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Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City has the spirit of a metropolitan giant and the heart of a small town. Locals are friendly, engaging, and eager to show off their city—don’t be surprised if you’re invited out for coffee or an organic smoothie, and the burgeoning gastro scene is unrivaled in the American West. Local artists produce tremendous contemporary works, and many of the city’s events and attractions are family friendly. You’re never more than an hour away from the majestic Wasatch Mountains, where some of the country’s finest skiing, trekking, hiking, and climbing await.
Greater Salt Lake is one of the finest winter destinations in all of America for good reason: Park City, main host site of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games and home to the Canyons, Deer Valley, and Park City Mountain resorts, is a short drive through stunning Parley’s Canyon; like nearby Cottonwood Canyon, it offers soft, powdery snow that is the envy of skiers everywhere. The nearby Wasatch and Oquirrh Mountains see tremendous snowfall and are beloved by ice-climbers, hikers, and everyone else who enjoys the white stuff. Salt Lake City also hosts a litany of winter concerts, carnivals, and festivals that draw families in droves, while the annual Sundance Film Festival takes over Park City every January.
Salt Lake City doesn’t slow down when the snow melts. Long, dry summers and warm autumns characterize the region’s other alluring seasons, a time when the great outdoors becomes a hotbed of hiking, trekking, fishing, kayaking, swimming, and more. The city hosts a network of bike trails that stretch into the surrounding foothills and mountains; the adventurous can saddle up on horseback and ride into the high country; and the wild at heart can climb some of the toughest rock the state has to offer. Utah is home to 21 national parks and national monuments, while Salt Lake offers quick access to nearly 40 state parks and major natural attractions.
If all you know of Utah’s culinary legacy is fry sauce (a mix of mayonnaise and ketchup cast in a lurid shade of pink), then you’re in for a surprise. Salt Lake City’s culinary scene is tremendously eclectic, notable for influences from East Africa to Western Asia, with strong ties to the organic, whole food movement. The ever-evolving Pago is home to the renowned sommelier Evan Lewandowski, who is always ready to help you pair your way through a great meal. Local favorite The Copper Onion modernizes classic comfort foods like meatloaf and, for brunch, biscuits and gravy.
When your laid-back mountain town is frequently compared to higher-profile cities like Austin and Seattle, someone has to be doing something right. Contrary to popular belief, SLC’s cultural scene is not all Mormon, all the time; less than half of the city’s residents are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, though any visit to town should include Temple Square—home to LDS Church headquarters and site of museums, historic buildings, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir building. Spend an afternoon sipping coffee and shopping in the historic Sugar House neighborhood, tour the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, then explore the boutiques and restaurants at quirky Trolley Square or pack a picnic for popular Liberty Park.
On a good year, ski season starts in late November, and can last until late May. Precipitation is high, the powder plentiful, and the scenery spectacular. Winter is the busiest time in SLC, especially when the Sundance Film Festival kicks off in January. Visiting during the fall means fewer crowds, beautiful fall colors, mild temperatures, and cheaper accommodations. Summers are hot, dry, and exciting; festivals, concerts, and activities abound. Downtown SLC is walkable, but you’ll need a car to get off the beaten track or into the mountains.
Flash Parker AFAR Ambassador
Flash Parker is a writer, photographer, and photojournalist originally from Toronto, Canada. His work has been published by AFAR, GQ Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler, Lonely Planet, USA Today, Voyeur Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Get Lost Magazine, Asian Geographic, Escape Magazine and more; additionally, Flash was nominated for a PATA Gold Award in destination journalism.