Nestled between snowcapped mountains and home to a host of outdoor recreation opportunities, Salt Lake City is a bucket-list destination for anyone craving the adventure of a lifetime!
Often called “winter’s favorite city,” Salt Lake City is one of the best places to go skiing or snowboarding in the continental United States because of its perfectly fluffy snow formed by an ideal combination of temperature, humidity, and frequent snowstorms. Plus, the nearby Wasatch and Oquirrh Mountain ranges collect an average of 500 inches of snow per year!
But there’s plenty to do in Salt Lake City when the snow melts. Ski slopes turn into scenic hiking trails, and there are endless waterways to explore. This big city has a small-town vibe, and while often associated with its Mormon religious roots, it’s also home to an up-and-coming liberal arts and culture scene with plenty of restaurants, bars, and breweries to visit.
With so many diverse attractions to experience, you might not know where to begin. So we’ve compiled our list of the absolute best things to do in Salt Lake City for you. Stick to this fun and exciting bucket list, and there’s no doubt you’ll have the vacation of your dreams in Utah‘s largest city!
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15 cool and unique things to do in Salt Lake City, Utah
1. Bobsled at the Utah Olympic Park
Salt Lake City came into the worldwide spotlight as the host of the 2002 XIX Olympic Winter Games. The Utah Olympic Park now serves as a museum for the games, as well as a thrilling activity center to put you in the adrenaline-pumping footsteps of the world’s top athletes.
The Utah Olympic Park is in Park City, a short 30-minute drive from Salt Lake City. The venue hosted the 2002 Olympic bobsled, skeleton, ski jumping, and luge events. Now you can tour the old tracks and get a taste of Olympic excitement through several different extreme sports activities!
If you’re looking for the thrill of a lifetime, you may want to try the facility’s bobsled experience. The program runs year-round and allows you to slip into a bobsled and take a ride down the Olympic track with a professional pilot. You’ll reach speeds up to 60 mph on a rip-roaring journey that will take less than a minute to complete.
The facility also serves as a museum for the 2002 Olympic Games, showcasing interactive exhibits and Olympic uniforms and medals. Visit during the summer, and you might even catch professional Nordic ski jumpers training to qualify for the next series of games in the official USCO training pool.
Purchase a ticket for a guided tour of the facility, and you’ll travel all the way up to the top of the 2002 120-meter Olympic ski jump. Plus, there are a variety of family-friendly adventure ropes courses open during the summer months.
2. Float in the Great Salt Lake
The Great Salt Lake is unlike any other lake in the United States and is definitely one of the coolest things to do in Salt Lake City. The water contains 4.5 billion tons of salt, which means the water temperature is almost always warm. The water in the lake is saltier than in the ocean, which means it’s dense enough to effortlessly float in!
However, actually getting into the water can be somewhat of a challenge. The water levels are consistently decreasing, so you’ll have to walk nearly half a mile in the sand before you reach the shoreline.
In warmer months, you may want to bring bug spray for the brine flies – which are attracted to the algae formed in the salty lake and collect in large numbers on the shoreline. Also, keep in mind that the water has a strong smell due to the salt content and burns any open cuts or wounds.
One of the most popular places to get in the water of the Great Salt Lake is Antelope Island State Park, which is home to free-ranging bison, mule deer, and bighorn sheep. If you’d rather tour the lake by watercraft, the park has a marina with rental service for boats, kayaks, paddleboards, and pedal boats.
The state park is also renowned for what can be seen on the grounds after dark. It’s one of the few remaining “natural dark sky” areas in the United States and offers unparalleled views of the stars. Rangers frequently host night sky programs that allow visitors to stargaze through high-powered telescopes.
3. Play a Round of Mountain Disc Golf
If you’re a lover of mountains, hiking, Frisbees, and golf, you’ve got to experience the unique mountain disc golf courses in Salt Lake City. The sport combines golf and Frisbees into an everyday activity that can be enjoyed by players of all ages and experience levels.
The mountainous landscape of Utah creates unforgettable courses that are often built directly on the ski slopes during the off-season. This means players have the choice to hike or take an easy ski lift ride up to the start of the course and make their way back down while attempting to sink a Frisbee into the chain baskets.
One of the most popular courses is located at Solitude Mountain Resort. The high-altitude, 18-hole course is free. If you don’t already have a set of discs, you can rent them from the facility for a small fee. Utah’s beautiful landscape makes disc golf one of the most fun things to do in Salt Lake City in the summer!
4. Rock Out to a Cosmic Light Show at Clark Planetarium
If you’re a fan of Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin, you won’t want to miss an opportunity to experience the music in an all-new way. Clark Planetarium in downtown Salt Lake City hosts weekend laser light shows set to the beats of the best in classic rock.
The shows are presented in surround sound in the planetarium’s Hansen Dome Theatre and are set to immersive and surrealistic CGI effects. You can catch a show any weekend evening – just check the updated schedule to plan your visit and purchase tickets before they sell out.
Arrive early for the show to check out the three floors of interactive exhibits at the planetarium. Entry to the museum portion of the planetarium is free yet provides hours of entertaining information about space, planets, and our solar system!
5. Hike to Ensign Peak
Want to get in a short morning hike before exploring downtown Salt Lake City? The Ensign Peak hike has everything you need to get your blood pumping while providing breathtaking views in the heart of the city!
The trail is a one-mile hike with about 4,000 feet of elevation gain. The trailhead is located just above the Utah State Capitol building and leads to expansive views of Salt Lake Valley.
Not only is it a beautiful place, but this peak also has deep roots in the city’s history. Nine Mormon pioneers first climbed Ensign Peak in 1847 to lay out a settlement plan. If it wasn’t for the breathtaking views on Ensign Peak, Salt Lake City might not have become the city it is today!
A shorter, paved trail near Ensign Peak leads to a lower viewpoint called Vista Mound, an ideal way to see the city from above for those who cannot hike the trail.
6. Be a Kid again at The Gateway
The Gateway is proof that Salt Lake City is more vibrant and culturally diverse than most people realize. The sizeable open-air downtown block is filled with restaurants, entertainment venues, and a cutting-edge arts and entertainment scene and is well worth a spot on your Salt Lake city bucket list!
The outdoor area is covered in a layer of turf and serves as a playground for people of all ages. The site is covered with fountains and swings, chalkboard walls, and roaring manmade waterfalls. Rainbow staircases and murals make it the perfect place to take that perfect Instagram photo!
If you happen to be visiting on a Tuesday evening, you won’t want to miss Goga. It’s a weekly yoga experience open to the public, pairing participants with adorable goats.
Vendors also gather for the summer and winter farmers’ markets and monthly art strolls at The Gateway. Special events with live music are also hosted here regularly.
7. Take a Private Tour of Utah’s Dinosaurs
Dinosaur geeks will love the collection of bones at the Natural History Museum of Utah. Take the experience one step further and book a private tour of the Past Worlds gallery. You’ll get a behind-the-scenes peek inside the Paleo Prep Lab to see the projects the paleontology team is currently working on.
The private tour mainly focuses on dinosaurs found in Utah, a place considered to be a hotbed of paleontology digs. According to the Utah Geological Survey, the state has the most complete dinosaur record located in any area of the world. Some of the dinosaur faunas dug up near Salt Lake City are estimated to date back 230 million years!
It would be easy to spend an entire day exploring the Natural History Museum of Utah. The attraction is one of the most educational places in Salt Lake City and is home to 11 permanent exhibits that tell the story of the history of Utah’s native tribes and the creation of the Great Salt Lake. Reservations are recommended as attendance is capped at a certain number.
8. Race Down the Bonneville Salt Flats
The Bonneville Salt Flats is one of Utah’s most unique places to visit. Salt Lake City is the nearest major city to this bucket list attraction, and it’s well worth the 90-minute car ride to get there from downtown Salt Lake City.
The 12-by-5 mile stretch of land is in Utah’s west desert and is covered by a salt crust that stretches farther than the eye can see. The Salt Flats are one of only seven locations in the world where the natural curvature of the earth is visible to the naked eye. Not only do the Salt Flats make for breathtaking pictures and scenery, but they’re also a lot of fun to play on when dry.
The salt flats have become an epic spot for racing, and several speed records have been made in this location. You can try your hand at driving on them, too, as long as they are dry. There are no speed limits on the salt flats, so you can ramp it up and test the maximum velocity of your vehicle at your own risk.
The flats are open year-round, but if you plan your visit right, you can participate or watch Speed Week, a racing competition that takes place at the Bonneville International Speedway in August. Other non-motorized events take place all year long on the salt flats, including endurance running races and amateur rocket launches.
9. Go Backcountry Helicopter Skiing
It’s no secret that Salt Lake City is a bucket-list vacation spot for people who love to ski and snowboard. If you’re a true expert on the powdery slopes, there are a few luxury options to maximize your adventure and skip the ski lift to reach the runs of your dreams.
Several area resorts now offer helicopter skiing adventures. The excursion is available to be booked for individuals or groups and is tailored to participants’ skiing ability so you can spend as much time possible racing down the slopes. A typical Powderbird held-skiing adventure package includes meals, two helicopter guides, and the chance to avoid the crowds and ski a handful of off-the-grid runs.
If you want to get even more extreme, you can ditch the helicopter and try backcountry skiing. You’ll hike up a mountain with an ultra-light rig and traction devices, then ski down when you find the right place.
If you’re interested in giving either option a try, be sure to take an avalanche safety course, bring the proper gear, and make sure you go with someone who can teach you the ropes to make it out safely!
10. Hear the Tabernacle Choir Sing at Temple Square
Located in the heart of Salt Lake City is Temple Square, a large complex that is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
One of the most popular places to visit in the Mormon-created square is the Tabernacle. Home to a talented 325-member volunteer choir, it’s considered one of the best choirs in the world.
The group has performed for countless presidents, even snagging gigs at several inauguration ceremonies. Choir rehearsals are open to the public every Thursday at 7:30 pm. Daily organ recitals are also available to the public each day at the Tabernacle at noon.
While you’re in the area, take the time to see the most impressive building in the square, the Salt Lake Temple. The building itself is considered sacred by members of the Church of Latter-day Saints, so there are no public tours inside the building.
However, it’s an incredible sight to see from the outside. The construction took 40 years to complete, and the temple has been standing since 1853.
There are many other things to do at Temple Square, including researching your personal roots at the Family History Library inside the Discovery Center. You can also take a tour of the Beehive House, the former home of Utah’s first governor, Brigham Young.
11. Sip Beer at Salt Lake City’s Breweries
Back in the early 1900s, Salt Lake City was known as one of the best beer producers in the West. Today the craft brewing scene is making a comeback.
The city has just over a dozen microbreweries and brewpubs that craft a diverse range of flavors. It’s important to know that Utah’s law prohibits draft beer from having an alcohol content of over 5%, but you can still try some heavier varieties if you purchase a bottled or canned version.
State law means all draft beer is created in a session style, but the silver lining is that you can taste more of the unique and cutting-edge flavors without getting too tipsy! If you plan on stopping by several breweries, you can even purchase a Salt Lake Brewery Mobile Pass to get a credit that can be used at 14 different breweries in the city.
12. Feed Flamingos at Tracy Aviary
Tracy Aviary is the oldest and largest freestanding aviary in the country and is home to more than 130 different species of birds. The bird zoo is mainly outdoors and has species from many other countries. There’s even a bird nursery so you can see how the experts incubate and hatch eggs to nurse newborns!
The aviary and botanical garden offer an add-on opportunity to go behind the scenes in the Flamingo holding building to explain how they care for the birds. After the tour, you’ll even get the chance to get close to the birds and toss them food! The flamingo tours need to be booked at least two weeks in advance.
The aviary also produces a bird show, where trainers will give you a glimpse at the amazing talents of birds from around the world. The 8-acre aviary is inside Liberty Park, a popular place for running, swimming, bicycling, and rowing.
13. Explore an Underground World at Timpanogos Cave
Some of the best experiences are the ones you have to sweat a little for! That’s especially true for Timpanogos Cave, which is located a short 30-minute drive outside Salt Lake City.
To get to the collection of three limestone caves, you’ll have to hike a steep and strenuous 1.5-mile trail with 1,000 feet of a climb from a canyon bottom. Once at the top, you’ll explore several rooms and see incredible natural formations like heart-shaped stalactites.
The cave walls are very narrow, so you’ll get an up-close and personal view of unique creations. Tours operate from May through September.
If you want to explore the more narrow and mysterious parts of a cave on your own, the National Park Service offers a unique introduction to caving tour that will put you in a helmet with a headlamp, and you’ll learn to scramble and crawl along the trail that leads to Hansen Cave Lake. There are no paved walkways or railings, so it’s an adventure that will get you dirty and is one of the most adventurous and unique things to do in Salt Lake City.
14. Screen the Next Big Movie at the Sundance Film Festival
If you’re a fan of cinema, you’ll want to plan your visit to Salt Lake City around the Sundance Film Festival. It’s the largest independent film festival in the United States. The event is usually attended by about 50,000 people and features panel discussions, workshops, music concerts, and parties for industry insiders and the public.
The festival is regularly attended by some of the biggest names in the film industry, including high-profile directors, actors, and actresses. Past attendees have included Angelina Jolie, Will Ferrell, and Mila Kunis.
The 10-day festival typically shows about 200 films each year. Imagine getting the chance to see the next big hit in a special screening for the stars!
15. Take a Wagon Ride on a Historic Farm
Take a step back to 1898 and explore Wheeler Farm, a historic farmstead that spans 75 acres. The original house and outbuildings are in excellent condition and are some of the last remaining 19th-century farming structures that exist in the area.
Today, the Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation Department manages the historic outdoor museum as an agricultural living history museum. A visit to this farm will give you a chance to unplug and live in the moment.
If you’ve always wanted to know if you’ve got what it takes to milk a cow or goat, you’ll have a chance to do that here for just $1. Daily wagon rides take guests to the back portion of the farm to view the animal pens. You can also pay to take a tour of the original Victorian farm home with more than 6,000 artifacts.
One of the most popular events at the farm is the Sunday Market, with 80 to 90 booths that offer fresh produce or products made from fresh produce. The market is open in the spring through late fall.
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Salt Lake City. What’s your favorite thing to do in the city?
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