Utah is home to some of the most jaw-dropping landscapes in North America. While its national parks get lots of attention, you’ll be hard-pressed to find more opportunity for fun than in Utah Valley. Nestled between the towering Wasatch Range and freshwater Utah Lake, this outdoorsy playground boasts phenomenal climbing, hiking, biking, paddling, and not to mention a vibrant cultural scene that includes live theater and free concerts. With cooler summer temperatures than much of Utah’s high desert (and a chance to escape the heat in the nearby canyons of the Wasatch), Utah Valley is the perfect destination for a summer vacation. The only hard part will be narrowing down what to do.
1. Visit Timpanogos Cave National Monument
Mount Timpanogos isn’t just a lofty summit; it’s home to three spectacular caves, too. Timpanogos Cave National Monument protects the caves. Today, visitors can sign on for a guided tour of the caves ($8 per person for adults). If you’re feeling especially adventurous, take the hour-and-a-half Introduction to Caving Tour ($16 per person) to take a deeper dive into the caves and learn basic spelunking skills.
2. Enjoy an Outdoor Festival
Utah Valley’s calendar is filled with festivals from April to September. The Thanksgiving Point Tulip Festival in April kicks off the season, inviting visitors to see more than 250,000 tulips in bloom. America’s Freedom Festival, one of the country’s biggest Independence Day celebrations, takes place in Provo and includes a parade, a stadium fireworks show, and touring musicians from across the country. Balloon Fest is held in conjunction with the Freedom Festival, and more than 25,000 people come out to see the dozens of hot-air balloons. In August, the Payson Salmon Supper, which has been held since 1954, treats patrons to the namesake fish grilled over a dried fruit-wood fire. In September, the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival brings some of the country’s best-known storytellers to Utah Valley for a one-of-a-kind celebration.
3. Mountain Bike in Provo Canyon
Moab is definitely Utah’s most famous mountain biking destination, but that also means you won’t find the same kinds of crowds on Utah Valley trails. Head to Provo Canyon for tons of spectacular singletrack of varying difficulty. Get your heart pumping with a ride on the Aspen Grove Summit Trail, which has an average grade of 12 percent, or tour the area on the more moderate Bonneville Shoreline Trail, which leaves from the same trailhead as Bridal Veil Falls.
4. Appreciate the Arts
Whether you’re into the visual or performing arts, there’s no shortage of culture in Utah Valley. The BYU Museum of Art is a celebrated museum in the American West, and the Springville Museum of Art displays nearly 2,000 pieces of art in its aesthetic Spanish Moroccan-style building. There’s also the Sundance Art Shack, part of Robert Redford’s Sundance Mountain Resort, which offers classes all summer long in subjects like jewelry making, photography, and wheel-thrown pottery, among others. Be sure to check the calendar of the Covey Center for the Arts during your visit, too, and catch a concert or theater performance.
5. Drive the Alpine Scenic Loop
This popular drive through the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest is not to be missed. Beginning at the mouth of American Fork Canyon, the Alpine Scenic Loop traverses 20 miles of incredibly rugged Wasatch Range, finishing up in Provo Canyon. Along the way, passengers can take in views of Mount Timpanogos, the Lone Peak Wilderness, and vast groves of aspen trees. The road is paved, but there are steep grades and sharp curves, and much of the route doesn’t have a centerline. A $6 pass to the recreation area is good for three days, and allows visitors to stop at the numerous vistas and picnic areas along the way.
6. Hike Mount Timpanogos
A 15-mile round trip hike of Mount Timpanogos, the second-tallest peak in the Wasatch, is no easy feat. But it’s worth the effort to stand atop the 11,752-foot behemoth, which stands an impressive 5,000 feet above its surroundings and can be seen from nearly any vantage point in the area. Summer is the best time to climb Mount Timpanogos. The snow-free trail passes waterfalls, airy ridgelines, and beautiful alpine Emerald Lake, and doesn’t require hikers to have any specialized mountaineering skills or equipment.
7. See the Sundance Summer Theatre
Take in an show at a beautiful outdoor setting at the Sundance Summer Theatre, held at Sundance Resort. The Eccles Stage Outdoor Amphitheater sits among the pine trees at the base of Sundance Mountain Resort, offering patrons a stunning view of Mount Timpanogos in the background. You can choose bench seating or bring a picnic blanket and watch from the lawn—either way, you’ll enjoy an impressive production. Shows run from late July to mid-August.
8. Raft the Provo River
A day trip down the scenic Provo River is a great way to see its namesake canyon and the rest of Utah Valley. Depending on water levels, Provo River trips usually last between one and two hours. Experienced private boaters are allowed to run their own boats, but there are also several local outfitters available to take adventurous paddlers down the river. With Class I and II rapids, this section of the Provo offers some excitement without the commitment of running bigger rapids. Oh, and bring your fly rod: it’s also a Blue Ribbon trout stream.
9. Take in the Rooftop Concert Series
This free concert series in Provo is held the first Friday of every month from May to September, and features some of Utah’s best bands. The series began with the bands actually performing on a rooftop, but the event became so popular that was moved to street level to accommodate all the spectators. The name stuck, as has the great atmosphere found while enjoying live music on a summer night.
10. Take a Ride on a Zipline
Riding a zipline is one of the more thrilling ways to enjoy incredible views of Utah Valley. At the Sundance Mountain Resort, the ZipTour features more than 2,100 feet of vertical drop while taking in the amazing views of Mount Timpanogos. Riders can reach speeds of up to 65 mph—or hit the brakes and take a leisurely ride down.
Written by Emma Walker for RootsRated in partnership with Utah Office of Tourism.
Featured image provided by Ken Lund