Many first-time visitors to Salt Lake City, Utah, find it to be an unexpected gem. The better-known sites of this state capital include Temple Square downtown — home to the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the lake that gives the city its name, and the Uinta and Wasatch mountains in the distance.
What you may not know is that, in addition to all there is to do in town, there’s also an array of things to see and experience just outside the city. The other-worldly expanse of the Bonneville Salt Flats, sunsets with the bison on Antelope Island, world-class skiing, mountain botanical gardens, and unique historical experiences are just some of the fun things to do in Salt Lake City.
Here, you’ll learn more about why a trip to this city can make for a memorable getaway.
Best Times to Go to Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City’s weather is typically pleasant three out of four seasons. Summer travel in July and August will bring you a high average temperature of 90 degrees. Late spring, early summer, and early fall are typically around 70 degrees, which many people find just right for exploring outdoors.
If you’re looking for a skiing vacation, you’ll want to go between December and March. Ski resorts usually open in November and close in April, but it all depends on snow accumulation. Some years are drier than others.
Pro tip: There’s usually still snow in the nearby mountains in March — and sometimes April. That’s when you’ll find fewer crowds, more hotel availability, and lower prices. Timing your travel to take advantage of this window can be how families afford to travel.
Bad Times to Go to Salt Lake City
If you’re not a skier, winter will probably be the least desirable time to visit Salt Lake City. In January, for instance, the temperature will often be below freezing.
It’s also worth noting, especially for those with respiratory issues, that Salt Lake City is surrounded by mountains, which can cause what’s known as an inversion during the winter. Cold air traps warmer, more polluted air in the valley. If you do ski, however, the mountains above the inversion offer plenty of fresh air and powder.
Average Cost of a Salt Lake City Vacation
The average cost for a vacation to Salt Lake City is $197 per day, or $1,377 per week for each person, according to data compiled by Budget Your Trip, a website that tracks travel pricing. For a couple, that number jumps to $2,794. Some other costs include:
• Average cost for meals: $40 per day
• Average cost for a hotel: $190 per night
• Average cost for transportation: $36 per day
• Average cost for entertainment: $22 per day.
If you don’t know where to keep a travel fund to budget for these costs, consider a savings account, a CD, or a high-yield savings account (HYSA). Typically, online banks offer higher annual percentage yields (APYs) than traditional banks.
Pro tip: Plan to drive to or rent a car when you visit. The top things to do in Salt Lake City may not actually be in the city. Attractions tend to be spread out, so renting a car can make for a less stressful trip versus taking public transportation.
One other reason to rent a car: It can earn you credit card rewards, which might mean cash back to use on your next meal out or gas-station stop.
10 Fun Must-Dos in Salt Lake City
When visiting, consider this list of fun things to do in Salt Lake City based on recommendations from locals, and visitors who reviewed attractions on Google Travel.
Keep in mind the Salt Lake City metro area is quite spread out. Some of the best things to do may take you upwards of an hour (and sometimes more) away from the city center.
1. Temple Square
Temple Square is at the heart of downtown. The complex includes a temple, tabernacle, assembly hall, visitor center, and administration buildings. It is the symbolic center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (aka Mormons), the religion of the pioneers who settled the area. It’s a major architectural landmark surrounded by lush gardens, fountains, reflection pools, and art installations. Tours are free, and you can scan for your own genealogy in the Family Search Center. ChurchofJesusChrist.org/feature/templesquare?lang=eng
2. Bonneville Salt Flats
The Bonneville Salt Flats are almost two hours to the west of Salt Lake City, but most visitors find it’s worth the drive. The white, hardened salt creates a glistening expanse that stretches for miles. You may find yourself feeling as if you’re on another planet. At sunset, the whole sky may turn cotton-candy colors. If you happen to visit after there’s been some rain, you’ll see reflections that seem to stretch to the horizon. You’ll definitely want to spend some time taking photos, regardless of the time or the weather.
There’s no charge to visit the Salt Flats, and you can find a calendar of events (it’s a renowned racing venue) on the Bureau of Land Management’s website. BLM.gov/visit/bonneville-salt-flats
3. Lagoon Park
If you’re looking for things to do in Salt Lake City with kids, consider a visit to Lagoon Park. Lagoon is an amusement park located just 20 minutes north of downtown. Considered the area equivalent to Disneyland, it’s open from March to October.
It’s a pricey attraction, with adult day passes costing almost $100. If you have the right travel credit card, you may be able to offset some of these costs by redeeming credit card points or miles. LagoonPark.com/
4. Utah Olympic Park
One of the quirkier things to do in Salt Lake City is a bobsled run at the Utah Olympic Park. A professional driver takes you through the experience, which is available in winter and summer. Also in the summer, the Olympic Park turns into an adventure park with extreme tubing, alpine slides, airbag jumps, a drop tower, ziplines, and rope courses. UtahOlympicLegacy.org/location/utah-olympic-park/
With all this adventure, you may want to know how credit card travel insurance works. The same holds true if you are planning to do some vigorous hiking or climbing while visiting Utah. It’s good to know that you’re prepared for any unexpected issues while traveling.
5. Take a Hike
Hiking along one of the many trails in and around Salt Lake City can be one of the best things to do when visiting. Trails are well-groomed and easily accessible. The views can be stunning, and your time spent in nature can be a great mood booster. A few trails around Salt Lake City you might want to try:
• Ensign Peak is a trail above the Utah State Capitol building that offers a bird’s eye view of the city. It’s a fairly short, easy hike and won’t take you away from the city.
• Donut Falls Summer Trail is a 1.6 mile, easy, family-friendly hike up Big Cottonwood Canyon with a waterfall at the end. Plan for this hike to take an afternoon.
• Cecret Lake Trail is another fairly easy hike that takes you to a beautiful alpine lake. Note: It’s popular and parking is limited, so you’ll want to plan accordingly. VisitUtah.com/places-to-go/cities-and-towns/salt-lake-city/trails
If you’re traveling with pets, be sure to research any hike ahead of time to make sure your pet is allowed on the trail.
6. Hit the Slopes
Salt Lake City ski resorts are world-class. The climate frequently produces the perfect conditions for snow skiing. The resorts are easy to access, and there’s a variety of accommodations for every budget. If you need to save money on hotels, you’ll likely find something that suits you if you book ahead. Family-friendly activities are everywhere. Ski resorts within an hour of Salt Lake City include:
• Park City VisitParkCity.com/outdoors/skiing-snowboarding/
• Deer Valley DeerValley.com/
• Snowbird Snowbird.com/
• Alta alta.com/
• Brighton BrightonResort.com/
• Solitude SolitudeMountain.com/
• Sundance SundanceResort.com/
7. Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is one of the most highly-rated attractions in Utah, with an average 4.8 out of 5 stars on Google reviews. The exhibits offer a fascinating opportunity to learn about Utah’s eight federally recognized indigenous tribes, gems and minerals, and much more. There are plenty of interactive activities, perfect for families. The architecture of the building itself is fascinating: It’s a copper-clad eco-friendly structure tucked into the foothills above Salt Lake City. NHMU.utah.edu/
8. Sundance Festival
Want to rub shoulders with celebrities and watch pre-release films? The Sundance Film Festival might be your jam. The event takes place over 10 days in late January every year and is open to all who purchase a pass or ticket. Films are shown in theaters in Salt Lake City, Park City, and Sundance. You could be one of the first to see critically acclaimed films that go on to worldwide success. Sundance.org/festivals/sundance-film-festival/about/
9. Antelope Island
A drive over to Antelope Island is one of the best ways to experience the Great Salt Lake. The island is a state park with bison, mule deer, antelope, coyotes, and birds as its only residents. It’s an unspoiled jewel where you can take in views of the lake and wildlife. There are some basic facilities and trails for use. Sunsets here can be particularly spectacular. StateParks.utah.gov/parks/antelope-island/
10. Red Butte Garden
The Red Butte Garden is a botanical garden that sits high in the foothills directly to the east of downtown Salt Lake City. With nothing but the mountain in the background and an elevation that affords views of the Salt Lake Valley, the setting is a great break from the bustle of city life. Miles of trails along the manicured gardens are the perfect place for a walk. An amphitheater on the sloped hillside hosts a popular outdoor concert series. RedButteGarden.org
One Watch-out When Visiting Salt Lake City
Be mindful that you cannot consume alcoholic beverages in public places; so there’s no cracking open a cold beer after spending an afternoon on a trail. You may drink at bars and restaurants, however, following the establishment’s guidelines. Typically, restaurants require you to order food when consuming alcohol vs. serving just drinks.
Travelers and locals agree that once you’ve been to Salt Lake City, you realize how much more there is to do than you imagined, from great museums to a lively downtown, from skiing in winter to exploring trails and outdoor experiences during the rest of the year. This state capital offers an incredible combination of convenient access to outdoor adventure along with urban entertainment.
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What is popular in Salt Lake City?
The most-visited attraction in Salt Lake City is its historic Temple Square, a large complex including the Temple, Tabernacle, gardens, and more.
What do people do on the Salt Lake?
It’s the biggest lake in the state of Utah, and you can go sailing, kayaking, and wildlife spotting. However, beware the brine flies. One of the best places to experience the Great Salt Lake is from Antelope Island, where you can get up close and personal with bison, birds, and other wildlife but fewer bugs. Sunset pictures from this location are stunning.
Is Salt Lake City good for tourists?
Yes. Salt Lake City has some interesting attractions and unique restaurants, and there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. Just up the canyons from Salt Lake, you’ll find excellent hiking, biking, and skiing.
Photo credit: iStock/DenisTangneyJr
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