With five national parks, 43 state parks, and Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City, there is no question that there are a plethora of things to do while you are in Utah. We thought we would put together some of our favorite less-known sites to see while you are here.
- STATE ROUTE 12 — “ALL AMERICAN ROAD
Location: Garfield and Wayne Counties
In 2002, State Route 12 was designated an “All-American Road.” Spanning 122 miles, and connecting Capitol Reef National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park, it took almost 40 years (from the 1940s to the 1980s) to complete construction. This scenic byway crosses some of the most magnificent scenery on the Colorado Plateau: red-rock deserts, mesas, buttes, cliffs, and even lush mountain forests.One of the highlights of the drive is the Hogsback, a four-mile stretch between the towns of Boulder and Escalante that curves along a narrow spine with sharp drop-offs on either side. You definitely want to drive attentively through this section!
- THISTLE GHOST TOWN
Location: Thistle in Spanish Fork Canyon
It doesn’t get any more old-west than this: railroad company sets up shop in the early 20th century, creates a cute little town that epitomizes small-town America, families settle in, and tourists glide on through via rail. Super fairytale, right? Nope. Disaster hit this little town in 1983–mudslide extravaganza to the max. The population had shrunk down to only 50 people when a very, very wet year pummeled the mountainside down into the valley. The town never recovered. Homes were devastated, and you can still see one house submerged in a permanent lake of sorrow. Eerie indeed. Picnic anyone?
- SPIRAL JETTY
Location: Rozel Point, Great Salt Lake
Spiral Jetty is an earthwork sculpture constructed in April 1970 that is considered to be the most important work of American sculptor Robert Smithson. Smithson documented the construction of the sculpture in a 32-minute color film also titled Spiral Jetty.
Built on the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake near Rozel Point in Utah entirely of mud, salt crystals, and basalt rocks, Spiral Jetty forms a 1,500-foot-long (460 m), 15-foot-wide (4.6 m) counterclockwise coil jutting out from the shore of the lake. Go at sunset and watch a pink sun sink into a pink-lemonade colored (created by salt-tolerant bacteria and algae) inland sea, thereby experiencing the marrow of what it means to be human.
- THE “UP” HOUSE
The charming and colorful little house from the Pixar movie “Up” is real! And it resides in Herriman, Utah. Built in 2011, with the permission from the Disney company, the house is an exact replica of the one in the movie, down to even the smallest details, from the exterior paint to the custom-made furniture. It’s definitely worth a drive-by.
- TREE OF UTAH
Location: Bonneville Salt Flats, along I-80 west of Salt Lake City
The Tree of Utah, sometimes called the Tree of Life, is an 87-foot-tall (27 m) sculpture that was created by the Swedish artist Karl Momen in the 1980s and dedicated in 1986. It is located in the desolate Great Salt Lake Desert of Utah on the north side of Interstate 80, about 25 miles (40 km) east of Wendover and midway between the former railroad communities of Arinosa and Barro. The sculpture, which is constructed mainly of concrete, consists of a squarish ‘trunk’ holding up six spheres that are coated with natural rock and minerals native to Utah. There are also several hollow sphere segments on the ground around the base.
- DINOSAUR NATIONAL MONUMENT
Location: 13 miles east of Vernal near Jensen
If you’re still waiting with bated breath for Jurassic Park 6 or Land Before Time 15 (yes, 15), distract yourself from the anticipation by visiting the real-deal dinos in Vernal. Basically, a whole lotta feathered reptiles died here a long time ago, and we humans are reaping the benefits. Snap a pic with one of the realistic reconstructions and try to find that tree star.
- PANDO | THE TREMBLING GIANT
Location: 1 mile southwest of Fish Lake
The oldest and heaviest living organism in the world is nestled and sprawling within the state of Utah. Pando is a clonal colony of an individual male quaking aspen determined to be a single living organism by identical genetic markers and assumed to have one massive underground root system. This aspen clone is 80,000 years old and weighs in at about 6,000,000 kg. But, of course, as old as it is, Pando seems to be nearing its end. Plan on seeing this wise old organism for yourself before its atrophic journey consumes it back into the earth. Autumn will amaze you.
- THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM OF UTAH
Location: University of Utah campus in Salt Lake CityThe Natural History Museum of Utah holds more than 1.5 million artifacts. In the paleontology section, visitors can see items with a focus on the Intermountain West, while the anthropology section houses specimens dating back to 11,500 BC. The vertebrate zoology section offers mammal, bird, reptile, and amphibian samples, and in the botany section, guests can view frozen swatches used for DNA research.The malacology section holds examples from the six classes of marine mollusks, while the mineralogy section displays beautiful minerals from around the globe. The entomology section similarly contains representative samples of insect life from six continents. Aside from exhibits, the museum conducts educational and recreational programming for all ages and has both a gift shop and an in-house cafe.
- BEST FRIENDS ANIMAL SANCTUARY
As the country’s largest no-kill center, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is home to approximately 1,700 animals available for adoption. Homeless animals like dogs and cats, bunnies and birds, horses and barnyard animals are sent here from all across America. Best Friends is also home to recovering wildlife and special needs animals.The sanctuary houses animals in groups (Dogtown, Cat World, Horse Haven, Bunny House, Marshall’s Piggy Paradise, and Parrot Garden) to promote exercise and socialization. In the visitors center, guests can sign up for tours, learn about the animals, and participate in events such as bunny yoga, Thanksgiving dinner, and Paint Your Pet’s Portrait.
- RED BUTTE GARDEN
Location: University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City
Red Butte Garden is open all year and offers different plants and events for each season. While spring and summer are popular times to visit the garden to see flowers and trees coming to life in a tapestry of colors, autumn offers spectacular fall foliage and winter provides redbuds against a stark white background, perfect for hiking or snowshoeing. During the summer, the garden hosts musical performances in the amphitheater.Red Butte includes themed gardens, and private or group tours are available. The garden features quiet resting areas, and visitors can make use of chairs, tables, and umbrellas in the Four Seasons Courtyard.