The Utah Bucket List
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From Logan Canyon to the Alpine Loop to Boulder Mountain and beyond, Fall colors light up Utah mountains. For drive ideas, visit the Utah Travel Council’s Fall Colors in Utah page. Here you will find 31 drives through, “state and national parks, national forests, high plateaus and redrock canyons.” Download the printable version here.
Some classic drives include: The Alpine Loop, a 24 mile drive at the mouth of American Fork Canyon running past Timpanogos and Cave and completing on U.S. 189 in Provo Canyon near the Sundance Ski Area.
The Ogden River Scenic Byway, or as locals call it, the Monte Cristo Highway. This 44-mile drive begins at the mouth of Ogden Canyon and follows Utah 39 past Pineview Reservoir.
Logan Canyon Scenic Byway from Logan to Garden City. This 41-mile drive parallels the Logan River.
Finding the best time to see the colors pop can be tricky. Utah’s season starts in early September at higher elevations, and continues into November in lower areas. You can call the U.S. Forest Service’s automated leaf hotline at 800-354-4595.
For the more tech savvy, there are phone apps to help find the best times to view colors. Leaf Peepr is one, accuweather also gives fall reports.
To learn more about the science behind fall colors, visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
According to the Cottonwood Canyons Foundation, which hosts the annual Wasatch Wildflower Festival along with the four ski resorts and local, county and federal partners, there are 1,200 different species to be counted along the Wasatch Range. Many blossom during a short time span each summer, carpeting meadows, luring outdoor enthusiasts to the mountains.
"Summer at these high elevations is so intense because it is such a short growing season, so when it really peaks it is just spectacular," said Jessie Walthers, Cottonwood Canyons Foundation director. "Nature is so abundant and doing everything it can to bloom and send everything to seed in that time frame. It is a time of vibrant intensity."
The festival is held the last weekend in July with nature walks, music and kids’ activities and stops at each of the four ski resorts: Brighton, Solitude, Alta and Snowbird.
The Cottonwood canyons, of course, are not the only places to find natural wildflower tapestries. Cedar Breaks National Monument east of Cedar City also holds an annual wildflower festival. Other popular locations that only require a drive to witness the flowers include Wolf Creek Pass (State Highway 35 between Woodland and Tabiona); Monte Cristo(State Highway 39 between Huntsville and Woodruff); Boulder Mountain (State Highway 12 between Boulder and Torrey); Logan Canyon (Highway 89 between Logan and Bear Lake); and Guardsman Pass (between Brighton and Park City), to name a few.
You don’t need to wait for festivals to enjoy what nature has to offer. Flowers bloom at different times, starting with lower elevations earlier in the season, and moving up the mountains to higher elevations as summer progresses. For self-guided hikes, books or apps can be useful. High Country Apps, has one for the Wasatch, there’s also Wildflowers of Cedar Breaks. There are countless books to identify local flora. The Cottonwood Canyons Foundation has a wildflower guide. Here’s a list of recommended books used by the US Forest Service. Local booksellers are always a good resource to see what’s popular reading for your region.
Other useful links:
Albion Basin Experience, Wasatch-Cache National Forest
Wildflower Viewing in the Intermountain Region, U.S. Forest Service
Utah Wildflowers, a resource compiled by B. Nelson for fellow enthusiasts.
Utah has one of the largest concentrations of slot canyons in the world. From the famous Subway and Narrows routes in Zion National Park to the countless side canyons running into Lake Powell, Utah is zig-zagged with slot canyons galore.
There are miles and miles of breathtaking adventures to be had, but remember, canyoneering can be dangerous, even deadly. Safety is critical.
Canyoneering is different from simply hiking a slot canyon because it typically requires gear — ropes, harnesses, helmets and sometimes wet suits when water obstacles line the route. You’ll find yourself, rappelling, climbing, smearing, and crawling through twisting rock. And much of that rock is sandstone – think “sand paper”. Simply put, canyoneers shred whatever they are wearing.
Rick Green, owner and guide at Excursions of Escalante tells people preparing for their first slot-canyon adventure in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to wear your “play” clothes: you should wear clothes that will not rip or tear easily, allow flexibility and make sure you’re not too “attached” to them, they will get shredded. (He also advises to wear your best underwear, as there’s a good chance it will be seen!)
Along with clothing, consider proper safety gear – helmets, rigging, harnesses and rope. Route finding is often a key aspect, and having current maps and letting people know where you are planning to go is important.
In the desert, rushing water and flash floods form slot canyons, so you need to stay clear of them if there’s any chance of rain. Even if the sky above you is clear, rain 40 to 60 miles up canyon can create deadly floods.
Although slot canyons are a blast to explore, there’s a lot you need to know to be safe, so if you’re new to the sport, your best bet is to go with a commercial guide. If you want to learn more about canyoneering, classes are available through certified guides or Universities.
The University of Utah has a canyoneering class.
Canyoneering Booklet from the ACA (pdf, might take a while to load)
At the end of October, hundreds of riders gather on horseback to herd over 600 head of Bison on Antelope Island on the Great Salt Lake. You can participate in the ride, or view it from the road, but either way, come experience this uniquely western adventure. For more information, or to register, visit the Antelope Island State Park website.
The ride starts early in the morning, at 8am, and traffic can be heavy entering the park, so many people choose to camp out the night before.
Don’t have your own horse? No problem. You can rent one from a concessionaire R&G Horse and Wagon. Don’t worry if you’re not an expert rider. There’s plenty of fun for all levels. You can ride well behind the herd and enjoy the island’s beautiful views and amazing wildlife.
This year, The 27th annual Antelope Island Bison Roundup is Oct. 25-27. You can register online starting Sept. 2, at antelopeisland.utah.gov. The cost is $35 per person to ride and $15 per night to camp on the island.
The 50 campsites and two group sites at Devils Garden Campground in Arches National Park can be reserved March through October and can be made up to 180 days in advance at www.recreation.gov. Campsites 1 to 24 are open November through February on a self-serve basis. Many are tucked into the slick rock, providing some privacy and a built-in playground for kids of all ages. Campsites have a picnic table and a grill or fire pit. So bring marshmallows. You can buy firewood in Moab, or from the campground host. Other handy items to bring include camp chairs, a cooking stove, and lots of cold drinks. Refillable containers for water are also convenient; there is potable water on site. If the campground is full, you can check out sites outside the park at discover Moab.
Be sure to check in at the visitor’s center to find out about ranger-led programs and activities for adults and children. There’s a fun Junior Ranger booklet for the kids. There are lots of hiking options in Arches, from short hops to long treks. Sand Dune arch or the Windows loop trail are great easier options, while Devil’s Garden trail or Fiery Furnace require more time and stamina. The Fiery Furnace can be done as a ranger-guided tour, or with a hiking permit. People get lost easily in the maze of rocks, so the guided tour is highly recommended.
If your preferred method of transportation is horseback, you’re in luck. Horses are allowed in the park, although there are restrictions. Check out the park’s website to learn more.
If you don’t want to leave your car, you can also do a driving tour. No matter if you’re on foot, on hoof, or wheels, there’s something for you. For a range of ideas, check out things to do at Arches.
The Great Salt Lake State Marina is just 16 miles west of downtown Salt Lake City is home to the “saltiest sailors on earth.” The Great Salt Lake Yacht Club was established in 1877, and for over a hundred years its members have been enjoying races and sunset sails on this unique body of water. Races are held on Wednesday nights throughout the summer, and there are often opportunities for people to crew. Even if you don’t get out on the lake, they’re fun to watch.
For a private sailing lesson or a charter cruise, contact captain Jim Anderson of Sailing Solutions.
If you want a more intimate encounter with the lake, join the Great Salt Lake Rowing association. You can take rowing lessons, and join other sculling enthusiasts. They also have a free Learn to Row event early each June.
Another way to experience the lake while also learning about Pacific Islander heritage is to contact Hui Paoakalani, Utah’s first Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Club. All ages and skill levels are welcome.
You can also explore on your own by renting a kayak, pedal boat or paddle board from Gonzo Boat Rentals.
For more on these activities, and other events on the lake, go to the Great Salt Lake Marina web page.
The Great Salt Lake is one of the most extreme ecosystems of the world. Learn more about this amazing, but fragile environment at Westminster’s Great Salt Lake Institute. For guided hikes and activities along the lake visit The Friends of the Great Salt Lake.
Another Bucket List item to see along the lake, is the world famous monumental earthwork, Spiral Jetty.
The Green River just below the Flaming Gorge dam is a world-class fishing experience. The stretch of the Green between the dam and Colorado is recognized as three sections: A, B and C.
The A section runs for seven miles from the dam to the Little Hole Day Use Area (which is accessible via paved road). The Little Hole National Recreation Trail runs along the river in the A section and is not only popular with anglers, but also hikers and wildlife enthusiasts.
Camping is not allowed on the A section, which is dominated by steep red cliffs and is the most scenic of the three sections. It also includes the greatest concentration of trout, predominately rainbow and brown.
The B section of the Green runs for nine miles from Little Hole to Indian Crossing Campground. This section has canyon country, but it opens as you travel downstream. The B section is accessible by trail from Little Hole for about two miles and camping is available at designated camping spots along the way.
The only Class III rapid comes about four miles into the B section, where Red Creek joins the Green. Most boaters get out and scout this rapid before attempting it.
The C section is the least-visited part of the river. The surrounding lands are more open and the frequency of catching fish can be considerably less, but the reward is often larger fish.
Recognizing the values of the Green in northeastern Utah, several groups, including Utah Rivers Council, are working on making it the first state water to receive protective designation as a Wild and Scenic River.
There are seven permitted fishing outfitters on the Green: Flaming Gorge Resort,Western Rivers Flyfisher, Spinner Fall,Trout Creek Flies, Old Moe, Trout Bum 2 and Green River Drifters. Private boaters are allowed, but no motors. You don’t need a permit to float the Green, but you will need a Utah fishing license.
Lodging is available at the Red Canyon Lodge,Flaming Gorge Resort and Spring Creek Guest Ranch. The Red Canyon Lodge is also a great place to enjoy a meal, or to get a box lunch to enjoy while you’re on the river.
Camping along the road is available at several campgrounds, with Dripping Springs, Firefighters Memorial, Skull Creek, Greens Lake and Mustang Ridge being the closest. There are 18 hike-in or float-in campsites below the Little Hole day use area on the Green. Six can be reserved.
The Greatest Snow on Earth® is a pretty hefty claim in the highly competitive ski industry. While Utah has been marketing The Greatest Snow on Earth® slogan since 1962 it wasn’t until the statement was stamped on Utah license plates in 1985 that it became a household saying. If you’ve ever picked up a ski magazine or surfed the web you’ve seen some mind blowing images from Utah with skiers practically needing a snorkel to navigate the bottomless powder blanketing Utah’s hallowed ski resorts. In fact, Utah is so well-known for its snow that in 2010 the state took seven of the top 10 spots in Ski Magazine’s snow rankings (including a clean sweep of the top 5).
So the big questions are what makes Utah snow so great and is it really any better than snow in other places? Well, there are a number of factors that come into play for making snow great. First and foremost, you need a lot of light, dry snow and a lot of snow days where you receive bigger snowfalls. This combination provides a balance between flotation and face-shots. If the snow is too dense, you will float on top but it will never cover your beard unless you wipe out. If the snow is too light, you will sink to the old snow surface below and if there are moguls underneath, you’re way more likely to take a knee to the face than snow. Utah achieves this balance by often receiving ten or more inches of lighter, dryer snow in a single storm and in greater frequency than other places, resulting in more powder days and more face shots. The reason Utah snow is light and dry is two-fold. As storms originate in the Pacific they are full of moisture. When the storms pass through the coastal mountains of the Pacific Northwest and northern California, they drop a lot of that moisture. The storms continue across the desert, which zaps more moisture. When the storms hit Utah, they typically are dropping light, dry powdery snow.
Utah is home to 14 ski resorts and 11 of them are less than an hour’s drive from Salt Lake City International Airport. Utah ski resorts offer The Greatest Snow on Earth® which not only makes for amazing powder skiing but also makes for plenty of corduroy, groomers, terrain parks and half-pipes.
Averaging more than 600 inches of Utah's legendary "Greatest Snow on Earth®," Snowbird is the ultimate powder paradise. Award-winning terrain, unmatched accessibility and a picturesque pedestrian village add up to an unforgettable winter destination experience.
Text from skiutah.com
Utah has one of the largest wintering populations of bald eagles in the lower 48 states. Eagles gather at Farmington Bay during winter months to feed on an abundance of carp. Although you can view Eagles throughout the region, one of the best places to watch them is at the Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area.
Eagles begin arriving in late November and stay through early March. The peak season is usually around February, although the time varies from year to year, as does the number of birds. Another variable is the best time to view them. Traditionally, the birds can be seen between 10am and 4pm. Although when we went to watch them, they were most active early in the morning, around 8am and they rested in trees in the afternoon.
One of the best ways to find out more about the birds and the best times to view them, is to attend the annual Bald Eagle Day, held in different locations throughout the state each February by the Department of Wildlife Resources. Other resources are available. You can call the Waterfowl Management Area at 801 451-7386, or stop in at the adjacent Robert N. Hasenyager Great Salt Lake Nature Center. Another great place to contact is the Wild About Birds Nature Center in Layton.
When you go to view the eagles, you’ll want to bring binoculars or a spotting scope to get a closer look at the birds. For photographers, a telephoto lens is a must. If you want to learn the tricks of capturing wonderful images, many area photographers give workshops. Photographer Rob Daugherty was kind enough to let us use some of his amazing images for our show. If you want to take a lesson or tour with Rob, contact him at Robswildlife.com.
Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area, is located on the west side of Farmington. Traveling north on I-15, take Exit 325. Turn right off the off-ramp, then turn left on the frontage road and drive north to Glover Lane. Turn west on Glover Lane and drive two miles to the WMA's north entrance (1325 W.). If you're traveling south on I-15, take Exit 327 and drive south to Clark Lane. Turn left on Clark Lane and continue east to 650 W. Turn right on 650 W. and travel south to Glover Lane. Turn right on Glover Lane and travel west to 1325 W., which is the WMA's north entrance.
Another place to view birds is the Salt Creek Waterfowl Management Area (Compton’s Knoll) located 10 miles northwest of Corinne, UT.
Utah rivers are filled with must-do stretches of whitewater, but Cataract Canyon in Canyonlands National Park is on our Bucket List because it combines world-class rapids with amazing hikes and days of relaxing slow-moving water for playing and water fights.
We started our 5-day trip just outside of Moab along Potash Road. The first few days were mellow, filled with archeological wonders and towering canyon walls. We had some challenging hikes, especially the Doll House Hike, but the views were well worth the struggle. On day-4 we hit the rapids. Cataract Canyon contains 14 miles of rapids ranging in difficulty up to Class V. We did it in a low water year, so the rapids were fun, but not too daunting. But in high water years, Cataract has some of the biggest rapids around. Check out the park website for videos of high water escapades.
Cradled by the Wasatch Mountains, the 389-acre Utah Olympic Park venue is home to six Nordic Ski Jumps, a 1,335-meter sliding track with five start areas, a freestyle aerials winter training and competition hill, a 750,000-gallon summer freestyle aerial training pool, the Joe Quinney Winter Sports Center, Alf Engen Ski Museum and George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles 2002 Olympic Winter Games Museum.
Utah Olympic Park is a winter sport venue built for the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games and is located 28 miles east of Salt Lake City in Park City, Utah. During the 2002 Games the Park hosted bobsleigh, skeleton, Luge, Nordic Ski Jumping, and Nordic Combined events. It still serves as a training center for Olympic and development level athletes and is a popular destination for tourists.
The Park is open year-round with seasonal activities for guests. Guided tours are available daily all year long. The Alf Engen Ski Museum and Eccles 2002 Olympic Winter Games Museum are open year-round. Admission to the museums and venue is free.
In the summertime, guests can take a ride on the Comet Bobsled with a pilot, ride the Extreme Zipline (the steepest zipline in the world), take a ride on the Alpine Slide, watch athlete training of all levels, and try freestyle jumping into the Aerials Pool on skis!
In the winter, guests can take the ride of their life down the Olympic track in a winter Comet Bobsled with a pilot. Riders reach speeds of 80mph with 5 G’s of force! Guests can also try the sport of skeleton on the Rocket Skeleton ride. Participants are taught how to maneuver a skeleton sled on their own down the last 4 curves of the Olympic track.
Text from utaholympiclegacy.com
Hard-core mountain bikers will ride the White Rim Road for 100 miles (from the Island in the Sky Visitor Center down the steep Shafer Trail to the east, south with views of the Colorado River, north on the Green River side, back up to the plateau via the impressive Mineral Bottom Road and end at the visitors center).
Others elect a more leisurely tour of roughly 75 miles from a start on the Shafer Trail to the top of Mineral Bottom Road with two or three night stops at one of 10 camping areas (with 20 individual campsites) along the White Rim. Each campsite accommodates up to 15 people and 3 vehicles.
Because the road is open to vehicles, outfitters like Holiday River Expeditions and private parties secure the required backcountry camping permits and use sag wagons to carry camping gear, food and water.
If you choose to ride it on your own, be sure to make reservations for campsite permits well in advance. Although you can try getting them at the last minute, it’s not recommended. The trip is especially popular in the spring and fall to avoid summer heat. Careful planning of food, water, clothing, first aid supplies, and bike repair gear is critical. There is no potable water along the trail.
Along with great views, be prepared for wind and lots of sun. There’s very little shade to be found. Riding the trail you’ll encounter mixed terrain -- steep hills, flats, deep sandy sections, gravel, and bedrock canyon roads.