Best Things to Do with Kids in Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City's Best Kid-friendly Attractions: Just as Fun for Adults as for the Wee Ones

When it comes to exploring a new city, kids aren’t usually impressed by the same set of attractions as their adult counterparts. Whereas the grown-ups’ list of classic sights likely includes museums of modern art, cultural and religious attractions and big, challenging ski areas, the little ones would only be bored by such a roster. Lucky for the parents, Salt Lake City’s kid-friendly activities are just as enjoyable for adults as for the wee ones.

If you’re in town for only a short time–or don’t have the necessary transportation to leave the city–consider a stop at the Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum. Located in West Downtown, this fully modern museum is full of hands-on exhibits, is likely quite near your hotel. A bit farther south is The Front Climbing Club, one of the best bouldering gyms in the country. For kids and adults alike, bouldering presents a great, beginner- (and expert-) friendly way to get exercise without a harness, rope, or belay skills.

A bit farther north, on the University of Utah campus, is the newly relocated, completely spectacular Natural History Museum of Utah–a big hit among dinosaur fans, and a spectacular piece of architecture. Almost literally adjacent to this museum is the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, an accessible network of trails perfect for family hikes and picnics.


West Valley City

When the 2002 Winter Olympic Games came to Utah, they required the construction of many state-of-the-art sporting facilities. And after the games, these have remained as a trophy component of this active community. It is truly an elite group of cities that have had the honor of hosting the Olympic Games, and therefore very few communities can claim facilities of this size and quality. At the Utah Olympic Oval, you can ice skate, speed skate, figure skate, try curling, play hockey, and even run. If you don't happen to have your own equipment, you can rent much of this on the premises. Especially for group-style activities, you should call ahead to inquire about availability and scheduling.

Local Expert tip: Check online or call; the facility often has special events and various scheduled activities that may interfere with your desired type of skating.

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Outside of City

Have you ever wanted to surf, skydive, or rock climb, but perhaps haven't had the opportunity to try? At the Salomon Center, you can't exactly do any of these "for real," but you can experience an accurate, indoor simulation of each. Take a whirl in the iFly machine, a wind tunnel that replicates the action of skydiving -with an instructor, of course. Or try your legs with surfing on the indoor, artificial wave called FlowRider. For first-time climbers, the iRock climbing wall, is a good way to test the sport. And if these are too much, catch a movie at the Megaplex Theaters or stop by Fat Cats for billiards and bowling.

Local Expert tip: For any of the main attractions, you must make a reservation -sometimes well in advance of your trip.

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East Salt Lake City
Zoo Lights at Hogle Zoo
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Boren

Located at the mouth of Emigration Canyon in the northeastern corner of Salt Lake City, The Hogle Zoo houses a wide variety of animals. More than 900 amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles from across the world are housed on 42 acres. Among the most popular exhibits, Asian Highland features over 15,000 sq. feet of outdoor habitat with five species of felines. Visitors enjoy birds and plants on exhibit in the solarium and come face to face with giraffes via a tall deck. A small steam train is an additional attraction for all to enjoy. After your visit, consider a short hike on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, just across the street.

Local Expert tip: Visit during the year's warmer months to see more animals.

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Clark Planetarium
Photo courtesy of Clark Planetarium

Open 365 days a year, the Clark Planetarium has many attractions. One of its biggest draws is its IMAX theater. This five-story venue hosts the screenings of incredibly vivid documentary and Hollywood films in 3D. In addition to its visual effects, the theater wows audiences with its 14,000-watt sound system. Check out films on the earth's diverse ecosystems or man's exploration of outer space. Also at Clark Planetarium, the Hansen Dome offers 3D, computer animated, digital projection of celestial programs on a domed screen. Yet another reason to come, the Planetarium's Cosmic Light Shows utilize a state-of-the-art projection system and 13,000 watts of digital sound that bring to life musical classics from the likes of Led Zepplin and U2.

Local Expert tip: Outside of the theaters, inspired visitors can check out the dozen or so free space-related exhibits.

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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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Discovery Gateway Children's Museum
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Boren

In 2006, the Children's Museum of Utah relocated to this all-new location. Undergoing an incredible, modernizing facelift, this once drab museum became a colorful, interactive, state-of-the-art wonderland for children and their parents. Now called Discovery Gateway (after the Gateway Center, in which the museum sits), this 60,000-foot family fun center has numerous, stimulating exhibits that encourage children to learn about the world. Whether kids want to explore farm life, construction work, a larger-than-life beehive, or a news room, they'll be able to do so with great enjoyment. Hands-on learning exhibits also include those illustrating storytelling, gardening, and even helicopter flying.

Local Expert tip: Check online for special events like dance workshops and arts and music programs.

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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 special seasonal offerings.

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Southwest Salt Lake City
Front Climbing Club
Photo courtesy of David Sjöquist

Looking around Salt Lake City, it's not hard to imagine that this area is home to one of the nation's biggest rock climbing communities. With such an active and large group of climbers, it is only fitting that the city itself should contain excellent training and recreation facilities precisely for that sport. The Front Climbing Club is Utah's premier bouldering facility. I.e. the walls at The Front are not tall enough to mandate the use of a rope; all you need to climb there is a pair of shoes. And in case you don't own any (or forgot yours at home), The Front has a rental fleet.

Local Expert tip: After climbing, you can lift weights, use aerobic equipment, or join a yoga, Pilates, or kettlebell class; check online to see the class schedule.

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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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Natural History Museum of Utah
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Boren

Utah has an incredible natural history. From its remarkable red rock deserts, to the peaks of the Wasatch and Uinta mountains, this state contains stunning geology. And throughout time, it has been occupied by dinosaurs and humans alike. The Utah Museum of Natural History is dedicated to telling this story. Situated high on the red foothills of the University of Utah Campus, this museum relocated to the all-new, spectacular Rio Tinto Center in November 2011. This impressive structure features unique architecture and earth-friendly design elements; if you are interested in the actual building itself, plan to come for a free, 45-to-60-minute architectural tour. These take place four times daily during week days (and twice daily on weekends). Check online for free admission dates; the museum typically offers four of these a year.

Local Expert tip: Admission to the museum ends one hour before closing time.

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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