Best Things To Do in Salt Lake City
Plan on spending a good chunk of your time exploring Temple Square, the official headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This walled neighborhood at the heart of Salt Lake City hosts impressive religious buildings – such as the Salt Lake Temple – as well as lush gardens and soaring sculptures. But there's more to do: The Great Salt Lake provides a spectacular setting for hiking and picnicking, while the nearby Wasatch National Forest is cross-hatched with scenic trails. Plan a visit to the slopes in Park City or nearby Snowbird Ski Resort if you're looking for an adrenaline-fueled daytrip.
Updated July 17, 2019
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Temple Square's three-block, 35-acre plaza is home to nearly 20 attractions related to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It's anchored by the towering Salt Lake Temple – where, among other things, weekly meetings of the church's governing bodies are held – and other fascinating buildings like the expansive Tabernacle and the Gothic-style Assembly Hall, which offer insight into the history and development of the church. You should also stop by the Family History Library, the largest genealogy library in the world. Once you've toured the sites, stroll through the square's scenic gardens and past the gurgling fountains.
Recent travelers recommend taking a free, guided tour of the square and also mention that you don't have to be particularly religious to find it of interest. Tours are not scheduled, but knowledgeable docents are available every day between 9 a.m. and 4, 7 or 8 p.m., depending on the month. Tours begin on the hour and meet at the flagpole west of the temple. Visitors are also welcome to attend the Sunday morning concerts in the Tabernacle, as well as the Thursday evening choir rehearsals (7:30 p.m.), both put on by the renowned Tabernacle Choir.
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Clocking in at approximately 1,700 square miles, the Great Salt Lake is the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi River. The lake's name comes from the nature of the water: The evaporation process (the only exit available for the lake's water) leaves behind salty mineral deposits. Salt Lake City's visitors and residents enjoy the area's many hiking trails, ample picnic spots, and boating and fishing opportunities.
According to recent visitors, the Great Salt Lake is also excellent for swimming and for spotting wildlife – including bison – on the way to the park. Travelers recommend stopping by the visitor center, highlighting the informative and friendly staff as definite perks. One of the most popular access points is Antelope Island, a state park located a little more than 60 miles northwest of Salt Lake City. You can reach the island by following Interstate 15 to exit 332.
- #3View all PhotosfreeLiberty Park#3 in Salt Lake City1.1 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, Recreation, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND1.1 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, Recreation, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
If you're looking to enjoy the great outdoors without leaving the city limits, head over to Liberty Park's 80 acres for any number of outdoorsy activities. There's a pond, bike paths, concession stands, rides, picnic areas, playgrounds and tennis and volleyball courts. Liberty Park is also home to an aviary and a greenhouse, both of which recent visitors recommend exploring, as well just simply enjoying the peace and tranquility. They also recommend this park for families, as there are plenty of kid-friendly activities.
This park sits pretty in central Salt Lake. It's open every day from dawn until dusk, and admission is free (although a small fee is required to use some of the sporting facilities). Liberty also hosts several annual events throughout the year. For more information, check out the park's page on the Salt Lake City website.
- #4View all PhotosfreePark City#4 in Salt Lake City21.9 miles to city centerFestivals, Hiking, Skiing, FreeTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND21.9 miles to city centerFestivals, Hiking, Skiing, FreeTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Park City was made for powder hounds. Sitting about 30 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, Park City is home to two major alpine ski spots that sprawl across acres upon acres of mountain terrain. Park City Mountain Resort welcomes skiers and snowboarders of all skill levels to traverse groomed trails, powder-filled bowls and terrain parks. And Deer Valley Resort caters exclusively to skiers (snowboarding is prohibited here), offering groomed runs and gladed steeps along with several on-site restaurants. If you're just starting out, all resorts have expert instructors on hand to help you learn the slopes – whether it's through kids ski school, group instruction or private lessons.
Those who aren't avid skiers can still find things to do. Park City's numerous art galleries and museums will keep visitors entertained. Meanwhile, in the spring and summer, the ski resorts transform their runs into hiking and biking trails, and around town tourists can hit the links at Park City Golf Course or peruse the area's farmers markets.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Salt Lake City3.4 miles to city centerParks and GardensTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND3.4 miles to city centerParks and GardensTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Filled with meticulously landscaped plots, gurgling fountains and pleasant pathways, Red Butte Garden is a great place for budding botanists as well as visitors looking for quiet respite. Housed on the University of Utah campus in northeast Salt Lake City, the garden is divided into sections, each devoted to a specific type of plant or ecosystem.
Recent visitors said you should prepare to spend a good chunk of your day here, as there's plenty to see. Also, many recommended coming here during the warmer weather for a concert – just remember to bring your own picnic blanket. Red Butte Garden also hosts a variety of educational lectures and kid-friendly activities.
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The historic and cultural attractions are interesting, but let's face it, skiing is one of the main reasons many travelers visit Utah. And Salt Lake City is in close proximity to some of the state's best slopes, including those found at the Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort. Sprawling across 2,500 acres with a 3,240-foot vertical drop, this ski resort features 169 runs that cater to both novice and advanced skiers. According to recent visitors, the slopes here rival those in Colorado.
Winter isn't the only time to enjoy Snowbird, though. The resort also features numerous warm-weather activities, including hiking, biking, fishing and even zip lining. The scenic aerial tram, which takes travelers up 2,900 feet to the top of Hidden Peak, is another highlight. Recent visitors said the views are awesome.
- #7View all PhotosfreeSalt Lake Temple#7 in Salt Lake City0.9 miles to city centerChurches/Religious Sites, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND0.9 miles to city centerChurches/Religious Sites, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
Note that the temple started an extensive renovation on Dec. 29, 2019 that includes making structural changes, improving its accessibility and adding more visitor facilities. As a result, it is currently closed. The temple is expected to reopen in 2024.
Rising a whopping 210 feet over the square, this impressive six-spire structure is the universal icon of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While you are not allowed to enter the church itself, recent visitors said that the beautiful grounds are worth touring.
- #8View all Photos#8 in Salt Lake City0.2 miles to city centerSightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.2 miles to city centerSightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Whether you like to read or admire beautiful architecture, the stunning and contemporary Salt Lake City Public Library could be worth your while. Located in the downtown area and opened in 2003, the library has more than 500,000 books and plenty of cozy corners ideal for hunkering down with a good story.
Recent visitors said the architecture alone is reason enough to visit, while others appreciated the friendly staff and on-site cafe. There are also a variety of shops and cafes around Library Square (just outside the library), not to mention a rooftop garden overlooking the surrounding Wasatch Mountains for those who want to read outside.
- #9View all Photos#9 in Salt Lake City0.9 miles to city centerMuseums, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.9 miles to city centerMuseums, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Sitting in Temple Square, the Family History Library houses millions of genealogical records profiling more than three billion deceased people, making it the largest library of its kind in the world. The library was founded in the late 19th century to assist members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints piece together their family history. Today, visitors are welcome to peruse the records – all meticulously preserved – and possibly track down a few ancestors of their own. Reviewers said this is a must-visit place for everyone, and especially genealogy buffs, as the staff are friendly and incredibly helpful and the resources are astounding.
The Family History Library is open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Admission is free. The library recommends that you plan ahead, organizing family information that you already have and determining what you want to find. This will make it easier for the reference consultant to help you with your search. For more information, visit the Family History Library website.
- #10View all Photos#10 in Salt Lake City19.5 miles to city centerHiking, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND19.5 miles to city centerHiking, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
About 30 minutes southeast of Salt Lake City, Big Cottonwood Canyon, located in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, is home to two ski resorts and is also a popular hiking, rock climbing and mountain biking area. Even if you don't get out of your car, you can take in the views on a scenic 15-mile byway leading through the canyon, which takes about one hour to complete.
Recent visitors said it is a beautiful drive. In the mid-1800s, miners sought gold and silver in the canyon and visitors can see the remains of old mines here and there. What's more, Solitude and Brighton ski resorts both offer full-service, year-round facilities. Plus, several hiking trails can be found at Brighton, leading to Twin Lakes, Lake Mary, Lake Martha and Dog Lake.
- #11View all Photos#11 in Salt Lake City72.2 miles to city centerHiking, Parks and Gardens, FreeTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND72.2 miles to city centerHiking, Parks and Gardens, FreeTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND
The Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest boasts 2.1 million acres of Mother Nature. Encompassing seven wilderness districts in total, this national park offers a diverse array of landscapes – ranging from verdant fields to rocky mountainsides – as well as plenty of opportunities to hike, bike and camp.
Recent visitors raved about the beauty of the area and highly recommend bringing a camera and wearing sturdy walking shoes, as there are plenty of trails you'll want to explore (many vary in length and skill level, so check the website before you go to properly plan ahead). If you don't have time for a hike, consider a scenic drive instead. The 37-mile Mount Nebo Scenic Byway is popular for its stunning views of the Utah and Nephi valleys, especially during the fall when the leaves change.
- #12View all Photos#12 in Salt Lake City3.8 miles to city centerZoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND3.8 miles to city centerZoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Home to more than 800 animals, Hogle Zoo allows visitors to get up-close and personal with its residents. Visitors can feed the zoo's giraffes, rhinos and gorillas (for additional fees), an activity that recent guests loved. Don't forget to pay a visit to Zuri. This African elephant was born at the zoo in 2009. In 2014, the zoo added the African Savanna exhibit, which is home to giraffes, zebras, ostrich and African lions. Take the zoo's Safari Express Train to see the exhibit with ease. Other on-site attractions include a carousel and splash pad.
Most visitors agree that, although this isn't the best zoo in the country, a visit here is worth the price of entry. Recent visitors were especially pleased with the size of the animal enclosures and also noted that the staff is friendly and knowledgeable.
- #13 in Salt Lake City1 mile to city centerMuseums, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND1 mile to city centerMuseums, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Clark Planetarium features exhibits on Earth, near Earth and beyond. Here, you can step inside a giant tornado, make a volcano, see a 6-foot Rand McNally Earth Globe, check out one of the largest real moon rocks on public display, and visit the Lunar Lander exhibit to learn more about the forces of gravity, acceleration and inertia.
Recent visitors were impressed with all the interactive and high-tech exhibits and highly recommend the planetarium. The Hansen Dome and Northrop Grumman IMAX theaters also offer shows on everything from moon landings to volcanos to cosmic light shows.
- #14View all Photos#14 in Salt Lake City3.5 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND3.5 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Head to the Natural History Museum to learn about the formation of the region's parks, mountain ranges, lakes, and basins, as well as exhibits on anthropology, entomology, zoology, mineralogy, botany and much more. The Great Salt Lake exhibit is a must-see, with interactive exhibits on one of the region's most unique features. Kids will especially enjoy the Our Backyard exhibit, with plenty of hands-on activities to spark their curiosity, though recent visitors say the whole museum is family-friendly, with plenty to see and do.
The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (with extended hours until 9 p.m. on Wednesdays). Tickets are $14.95 for adults; $12.25 for young adults ages 13 to 24; and $9.95 for children ages 3 to 12. On Wednesday nights after 5 p.m., admission is $5 for all. The museum sits about 2 miles north of the Hogle Zoo and is best reached by car. For more information, check out the museum's official website.
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