Top Things to Do in Salt Lake City, Utah
With proximity to 5 national parks, including Zion and Bryce Canyon, world-class skiing, and incredible outdoor activities, Salt Lake City is a must-visit destination. Set at the foot of the spectacular Wasatch Mountains, outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty of options for hiking, camping, and mountain biking. Salt Lake City, the capital of Utah, is home to a wide variety of culinary offerings, inspiring art venues, five-star accommodations, and a professional basketball team. Salt Lake City also prides itself on being one of the safest and cleanest cities in the United States.
With so many attractions in and around the city, a convenient public transportation system, and an international airport, Salt Lake City serves as an ideal destination for any traveler. Keep reading to discover our top things to do in Salt Lake City.
Traveling solo? Check out our guide to the Top Solo Travel Destinations in the United States.
Wintertime is when the crowds start flocking to Salt Lake City. With multiple ski resorts located within an hour’s drive, winter enthusiasts easily rate Salt Lake City as a must-visit destination. Skiing and snowboarding are the popular attractions at these winter resorts but visitors will also find other activities such as snow tubing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and even dog sledding all within the Salt Lake City area. Here’s a quick breakdown of the popular destinations:
- Deer Valley Resort - Open exclusively to skiers, Deer Valley has over 100 ski runs and 20 chairlifts. There is a limit to the number of skiers per day so it’s recommended to purchase tickets in advance.
- Park City Mountain Resort - Covering over 7,300 acres, this is the largest ski area in the United States. On hand are over 300 trails, 8 terrain parks, and one superpipe.
- Snowbird Ski Resort - Sprawling across 2,500 acres with a 3,240-foot (987 meters) vertical drop, this ski resort features 169 runs that cater to both novice and advanced skiers.
Salt Lake City Connect Pass
Okay, so this is not an attraction, it’s 16 attractions! The Connect Pass gives you discounted prices to most of Salt Lake City’s main attractions. Among these attractions are the Clark Planetarium, Natural History Museum, Snowbird Tram, Utah Olympic Park, and Red Butte Garden. The Connect Pass is sold in 1-day, 2-day, and 3-day increments, giving you the flexibility to design your own touring experience.
Red Butte Garden
A trip to Salt Lake City is not complete without exploring the botanical gardens and arboretum at Red Butte Garden. Managed by the University of Utah, this natural area includes 21 acres of developed gardens and 5 miles (8 kilometers) of hiking trails. Visitors can join a guided tram tour to learn more about the history of the gardens and the different varieties of plants located in this natural area.
Additional reading: 27 Must-See Parks in the Western United States
Located in downtown Salt Lake City, Temple Square spans across 10 acres covering 5 city blocks of historic sites, engaging exhibits, and scenic gardens. Temple Square is a center of history and worship for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, however, visitors of any faith are welcome to visit. Guided tours, led by volunteers, provide insight into Mormon history. Temple Square is home to the Family History Library, the largest genealogy library in the world, and the towering Salt Lake Temple.
Utah Olympic Park
Built for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, the Utah Olympic Park is open year-round and offers multiple summer and winter activities. Competitions for winter sports are still held annually, though rope courses and zip lining have become popular attractions as well as numerous miles of hiking and biking trails. During the summertime, the bobsledding track is transformed into a concrete track providing visitors a chance to see what it's like to ride in a bobsled driven by a trained pilot. Climbing enthusiasts will love the deep water soloing climbing wall, an angled wall hanging over a deep pool of water. Among other exhilarating activities is extreme tubing. For this activity, riders cruise down the landing hill of a ski jump on an inflated inner tube, often reaching 50 mph!
Great Salt Lake
The largest natural lake west of the Mississippi, the Great Salt Lake provides opportunities for hiking, fishing, swimming, and boating. Antelope Island State Park, one of the more popular access points for the lake, offers a campground and is home to free-roaming bison and antelope herds. The park has over 36 miles (58 kilometers) of hiking and mountain biking trails, kayak and paddleboard rentals, and is an internationally certified dark sky park. Hike up to Frary Peak or Buffalo Point to take in views of the Great Salt Lake.
There are so many amazing hikes within proximity to Salt Lake City that even locals can’t seem to tackle them all. With many options and a wide range of trails, hiking is surely one of the most popular activities to do when in Salt Lake City. Here are a few of the top trails.
- Ensign Peak - Less than a mile up to the summit, a hike to Ensign Peak is a popular activity. The view affords an incredible perspective of the valley and is also an ideal spot to watch the sunset.
- Grandeur Peak - the hike up to this 8,299-foot (2,529 meters) summit follows a small stream into the forest and then steadily climbs up a series of switchbacks over 6.5 miles (10.4 kilometers).
- Bell Canyon’s Waterfall - follow a trail past a scenic reservoir and along the canyon to a series of waterfalls. Along the way, you will be afforded majestic views of Salt Lake Valley.
- White Pine Lake - a moderate 5 mile (8 kilometers) hike to an isolated lake with intense blue color. No swimming is allowed though camping is permitted for those who want to make an overnight trip.
Additional reading: Hiking Boots Guide - How to Choose the Best Hiking Boots
You won’t need to escape the city to enjoy some outdoor recreation and leisure. Liberty Park’s 80 acres include biking trails, hiking paths, sports courts, children’s playgrounds, and a pond. Located inside the park is Tracy Aviary & Botanical Gardens, a conservation center dedicated to caring for birds and nature through education. Visitors can observe over 135 different species of birds and participate in interactive programs such as bird feeding and shadowing a zookeeper.
Big Cottonwood Canyon
Located about 30 minutes southeast of the city, this 16-mile (25 kilometers) canyon is an outdoor adventurer’s paradise. Two ski resorts can be found in this area along with multiple trails for hiking and biking, and rock climbing routes for all levels. The scenic drive that winds along the canyon is one of the best drives in all of Utah. Some top things to do in Big Cottonwood Canyon are:
- Hike to the Willow Fork Beaver Pond or Lake Blanche
- Play disc golf at Solitude Resort Village
- Fish the Big Cottonwood Canyon Creek
- Bike the Wasatch Crest Trail
There are a wide variety of museums in Salt Lake City for your learning experience. Here are a few of the museums worth visiting during your time in Salt Lake City.
- Natural History Museum of Utah - learn about Utah’s rich past, including its geography and native background through interactive exhibits on anthropology, entomology, zoology, mineralogy, botany, and much more.
- Utah Museum of Fine Arts - home to a collection of over 18,000 pieces of local and global artists from around the world. The museum also hosts lectures, artist talks, and film screenings.
- The Leonardo Museum - Named after Leonardo Da Vinci, this museum offers several interactive and hands-on activities focused on art, science, and technology.
- Daughters of Utah Pioneer Memorial Museum - committed to preserving the history of Utah’s early settlers, this museum contains four stories, each dedicated to illustrating different aspects of the human history that shaped Utah and Salt Lake City.
Discover more of Utah’s natural beauty. Top Reasons to Put Zion National Park on your United States Bucket List.
Explore nearby national parks
Let’s not forget that Salt Lake City serves as a great base camp for those looking to explore Utah’s national parks. These national parks include Bryce Canyon, Zion, Canyonlands, Arches, and Capitol Reef. Just a little bit further of a drive and road trippers from Salt Lake City can access Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks.
- Arches National Park (4 hours drive) - home to the densest concentration of natural stone arches in the world. There are more than 2,000 documented arches in the park for visitors to see. Read our Top Hikes in Arches National Park article to learn more.
- Canyonlands National Park ( 4 hours drive) - preserves an extraordinary landscape of mesas, canyons, and buttes carved by the Colorado and Green Rivers.
- Zion National Park (4.5 hours drive) - a popular hiking and camping destination. Consisting of colorful canyons, forested mesas, and striking deserts, it's considered a true gem of the national park system.
- Bryce Canyon National Park (4 hours drive) - home to famous crimson red hoodoos and strange rock formations. There are some incredible hikes in this park.
- Capitol Reef National Park (3 hours drive) - this quieter, smaller, lesser-known national park is full of gorgeous hikes and adventurous rappelling.
No matter what time of year you find yourself in Salt Lake City, Utah, you will find that there is always something exciting going on. This article features a shortlist of things to do while visiting Salt Lake City. Use this as a guide to get you started and then create your adventure as you explore the surrounding areas and this historic Rocky Mountain city.
Other articles featuring towns near national parks:
- How to make the most of your stay in Moab, Utah
- Extend your stay in Asheville
- Top 5 things to do in Bryson City, North Carolina
- Top Things to Do in Jackson Hole, Wyoming
- Top Things to Do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee
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