Take a scenic road trip from Salt Lake City to Provo, and pause to enjoy outdoor adventure, amazing food, and photogenic landscapes.
The history of Utah can be read in its rugged terrain and deeply-rooted culture. Archaeological reconstructions show that human habitation within the scenic and sometimes harsh boundaries of Utah date back 12,000 years to when nomadic hunter-gatherers roamed the region. Today, the primitive landscape of the state entices visitors to travel its highways and enjoy the majestic sights. A trip on Utah’s open road provides an opportunity to experience the country in its rawest form, just as those early residents experienced it thousands of years ago.
Salt Lake City
Starting in the capital of Salt Lake City, it is a straight shot south on I-15 to Provo, the third largest city in the state. If you just wanted to drive straight to Provo, you could make the drive in less than 50 minutes, but why would you want to hurry when there is so much to do and see?
If you don’t plan to leave Salt Lake City until after lunch, Katie Van Riper, social media and communications manager for Visit Salt Lake, recommends grabbing a bite to eat at Millie’s Burgers in the Sugar House neighborhood. “It’s an old-school burger joint,” Van Riper says. “Don’t be fooled by the outside, because the food is amazing, and the people are gems.”
Big Cottonwood Canyon
Once inhabited by Old West miners seeking their fortunes in gold and silver, Big Cottonwood Canyon still has old mines visible along its trails. Home to both Solitude and Brighton ski resorts, this canyon offers opportunities for hiking, rock climbing, fishing, and camping. If you like photography, take the short hike to Donut Falls, where the waterfall looks like something straight out of National Geographic. Van Riper describes the Silver Fork Lodge and Restaurant as “a really cool mountain lodge” and says it’s perfect for a delicious meal with a breathtaking view.
Little Cottonwood Canyon
The mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon is where the early Mormon settlers quarried granite to build the Salt Lake Temple. With wilderness on both sides of the canyon, the area is ideal for picnicking, hiking, rock climbing, and camping. Two more ski resorts — Snowbird and Alta — are located here. Snowbird boasts Utah’s only aerial tramway and features a panoramic view from 11,000 feet at Hidden Peak. Fun historical fact for the wild west fan: Alta is famous (or infamous) for being the site of 26 saloon shootings in the 1860s and 1870s.
Located on the east side of the valley, just above Sandy, Bell Canyon gives you a chance to get out and stretch your legs amidst beautiful scenery. Stroll past a scenic reservoir, take in amazing views of the Salt Lake Valley, and rest a minute by a waterfall. Don’t be surprised if you see a mountain goat or two along the way. This hidden gem is one of Van Riper’s favorite spots.
Located approximately halfway between Salt Lake City and Provo, Thanksgiving Point is a nonprofit farm, garden, and museum complex. Charlene Christensen, director of services and marketing with the Utah Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau in Provo, describes the annual tulip festival held at the site. “There are 55 acres of gardens, and the entire grounds are filled with these insane, striking tulip gardens,” she says.
Thanksgiving Point is wheelchair accessible and perfect for family members of all ages. Children delight in the hands-on nature of the Museum of Natural Curiosity, while adults enjoy the themed garden areas. “It’s like ‘The Secret Garden’,” Christensen says. “If you fell in love with the book when you were a kid, it’s how you will feel when you walk into a garden.”
Off the beaten path and fewer than 30 minutes from Provo, Sundance Mountain Resort is Robert Redford’s famous getaway. “It’s a beautiful mountain recreation spot with a lot of his (Redford’s) character wrapped up within the brand,” Christensen says. In the winter, enjoy skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and simple moonlight walks to spot snow owls. In the summer, go hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding, or visit the outdoor theater.
The most popular scenic drive in Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest is the Alpine Scenic Loop. Beginning at the mouth of American Fork Canyon at 5,000 feet elevation, it follows the canyon up to its highest crest at 8,000 feet. Aspen groves, lush vegetation, and caves await you there.
Downtown Provo is a must-see experience. The 25-acre historic area, consisting of four blocks along Center Street and nearly two blocks along University Avenue, is on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The area includes 43 buildings, most of which were built between 1880 and 1930. “What’s really neat about downtown Provo is that we have over 50 restaurants that are locally owned, most with an international flair,” Christensen says.
If you’ve traveled this stretch of highway in Utah, we would love to hear about your favorite experiences. Share your photos and insight with us on Instagram.