Utah's Wasatch Front Region
A string of cities to the west of the Wasatch Mountain Range makes up Utah’s Wasatch Front region. Early pioneers first settled in Salt Lake City then spread north to Bountiful and later south to Provo. Mount Timpanogos overlooks Utah County, while Lone Peak and Mount Olympus loom large over SLC. (If these names sound familiar, take a look at your running shoes. You might just be wearing a pair of zero drops named after these bad boys.) Thurston Peak rises above Davis County.
There are plenty of other summits in the area pointing their craggy fingers skyward. The Wasatch Mountains were formed by geological faults approximately 60 million years ago, then slowly sculpted by melting glaciers. Today the granite multi-pitches are coveted by climbers, the thickly forested canyons inhabited by hikers and the snowy slopes praised by powderhounds. And then there’s Antelope Island, which seems almost coastal with the water of the Great Salt Lake lapping its sandy shores.
But the Wasatch Front region in Utah is as metropolitan as it is mountainous. By day or night, there’s always something going on here. Take the family to Living Planet Aquarium, Lagoon Amusement Park or Museum of Natural Curiosity. History buff? Check out This is the Place Heritage Park and Natural History Museum of Utah.
Art aficionado? You’ll love the displays at The Leonardo or Utah Museum of Fine Art. But you don’t even have to set foot inside a building to get a dose of culture. There are multi-story murals on the sides of buildings, sidewalk installations and sculptures found all over Salt Lake City. And after all that sightseeing, get your fill at Zagat-rated restaurants or have a beer at one of the local breweries. Cheers!
Views to Expect in Utah's Wasatch Front Region
Temple Square in Salt Lake City is Utah's most popular tourist destination. Temple Square is much more than a religious icon. It's a collage of fascinating history, singular architecture, and gourmet dining. Learn more and literally visit the center of Salt Lake City.
Alta is found at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon and is proud to be a ski area, not just a ski resort. If you're looking for powder, Alta is where you'll want to go.
How to Get There
Transportation Options From SLC International Airport
From the SLC International airport, downtown SLC is accessible in a matter of minutes by light rail, ride source, rental car or your own vehicle. Many hotels in Salt Lake offer shuttles from/to the airport as well. Provo is less than an hour away from the airport.
DRIVING DIRECTIONS TO SALT LAKE CITY
Grab your skis from baggage claim, load them into your rental car and follow the signs to I-80 E from SLC International Airport. Take exit 121 toward 600 S, driving east to Main Street. You’ll be there in about 12 minutes (7 miles).
If you’re going directly to one of the ski resorts, you’ll want to stay on I-80 E, take exit 117 and merge onto I-215 S. Take exit 6 and turn right onto 6200 S. You’ll come to Big Cottonwood Canyon first; Solitude and Brighton are located here. Little Cottonwood Canyon is further south; Alta and Snowbird share this canyon.
TRAX LIGHT RAIL TO DOWNTOWN SLC
If you aren’t schlepping around a pair of planks, consider taking the TRAX Green Line to downtown SLC. Purchase your pass for $2.50 at the south end of Terminal 1 and hop on. Trains typically depart every 15 minutes from 5:42 a.m. until 11:27 p.m. on weekdays (every 20 minutes on weekends with shortened hours), but it’s always a good idea to check the schedule for changes and/or delays.
HAIL A RIDE TO ANYWHERE ALONG THE WASATCH FRONT
Grab a cab or meet your Lyft/Uber driver at Terminals 1 and 2. These are the designated pick-up zones for approved ground transportation providers.
DRIVING DIRECTIONS TO PROVO
After you’ve found your rental in the sea of SUVs and sedans at your favorite rental car company, follow the signs to I-80 E. Take the ramp on the left and merge onto the freeway. Continue driving for 2.6 miles then take exit 121 to I-15 S. Keep going until you reach exit 265 for Provo Center Street. The entire journey takes about 50 minutes (50 miles), traffic permitting.
FRONTRUNNER TRAIN TO PROVO
Head to Terminal 1, buy a pass and ride TRAX to the North Temple Station where you’ll ride the escalator down to the Frontrunner platform. Trains typically depart every hour from 5:03 a.m. until 9:03 p.m. (check the schedule to avoid any surprises) and go all the way to Happy Valley (aka Utah County), even if you’re feeling a little more like Sleepy or Grumpy after a long day of traveling.
Things to Do
You’re here … now what? There are so many things to do along the Wasatch Front, you may have trouble deciding. Flip a coin to see if you should watch a broadway show or an NBA basketball game. Consult your Magic 8 Ball to determine if riding a roller coaster or a horse is in your future. Whatever you end up doing, will you have a helluva good time? All signs point to yes. Other popular activities include:
- Hang gliding
- Bird watching
- Mountain biking
- Rock climbing
- Fly fishing
Still indecisive? Book a guided tour and let the pros plan your itinerary. Whether you want to go ziplining and rafting on the Provo River or see all the sites in Salt Lake City, there’s an excursion for that. Free tours are offered at Temple Square in multiple languages. If you know where you want to go but don’t have the right equipment, borrow it. Check out these Salt Lake City guides and rentals.
Where to Stay
SALT LAKE CITY LODGING
What type of traveler are you? Escapist? Elitist? Saver? Spender? The accommodations in Salt Lake City and the surrounding area are as diverse as its population. Choose from humble hostels, historic hotels, bed and breakfasts, mountain lodges and more.
Provo may be considered a college town by many, but it has plenty of non-student accommodations. Hotels are scattered throughout the city. For something different, head for the hills. Here you’ll find luxury vacation rentals, chic lodges and even a celebrity-owned resort — Sundance.
WASATCH FRONT CAMPGROUNDS
Where there are mountains, there are campgrounds. Lots of ‘em. Too many to list them all. But here’s a quick rundown. Little Mill is a favorite in the Alpine Loop, with several trails and two reservoirs nearby. Mount Timpanogos Campground is another forested fave in Utah County.
In Salt Lake County’s Big Cottonwood Canyon, Spruces Campground makes a great basecamp for rock climbers, fly fishers and hikers. In Little Cottonwood Canyon, Albion Basin is known for its spectacular summer display of wildflowers.
Further north, Bountiful Peak Campground offers scenic views of Davis County.
ANTELOPE ISLAND STATE PARK CAMPGROUNDS
There are 17 islands in the Great Salt Lake that have officially been named. Not all of them are visible all the time, however, as the water level fluctuates. The largest island, Antelope, is part of a mountain range constantly peeking its peaks above water. (And ironically, the Antelope Island wildlife scene better known for its obstinacy of buffalo than its namesake pronghorn.)
Take the narrow, 7-mile causeway to the island, make a few bison jokes and set up camp in the spot you booked ahead of time on ReserveAmerica.com.
- Bridger Bay Campground: This loop has 25 primitive sites, most of which are paved pull-throughs. Showers and flush toilets are available.
- Ladyfinger: Five tent-only campsites and the end of (you guessed it!) finger-like roads make it a great place for peace and quiet. It offers views of the lake and has a short trail leading to a viewpoint.
- White Rock: Choose from 20 primitive sites or grab up to 80 of your closest friends and get the group site. Several vault toilets are located throughout the campground.
Important Note: Dispersed camping is not permitted anywhere on Antelope Island. Because … buffalo.
GREAT SALT LAKE STATE PARK CAMPGROUND
Another option for staying and playing at Utah’s inland ocean is the small campground located near the Great Salt Lake Marina. There are only five spots here, but they are close to the water and offer spectacular sunset views. Bring your boat and use the public boat ramp to access the water.
There’s a lot to see and do all along the Wasatch Front. Whether you’re planning a weeklong vacation or a weekend staycation, boredom isn’t an option. Have fun exploring all the nooks and crannies in this mountainous metropolis.
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