Welcome to Utah, a state where the majesty of nature meets a rich tapestry of history and culture. Often referred to as the Crossroads of the West, Utah is a land of contrasts, from its sprawling red-rock deserts to snow-capped mountain peaks, and from its vibrant, modern cities to its tranquil, historic sites. This guide, “Top Things to See and Do in Utah: A Traveler’s Ultimate Guide,” is your passport to exploring the best of what Utah has to offer.
Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a history buff, an art lover, or an adventure seeker, Utah’s diverse landscapes and attractions promise a memorable experience for every kind of traveler. From the iconic natural wonders of its national parks to the architectural marvels in its cities, and from outdoor adventures to enlightening cultural experiences, this guide will take you through the must-visit sites and hidden gems of this unique state. Let’s explore the top things to see and do in Utah!
Historical and Cultural Sites
Utah’s rich history and cultural heritage come alive in its numerous historical and cultural sites. These destinations offer a window into the past and celebrate the diverse influences that have shaped the state. From sacred religious sites to significant civic landmarks, each location tells a story of the people and events that have contributed to Utah’s unique identity. Here’s a glimpse into some of these sites, along with their visiting costs.
Temple Square: At the heart of Salt Lake City lies Temple Square, a pivotal site in Utah’s history. This 10-acre complex, highlighted by the magnificent Salt Lake Temple, exemplifies the dedication of the early Mormon pioneers. Constructed over 40 years with rudimentary tools, it’s a testament to perseverance and faith. Visitors can expect informative tours from friendly volunteers, making it a haven for history buffs and photography enthusiasts.
- Price: Free
Utah State Capitol: The Utah State Capitol, perched on Capitol Hill, is a marvel of neoclassical architecture. It serves as a symbol of the state’s governance and history. Visitors can explore its exquisite interiors and enjoy panoramic views of Salt Lake City. The Capitol is an educational experience, offering insights into Utah’s legislative history and cultural milestones.
- Price: Free
This is the Place Heritage Park: ‘This is the Place Heritage Park’ takes visitors on a journey back to the pioneer era. Engage in activities like handcart treks and traditional crafts, and interact with actors in period attire who bring the history of Utah’s early settlers to life. It’s an immersive experience that allows visitors to appreciate the pioneers’ resilience and contributions.
- Price: $5 per person, free for children 2 and under
Cathedral of the Madeleine: The Cathedral of the Madeleine, a masterpiece of religious architecture, combines Gothic and Romanesque styles. Its stunning stained glass windows and intricate artworks offer a serene and spiritually uplifting experience. Visitors from all backgrounds are welcomed to marvel at its beauty and historical importance.
- Price: Free
Each of these locations not only reflects Utah’s historical and cultural journey but also offers visitors an affordable and enriching experience. Whether you’re exploring for free or for a nominal fee, these sites promise a deep connection with Utah’s heritage.
Arts and Performance Venues
Utah’s vibrant arts scene and world-class performance venues are a testament to its rich cultural tapestry. These venues offer a plethora of experiences ranging from dramatic theatrical performances set against stunning natural backdrops to engaging encounters with wildlife. Here’s a look at some of the premier arts and performance venues in Utah, along with their visiting costs.
Tuacahn Center for the Arts: Among red mountains under the starlit sky, the Tuacahn Center for the Arts presents a visual feast unlike any other. Its unique setting in a natural amphitheater offers an unforgettable backdrop for its productions. The center is renowned for its high-caliber performances, encompassing intricate sets, elaborate costumes, and exceptional talent. Visitors should note that being an open-air venue, weather can play a role in the experience.
- Price: Ticket prices vary based on the show and seating.
Utah’s Hogle Zoo: A delightful experience for visitors of all ages, Utah’s Hogle Zoo is a window to the animal kingdom. The zoo is well-maintained, offering ample space for the animals to roam, and features clean, flowing water habitats. It’s an educational and enjoyable outing, especially for families looking to learn more about wildlife and conservation efforts.
- Price: Tickets range from $5 to $22 depending on age and season, with free entry for children under 2.
These arts and performance venues in Utah not only provide entertainment but also enrich visitors’ understanding of the arts, wildlife, and conservation. Whether you’re watching a play under the stars at Tuacahn or exploring the diverse species at Hogle Zoo, these experiences are sure to leave a lasting impression.
Iconic Natural Landscapes and Parks
Utah’s landscape is a breathtaking canvas of natural wonders, encompassing everything from serene peaks offering panoramic city views to surreal landscapes that seem almost otherworldly. These natural landscapes and parks are not only visually stunning but also serve as a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. Let’s delve into some of these awe-inspiring sites, along with their accessibility and costs.
Bonneville Salt Flats: A remarkable natural wonder, the Bonneville Salt Flats offer a landscape where the sky stunningly reflects off the salt-covered ground, creating a surreal visual experience. Visitors are encouraged to exercise caution when driving on the flats. Despite some areas showing signs of neglect, the natural beauty of the flats, especially when they’re flooded, provides extraordinary and unique views.
- Price: Free
Great Salt Lake: The largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere, the Great Salt Lake, is a symbol of Utah’s diverse natural beauty. The lake and its islands offer outstanding opportunities for scenic and recreational activities. The sunsets over the lake are particularly spectacular, and nearby Antelope Island State Park adds to the allure, providing additional opportunities for exploration and enjoyment.
- Price: $5.00 per vehicle (private)
Ensign Peak: For those in search of a rewarding hike accompanied by magnificent views, Ensign Peak is the perfect destination. Though the trail is steep and mostly sandy, it leads to panoramic views of Salt Lake City and its surroundings that are well worth the effort. This spot is ideal for those in good physical condition and looking for a short but satisfying hike.
- Price: Free
Each of these natural attractions embodies the diverse and magnificent landscapes of Utah, offering experiences that range from peaceful hikes to unique photographic opportunities. Most of these incredible vistas are accessible without any charge, making them ideal additions to any Utah travel itinerary.
National Parks and Monuments
Utah is renowned for its extraordinary national parks and monuments, each offering a unique blend of natural beauty and outdoor adventure. These parks are the crown jewels of the state, boasting stunning landscapes, from towering rock formations to deep canyons. Here’s a glimpse into some of these majestic national parks and monuments, along with information on admission prices.
Zion National Park: Zion National Park is a natural wonderland, famous for its imposing rock cliffs and a variety of hiking trails. Whether you’re traversing The Narrows or gazing down from Angel’s Landing, the park’s beauty is unmatched. The shuttle service ensures convenient access to key spots. Remember to obtain a permit for certain hikes like Angel’s Landing.
- Price: $20 per person or $35 per vehicle
Arches National Park: Home to over 2,000 natural stone arches, Arches National Park is a marvel of geological history. The park offers a range of hiking trails suitable for all abilities, with stunning views and photo opportunities at every turn. Remember to bring water and wear sturdy shoes for the best experience.
- Price: $15 per person or $30 per vehicle
Bryce Canyon National Park: Bryce Canyon is a landscape of otherworldly rock formations and brilliant hues. The park’s trails cater to various skill levels, offering everyone the chance to explore its unique beauty. The park’s vast amphitheaters of hoodoos (spire-shaped rock formations) are especially breathtaking.
- Price: $20 per person or $35 per vehicle
Canyonlands National Park: With its dramatic desert landscape, Canyonlands National Park is a less-crowded alternative to the Grand Canyon. The park offers magnificent views of canyons and mesas, and its Island in the Sky district provides some of the most spectacular vistas. The Visitor Center’s interactive displays make the visit educational and enjoyable.
- Price: $15 per person or $30 per vehicle
Capitol Reef National Park: Capitol Reef, known for its colorful canyons, cliffs, and domes, is a paradise for hikers and nature lovers. The park’s Scenic Drive is a highlight, offering access to numerous trails and stunning viewpoints. Its rugged beauty and less-traveled paths provide a sense of solitude and adventure.
- Price: $10 per person or $20 per vehicle
Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument: This vast and rugged area offers a diverse range of geological formations and hiking opportunities. Attractions like Lower Calf Creek Falls provide a rewarding hike ending in a beautiful waterfall. Visitors should be prepared for the remote nature of the area and bring necessary supplies.
- Price: $5 per vehicle
Dinosaur National Monument: A haven for paleontology enthusiasts, this monument allows visitors to see and even touch dinosaur fossils. The Quarry Exhibit Hall displays a remarkable collection of dinosaur bones. Outdoor activities like hiking and camping make it a versatile destination for families and adventurers alike.
- Price: Starting at $15 for individuals
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park: This iconic landscape, characterized by its towering sandstone buttes, is a sacred land managed by the Navajo Nation. Visitors can explore the area with a Navajo guide to fully appreciate its cultural and historical significance. Nearby Valley of the Gods offers a similar landscape with fewer restrictions. Also, check out Forrest Gump Point which is in the area.
- Price: $8 per person, National Park Passes not accepted
Each of these national parks and monuments presents a unique facet of Utah’s natural splendor, offering experiences that range from serene hikes to awe-inspiring vistas. While some have entrance fees, they all promise enriching encounters with the great outdoors.
State Parks and Unique Natural Areas
Utah’s state parks and unique natural areas complement its national parks, offering a diverse array of landscapes and outdoor experiences. From towering rock formations to serene camping spots, these areas provide a more intimate connection with nature. Here’s a look at some of Utah’s state parks and unique natural areas, along with information on their visiting costs.
Snow Canyon State Park: Known for its stunning red rock formations and sandstone cliffs, Snow Canyon State Park is a haven for hikers and nature lovers. The park features well-maintained trails suitable for various skill levels and the intriguing addition of lava tubes. The scenic drive through the park is a must-do, providing breathtaking views at every turn.
- Price: $10 per vehicle for residents, $15 per vehicle for non-residents
Goblin Valley State Park: A geological wonder, Goblin Valley State Park is famous for its hoodoo rock formations, often referred to as “goblins”. This park offers a unique landscape for hiking and exploration, with the opportunity to wander among these fascinating natural sculptures.
- Price: $5 per person or $20 per vehicle
Goosenecks State Park: Offering a spectacular view of the deep meanders of the San Juan River, Goosenecks State Park is a marvel of natural erosion. The park provides a unique camping experience with rim-side sites, offering unforgettable views, especially at sunrise and sunset.
- Price: $5 day use per vehicle, $10 overnight
Dixie National Forest: As Utah’s largest national forest, Dixie National Forest offers a serene retreat into nature. The forest is particularly beautiful in late September when the foliage turns vibrant hues. Red Canyon, a part of the forest, offers accessible trails and captivating scenery.
- Price: Free, though Pine Valley Recreation Area requires a day pass, $6
Each of these state parks and natural areas provides a unique opportunity to engage with Utah’s diverse landscapes, from peaceful hikes to adventurous exploration. They are ideal for visitors seeking a closer look at the state’s natural beauty in a more secluded setting.
Museums and Educational Attractions
Utah’s museums and educational attractions offer a wealth of knowledge and exploration, making them perfect destinations for families, history buffs, and anyone with a curious mind. From natural history to aerospace wonders, these attractions provide insightful and engaging experiences. Here’s a look at some of Utah’s key museums and educational sites, along with details about their admission fees.
Natural History Museum of Utah: Located in Salt Lake City, the Natural History Museum of Utah is a treasure trove of knowledge, offering insights into the state’s geological, biological, and cultural history. It features an array of exhibits, including fascinating displays of rocks, minerals, and dinosaur fossils. The museum regularly updates its exhibits, ensuring there’s always something new to discover. It’s an ideal spot for both adults and children, with hands-on exhibits and interactive displays.
- Price: $17.95 – $22.95 (children 2 and under are free)
Hill Aerospace Museum: Situated near Ogden, the Hill Aerospace Museum is an exciting destination for aviation enthusiasts and history seekers. The museum houses a remarkable collection of military aircraft, spanning from early flight history to modern jets. Each aircraft is accompanied by detailed exhibits, providing context and history, making it not just a visual feast but also an educational journey.
- Price: Free
These museums not only enrich visitors’ understanding of natural and aerospace history but also provide a fun and educational environment for all ages. Whether exploring ancient fossils or marveling at historic aircraft, these attractions are sure to spark curiosity and wonder.
Recreation and Adventure
Utah is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure seekers, offering a wide range of activities that cater to all ages and thrill levels. From adrenaline-pumping adventures to tranquil explorations, the state’s recreational offerings are as diverse as its landscapes. Here’s an overview of some popular spots for recreation and adventure in Utah, along with their associated costs.
Utah Olympic Park: Located in Park City, Utah Olympic Park is a hub for exciting summer activities, especially for kids aged 10 and up. This former Olympic venue now offers attractions like zip-lining, extreme tubing, and a ropes course, providing a day full of adventure and fun. The park staff are known for their friendliness and helpfulness, enhancing the overall experience. Note that some activities may require a short hike to access.
- Price: Adult $20 – Youth (12 & Under) / Seniors (65+) – $15, self-guided tours are free
Lake Powell & Glen Canyon National Recreation Area: This area is a paradise for those who love scenic beauty and water-based activities. Lake Powell, with its stunning views and unique geological formations, offers opportunities for boating, fishing, and swimming. The Glen Canyon area, including attractions like Horseshoe Bend, provides various viewpoints and hiking trails. Visitors can choose how they wish to explore this breathtaking region.
- Price: $15 per person or $30 per vehicle to enter certain parts; some areas require no fee.
Lagoon Amusement Park: As a premier amusement park in Utah, Lagoon offers a plethora of fun rides and attractions for all age groups. The park is known for its clean and well-maintained environment, offering a family-friendly atmosphere. Unique features like a shaded kids’ area and the option to bring your own food and drinks make it a popular choice for a day out.
- Price: $100 per person
Whether you’re looking for a day filled with adrenaline, a peaceful exploration of natural wonders, or family-friendly fun, Utah’s recreational offerings provide something for everyone. These venues not only offer thrilling experiences but also opportunities to create lasting memories.
As we wrap up our journey through “Top Things to See and Do in Utah: A Traveler’s Ultimate Guide,” it’s clear that Utah is a state of endless wonder and diverse experiences. From the historical richness of Temple Square and the Utah State Capitol to the breathtaking natural beauty of Zion and Arches National Parks, Utah offers something for every type of traveler.
Whether you’re seeking adventure in the great outdoors, a deep dive into history and culture, or simply a chance to witness some of the most stunning landscapes in the world, Utah delivers. Each destination we’ve explored is a testament to the state’s unique blend of natural beauty, historical significance, and cultural richness.
As you plan your trip to Utah, remember that each site and attraction offers its own unique story and experience. We encourage you to explore these wonders, delve into the state’s rich history, and create your own unforgettable memories.