Epic Roadtrip Stop #8: Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City

Image and text by Gabrielle.

We originally built this roadtrip around two family events. Cousins Week in St. George, and our nephew’s wedding in Salt Lake City. The overall trip was probably longer than we typically would have chosen, but it made sense if we wanted to attend both of those events. That said, by time we arrived in Northern Utah, we were definitely feeling travel worn — craving home-cooked meals and our own beds. So we tried to keep our schedules pretty simple.

Visiting Salt Lake City felt different than other parts of our trip. We did less of the touristy activities, and instead, tried to connect with family and friends in the area as much as we could. The touristy parts included a visit to Temple Square — where we stopped into the famed Tabernacle and were able to hear someone playing the astounding pipe organ — and a visit to the mountains as well. We drove up a canyon without a solid destination in mind, then stopped at Solitude Ski Resort to hike around and play in the creek.

The city heat was not as bad as Las Vegas or St. George, but still pretty intense. So it was fun to show the kids that with a short drive into the mountains, it’s like a whole different world. Lush green, cool and comfortable. No red-rock desert in sight.

The rest of our visit was family focused. It was refreshing to step away from the van and the maps and the tourist brochures and just hang out. The wedding was lovely. Spending time with old friends made us happy. And late-night talks with siblings and cousins at Grandma and Grandpa’s house was a highlight.

We woke up on Sunday morning with the plan of driving across Nevada to Lake Tahoe, and staying there for the night. It’s not the halfway point, but it’s a good place to break up the trip between Salt Lake City to Oakland. But everyone was bummed out by the idea of checking into yet another hotel. The kids brought up the idea of skipping Tahoe and driving all the way to Oakland in one shot. Everyone was on board with the idea, so we did! We cancelled out hotel reservation and prepared for a long haul drive. More audiobooks. More ice for the cooler.

Then, late last night we arrived home. There were cheers all around! Jumping on the beds. Exploring the house. Remembering we had pulled up the carpet in the family room the night before we left. Hah!

Within minutes of making it home, the whole family was in bed. We were exhausted and slept soundly. Oh my. The feeling of coming home just can’t be beat!

And thus concludes Epic Roadtrip 2014.

I’d love to hear if you’ve ever visited Salt Lake City. Were you there to ski? For business? To visit family? Any favorite things to do with the kids? Feel free to share — the comments on these roadtrip posts are such a great source of ideas!

P.S. — I have a post I’ve been working on with tips on logistics and what worked for us on the drive. I’ll try to finish it up and share it this week.

23 thoughts on “Epic Roadtrip Stop #8: Salt Lake City”

  1. We spend the month of July in Oregon and road trip from AZ either via CA or UT. We reverse each year and try to experience different things and stretch out the drive. We actually love to stay in midway. It’s a quiet pace and we love it. But I hear you on being ready to go home. This last weekend after two nights in midway we were planning on one more night in Provo. But after making our obligatory BYU bookstore stop my kids asked if we could just GO HOME! so lucky we only book the day of on hotels.com and just decided to go as far as st george that night. Last year we were going home thru CA and decided to to the long way home on the coast she hit half moon beach, big sur, Monterey, etc. At that point my kids were sooo done that we just hurried thru. May as well have been on I-5 for all they cared. They just wanted t be home after a month!

  2. I visited SLC as part of the “epic roadtrip” I took with my dad and sister the summer of 1986 when I was 17. We’d visited the Badlands in South Dakota, Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton before landing in SLC. We stayed with a former graduate student of my dad’s in Provo. I remember visiting the parts of the Temple that were open to non-Mormons, BYU, and I think we went to Sundance (way before it was trendy). From SLC I flew to LA, but my dad and sister continued on to Dinosaur National Monument.

    It was amazing and it’s been lots of fun sharing your family’s roadtrip.

    I can’t wait for the logistics post. I’m eager to see how you coordinate so many people and make it seem effortless and even fun! :)

  3. We go to SLC for a tradeshow twice a year winter and summer. A few times we have rented a house and the kids have come along. I cook dinner for the staff and we love exploring all the neighborhoods.

  4. Next time you’re in Salt Lake, you should try the little French bakery Gourmandise! It’s authentic and right in the heart of SLC!

  5. Hi Gabriella, I thought that these fun photographs were relevant to your road trip. Photographer Roger Minick photographed tourists visiting American landmarks in the early 1980s, capturing ineffable tourist weirdness and juxtaposition of road weary travelers in colorful summer fashion against the back drop of awe inspiring overlooks.
    http://sightseerseries.com/

  6. One of our favorite parts of SLC is the library. They built a new one just over 10 years ago, and the architecture is amazing! They have a really fun kids section, but my kids also just love riding the glass elevator all the way to the top for a little bit scary ride!
    http://www.slcpl.org/branches/view/Main+Library

    I know they also have the Twilight Concert series in the summer where they have some pretty great bands, and I think tickets are only $5. I’ve never been, but my brother loves it and has seen some of his favorite bands there.

  7. I’ve never visited Salt Lake, but it still holds a soft spot in my heart.

    When my sister and I were just little girls in the late 70s, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. She was pregnant at the time and recently divorced. Against advice of doctors she waited until the end of her pregnancy to receive the recommended radiation/chemo treatment. By the time my little sister was born, her cancer had aggressively advanced and she was sent to Salt Lake for cancer treatment (we lived in New Mexico at the time).

    She was gone for nearly 6 months in treatment and recovery while my sisters and I stayed with friends and relatives. What I remember is that she sent beautiful postcards, long letters, and little hand-hooked rugs to my sisters and I. She came home thinner and more fragile than I remembered her. However, she raved at how kind everyone was, and of the wonderful doctors and medical treatment she received. She felt truly loved and cared for, even while she was away from home.

    I’ve always meant to visit this place where my mother spent so many months away from her little girls – a place that cared for and nurtured her even though she was sick and alone. It always seemed magical to me that my mother could go to a city for so long and come back healed.

  8. Oh, my mother turned 70 years old last month. She’s now retired and is a horse trainer on a long-horned cattle ranch in Oklahoma.

    And, my little sister? She’s a mother of 5!

    1. Claire in Davis

      what a wonderful story! If you go to Salt Lake City, maybe you can send your mother a lovely postcard of one of the same views she sent you and your sister!

  9. I live in Salt Lake and love the contrast of desert, city and mountains.

    For anyone looking to visit, a few recommendations on top of those you already gave:
    – Gourmandise, as mentioned above! So delicious.
    – A visit to our capitol building, which was modeled after the US capitol.
    – A tour of the Masonic Temple. It was built in the 1920s and is regency style. It’s a trip.
    – Mountains, mountains, mountains.
    – On that note: Millcreek, Big Cottonwood, Little Cottonwood and City Creek canyons.
    – City Creek Mall. Beautiful and impressive engineering.
    – Main Street downtown. Charming and full of shops, restaurants and the like.
    – Trolley Square. Formerly a train station, now a mall and such a cool place.
    – Copper Onion for dinner: Upscale American food.
    – Red Butte Gardens
    – Downtown walking tour

    Glad to hear you made it safe!

  10. Salt lake City, June 18, 1999, Mom memories for a lifetime….

    I had just returned from a week in Utah and Colorado where I attended a family wedding in Grand Junction, Colo. It was a grand and energizing adventure.
    I encountered dozens of interesting people on the trip, but the one I noticed most was the one who was not there. My husband didn’t come along on this escapade. I soon discovered that an illuminating and entertaining way to contemplate Father’s Day is to try to be one. (Something single mothers have been saying all along.)
    My gang – I traveled with my three children, my frisky senior citizen aunt, and my quiet, hilarious niece – flew into Salt Lake City. Our first task was to find our discount, no-name car rental kiosk. My niece suggested that the name we were looking for belongs to a flea collar company.
    It turns out the company is so cheap you don’t find the company, you find its little van. Then the guy drives you to its storefront which is far out at a place where the airport ends and wilderness begins.
    The pleasant youth at the flea collar/car rental establishment asked me, “Are you sure you want a minivan? If you are going over mountains, you might prefer our new SUV. It’s only $5 more per day.”
    I looked out the streaked and dusty window. There, in the glint of the desert sun, sat the largest hulk of a car I’ve ever contemplated. Mirage effects made its red flanks breathe in and out and its gills flare. I could almost hear it growl.
    We rented the “Star Wars” tank and I aimed it slowly towards the distant skyline of town.
    After dinner the kids went swimming. The sun was going down when they climbed out of the pool, teeth chattering, towels clenched around their shivering shoulders.
    I wanted to practice driving the tank. If I waited for the kids to change to dry clothing, the sun would be down. Suddenly, I heard a chipper, fatherish command boom across the pool. “Hey Kids! Let’s go for a drive!”
    My youngest protested. “No, Mommy! It’s too cold. I’m tired.”
    This is the moment where mothers forsake their own agenda to take care of their ducklings.
    You already know what dads do. So I did it.
    The damp children, shivering in their wet suits, were quiet as I drove the tank around Temple Square, the home ground of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Aunt Maeola and I oohed and aahed at the striking blue mountains that surround the city.
    I turned a corner to drive up a cliff masquerading as a residential street. I told myself there was no need to become anxious just because the car was wheezing and my kids were grim and silent.
    My son, under normal circumstances the very soul of recklessness, murmured. “Uh, Mom? If it’s this scary going up, what will it be like coming down?”
    Sheer terror. The pitch was so steep I could barely see the hood of the car. The kids clenched their eyes shut; I was tempted to do the same. I wondered if the reason Mormons sometimes call this their Heavenly City is related to how many pass over while driving.
    It’s not simple to navigate at the same time as driving. My husband has been telling me this for years.
    Aunt Maeola was quite witty. We’d drive through an area for the second, then the third time, due to lostness. She’d say, brightly, “My, my. This place looks just like it used to.”
    The first day I learned that if you ask enough local people how to get to a place, eventually one of them will actually know. This, as you know, is not a father-like attitude.
    However, we were at the end of my second day of serious driving. I’d conquered Colorado’s Douglas Pass – an 8300′ elevation, state run road that twists and turns more than a cat in a necktie. The pass was 8 miles long and it took an hour to drive it. That kind of driving.
    All we needed to do that evening was find the bride’s home, but Grand Junction was more confusing to me than Racine, which explains a lot. I drove in convoluted circles while Aunt Maeola speculated where I’d turned wrong. She suggested I ask directions of a person she spied along the street.
    I gritted my teeth. “No. Just everyone hush up for a moment so I can think.”
    I heard a cheerful little demon in my mind whisper, “Happy Father’s Day!”
    The next day I couldn’t find clean socks for several family members. I had already noticed the motel’s laundry room. I thought about tossing in a load, shrugged my driving-weary shoulders, and retreated to the dirty laundry bag to pull out previously worn socks.
    When I met my husband, he called this “budgeting socks”. It worked well for the rest of the trip, although I did have to rinse out a few things in a sink. My husband’s grandfather used to call that doing laundry the Navy way.

    I drove us, unharmed, up and down, back and forth over gorgeous mountain ranges, breathtaking desert canyons, and clogged construction zones in city traffic. My shoulders clenched into knots. I developed “faux carpal tunnel syndrome” in my braking foot. I was cranky when lost.
    Over the week we were together, I made many rude and stupid jokes that got kids laughing. I provided stale clothing; I helped the seven year old pretend swim in motel pools. I took too many pictures. I ate too much meat.
    I kept my family safe. I laughed too loud. I loved the enterprise of hauling my precious, goofy family through a rich adventure.
    Happy Father’s Day to all of you who do the same.

  11. It’s makes the world feel bigger and smaller that you and I were in the same town at the same time, probably passed each other without knowing it.

    SLC- those mountains give me chills every time I see them. “There’s magic in them there hills” seems like a movie line that would fit.

    I like:
    – Midway, as mentioned
    -Sundance Summer theater
    – Avard Fairbanks museum, in Springville (a bit far from SLC)
    – Liberty Park, has a cool fountain you can walk in that features the 7 canyons of the wasatch mtns. Lots of movies have been filmed there.

  12. Just got back from a trip to SLC. We went for a family reunion, though, so I definitely feel like I could go back today and do touristy stuff and not be bored.

  13. I’m so glad to hear that my family isn’t the only crazy bunch to forgo another night in a hotel for a marathon of driving just to get home and sleep well in our own beds. What an amazing memory this whole trip will be for your family.

  14. We did our epic road trip last summer. Washington to Yellowstone – Grand Tetons/Jackson – SLC – Reno (Ugh) -Redwoods – Astoria and home. Best family vacation. (Well, Norway this summer did beat it). When we were in SLC we did Temple Square and then went out to Antelope Island for a day and a dip into the Great Salt Lake. We have lots of friends who go to SLC almost yearly to visit family and I think that we are the only ones who have gone to the lake for a dip. It was one of the funniest experiences of our trip. Floating in all of that salt was hilarious – we could hardly get our legs down. Don’t get me wrong, it smelled bad and was kind of gross, but it was a once in a lifetime type of experience and we are so glad that we did it.

    1. I agree swimming in the smelly :) Great Salt Lake is a must do! One of my best memories of visiting SLC as a kid.

      I also recommend a scenic ride up to the top of Snowbird via their tram. The view can’t be beat. You can see all the way to the Great Salt Lake and over the other side into Heber. You can ride or walk down. And it’s thrilling to be on the top of a mountain! That’s what I take all my visiting guest to do as I live here now.

  15. We love SLC/Provo for the family and the canyons! We do the trip every couple of years since I was a kid, and now with my kids…always Pleasanton to SLC in one day (I had one friend who stops in Winnemucca at a gross hotel, otherwise most people from the bay area drive it in one day). But what a long day to end your road trip! After 3 weeks gone (girls camp in Sierras, Phoenix with family, southern california with family) I agree- so nice to be in our own beds!!

  16. i went to SLC in high school, i think. We live inthe portland area and drove up to spokane to get my grandparents. then drove across idaho, through montana and down towards SLC. i believe we visited an uncle in cheyenne and stopped at one of those parks. Yellowstone? i cant remember :) Eventually made it to SLC, i remember stopping to look at the temple (we’re not LDS) and eventually headed home. Funny, i dont remember any overnight stays on that trip or how 6 of us fit in a car………

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