Heart-pumping outdoor pursuits, magnificent mountain scenery and cool, artsy towns – northern Utah has countless tricks up its sleeve, discovers Abra Dunsby
The resin scented air is so fresh it makes my nostrils tingle as I walk along the curved forest path. On one side, the floor drops into a valley enveloped in trees and shrubs, beyond which rise rocky hills dotted with bristly pines; on the other, the path is fringed with fresh, dew-speckled grass.
This kaleidoscope of green is not what I was expecting of Utah, a state synonymous with the dusty terracotta cliffs and crags of its five national parks – Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion.
But I’m in northern Utah, the region that runs along the forested slopes of the Wasatch mountain range, and in May when I visit, its cluster of mountain resorts offers a different, alpine perspective, away from the tourist-filled “Mighty 5” parks of the state’s south.
On my hike along Adams Canyon Trail in Layton, I pass the occasional Lycra-clad trail runner, a mud-splattered mountain biker and a cheerful group of young local hikers. For the most part, though, I have this corner of Utah to myself.
The 3.8-mile round hike is literally breathtaking – an elevation of 1,470 metres at the start of the trail means the air is thinner than usual, making it suited to intermediate hikers – but it’s worth it for the scenery; scrub oaks and white pines shade the route, and I splash through gurgling streams and clamber over mossy rocks, ending at the beautiful Adams Canyon Waterfall, whose lingering mist cools my face.
In winter, skiers come out to play in Utah’s world-class resorts, most of which are located less than an hour’s drive away from the state capital, Salt Lake City.
Number plates here are proudly emblazoned with the slogan “The Greatest Snow on Earth”, referencing Utah’s high snow density, impressive annual average snowfall – more than 12.7 metres a year – and lake-effect snow enhanced by the Great Salt Lake.
When the snow melts in spring, Utah is transformed into a verdant playground for thrill-seekers and outdoor enthusiasts, welcoming everyone from hikers and professional mountain bikers to troupes of happy campers.
Bear Lake, located on the Utah-Idaho border within Bear Lake State Park, is one such outdoor haven, offering a plethora of watersports, as well as nearby golf courses and hiking and biking trails.
I spend a serene hour on the lake atop a stand-up paddleboard, the swish of water as my oar glides through the glassy ripples the only sound breaking the silence.
It’s not hard to see why Bear Lake is nicknamed “the Caribbean of the Rockies” – the water is an astonishing shade of topaz, and its shores are fringed with creamy-coloured sand. For clients who want to get out on the water, Epic Recreation offers kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and jet skis for hire (epicrecreation.net).
We accelerate at full speed, skidding, slipping and sending mud sloshing in all directions, leaving us soaked and shrieking with laughter
America isn’t known for doing things by halves, and Utah’s landscapes are no exception. Driving through the north of the state, the Technicolor hues of the Wasatch Mountains dominate – grass so eye-poppingly green it feels artificial; hills sprinkled with wildflowers; and snow-dusted peaks twinkling in the sunshine.
Every now and then, the backdrop changes from “supersized Alpine scene” to “classic Utah”: an expanse of open road surrounded by undulating, reddish-brown rock, filling my head with stories of stetson-toting cowboys from Western films.
A morning spent in Wasatch Mountain State Park affords more crowd-free, blockbuster views – combined with a hearty hit of adrenaline-fuelled, mud- splashed adventure.
During the two-hour ATV-ride around the Heber Valley with Uinta Recreation (uintarecreation.com), we zig-zag along rusty dirt tracks, plunging into pine forests while the mountains loom large in the distance.
Every puddle my fellow passengers and I see en route becomes a challenge, and it’s one we accept wholeheartedly.
We accelerate towards them at full speed, skidding, slipping and sending mud sloshing in all directions, leaving us completely soaked and shrieking with laughter. It’s good, not-so-clean fun – and carefree clients will love it.
More outdoor antics ensue at the Olympic Park, nestled in the pretty, upscale ski resort of Park City. The park hosted the 2002 Winter Olympic Games and continues to train aspiring professionals and host national competitions.
It’s also open to the public, who can watch freestyle skiers and ski jumpers hurtling through the air before landing in a bubble-filled pool, or bobsledders shooting along a track at speeds of around 80mph.
In summer, visitors can channel their inner bobsledder with a face-flapping ride in a bobsled alongside a professional pilot.
Other white-knuckle experiences at the park include extreme tubing, zip lining, leaping from a 20-metre-high drop tower, and swinging above the trees on an exhilarating ropes course.
The park also offers guided tours where clients can hear tales of Olympic glory, visit the museum and enjoy some hands-on activities, including a ski-jumping simulator that proves just how death-defying the sport really is.
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\u201cDo one thing a day that scares you,\u201d goes the saying. As someone who is scared of heights, I think I got my quota for at least a couple of weeks at Utah Olympic Park where I wobbled across ropes in the sky, zip lined, then threw myself of a tower. I\u2019ve got a few more grey hairs now but I\u2019d do it all again! #fightthefear #visitutah @utaholympicpark
After a morning of thrills, it’s well worth clients spending a few hours strolling through the cutesy streets of Park City, whose brightly painted houses contain hip restaurants, dive bars, boutiques and art galleries. In January each year, it plays host to the Sundance Film Festival, though the artsy, hipster feel of this village-like city endures year round.
Lesser-known Ogden is just as quaint – a historic, outdoorsy city and a gateway to nearby ski resorts.
Ogden was the first settlement in Utah, and comes with a notorious reputation – in its heydey, 25th Street was a hotbed of illegal activity, home to brothels, opium dens and bootlegging joints.
While the town has been cleaned up, its youthful, independent spirit remains, and restored buildings now house cool bars, excellent saloon- style restaurants and nightclubs.
The city also runs a variety of year-round events, from live music concerts to culinary festivals and summer marathons.
Locals I meet tell me that both Park City and Ogden are experiencing a resurgence, with plenty of young creatives and active types settling down here from across the US.
For me, it adds another layer to northern Utah – there’s wholesome, active fun at every turn, but there are also plenty of cool, cultural towns and individuals to add an extra dash of sparkle to this corner of America.
Book it: Hayes & Jarvis offers a seven-night holiday to Utah from £1,259pp including two nights at the Monaco Salt Lake City room-only, three nights at Homestead Resort on a B&B basis and two nights at Hyatt Place Park City room-only. Offer includes car hire for the duration and flights from Heathrow, based on November 20, 2018 departure. hayesandjarvis.co.uk; visitutah.com/uk
How are you working with agents to increase northern Utah's visitor numbers?
As Salt Lake City is the nearest international airport to Yellowstone National Park, many visitors travel via northern Utah on their summer road trip. We’re developing trips with operators that encourage clients to slow down and explore. Antelope Island State Park, Ogden and Bear Lake are perfect attractions en route.
How can visitors explore Utah's Mormon culture?
Heritage is a big draw for the state. Historic Temple Square in Salt Lake City is a must-see – in addition to tours of the historic buildings, visitors can enjoy performances by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir here. Another interesting location is the Camp Floyd State Park, which tells the story of the Mormon pioneers.
What's your must-visit tip for clients visiting northern Utah?
Timpanogos Cave, located south of Salt Lake City. It’s a national monument which is home to three caves: Timpanogos Cave, Middle Cave and Hansen Cave. During the tour, they turn out the lights and it’s so dark you can’t see your hand in front of your face.