Ready to make your Utah holiday unforgettable? With salt flats, deserts, mountains, and more within spittin’ distance of Utah’s capital, the choices for adding one of the best day trips from Salt Lake City to your itinerary are out-of-this-world.
Salt Lake City is a popular U.S. city destination known for its opulent places of worship, vast museum selection, and lush natural landscapes along its borders.
As great as Salt Lake City can be, though, it would a shame not to hit up some of the other impressive landmarks nearby while you have the chance. You could take a steamy bath among the mountains at the Crystal Hot Springs, carve the pistes in Park City, or plan your next great outdoor adventure to the Fishlake National Forest—the possibilities are endless!
Is your Utah itinerary feeling a little bit lackluster? This list of the greatest Salt Lake City side trips is exactly what you need to infuse your holiday with wanderlust!
Top-rated Salt Lake City side trips
Looking for an impromptu ski holiday destination? A mere 40 minutes from Salt Lake City, Park City teems with ski resorts and snow chalets nestled beneath craggy, snowcapped mountains. Whether you want to cozy up by the fireplace or hit the slopes, visiting this beautiful Utah ski town is the perfect way to add a new dimension to your SLC holiday.
When you’re not carving your way through the powdered hills of Park City, you’ll definitely want to walk along Historic Main Street. From cozy coffee shops and pubs to gift shops and photo ops, there’s enough to do here to fill an entire day. Keep an eye out for colorfully lit trees and impromptu Christmas concerts during the holiday season!
Though this mountain oasis is a destination that comes alive in the wintertime, there’s still plenty to see & do in Park City during the summer months. Among the most popular in zipping through the rockface on the Alpine Coaster or taking it a little slower and exploring on horseback.
Looking for an escape to a charming city with a rich history and a pristine mountain backdrop? Ogden perfectly fits the bill, a quick 35 minutes down the road from Salt Lake City. Come breathe the fresh mountain air and combine outdoorsy tourism with a deep dive into the past of the frontier.
Have a dinosaur fanatic in your travel crew? Ogden’s George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park is home to dozens of life-size recreations of all your favorite species and a hands-on paleontology lab for some interactive fun.
At the end of the historic 25th Street, you’ll find Ogden Union Station, which is home to several of the region’s best museums. If you’re fascinated by trains, cars, and cowboys, you’ll love hopping from exhibition to exhibition here.
Bonneville Salt Flats
Looking for a bucket-list-worthy road trip to enhance your itinerary? A visit to the Bonneville Salt Flats is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience. It’ll take you an hour and a half to get here from Salt Lake City, but it’s a small price to pay for making travel memories you’ll NEVER forget.
Stretching over a hundred miles from SLC to Nevada, the Bonneville Salt Flats is a “white desert” formed by a thick layer of salt crust that formed over the dried-up Lake Bonneville. Now, they boast out-of-this-world landscapes that’ll leave you feeling like you’re walking on the moon.
Just a few words to the wise: The salt flats are relatively remote and see extreme temperatures ranging from super hot to freezing cold depending on the time of year. Come prepared with plenty of layers, water, and any gear you might need to stay comfortable during your visit.
(And, for goodness sake, keep any equipment/vehicles away from the salt if you don’t want them to break!)
Oh, and don’t forget your camera: You’ll be able to snap some epic, wanderlust-inducing photographs at the Bonneville Salt Flats. During the winter months, water flushes over the salty surface in a thin layer, giving the illusion of mirrored ground, so you can capture the reflection of the sunset or the blue sky on the flats.
Perfect for museum lovers or budding naturalists who prefer the urban comforts when they settle back in at night, Provo is a great town to add to your Utah itinerary. Just 44 minutes away, it’s close enough to SLC that you can drive there just for the afternoon or stay overnight for an immersive experience. Provo is also the third-largest city in the state, making it one of the top destinations in Utah.
If you love outdoor activities, you’ll want to check out some of the epic canyons surrounding Provo, including Rock Canyon and Provo Canyon. Bridal Veil Falls is also a popular local attraction for those who don’t mind a little hike with a big payoff.
Prefer a top-tier city arts scene? Provo is bursting with attractions for art lovers, including a live theater, the BYU Museum of Art, and The Crandall Historical Printing Museum, each showcasing its own unique mediums.
Mirror Lake Scenic Byway
Here’s a journey for the self-proclaimed road-tripper extraordinaire! A drive down the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway is for travelers who love being in the car all day long, stocking up on snacks, and crafting a playlist of the perfect tunes. In a little under two hours from Salt Lake City, you’ll reach your starting point and embark on a scenic route that takes around the same amount of time to explore from start to finish.
Of course, as you make your way down the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway, you’ll want to make plenty of stops along the way. Throughout the 42-mile stretch, you’ll find several overlooks and natural attractions. What are the top landmarks to keep on your radar? Mirror Lake, Bald Mountain Pass, and Provo River Falls is a good list to start with.
The Mirror Lake Scenic Byway road trip is especially fabulous in the autumn when the leaves change color. Still, a summertime journey promises swimming and winter drives showcase beautiful cold weather scenes; really, it’s a spectacular option all year round!
Fishlake National Forest
For an idyllic day at the lake, consider a day trip to the Fishlake National Forest. A bit lusher than some of the deserts and mountainous stretches of Utah wilderness, this natural beauty is easily accessible with a one-hour and 45-minute journey from the SLC city center.
Fishlake, the namesake of Fishlake National Forest is the perfect backdrop for a summer day of swimming, fishing, and kayaking. As enticing as the waterfront is, though, you simply must make time for a leisurely (and beginner-friendly) hike through the surrounding area. The trail network will guide you through stunning meadows, mountain valleys, and aspen forests—the exact kind of setting poets write poetry about.
Looking for a few attractions to check out while you’re in the area? Within the Fishlake National Forest boundaries is the Monroe Hot Springs Resort, famous for its copper tubs in the red Utah rockface, and Fremont Indian State Park and Museum, where you’ll find ancient petroglyphs and other archeological marvels.
Not for the faint of heart, a trek up to Gobblers Knob is an exclusive and transformative experience recommended only for experienced hikers. Though this mountain peak is only 32 miles from Salt Lake City, it’s not a quick trip by any means. The ascent will take all day, with trail loops ranging from 5 to 7 hours on average.
The Gobbler’s Knob trek will lead you to the summit of the mountain ridge between Mill Creek Canyon and Big Cottonwood Canyon, standing 10,246 feet above sea level. The hike is quite steep and can get pretty snowy as you reach the top, so it’s best to undertake it during the spring and summer months when conditions are more moderate.
You can start your journey to Gobblers Knob from multiple different trailheads. The most popular and highly recommended are the Alexander Basin Trail and the Butler Fork Trail.
Don’t forget good shoes and a water bottle—you’ll need them!
Crystal Hot Springs
Need a little reset before heading back to the hustle and bustle of everyday life? End your Utah vacation with a visit to Crystal Hot Springs, just one hour on the nose away from SLC. Year-round, tourists travel from all over Utah to soak their stresses away in the refreshing baths of mineral water.
Did you know that Crystal Hot Springs is actually the largest natural hot spring in the world? This complex comprises waterfall features, a lap pool for serious swimmers, multiple soaking pools, and three hot tubs. All are kept at various temperatures so you can alternate from warm to cool and stay all day long. They even have two water slides, keeping the experience entertaining and fun for families visiting with children!
For an extra magical experience, consider visiting Crystal Hot Springs after dark and watching the steam rise off the springs into the night sky.
Little Sahara Recreation Area
Ever wanted to visit the Sahara desert? Well, if a multi-day flight to Northern Africa is off the table, a one-hour and 45-minute drive from Salt Lake City to the Little Sahara Recreation Area is all you need to satisfy your craving for jaw-dropping desert landscapes.
One of the most incredible features of the Little Sahara Recreation Area is the massive expanse of sand dunes spanning over 60,000 acres. Thrill seekers come from all over the world to hike the 700-foot tall Sand Mountain, or try fat-biking, ATVing, or sandboarding in the low-lying White Sand Dune Bowls.
Those looking for an adventure requiring less physical exertion often trek the smaller and less busy sand dunes (which, honestly, offer a better photo opportunity) or hike the sagebrush flats and watch tumbleweeds roll by.
Be sure to stay until the evening to watch the sun sink over the sandy horizon, setting the dunes ablaze with pink and orange hues!
Antelope Island State Park
For a walk on the wild side, head on down to Antelope Island State Park, where 36 miles of hiking trails await. One hour, and 34 minutes from Salt Lake City, crossing over the bridge, a trip to the reserve is absolutely worth the time investment!
It may seem like hiking is the primary draw to Antelope Island State Park, but without a doubt, the main reason to come here is for the ample wildlife-watching opportunities. The reserve is home to several big (and rare) species like Bison, bobcats, and longhorn sheep—be sure to bring your camera and a sharp eye!
Have an evening to spare? Stay at Antelope Island State Park into the night to discover why this reserve has earned its designation as a Dark Sky Park.
Thanks to its seclusion and lack of light pollution, you’ll be treated to views of the Milky Way and constellations you’ve never seen before. Curl up with a blanket and your friends, and get ready for a night you’ll never forget!
Bear Lake State Park
Water lovers and beach bums will absolutely fall in love with Bear Lake State Park. Known for its brilliant cerulean waters caused by natural mineral deposits, a trip to bear lake promises the intense colors of the Caribbean at the foot of Utah mountains. Clocking in at approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes, this road trip is best for those who have a little extra time to spare or who are happy to wake up at the crack of dawn and get going.
Of course, the main draw of Bear Lake State Park is the ample selection of water-bound activities. Whether you want to lounge about on the sandy beaches, rent a boat from the marina, or try your hand at a new adrenaline-inducing watersport, you can do it here.
Bear Lake State Park has a large day-use area, but since getting here is a bit of an undertaking, it’s highly recommended that you participate in their feature activity—camping! Pitch a tent right at the shoreline and get ready to soak up the sun.
Traveling during the winter months? Try your hand at ice fishing! Bear Lake State Park is the only place in the entire world where you can catch Bonneville Cisco; it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity not to be missed.