As Utah continues to dominate the Top 10 in nearly every Forbes “Best of” list, one thing that keeps it above its peers is the abundance of once-in-a-lifetime quests. Or what local PBS affiliate, KUED, has coined, the “Utah Bucket List.”
The sheer diversity of climate and topography that Utah encompasses within its four corners provides an adventure at every altitude and element, from rock and water, to wind and sky. Though KUED’s list includes 12 unique-to-Utah ventures, I’ve narrowed the Utah bucket list down to just five of the can’t-miss highlights from a local’s perspective.
LIVING THE 2002 LEGACY AT UTAH OLYMPIC PARK
An original 2002 Winter Olympic venue that is continually being renovated and improved, the opportunities available at Utah Olympic Park abound for both adventurer and voyeur. The park is home to six Nordic Ski Jumps, a 1,335-meter sliding track (for bobsleigh, luge and skeleton) with five start areas, a freestyle aerials winter training and competition hill, and a 750,000-gallon summer freestyle aerial training pool. Bragging rights go to those brave enough to take a ride on the Comet Bobsled, driven by a seasoned bobsled pilot who takes the sled up to speeds exceeding 80 delivering 5 Gs of force! Guests can also careen down the track on the Rocket Skeleton ride, where riders are taught how to maneuver a skeleton sled on their own, and take the last 4 curves of the Olympic track solo.
True adrenaline junkies, ages seven and older, can actually take to one of the park’s ski jumping ramps via Freestyle Intro Clinics. In just two hours, a coach introduces participants to the Big Air Pool, ramps, and the skills needed to launch. All equipment is provided (skis, boots, wetsuit, life jacket and helmet) so even visitors to Park City can take part. In summertime, adventure is had via the Alpine Slide, three adventure ropes courses, the Drop Tower challenge and two zip-lines, including one of the world’s steepest – the Extreme Zip-line.
For those who’d like to keep their feet planted firmly on the ground two museums – the Alf Engen Ski Museum and Eccles 2002 Olympic Winter Games Museum – are free and open daily. They offer guided tours and pay homage Park City’s role as a venue city during the 2002 Games. During the Salt Lake Olympics, the park hosted bobsled, skeleton, Luge, Nordic Ski Jumping, and Nordic Combined events. It still serves as a training center for Olympic and development level athletes, so keep an eye out for up-and-coming talent while you’re there!
FLY FISHING ON THE GREEN RIVER
The closest many Utahns get to the iconic Green River is by purchasing the region’s scrumptious melons at a local Farmers Market in late summer, though globally the river is best known for its world-class fly fishing experience.
Since the landmark day on May 24, 1869 when Major John Wesley Powell led the first expedition down the Green to the Grand Canyon (he started with 10 men; ended with five), the area has become known for its emerald waters flowing through a steep-walled canyon, boasting a large population of trout.
Starting below the Flaming Gorge Dam and extending to the Colorado River, the Green River is divided into three sections – A, B, & C. The A section runs for seven miles from the dam to the Little Hole Day Use Area (which is accessible via paved road). The B section runs for nine miles from Little Hole to Indian Crossing Campground, while the C section is the least traveled and provides more challenging fishing, though the fish tend to be larger as a reward.
First timers will find friendly advice at area fly shops, while professional guides work to get angles in year-round (look for guides listed under “Vernal/Flaming Gorge”). Only artificial flies or lures can be used and “catch-and-release” is encouraged. Private, motor-free boats are allowed and no permit is required to float, but a Utah fishing license is required to fish.
A variety of boat ramps provide access, with put-in and take-out sites as follows:
- Spillway (0 miles just below dam)
- Little Hole (7 miles below dam)
- Indian Crossing (15.4 miles)
- Bridge Hollow (16.2 miles)
- Bridge Port (17.3 miles)
- Pipeline (22 miles)
- Swallow Canyon (26.2 miles)
- Swinging Bridge (29.6 miles)
For history buffs, the Browns Park area was one of the stops along the Outlaw Trail, whose most notorious resident was Butch Cassidy. Nearby, visitors can visit historic buildings dating back to the outlaw era. Visit the BLM’s site detailing all things Green River here, or take a look at their “Floating the Green River” brochure.
CAMPING AT ARCHES NATIONAL PARK
Few natural stone formations are more identifiable than Delicate Arch in Utah’s Arches National Park.
But Delicate Arch is just one of more than 2,000 arches located throughout the park, all of which are at constant risk of collapsing (though this is rare), making a camping trip among the thousands of arches an even more rare bucket list opportunity. Visitors can choose from 50 campsites, plus two group sites at Devils Garden Campground. Reservations for March through October can be made up to 180 days in advance on www.recreation.gov. From November through February, Campsites 1 through 24 are open on a self-serve basis. All campsites have a picnic table, potable water and grill or fire pit. Firewood can be purchased in nearby Moab or from a campground host.
Arches provides unlimited opportunities for kids to learn, starting at the visitor’s center where kids can pick up a Junior Ranger booklet and be sworn in as an honorary ranger – pin and all – upon completing the activities contained within its pages. Horses are allowed in the park with certain restrictions, and a variety of ranger-led programs
highlight areas within the nearly 120 square miles of majestic rock formations.
For more information on camping in Arches visit the park’s page here.
Located near Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park is comprised of four districts encompassing stunning, primitive desert landscapes. And there’s no better way to get an up-close view of the canyons, mesas and buttes than from the saddle of your mountain bike while tackling the 100-mile White Rim Road at the Island in the Sky district.
Named for the White Rim sandstone of which it’s comprised, the trail loops around and below the Island mesa top, offering expansive views of Canyonlands’ stunning landscape.
While the full 100-mile ride – which starts and ends at the Island in the Sky Visitor Center – attracts hard-core mountain bikers, those of a more leisurely demeanor can take a 75-mile tour starting on the top of the Shafer Trail and ending at the top of Mineral Bottom Road, with a few overnights spent at the camping areas found along the trail.
Because of the extreme heat of the desert climate, most riders tackle the trail in the spring and fall, which can make securing the required overnight permits a bit tricky. It’s best to plan in advance, or go for a guided trip with an outfitter like Holiday River Expeditions. They’ll do most of the work for you in securing the required backcountry camping permits and using vehicles to carry camping gear, food, and water — but it’s up to you to do the pedaling.
Check out the Island in the Sky trails and roads via the National Park Service’s map here.
SAILING THE GREAT SALT LAKE
For Utah transplants who grew up on one of the coasts or along the Great Lakes, it’s easy to feel a bit landlocked in the Beehive State. A sailing adventure on the Great Salt Lake could be just what the doctor ordered, and it’s a great addition to the Utah bucket list.
Located just 16 miles from the city that bears its name, the Great Salt Lake is home to the 138-year-old Great Salt Lake Yacht Club, where it’s said you can find the “saltiest sailors on earth.” Based out of the Great Salt Lake State Marina, the club holds races on Wednesday nights throughout the summer, in addition to sunset sails.
Great Salt Lake private lessons or cruise charters can be arranged by calling Captain Jim Anderson of Sailing Solutions
. Those wanting to get even closer to the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi, contact the Great Salt Lake Rowing Association, which offers rowing lessons and is comprised of sculling enthusiasts. Celebrate Utah’s expansive Pacific Islander heritage by getting in touch with Hui Paoakalani of Utah’s first Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Club, or go solo by renting a kayak, pedal boat or paddle board from Gonzo Boat Rentals.
Activities on the lake aren’t limited to boating. Swimming at the beach adjacent to the marina, bird watching (more than 257 species of birds can be found at some point during the year), and picnicking are other ways to pass the time.
Whether it’s flying off a ski jump, fishing for trout, camping and biking in the desert, or sailing on a majestic body of water, Utah provides something for everyone to check of their own bucket list. Putting down roots in Park City is a great way to create a home base for wherever your next adventure takes you.