The Best of Outdoors Salt Lake City

Every month here at we try to introduce you to cool towns across the country that would fulfill any outdoor lover’s wish list. This month, it’s Salt Lake City, Utah:

Founded: 1847

Population: 187,215

Size: 110.4 square miles

Activities: Backpacking, camping, cycling, fly-fishing, hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, scenic touring, skiing/snowboarding, wildlife observation

Why you should go: Yes, you will see tabernacles. Yes, the beer is light and the rules for buying it strange to outsiders. Get over it. Salt Lake City may have been founded as the Mormon city by Brigham Young some 165 years ago, but an influx of young outdoors enthusiasts and gear companies is quickly changing the face of the Beehive State’s capital.

With companies like Black Diamond and calling Salt Lake City home, you know you’ll find good climbing nearby. American Fork Canyon lies about 35 miles south and has several crags in addition to a campground. Find great bouldering in town at the Mount Olympus Trailhead on Wasatch Boulevard.

Perhaps the best outdoor activity here is just getting up into the hills and exploring. A quick 45-minute drive gets you to Park City, where you can wander the trails among dormant ski resorts and through stands of aspen and pine. The Uintah and Wasatch ranges offer a multitude of hikes anywhere west of Salt Lake City.

Salt Lake City also makes a great starting point for adventures into the canyonlands and deserts further south. It’s a four-hour drive to Moab (where you’ll find Arches and Canyonlands national parks); slightly more to Bryce Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, or Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Zion National Park lies in the opposite corner of the state from Salt Lake City. It is a quite a haul, especially for youngsters, and definitely not a day trip.

When You Should Go: Unlike most outdoor destinations, winter is the main season in Salt Lake City, with the nearby resorts in Big Cottonwood (Solitude, Brighton) and Little Cottonwood (Alta, Snowbird) cashing in on up to 500 inches of ultralight powder per year. Summer isn’t bad either, with ample hiking and fly-fishing available in the Uintah and Wasatch mountains. Just be wary of desert areas and canyonlands, where summer means brain-baking heat and flash floods.

Must-see/do: If you’re coming here to see the Great Salt Lake, think again­­—unless wading through mudflats and getting bitten by horseflies is your idea of fun. Instead, head up into the canyons just outside of town, from Little Cottonwood to Big Cottonwood to Provo Canyon and the nearby Mount Timpanogos. All are good in spring (wildflowers), summer (views), and fall (foliage).

Off the beaten path: The once-railroad town of Ogden has seen a bit of a resurgence recently, when top ski companies Salomon, Atomic, and Hart decided to call it headquarters. Hike the Ogden Overlook Trail in summer; it winds around Snowbasin Ski Resort, home to the 2002 Olympic downhill ski races.