With five of the country’s top National Parks, and much more, Utah welcomes visitors to take the wheel and prepare to be awestruck. This Eastern Utah adventure encompasses several stops, beginning and ending at the state capital, Salt Lake City.
Utah’s national monument lands tell ancient tales of our planet’s earliest land formations and inhabitants. Wind into Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, discovering a host of surrounding gems. Each of these stops can stand alone as an abbreviated get-away, depending on your timetable. From the state capital, to a round-up of charming small towns, Utah’s hospitality runs as deep as her slot canyons and meandering rivers.
Ready to explore with us? Then let’s buckle up and hit the road for part one of our driving trip. (Find part two here.)
Salt Lake City: Let the Games Begin
Flying into the largest city in Utah, stop to smell the roses before you get out of the big city. Home to the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, Salt Lake City blooms with every seasonal flower and tree after the snow has melted away.
Staying downtown at the dynamic, vibrant, and well-appointed Kimpton Hotel Monaco Salt Lake City places you in the heart of the city, with convenient access to public transportation. Several eco-friendly bikes are available in the lobby for guest use. (Inquire about availability at check-in.)
Start with a Walk
Suggested walks from the Kimpton include Temple Square and the State Capitol, where you can stroll down State Street past fully restored 1800s homes. The Neoclassical Revival Corinthian style Capitol building is the place to be at sunset, gazing out on the Great Salt Lake, largest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere.
Sweet Sugar House
Six miles from downtown, you will find the revitalized Sugar House District, with its abundant eateries, unique shops and Victorian-style architecture. This district was born 150 years ago, when pioneers planted the sugar beets that gave rise to the Sugar House name and district with a sweet vibe. On the nearby University of Utah’s campus, you can see Olympic Cauldron Park where the 2002 opening and closing ceremonies were held.
Back at Hotel Kimpton, unwind with the complimentary yoga mat found in your room and dine at critically acclaimed Bambara (reservations recommended).
With this fabulous city in your rearview mirror, consider a stop at the Great Salt Lake before your expedition continues.
Ferron: See the San Rafael Swell
About three hours south of Salt Lake, adventure awaits at the San Rafael Swell in Ferron, Utah. 60 million years ago, the Earth’s surface fractured and caused much deeper rock to “swell,” forming new layers that eroded to fill with deep canyons and fascinating sandstone formations.
Look no further than Big Mountain Lodge for a paradise of outdoor recreation, with unbeatable off-roading experiences. Stay in one of Big Mountain’s eight cozy bedroom cabins or nine newly refurbished hotel rooms with outside entry, ample parking, and extra comfortable beds of all sizes. Although appropriately rustic for the surroundings, the cabins include favorable amenities like large walk-in showers, mini fridges, and outdoor grills, should you want to prepare your own meals. At the heart of the property sits a convenience store, outfitters store, fuel pumps, and the Lodge Grill and Pizzeria.
Tour a Geological Wonderland
Request a half or full-day Big Mountain guided tour with locals who know all the best spots to visit, or rent your own Utility Terrain Vehicle (UTV) to lose yourself in a geological wonderland. Mountain (and dirt) bikers can also live out their dreams by riding on miles of rugged trails. Several reservoirs of water can be accessed within an hour of Big Mountain Lodge, for a day of boating, fishing, jet skiing, or even stand-up paddle boarding, all popular in the summer months.
Rock Art, Dino Tracks, Sunsets & More
It’s hard to know where to start with so much on offer in the Swell. The Rochester Rock Art Panel site highlights petroglyphs left by the Fremont and Ute Native American tribes, along with a beautiful pictograph panel restored by the people of Emery County. You can climb into the chilly icebox cave slot canyon of the Eagle Canyon Wilderness. Or step right up to a clearly marked three-toed dinosaur track at the Buckhorn Wash. The Wedge, also known as Utah’s Little Grand Canyon, wins for best sunrise in the Swell. Then walk across the only suspension bridge left hanging in Utah, crossing the San Rafael River. Be sure to listen to the sounds of the San Rafael River below, photograph the view, and marvel at this depression-era construction.
From here we headed to Boulder and Escalante on part two of our monumental road trip, which publishes soon!
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Cover photo courtesy Brian Maass
Brian and Dana Maass are married and live with their dog Chester in Round Rock, Texas. When not working their day jobs, they can be found traveling, writing, capturing scenic photos, exploring the Hill Country, and serving the community. Follow them on Instagram at @Dana_Maass_Adventures and @Brian_Maass_Adventures.