Best Outdoor Activities in Salt Lake City

Welcome to Salt Lake's Great, Great Outdoors

When you're talking about the Great Outdoors in and around Salt Lake City, “great” is the keyword. With the Wasatch Mountains immediately to the city's east, the Oquirrh Range to the west, the incredible Great Basin all around it, and the Great Salt Lake a short drive away, this city enjoys some of the richest and most diverse natural surroundings of any major city in the United States. Because of the variety of terrain, and the long list of activities this landscape allows, getting outside is easy in any season – in fact, you don't even have to leave the city to enjoy some of the area's finer outdoor attractions.

Those with little time or means to leave the city can experience nature right in the heart of town. Temple Square, the city's most famous attraction of all, features two open city blocks of green space. In the summer, its gardens are covered in hundreds of thousands of flowers; in the winter, the snowy space twinkles with millions of Christmas lights. Just south of downtown are the city's largest park, Liberty Park, and the Tracy Aviary – two equally accessible outdoor escapes.

If you wish to stay in town, but want to be more active or get a better view, consider heading to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, an incredible and extensive network of paths perfect for hiking, trail running, and even mountain biking. Those wishing to do the same type of activities, but higher in the mountains should check out Snowbird and Alta, whose high Wasatch slopes provide amazing terrain for summer exploration – and, of course, world-famous skiing.

When it's all said and done, head to the Fifth Water Hot Springs for a muscle-soothing soak.


Open since the late 1930s, Alta is the country's second oldest ski resort. This popular venue has long been synonymous with great downhill skiing, and few runs are off-limits. Advanced skiers from around the world rave about Alta's steep powder fields and long, fast runs, especially the mile-long Crooked Mile and the high-speed Greeley Bowl. Beginners and intermediates are taken care of at Alta as well, with several slopes designated for them. Alta's ski season usually runs from November to May, but the mountain has several trails appropriate for summer hikes as well. Snowboarding is not permitted.

Local Expert tip: Visit Alta during the height of summer to escape the valley heat, and to see an incredible array of alpine wildflowers.

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Local literature praises Bingham Canyon Copper Mine as the "richest hole on earth," and with good reason. More than 3/4 of a mile deep, the mine has yielded about 16 million tons of copper since digging first began. And that's not all – the mine also produces 400-ounce gold bars (500,000 troy ounces of it) each year! See the giant machinery used to dig out and transport the copper; some pieces are capable of lifting more than 98 tons at a time. The Kennecott Company operates the mine and has a visitor center chock full of interesting exhibits. Visible from outer space, this enormous open-pit mine is an astounding man-made wonder.

Local Expert tip: Check online for seasonal offerings.

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Located south of Salt Lake City (and east of Spanish Fork), Fifth Water Hot Springs is one of the most popular outdoor destinations in Utah. Requiring a hike to reach, these naturally heated pools serve as a soothing reward for tired legs. If making the trip in winter, get quite an early start; winter road closures extend the hike by about 4 miles (in each direction). To get there, take Exit 257 from I-15, and head east on US 6. After 11 miles, turn left (north) onto Diamond Fork Road. Continue along until you see the clearly marked trail head. The hike from this parking area to the springs is 2.5 miles. Bring plenty of water, as soaking in hot springs is quite dehydrating.

Local Expert tip: Regardless of the season of your visit, bring a headlamp; doing so will eliminate the need to stumble out in the dark.

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Tracy Aviary
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Boren

Some people live in Salt Lake City for years without noticing this gem. Tucked discretely into Liberty Park, the Tracy Aviary contains more than 400 individual birds representing 135 species. Founded in 1938, this has been the site of many species recovery efforts, including that of the trumpeter swan. The resident birds in Tracy Aviary hail from all corners of the world, and you can experience their lives and habits through various exhibits, talks, and events. Since 2005, the aviary has been undergoing an extensive renovation project that has created roughly 10 new exhibits to date. If you happen to be in the area, stop in for a look.

Local Expert tip: Check online for daily events, exhibit opening times, and seasonal availability of activities.

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The central location of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, this ten-acre square is home to a number of significant structures. Informative tours of the popular attraction provide historical facts about the magnificent Mormon Temple, Seagull Monument, Assembly Hall, and the Tabernacle. Live classical entertainment is provided each evening at Assembly Hall, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearsals and radio broadcasts are open to the public. The square also offers a variety of beautiful gardens, and LDS members are on-hand, eager to share information with visitors.

Local Expert tip: Temple Square is a great way to get outdoors while still in the city - and is arguably the city's most classic attraction.

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Liberty Park
Photo courtesy of Keith Rogers

This 80-acre park provides Salt Lake City's residents and visitors with an enormous amount of green space immediately in the center of the city. Sandwiched between Sugarhouse and Downtown, Liberty Park has a jogging trail and paved sidewalk around its perimeter, playgrounds, and tennis courts for use by the public. Ponds in the center of the park serve as a place to relax and feed ducks. If you're really into birds, check out the Tracy Aviary, also located within the park. Or visit the Chase Home Museum of Utah Folk Art, a tribute to Salt Lake City's early Mormon settlers and their way of life.

Local Expert tip: The park has plenty of free parking within its boundaries.

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Bonneville Shoreline Trail
Photo courtesy of Ted Percival

If standing in Salt Lake City, look at the foothills towering above town, to your north and east. It is there that the Bonneville Shoreline Trail crisscrosses above the city, covering roughly 100 total miles. This trail has no map, but instead is a broad and rich network of interconnected trails with many access points. More than 10,000 years ago, the Salt Lake Valley (and much of northwestern Utah) was filled with a massive body of water called Lake Bonneville. Caused by natural, earthen dams and wet climactic conditions, that enormous lake would have submerged modern Salt Lake City underneath hundreds of feet of water. When one of the natural dams eventually burst, the lake drained once and for all, leaving behind the visually obvious ancient shorelines of this once massive lake. For more information on accessing the trail, visit the trail's website.

Local Expert tip: This large and complex trail system has no map, but is easy to navigate due to low-lying vegetation.

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Antelope Island State Park

A trip to Antelope Island is like a journey to another planet -or at least a journey back in time. This island, the largest in the Great Salt Lake, stands northwest of Salt Lake City and contains almost no infrastructure whatsoever on all of its 28,000 acres. Named "Antelope Island," this was where John C. Fremont hunted that species in the mid 1800's. Today this island is the home to numerous other species like coyotes, pronghorn, elk, waterfowl, raptors, and even bison. Originally introduced to the island as a heard of 17 in 1893, this group has grown to roughly 600 individuals in size. If visiting the island, you'll likely want to spend some time hiking, exploring a 19th Century homestead, or possibly biking.

Local Expert tip: Bring your bug spray; swarming gnats can occasionally be intense during the summer months.

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Utah has some seriously big mountains. And Snowbird is one of the biggest resorts in the Wasatch Range. With 3,200 feet of vertical relief, 2,500 skiable acres, a top-to-bottom tram, and some of the most serious chutes and cliff lines in all of Utah's in-bounds terrain, Snowbird challenges even the best skiers. Not an expert? No problem. Snowbird also offers vast amounts of less steep and invitingly groomed terrain - as well as lessons for those who want to learn. Given all of this, Snowbird's 500-inch average annual snowfall is just the icing on the cake. In summer, Snowbird turns into a hiker's and biker's paradise. Those staying at Snowbird will find an enormous selection of restaurants and hotels - that people drive from Salt Lake City expressly to visit, all year long.

Local Expert tip: If you want exercise during the summer, hike from the base area to the top of the Tram; you can ride down for free!

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Red Butte Garden and Arboretum
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Boren

When most people imagine a museum, they envision paintings, sculptures, and possibly dinosaur fossils. However, a museum must not be restricted to dead or man-made objects! If you're planning a museum trip in Salt Lake City, consider visiting one of its most interesting educational centers, the Red Butte Garden. Filled with life, and spanning more than 100 acres, the gardens and arboretum of Red Butte contain 11 themed gardens and over 4 miles of foot paths. In the spring alone, over 300,000 bulbs bloom, saturating the grounds in color. In addition to the plants and trees, Red Butte hosts child- and adult-specific events, summer camps, orchid and bonsai shows, and educational tours.

Local Expert tip: If you happen to be around during the summer, be sure to check the Garden's event schedule; the Red Butte Summer Concert Series draws ultra-famous musicians from around the world.

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Meet Christine Balaz

Christine Balaz began her unexpected writing career in Salt Lake City with her first book on Wasatch Skiing and Travel in 2006. On the subject of Utah, Christine has written numerous...  More About Christine