EXPLORING UTAH HAD BEEN on my bucket list for 10 years. Once I started mountain biking and climbing, I knew it was a place I had to visit. This was the year it finally happened.
Utah has so much to offer that months, let alone the three weeks I had in-state, just don’t suffice. I made the most of my time doing lots of hiking, biking, rock climbing, and even some canyoneering, but there’s always more. Below is some of what I’ll be looking forward to when I make it back to Utah.
1. Packrafting the Maze, Canyonlands National Park
Sometimes even backpacking won’t get you where you want to go. Packrafting is a brilliant way to continue your journey when water gets in the way. Hikers carry personal inflatable rafts and collapsible paddles weighing only 5 pounds, which allows them to travel the rivers safely and explore further. The Maze is a district of Canyonlands National Park that’s infrequently visited due to the challenge of accessing it by a rutted 4×4 road.
Using the Colorado-Green River as the road lets you see some of the Maze’s iconic landscapes, including the Doll House, Standing Rock, and the Shot and Water Canyons. Plus, when your body gets tired from so much hiking, the switch to paddling makes it easier to endure a long trip. For more information about packrafting in Utah, check out Forrest McCarthy’s guide.
2. Salt-flat car racing, Bonneville Salt Flats
If you’ve always wanted to see just how fast your car or motorcycle can go, the Bonneville Salt Flats provide ideal conditions for setting land speed records. There are five racing events each year, including World of Speed for a few days each September. Racers must pre-register for events, but spectators are always welcome.
3. Climbing the Fisher Towers, Castle Valley
The Fisher Towers just outside of Moab are soaring sandstone spires reaching over 1,000 feet in the air. There are 39 trad routes for climbers to tackle the summits, but the routes are all graded fairly high. Luckily, there are plenty of guides who can safely take inexperienced (or experienced who didn’t bring gear) climbers up some of these. Nate Sydnor from Moab Desert Adventures led us up the twisty corkscrew climb of Ancient Art and gave us one of the most exhilarating adventures of our lives.
4. Sailing on Utah Lake, Utah Lake State Park
When most people visualize Utah, it’s the desert landscape — canyons, spires, arches, hoodoos — that first come to mind. If water is thought of, it’s generally the Great Salt Lake that gets all of the attention. But Utah Lake, just outside Provo, is the state’s largest freshwater lake and one of the largest bodies of freshwater west of the Mississippi, covering 96,000 acres. Sailing is one of the main recreation activities here; if you’ve never sailed before, Bonneville School of Sailing can teach you everything you need to know.
5. Braving the via ferrata, Ogden
A via ferrata (“iron road” in Italian) is a series of metal rungs attached to a steep rock face, with an adjacent cable that climbers can clip into. The result is a protected climbing route that opens up spectacular rock faces to less-experienced climbers. Via ferratas were born in the Alps and are still not very widespread in the US, but Utah is home to one of the best: the Mount Ogden Via Ferrata. Located between the city of Ogden and Snowbasin Resort, the route tops out with some excellent views of the Wasatch Mountains and Great Salt Lake.
6. Adventure racing, Moab
The AXS Moab Adventure Race is 6-12 hours of rugged adventure. It’s an annual event in April of each year that can be completed solo, as a team of two, or as a relay of four people. The different legs of the day include mountain biking, single-track trail running, paddling on the Colorado River, and an exciting 300’ rappel.
7. Paddling the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, Manila
In 1964 the Flaming Gorge Dam was built, creating a 91-mile-long lake in northeast Utah. The reservoir is conveniently located between Yellowstone and Arches National Parks and is a wonderful place for quiet kayaking, canoeing, and exploring the 350 miles of shoreline. Its several water-accessible campgrounds also set it up nicely for multi-day paddling trips. Sheep Creek is the best boat launch, as it’s closest to the most scenic areas: Flaming Gorge, Horseshoe Canyon, Hideout Draw, and Red Canyon.
8. Canyoneering Neon Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Utah is one of the world’s top canyoneering destinations. There are hundreds of remote and rugged canyons to scramble, rappel, and swim through. Neon Canyon makes for a mixed backpacking and canyoneering trip — it’s also super photogenic. Zion Adventure Company, with whom I took a guided tour of a canyon near Zion National Park, includes this multi-day adventure among their many canyoneering trips.
9. Wilderness survival camp, Boulder
I love fantasizing about what living in a hunting-gathering society might have been like. Boulder Outdoor Survival School provides the opportunity to learn and test your skills in survival rescue, making hunting materials and catching food, recognizing edible plants, and living out in the desert for weeks at a time with just the clothes on your back, a poncho, blanket, knife, and water bottle.
10. Hang-gliding or paragliding in Flight Park State Recreation Area, Lehi
Flight Park is known worldwide as one of the best training sites for hang-gliding and paragliding. The area is completely dedicated to these sports and is not only maintained by Utah State Parks and Recreation, but also the Utah Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association. There are numerous schools and tandem guides to get a person in the air.
11. Mountaineering the Wasatch Mountains, Central Utah
The Wasatch Mountains can be summited year round. Mountaineers climb, scramble, and incorporate rock or ice climbing to reach the peaks. Depending on time of year, the approach may be on dry rock or on skis/snowshoes. There are many specific skills — particularly when it comes to the snowy and icy sections of the mountains — that are important to know, such as using an ice axe, self arresting, and crevasse rescue. Utah Mountain Adventures offers many courses in winter and summer mountaineering, and guides are available for private trips.
12. ATVing, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
Utah has so many opportunities in the way of offroading. Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, near Kanab, is 2,000 acres of salmon pink sand and is the only major area of sand dunes on the Colorado Plateau. There are miles of trails for ATVs in this unique and colorful setting. Utah Off-Road Outfitters can set you up with all of the gear you need to rip through the sand.
13. Mountain biking Antelope Island, Antelope Island State Park
With effortless access from Salt Lake City, Antelope Island is a great choice for year-round adventure. There are 21 miles of trails to mountain bike — six miles of double track suitable for novices and families, and the rest single track. A herd of wild bison lives on the island, and coyotes and antelope are often spotted.