Utah County, affectionately called “Happy Valley” by locals, is a bit smaller and just south of Salt Lake County. What it lacks in population size (wait, is that even a bad thing…?), it makes up for in beauty, with mountains whose grandeur smacks you right in the face. With a whole lotta outdoors and great indoors (restaurants, shops, music scene, etc.), too, it’s not a bad place to spend a couple days.
So grab the kids and head to Utah’s very (arguably) happiest valley for a weekend of picnicking, frolicking, mountaineering and whatever else the happy people do. No better time to start than on Day 1.
Start your trip on the north side of Utah County at Thanksgiving Point, a hotbed of recreation, education and good-old family fun. We recommend hitting two of the museums while you’re there:
This mammoth of a museum was built for families to explore different interactive exhibits. The whole place is broken up into four main galleries — Rainforest, Water Works, Kidopolis and the Discovery Garden.
Another hands-on experience, this museum showcases some of the longest and tallest dinosaurs ever discovered. Gawking at these massive carnivores and pondering their own place in the food chain will make your kids hungry.
It’s not a trip to Lehi without a stop at Cubby’s. Try their famous steak salads and/or their even more famous buffalo fries. It’s a great spot for a quick lunch the whole family will like. Scarf it down and hop back in the car. There’s still a lot to do.
10 miles via UT-92
Drive up to American Fork Canyon to visit the drippy, trippy, mystical Timpanogos Cave. Make sure you reserve tickets in advanced. (You can get them at the window, but we recommend avoiding the rush.) It’s a short-but-steep 1.5-mile hike up to the cave where you can cool off and take in all the ancient formations the cave has to offer.
20 miles via UT-92 and US-189
The Alpine Loop is a drive famous for its long views and dense stands of aspens, oaks, maples and evergreens. (Locals know the experience gets out-of-body-ish when the leaves are changing.) Open from May through late October, it’s a 20-mile drive that begins in American Fork Canyon (UT-92) and continues through Uinta National Forest to Provo Canyon (US-189). Catch a view of towering, golden Aspens and the glacially carved peaks of Mt. Timpanogos. The drive is paved and smooth but just curvy enough you’ll want to make sure the car-sick kid sits up front. Stop at Cascade Springs for a break, then jump back in the car to finish by sunset. You seriously won’t want to miss it.
No time to head back into the city. Just pack some sandwiches and carrots and potato chips and picnic at one of these spots that double as destinations.
15 miles from Timpanogos Cave via UT-92 and FR-114
Meander the paved paths and boardwalks over tiered natural springs. Spot some cutthroat trout through the crystal clear water. Don’t litter.
12 miles from Timpanogos Cave via UT-92
If the kids still have it in ‘em after Timp Cave, hike up to the one of the most scenic waterfalls the Mountain West has to offer and sit down for PB&Js and a show. It’s pretty, moderate 3.5-mile hike up to the falls from the Aspen Grove/Stewart Falls trailhead.
For a more mellow dinner, just pick a shady picnic spot near the river along the way. Food tastes better when there’s water nearby.
Once you’ve successfully put the sun to bed, it’s time to set up camp (or at least build a fire). There’s nothing quite like waking up to the babbling brooks and other forest sounds in the canyon. The only thing that could possibly follow an act like that is Day 2.
Enjoy a campfire breakfast and just being in the mountains in the morning. Tear down camp when you’re good and ready, then head to your first destination with messy hair that smells like smoke.
15 miles from Timpanogos Cave via UT-92
Three hours is probably the minimum a person should spend at Robert Redford’s rustic retreat. (Okay, we only said rustic for the alliteration. This place is actually pretty luxurious. Hey! How ’bout rugged?!) Ride ziplines, chairlifts, horses or mountain bikes. Hike, too. Oh, and eat lunch.
*If you happen to be making this trip during a full moon, it’s worth rearranging your itinerary to do Sundance’s Full Moon Lift Ride. It begins at 8:30 p.m. and feels like you’re riding up above the shadowy trees straight into the face of the moon. It’s the stuff mountain magic is made of.
15 miles from Sundance via US-189
Finish the Provo Canyon portion of the Alpine Loop and head down to a relaxing dinner in downtown Provo. Pick from the dozens of places you’ll see on Main Street or, if you’re the planning type and want to make a reservation, we recommend Guru’s, Brick Oven or Pizzeria 712. Or Black Sheep if you’re fancy.
Take a walk down the Provo River Parkway Trail to walk off dinner and finish the night with Rockwell Ice Cream. This place proves that mind-blowing ice cream doesn’t have to come with a two-hour line or a coastal-city price tag.
And that concludes your two-day adventure in Utah County. If you don’t leave a little happier than you came, start over and try again, this time with feeling. But we think you’re gonna be just fine.