Utah is a hidden gem in the lower 48. Its proximity to mountains and deserts can satisfy the most adventurous spirits. Nestled between the Great Salt Lake and the Wasatch Mountain Range, Salt Lake City is an outdoor lovers’ paradise. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to be surrounded by mountains, cottonwood trees, or sandstone arches. With amazing outdoor adventures, there are also plenty of things to do in downtown Salt Lake City making it the perfect year-round escape.
Best Things To Do In Salt Lake City
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With so much to do, it’s hard to plan and prioritize what to do first in Salt Lake City. However, with this simple Salt Lake City travel guide you’ll be on your way to enjoying northern Utah’s treasures in no time. So strap on your walking shoes and let’s start exploring Salt Lake City, Utah.
This post was originally written by Megan Walsh of the Quirky Climber and has been updated in 2022 to add more downtown Salt Lake City attractions and outdoor activities in and around Salt Lake City. Are you ready to explore the great outdoors? Let’s get started.
If you are arriving by plane to Salt Lake City, for some skiing? book this airport transfer to Park City where your driver will meet you upon arrival with a nameplate. They will also track your flight to be aware of any delays and take you directly to your hotel.
Things to do in Downtown Salt Lake City, Utah
For an overview of Salt Lake City, book this four hour bus tour that takes you to many of the top Salt Lake City attractions. You’ll follow the Mormon Trail to see Temple Square, the State Capitol Building, Fort Douglas, and sites from the Winter Olympic Games. For an extra fee, you can purchase lunch at the Lion House, the former home of pioneer Brigham Young, and take in a live recital at the renowned Mormon Tabernacle.
Temple Square is the most popular tourist attraction in Salt Lake City. Located right in downtown Salt Lake City, Temple Square covers an area of 10 acres and five city blocks with the imposing Salt Lake Temple at its centerpiece. It is the headquarters for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (The Mormons). Location: 50 N Temple, Salt Lake City, UT 84150, United States
In 1847 Brigham Young led a band of pioneers declaring, “This is the Place.” And is still used today as a place of worship. Free tours are available where you can learn of the Mormon history and faith while exploring the many museums, event spaces, gardens, and libraries. Note: Temple Square is undergoing renovations and is undergoing a phased reopening process. You can check for updates on their website.
Salt Lake City Tabernacle Choir
Even as a kid I had heard of the famous Tabernacle Choir and no visit to Salt Lake City would be complete without taking in a performance at Temple Square. The Salt Lake Tabernacle has been performing for 150 years and continues to do so with live broadcasts and recitals. At certain times of the year, the choir opens its doors to the public and to let them watch their rehearsal. You can check for the full schedule here before visiting. Location: 50 N W Temple St, Salt Lake City, UT 84150
Utah State Capitol
When visiting any capital city in the United States, you can’t miss seeing the capital building, they are always so grand. The Utah State Capital is no different. It is another one of the free things to do in Salt Lake City in the city center. Guided tours take place hourly from Monday to Friday or you can do your own self-guided tour. For tickets, hours, and more information, find the details here. Location: 350 N State St, Salt Lake City, UT 84103
Natural History Museum of Utah
For a day indoors with the whole family, make your way to the Natural History Museum of Utah. For science, culture and history, this is definitely one of the top points of interest in the city. Spanning 500 million years of Utah history from the ancient Great Salt Lake to the First People’s Exhibit, and important moments in history. It’s not just Utah history however, it houses the largest collection of horned dinosaur fossils in the world, and it has rotating exhibitions to complement its permanent displays. Location: 01 Wakara Way, Salt Lake City, UT 84108, USA
Salt Lake City Public Library
Why go to a public library you ask? For the architecture of course. The Salt Lake City Public Library is a beautiful display of modern architecture designed by renowned international architect, Moshe Safdie. It is one of the most beautiful architectural displays in Utah. The 240,000 square foot building is six stories high with curving walls. It not only houses 500,000 books, but there is also a public plaza on the ground floor with shops and services, a rooftop terrace with rooftop views of Salt Lake City and the Salt Lake Valley, an auditorium, and reading galleries. This is truly a place in Salt Lake City for a little solitude and quiet time. Location: 210 E 400 S, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
Liberty Park is 80 acres of beautiful green space with walking paths, ponds, The Utah Heritage Museum, and Aviary and the Chase Home Museum of Folk Art. Located on the former 1881 estate of Bingham Young it is now listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Meaning its structures and sites are deemed worthy of preservation for their historical significance. Location: 600 East 900 South, Salt Lake City, UT 84105,
It’s located in a residential neighborhood so the best way to explore is to take this guided cycling tour where you’ll meet your guide at the oldest park in the city and then cruise through the sculpture garden of Gilgal Park, and explore the century-old neighborhoods as you wind your way to City Creek Canyon in downtown Salt Lake.
Family History Library
Located in the city center in Temple Square, The Family History Library is free to enter and is open to the public for people in search of their genealogy. It is one of the largest Geneology museums in the world and it is run by the Church of Latter Day Saints. They have an extensive collection with 1.3 million rolls of microfilmed genealogical records. Location: 35 N W Temple St, Salt Lake City, UT 84150
The state-of-the-art facility is climate controlled preserving temperature, humidity, and light to protect the books, microfiche, and other records. It’s not just for Americans or Mormons either, they have records of 8 billion people (deceased) from 100 countries! It’s one of the most popular things to do in Salt Lake City with millions of people from around the world entering its doors in search of their family history. Visit their website to see how you can discover your family history
One of the more interesting points of interest in Salt Lake City is the Clark Planetarium. For one, it offers one of the free things to do in Salt Lake City. It is open seven days a week and exhibits are always free. For an extra fee you can watch shows in the Hansen Dome Theatre and the Northrop Grumman IMAX Theatre. We love hitting a movie theater when traveling and IMAX Theatre presentations are always a treat. Located at: 110 400 W, Salt Lake City, UT 84101
Red Butte Garden
Located at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City’s Red Butte Garden is not only a botanical garden, it’s the largest botanical garden in the American Intermountain West. Spanning 21 acres of display gardens the site houses themed gardens and a half a million spring blooms. There’s an amphitheater that hosts outdoor music concerts and there are 5 miles of hiking trails for outdoor lovers to weave through the beautiful gardens and an arboretum. Located at 300 Wakara Way, Salt Lake City, UT 84108 – You can purchase tickets in advance here
If you are looking for other family friendly activities in Salt Lake City, you may want to check out the Hogle Zoo with the highlight being the Asian Highlands Exhibit showcases big cats of Asia, you can have an elephant encounter or visit the African Savanna to see giraffes ostriches and lions. While we don’t frequent zoos, we understand the work they do in conservation and not everyone can get to Africa or Asia. The best way to work toward a future for wildlife is through education and zoos are one of the best ways to fall in love with animals. Location: 2600 Sunnyside Ave S, Salt Lake City, UT 84108
The Eccles Theater
If you are looking for things to do in Salt Lake City at night, consider taking in a show at the Eccles Theater. The theater is the place for arts and culture in Salt Lake City. Even if you don’t catch a show, make sure to go inside to view its spectacular five-story glass lobby. Take a stroll along main street to pop in for a look. Location: 131 S. Main St, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
Outdoor Attractions Near Salt Lake City
Great Salt Lake
Salt Lake City got its name from the massive Great Salt Lake and this outdoor playground is just 20 miles from the city center. Salt Lake is the largest saltwater lake in the entire western hemisphere and outdoor lovers will enjoy kayaking, sailing, hiking and biking around the Great Salt Lake. It is a popular area for bird watching thanks to the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve where millions of birds migrate through the area. Go for a walk along the boardwalk following the interpretive towards the 30-foot viewing tower. Drop by the visitors center for more information before you start exploring.
If you’re in the area, it’s worth stopping by the mountain town of Park City, especially on Sundays, when “Park Silly,” the city’s open-air market, is on. From local honey to handmade jewelry, to street performances and food trucks, this market has something for everyone. Pick up your walking guide to Park City on Amazon
With a closing time of 5 pm, you can enjoy your morning paddle session, and still get a bit of mountain culture in the afternoon. With hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking, and so much more, one weekend isn’t enough for how much northern Utah has to offer, but it’s enough to leave you wanting more.
If you are visiting Salt Lake City in the winter, this guided ice climbing trip takes you from Salt Lake City to learn how to climb or practice your skills. Some of Utah’s best ice climbing venues are near Salt Lake City and they include Little Cottonwood Canyon, Provo Canyon or Maple Canyon.
Catch Olympic Fever
Salt Lake City was home to the 2002 winter Olympic Games and Utah Olympic Park is still bustling with Olympic energy. Athletes train year-round at Olympic Park at their state-of-the-art freestyle skiing facilities and the Olympic Oval speedskating rink. During the Olympics, this park hosted ski jumping events, bobsleigh, luge, and nordic skiing. But the park isn’t only open to athletes, the public can enjoy Olympic sports and outdoor activities from extreme tubing to ziplining and guided bobsledding tours taking you down the Olympic track. If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at ski jumping, you can go for it in the splash pool.
Of course in the winter, it’s home to world-class skiing and snowboarding while summers can be spent mountain biking and hiking. For more information visit the Park City website.
No trip to Salt Lake City in winter would be complete without hitting one of the nearby ski resorts. There are four world-class ski resorts at its doorstep including Alta, Brighton, Snowbird, and Solitude Mountain. They are all situated in the same area just 90 minutes out of the city center. In fact, you can ski all four of them in one day! Challenge accepted.
If you don’t want to go that far into the mountains, there are 9 ski resorts within one hour from the city. Ogden Resort is great for families, Park City for its Olympic ties, and the other resorts in Cottonwood Canyon have a great powdery base.
Looking for your post-adventure eats? Lone Star Taqueria is a local post-adventure eatery that is an easy two miles from the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon. Here you’ll find the best fish tacos in Utah. Wrapped in two corn tortillas, and overflowing with the fish of the day, these tacos, topped with a cilantro-lime dressing, will give you reason enough to start planning your next trip to Salt Lake City.
Snowbird’s Mountain Bike Trails
Snowbird is known for regularly receiving 500+ inches of snowfall each year. Once the snow melts, however, the mountain opens for some of the most breathtaking mountain biking in the Salt Lake region.
The Big Mountain Trail, accessible by purchasing a $25 lift ticket, takes bikers on a 7.5 mile downhill ride through forested turns, wooden bridges, and wide-open straights. With 2,900 feet of vertical drop, and an 8% grade, you won’t have to worry too much about sore muscles from last night’s hike, but you will want to make sure to wear a helmet.
Hiking In The Mountains
Load up the hiking gear, you’re headed to the mountains. Because the Wasatch National Forest is so close to Salt Lake Valley, it’s feasible and easy to head into the mountains for a quick overnight backpacking trip. There are plenty of hiking trails to explore but my favorite is Desolation Lake.
Desolation Lake, located in Big Cottonwood Canyon, is ideal for the beginner to moderate backpacker. The hike begins about 9.5 miles up the canyon at the Mill D North Fork Trailhead. Winding through Aspen Groves, meadows, and alongside the creek, make sure to stop and enjoy your surroundings. Also keep an eye out, as moose are often spotted along this trail.
At 7.8 miles round-trip and roughly 2,024 feet in elevation gain, you can start this trail in the late afternoon/early evening, set up camp, enjoy the stars and a campfire, and be back in your car by 11 am. Pick up the Salt Lake, Park City and Wasatch Trail Map on Amazon
Camping at Jordanelle State Park
If you are looking for places to go camping near Salt Lake City, Jordanelle State Park is the place to be. Less than 40 minutes from downtown Salt Lake, on the east side of the Wasatch mountain range, you can find even more to explore: the Uinta National Forest, Park City, and the East Canyon Reservoir.
For this trip, you’re heading to Jordanelle State Park. Tent sites at Jordanelle Campground are $20-$30 depending on the day, but you’ll want to book ahead to secure a site. The park is surrounded by hills and mountains, and with so many stars splayed out above you, it’s easy to forget how close you are to the city.
AQUA x ZONE and Jordanelle State Park
Once you’ve brewed your first cup of Caffe Ibis (made in Logan, UT), and are ready to start the day. Your options are endless at the AQUA X ZONE. At the Jordanelle Reservoir, you can rent stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, motorized boats, jet-skis, and more. There’s also AQUA x ZONE, a floating water park on the lake, which is suitable for all ages, and if you aren’t a child, it’ll bring out the child in you.
Proper Brewing Company
This is an amazing place for a burger and brew. The proper brewing company is for carnivores, vegetarians, and vegans alike, Proper Brewing has a burger (and brew) for everyone. From the Hipster Burger (red onion jam, kale pesto, fresh herb cheese spread, garlic aioli, and spinach) to the Vegan Chili Cheese Burger (house-made vegan chili, vegan cheese, and red onion), you might be tempted to order two. You can also book this bike and brew tour to sample 3 to 5 different microbreweries in Salt Lake City.
Utah Liquor Law Loophole
Proper Brewing also keeps their store open on Sunday’s which is a loophole in Utah’s strange liquor laws. For beer lovers: Utah’s liquor code requires all draft beer contain less than 3.4% alcohol content. So, if you’re looking for something stronger, spring for the can or bottled version.
Where to Stay in Salt Lake City
For sightseeing in Salt Lake City, you’ll want to stay in Salt Lake City Center Hotels to be near the downtown tourist attractions of Temple Square, art galleries, and museums. Here are some suggested hotels to stay in Salt Lake City.
- Salt Lake City Marriott City Center – Located in the heart of the city, the Marriott City Center is near the Beehive House, Joseph Smith Memorial Building and many of Salt Lake City’s top tourist attractions. View details on TripAdvisor / Booking.com
- Hilton Salt Lake City Center -Another great hotel in the city center that is close to attractions and offers beautiful views of Salt Lake City and the valley View details on TripAdvisor / Booking.com
Plan Your Adventure in Salt Lake City
If you enjoyed all the best things to do in Salt Lake City, Utah, make sure to save it to Pinterest for future travel planning. And check out the guides below to help you with your Salt Lake City Trip.
- Lonely Planet Southwest Travel Guide – Lonely Planet is our go-to guide book and when traveling America, you have to pick up your pocket guide to America’s Southwest.
- 60 Hikes within 60 Miles – If you are planning on hiking around Salt Lake City, this guide book rounds up the hikes in the area ranging from easy family hikes to more difficult treks.
- 4 Days from Salt Lake City to National Parks – If you want to explore some of the best national parks in the United states. This four day tour from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone and Grand Tetons national parks with an expert guide.
- Yellowstone Park and Rocky Mountain Explorer – For a great adventure take a 7 day guided camping and walking tour from Las Vegas! Visit Yellowstone, Grand Tetons and Bryce Canyon national parks. Naturally, the tour includes a visit to Salt Lake City.
With hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking, and so much more, one weekend isn’t enough in Salt Lake City. There is so much to do northern Utah has to offer, it will leave you wanting more. So what are you waiting for? Start planning your Salt Lake City trip today.
So, there you have it, some of the best things to do in Salt Lake City, Utah. Have you been to Utah? What are your favorite places to visit, leave some tips in the comments below.
Author Bio: Megan Walsh is a Salt Lake City resident and runs The Quirky Climber and is an outdoor enthusiast filled with wanderlust. When she’s not traveling, you can usually find her with a thermos in hand somewhere along the Wasatch Front. Follow here on Twitter: @megwalsh02