and city. On this 10-acre site are the original Mormon Temple and the Tabernacle, the home of the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The Tabernacle is open to the public, as are many of the choir’s rehearsals.

The notable architecture draws thousands of people every year. We crossed the very wide streets typical of Utah towns and entered the park-like setting. The historic temple, a testament to design and faith, was shrouded in scaffolding. Damaged in a 2019 earthquake, the Mormon Church is retrofitting the pioneer-era building with earthquake mitigation. It’s to be completed in 2026.

The Living Room Trail that winds up
The Living Room Trail winds its way up a draw in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains. It looks like wilderness but around that turn, the University of Utah Research Park can be seen at the trailhead. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

Recreation

“We’ll drive to the trailhead. We could walk there from here, but we have too much to do today,” said Ryan as our group gathered to board our SUV for the morning hike. “Other trails are just a short walk from downtown.”

We headed to the Living Room Trail, which tops off at a Great Salt Desert overlook with the Oquihir Mountains in the distance and that valley holding Salt Lake and its closest suburbs.

“The rock formation at the top gives it the name,” he told us.

After the hike under the warm sun, we headed to a nearby ski resort at the top of Cottonwood Canyon. In Salt Lake, it’s possible to have a spring hike and downhill run on the same day.

What to Do in Utah from Salt Lake City

From Salt Lake City, there’s an adventure at all points of the compass.

Salt Lake City has the pure Bear Lake known for its purity and the unique turquoise color normally seen only in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of California.
Bear Lake, spanning Utah and Idaho near Garden City, Utah, is known for its purity and the unique turquoise color normally seen only in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of California. Photo Credit: Adobe Stock

North – Hot Springs and Cross-Country Trails

Heading north of Salt Lake City opens adventures in the Cache-Wasatch Mountains in both Utah and Idaho. Just across the state line, Lava Springs, Idaho, is known for its natural and mineralized hot springs.

There’s more in northern Utah.

“That is the most amazing color,” said my companion when we made the curve heading down from the Cache Mountains towards Garden City on the Utah side of the state line. The panorama before us was Bear Lake. “It’s the color of the Caribbean.”

The giant freshwater lake is colorized to a deep turquoise. Boating, swimming and a state park border the lake.

Having lived in Logan on the west side of the mountains, I can personally say that some of the best Nordic skiing I’ve enjoyed is a short drive from this Cache Valley city.

A couple of hours northwest of Salt Lake City is the Golden Spike National Historic Site, where the famous “last spike” was driven into the railroad ties connecting America’s first transcontinental railroad.

Lake Bonneville whose vast expanse and thin salt crust can play illusions on the horizon of Salt Lake City.
When Lake Bonneville disappeared it left three distinguishing imprints on Utah: the Great Salt Lake, The Great Salt Desert and the Bonneville Salt Flats. Its vast expanse and the thin salt crust can play illusions on the horizon. Photo credit: JAdams08/Adobe Stock

West – the Famous Bonneville Speedway

To the west is the famous Bonneville Salt Flats, a unique, otherworldly place where you can put your car on the salt flats and see how fast it goes.

“I wouldn’t recommend it,” said a ranger from the Bureau of Land Management in Salt Lake City. “The salt doesn’t dry out until mid-July. Drive on it when it’s got any moisture, and you’ll break through the crust and get stuck. It’s a $600 tow.”

He didn’t want his name used because he was not authorized to speak to the media, but he said the Salt Flats are a place to experience any time of the year.

“It’s especially an experience at sunset because of how the light plays on the salt,” he explained. “It’s an area so flat and vast that the light tricks your eyes and sometimes you can see it in photos.”

The salt flats are about 90 minutes from downtown Salt Lake City via Interstate 80. On the west side of the Bonneville Salt Flats is the legendary sculpture, “Metaphor – Tree of Utah.” There’s an unofficial pull-off for westbound traffic.

SKi from the top of the mountain, down to the lodge at Snowbird Ski Resort in Utah
On a bright spring day with little wind and temperatures well above freezing, a group of skiers move towards the edge of an 11,000-foot (3,350m) mountain to ski back down to the lodge at Snowbird Ski Resort. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

East – The Greatest Snow on Earth

Mormon leader Brigham Young was looking from a terrace on the west side of the Wasatch Mountains when he said, “This is the place,” selecting the site for the faith’s capital city. Today, most people arriving in Salt Lake City look east to the ski resorts and towns at the top of the range.

Salt Lake City is a mecca for avid skiers and snowboarding. Skiing is less than an hour from Salt Lake’s airport.

Most ski resorts operate year-round, changing from snow sports to outdoor activities, like mountain biking and hiking trails.

A trip to Park City or Deer Valley may be among the most romantic getaway destinations in the Intermountain West. Quaint Park City, home of the U.S. Olympic ski team and the famous Sundance Film Festival, has many resort hotels, dainty beds and breakfast, and plenty of vacation rental homes.

In the summer, a ski jump with thousands of Teflon bearings allows jumpers to practice flying into the air and landing in a pool. The Olympic Park feature is open to non-Olympians.

Next door, Deer Valley is designed as an elite ski-in resort that allows only skiing—no snowboards. Once the limousine is parked, it’s not needed until guests leave. The ski lodge is within walking or skiing distance from the lodging.

Snowbird Ski Resort

After the morning hike, we headed up Cottonwood Canyon to the Snowbird Ski Resort at the top of the canyon. It was a brilliantly bright late March day. The slopes were still packed with over 100 inches (254cm) of snow. Even though the air temperature was 48F (9C), skiers were whooshing down the slopes, a few hearty souls wearing shorts.

Snowbird hosted us for lunch at its 11,000-foot peak restaurant. Stew and chili were perfect complements to the weather, and we watched skiers from the warmth of the dining room’s near floor-to-ceiling windows.

Ski trails ran in all directions from the mountaintop, classified for beginning, intermediate, advanced and “different breed” skiers. The snow was packed and fast, even with the spring sun beaming on the crowds.

Riley from Snowbird toured us through the facility’s different restaurants and shops. There are rooms at the ski lodge level for those focused on a trip hitting the slopes.

Read More: Where Kids Ski Free

State arch displayed on many Utah licence plates
The state arch is Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Moab, Utah. It’s displayed on many Utah license plates. The trail is a long but easy climb and is family-friendly. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

South – The Real Red Rock Country

We headed to southern Utah, the land of red rock formations and slot canyons. The landscape contrasted bright orange-red rock with deep green scrubby Juniper trees and shrubs.

As we hiked up the park’s most popular trail, excitement and anticipation filled the air. It wasn’t just the altitude that left me a little breathless, but the rush to beat the crowd and stand beneath the iconic Delicate Arch, a natural wonder symbolizing America’s beauty.

Delicate Arch, in Arches National Park, Moab, Utah, is four hours south of Salt Lake City on a beautiful, easy-to-drive scenic route down to the Colorado Plateau.

Arriving before 7 a.m., we bypassed the timed entry requirement, a smart move to ensure we could find places to park near the Delicate Arch hiking trails. For those who prefer a more relaxed start, the option to reserve your entry time in advance at Recreation.gov is a convenient way to plan your red rock road trip.

Despite the early arrival at its amphitheater, a short line of hikers waited to have pictures taken under the arch. Later in the day, the wait can be as long as a half-hour.

“Can you take our photo?” the man in front of me asked. He was with his wife and two pre-teens. “I’ve wanted to get this photo for a long time. I’ve seen it on Instagram and wanted to get us in a photo like those.”

He handed back his camera, and the four headed along the narrow trail and lined up under the arch. It’s a tradition at Delicate Arch. When it’s your turn to stand under the magnificent rock formation, the next person in line snaps the photo.

What to Explore

It’s an easy journey from Salt Lake City. Out of the urban cluster and into the desert, you’ll drive from cream colors through deep green mountains to the heart of red rock country. Oh, there are many imitators, but this is the real thing.

Spending a few nights in Moab put us in the middle of Arches and Canyonlands national parks and Dead Horse Point State Park.

The Grand View plateau in Utah
From the end of the Grand View plateau at the canyon’s rim, in the distance, the Colorado River weaves its way to the confluence with the Green River. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

“It’s hard to believe those two rivers carved these canyons,” said Kendall from Chicago while we put on boots. She and her husband, Terry, were loading their gear back into their rental. “This is our first trip west, and I feel like I’m on another planet.”

Terry nodded, saying, “You see the pictures all the time, but coming here in person, it’s big. Out there, you have to turn almost completely around to take in what you’re seeing.”

He pointed to our destination, the very tip at Grand View Point. It was an under two-mile (3.2km) reasonably level hike along the canyon rim to see a multi-million-year-old view. We meandered down the Grand View Trail to the point and looked to the southwest down the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area into the setting sun.

Below us on the rugged White Rim Trail, a couple of jeeps and a cluster of cyclists rode on the rocky dirt track. The trail is a bucket list destination for mountain biking. To drive it, a high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle is needed. High clearance is especially necessary; according to the ranger, my Honda CR-V was unsuitable for the White Rim.

Canyonlands Highlights

Tomorrow was to start the next leg of our Utah Grand Circle. We didn’t have enough time to do the entire route on this trip. Our next destinations were Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon National Parks, Grand Staircase Escalante and Cedar Breaks National Monuments.

Sadly, we were going to miss the other parks on the Grand Circle Route: Zion National Park, Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde national parks, Canyon of the Ancients, Bears Ears and Hovenweep national monuments, Monument Valley and Four Corners Navajo tribal parks, and Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas, Nevada; Utah’s Kodachrome Basin and Coral Pink Sand Dunes state parks.

“That’s a long list of missed parks,” chuckled Ranger Jake at the Canyonlands Visitor Center when he asked if we planned to road trip the complete Grand Circle. “You know it’s probably the most scenic drive in the USA.”

He was right; seeing this iconic Western landscape requires about ten days. It delivers other planet rock formations, stirring blue desert skies and contrasting deep green trees against the brilliant red rock. All that is missing are Roadrunner and Coyote.

Salt Lake City International Airport is Delta's major western hub
Delta has a major western hub at SLC, Salt Lake City International Airport, around 10 minutes from downtown. Photo credit: JHVEPhoto/Adobe Stock

How to Get to Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City International Airport is about ten non-rush hour minutes west of downtown. Getting downtown is simple, too, taking the light rail trains from the airport to the city’s center. Delta and Southwest have hubs at the airport, and United, American and several discount carriers also offer service.

Salt Lake City is the junction of Interstates I-80 and I-15. Amtrak’s California Zephyr, which arrives late at night and overnight, serves the city from Chicago or the San Francisco Bay Area.

Stay at the Hyatt Regency Salt Lake City.
The Hyatt Regency Salt Lake City, just south of Temple Square, is one of the newest luxury hotels in the downtown area. Photo credit: Hyatt Regency Salt Lake City

Where to Stay in Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City is a family-friendly destination with a broad selection of national chains, locally flagged hotels, and vacation rental accommodations. Properties are spread throughout the metro area, so finding budget-fitting lodging anywhere is possible.

When traveling, I usually book a place in the downtown area. It’s more convenient to have a greater selection of activities, restaurants and places to visit.

Read More: Hyatt Regency Salt Lake City Review

Tour the Bryce Canyon National Park near Panguitch, Utah on a horseback.
You can hike or go horseback riding to tour Bryce Canyon National Park near Panguitch, Utah. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

What This Writer Likes Best About Utah

Red Rock Country, from Zion National Park to Arches National Park, is a personal favorite. The extraordinary landscapes, the variety of landscape viewing opportunities, and the Colorado Plateau weather bring me to southern Utah at least once a year.

Broaden your perspectives of what to see. Arches and Zion are generally packed with visitors. Escape the crowds and check out the area’s state parks and national monuments. Capitol Reef and Canyonlands are great destinations for beauty and adventure without all the crowds.

Spend some time in Salt Lake City, but move the lodging to St. George, Panguitch, Springdale or Moab for a visit south.

Eric Jay Toll Avatar
A travel writer and photographer in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., Eric Jay Toll has been writing for She Buys Travel from its earliest days. Specializing in the American West and outdoor adventures, Eric also treks in Mexico and Canada, and forays into Europe. He lives with his dog, Chaco, who occasionally joins road trips and camp outs, but tends to be a Downtown Diva.
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