Escape To Heber Valley, UT: The Other Side of the Mountain

by Haven Lindsey on March 3, 2022 in Travel,
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If you’d rather spend more time on your vacation than traveling to and from, Salt Lake City is making it easier than ever to discover a secret side of Utah that may not be a secret much longer.

Skiers and hikers have long sought the dramatic, rugged peaks of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains surrounding Salt Lake City. The young-by-comparison mountain range demands attention with its sharp ridgelines, rocky scree, and glacier-formed alpine lakes. Popular ski resorts Park City, Deer Valley, Alta, and Snowbird all have their definable personalities depending on the type of skiing, and après skiing, you’re interested in.

Nestled in the majestic mountains of Midway, Utah, Zermatt Resort – with its Swiss-inspired architecture and world-class spa treatments – is a year-round getaway conveniently located between Park City and Sundance. Courtesy photo

Ready to Discover: Midway

But there is another other side of the mountain. Even the most adventurous winter enthusiasts have often limited themselves to the ‘discovered’ side of the greater Salt Lake area. A surprisingly quick ride beyond Park City is the small, hamlet of Midway – a town steeped in history known by the locals for all the things the ‘discovered’ side has, with fewer crowds. Except the turkeys. The inviting town with a Swiss heritage and a European coziness is home to an abundance of wildlife including wild turkeys, which is why you’ll see ‘Turkey Crossing’ roadside signs and vehicles stopped for turkeys crossing the road.

The town of Midway is the jewel of the Heber Valley, made even more obvious at night as the town’s trees are adorned with twinkle lights – yet not so bright as to take away from the dark, bright star lit skies. Because the town is tucked into a valley, a rental car is recommended and then — to borrow a line from Dr. Seuss — ‘Oh the places you will go.’ Because the Heber Valley, on the verge of being discovered, has secrets to discover around every corner.

Home Base European-Style

One option for a home base is the Zermatt Utah, which offers the options of resort-style rooms or larger villas situated near the year-round outdoor pool and hot tubs. The Swiss-styled property is home to the Zermatt Spa which has been the first part of the resort to undergo a renovation. Zermatt Utah has a hot pot (or hot spring) on its property and is within short walking distance to the Homestead Crater, the largest of the dozens of natural hot-water springs in Midway. Some of the hot pots welcome visitors to soak, swim, and even scuba in their impressively spacious springs.

In Midway, Utah, local owners of Creekside Yurt Dinner will provide snowshoes for the experience to walk a snow-covered trail to a yurt for a unique experience. Photo Haven Lindsey

The feeling of being on a European getaway is pervasive throughout the Heber Valley. 20 miles from the lights and activity of Park City, an area experiencing aggressive development in hopes of hosting another winter Olympics, Midway provides an alternative winter wonderland. Like the opportunity to snowshoe to a cozy yurt where guests can enjoy an upscale chef-prepared dinner and later sit by an open fire and make s’mores with local chocolates and gourmet marshmallows. Don’t be surprised if the yurt hosts encourage you to take a “pocket cookie” with you to enjoy later. And, don’t be surprised if you find yourself putting more than one local-made cookie in your jacket.

 

Activities Galore

There are numerous daytime activities to choose from, and snowmobiling is one of them. Wasatch Excursions understands how to respect nature and wildlife while providing a safe, yet exhilarating experience. For skiers looking for world-class slopes, with a brand new, high-speed quad chair lift, Sundance is known as the ‘locals mountain.’ The secret of Sundance is at risk of getting out. The locals will tell you for pristine snow, no crowds, and an environmentally consciousness surrounded by Robert Redford’s (they all call him Bob) privately-owned, mountains that will not be developed, Sundance is the place to be. Every ski mountain has its own personality and Sundance feels like home. The small-town friendly vibe abides and for a Texan homesick for barbecue, The Lookout, run by a former Austin-based Terry Black’s BBQ chef, is the real deal.

There are plenty of opportunities to stop and enjoy the scenery from your personal snowmobile excursion. Photo courtesy Heber Valley Utah

Supping, Shopping and Strolling

Between Midway and Sundance, is The Lake House at Deer Creek. You may initially go for the restaurant’s incredible views of mountains-meet-lake, but the there is little doubt your most difficult decision will be deciding what to eat. Hint: Plan to share your meals so you can try more of the options. Outstanding is not a strong enough word for the quality you’ll experience – many guests eat here more than once on a week’s vacation.

Spending an afternoon walking through the town of Midway promises a delightful experience. Home to Utah’s longest covered bridge, the charming town boasts shops, a gallery in an historic building, and numerous quality restaurants including chef-owned and -operated, Midway Mercantile, and the Café Galleria, who responded to COVID quarantining by installing individual snow globe seating. Diners are enclosed in private rounded glass snow globe-like structures, called Alpenglobes. The heated and cozy outdoor seating are so popular the restaurant plans to keep them in place.

Robert Redford recently sold the ski resort which has resulted in a new, high-speed quad chair lift, but Sundance will maintain its peaceful vibe because ‘Bob’ owns the surrounding mountains. Photo Haven Lindsey

The Magic of the Ice Castle

The Ice Castle experience, however, is one you’ll not want to miss but is only there for a limited time. Each year, temperatures dictate how long the ice castle stays open. One of only five like it in the nation, each November a crew of professional ice artists come to Midway and build a meandering, ice castle by placing hundreds of thousands of icicles by hand. The castle is lit by LED lights, has windows, tunnels, slides, fountains, thrones, and is so magical that adults become child-like. A local farmer with well-loved draft horses is on site to take visitors on horse-drawn sleigh rides – complete with bells on the sleigh.

Midway, Utah in the Heber Valley is a town on the other side of Park City. But more than that, it’s a town on the verge of being discovered.

The award-winning ice castle in Midway is like stepping into magic and Tic and Toc, two four-year old draft horses, are proud of their seasonal job of pulling their sleigh. Photo courtesy Heber Valley Utah

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Cover photo courtesy Wasatch Excursions

Haven Lindsey resides in Taos, NM. She is a freelance writer with more than 20 years of experience writing on topics including healthcare, addiction, public policy, education, travel, food and human interest stories. She was recognized by NPR for her solo travel series exclusive to Texas Lifestyle Magazine. Haven is working on her second book, a follow up to, ‘The Blue Dog and The White Horse Adventures on A Texas Ranch’, a children’s book about the friendship between her dog and a horse.