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Looking for some inspiration for great weekend trips to escape the city for a while? We’ve got you covered. These trips are all great for the intrepid weekend warrior, but also are suitable short trips for families as well. Wherever you decide to go, it’s certain that you’ll find adventure there.
While many of our top weekend trips from Salt Lake City are within the state of Utah, you’ll also find a few in Wyoming and Idaho as well. To maximize your adventure time, we always recommend starting your weekend trip as soon as possible on Friday (perhaps take off work a few hours early so you can hit the road), and stay as long as possible, coming home Sunday evening. While a weekend trip from Salt Lake is just a couple of days, you’ll be amazed at how refreshed and invigorated you are after a weekend adventure trip.
If you’re looking for more ideas for off the beaten path adventures around Salt Lake and the Utah deserts, check out these books. The author is incredible, and these books are the most detailed I’ve seen on adventures un Utah. While it is tempting to completely get away from it all, don’t discount the fun that can be had on a Salt Lake City day hike or on a ski day in the Cottonwood Canyons.
Best outdoor weekend trips from Salt Lake City
1. Heber Valley
Distance from Salt Lake City: 45 minutes
Top Activities: Mountain biking, hiking, Nordic skiing, fishing, water sports
Best Season to go: Year round
If you’re looking for a short drive to an amazing getaway, look no further than the Heber Valley. This valley packs in an incredible amount of outdoor adventure, yet still allows you to enjoy the small town feel of both Heber City and Midway.
If you visit Heber Valley in the winter, you’ll want to make sure to visit Soldier Hollow for Nordic skiing and tubing. Wasatch Mountain State Park also has Nordic skiing as well as fat bike rentals, which are a blast on the snow.
In the warmer months, prepare to DO IT ALL! Fishing on the Provo River is supposed to be some of the best in the state, and you’ll absolutely want to go for a hike (read The Best Hikes in the Wasatch Back). The mountain biking trail system at Dutch Hollow is great for intermediate and advanced riders, and the beginner and intermediate mountain bike trails at Coyote Canyon are even great for kids (my 5-year-old loves these winding trails!). Best of all, you’re right between Deer Creek and Jordanelle State Parks so you can always cool down with a boat ride or a swim in the lake.
While you’re in Heber Valley, we recommend camping at one of the State Parks in the summer or staying at the Homestead Resort with their famous geothermal swimming crater the rest of the year.
2. Jackson, Wyoming
Distance from Salt Lake City: 4 hours 40 minutes
Top Activities: Mountain biking, hiking, rafting in the summer and skiing and other snow sports in the winter
Best Season to go: Winter, summer, or fall. Spring is considered mud season up there, with all the snowmelt, so your adventure options are more limited.
Jackson WY has always been one of my favorite getaways from Salt Lake. In my mind, it’s one of the best mountain towns in the west, and the possibilities for adventures are limitless. All through college I worked out of Jackson as a whitewater rafting guide on the Snake River, and I’m convinced that rafting down the Snake River is one of the best things to do while visiting the area. There are both whitewater sections and scenic calm float trips on the river, so you can find something for everyone there.
Of course, there’s more to do than just spend time on the river, as you’ll find great trails for hiking and biking, as well as lots of lakes and hot springs to enjoy while you’re there. We’ve written up a list of the top 20 adventures around Jackson Wyoming here.
While you’re in Jackson, don’t forget that you are right next to Grand Teton National Park (the park borders are just a few miles outside of town). We absolutely love hiking in Grand Teton and have shared our favorite easy hikes in Grand Teton here. Your chances of seeing wildlife here are quite high, especially if you are out in the early morning or later evening.
Winter in Jackson is all about skiing. They get an incredible amount of snow and the opportunities for skiing are amazing here. The terrain is steep and intense at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, so if you’re looking for something more family friendly, we recommend going over the mountain to nearby Grand Targhee Resort. We took all our kids there this winter and were so impressed with how well suited to families the resort is.
Distance from Salt Lake City: 2 hours 45 minutes
Top Activities: Mountain biking, hiking, rafting, and all things DINOSAUR!
Best Season to go: Year round – crowds are usually low throughout the year.
Okay, I know that Vernal may not be topping your list of adventurous destinations, but hear me out on this one. We spent a week in Vernal last summer and were seriously blown away with how much there is to do out there (and we didn’t even do anything dinosaur related). While we were in Vernal, we went mountain biking a few times, went kayaking and paddleboarding, checked out petroglyphs, and went on one of the coolest desert hikes I’ve ever been on (with a stream and a waterfall!!). If you plan ahead, you can even go whitewater rafting through Dinosaur National Monument.
Oh, and to top it all off, we did all of these cool things without ANY CROWDS (which is a far cry from what you’ll find in Moab).
I was so blown away by how cool Vernal was that I went on a bit of a writing spree after our visit so you can now find tons of information on our site all about visiting eastern Utah. Here are some of the articles that you might find the most useful:
4. Cedar City
Distance from Salt Lake City: 3 hours 30 minutes
Top Activities: Hiking, skiing, fishing, ATV
Best Season to go: Year Round
When most people think of a trip to Southern Utah, they automatically think of heading to St. George, yet drive right past Cedar City. If you’re looking for adventure, you’d be missing out, because Cedar City has so much to offer, and is significantly less crowded than St George.
There are so many outdoor adventures in Cedar City that it would be impossible to fit it all in during one weekend. Whether you want to explore and hike through Cedar Breaks National Monument, go on a canyoneering hike to Kanarra Falls, check out Bryce Canyon National Park, or maybe do some offroading in your ATV, you’ll find plenty to do here.
Cedar City even has it’s own mountain biking trail system if you’re looking to do some desert riding. If you visit in the winter, make sure to head to Brian Head Resort for some skiing. While it is located farther south than other Utah ski resorts, they still get an incredible amount of snow, so it’s absolutely worth the visit.
5. Sun Valley, Idaho
Distance from Salt Lake City: 4 hours 30 minutes
Top Activities: Hiking, backpacking, fishing, skiing, ice skating, snowshoeing
Best Season to go: Winter, Summer, Fall (spring is pretty muddy here).
Situated just outside Sawtooth National Forest, Sun Valley Idaho is the perfect place if you’re looking for a mountain getaway. It’s a great combination of a resort town nestled into nature, so you really can get a bit of everything here. I also love that the town of Sun Valley sits right outside a dark sky reserve, since one of my favorite things about getting away, is staying up late and watching the stars.
In the summer, you’ll find yourself torn between going fishing or horseback riding, kayaking or hiking. One thing that’s high on our list is to do a backpacking trip in the nearby Sawtooth Mountains with all our kids.
In the winter, you’ll find just about anything a snow lover could want. Great skiing, fat biking, snowshoeing, ice skating, sleigh rides, and even hockey!
6. Lake Powell
Distance from Salt Lake City: 5 hours to Bullfrog Marina
Top Activities: Water sports and hiking
Best Season to go: Late spring, summer, or early fall
Lake Powell is one of the most unique places in all of Utah. Decades ago, Glen Canyon was dammed and filled with water to crate Lake Powell. The result is an amazing canyon country that’s best explored by water. The most popular thing to do there is to explore the lake by motor boat, though you will see some adventurous canoers and kayakers there (which is extra adventurous on windy or stormy days when the waves get HUGE).
Lake Powell is nearly 190 miles long, and has over 90 different side canyons for you to explore. If you’re looking for some isolation and seclusion (and are willing to take a bit of a boat ride to get there), you’ll have no problem finding it at Lake Powell.
Our favorite thing at Lake Powell is to rent a houseboat with a couple of other families and live on that for a few days, while we take turns waterskiing and tubing behind the ski boat. Of course, you can absolutely camp there as well, since there is no shortage of remote sandy beaches along the lake (as well as campgrounds at the marinas too.
7. Bear Lake
Distance from Salt Lake City: 2 hours 15 minutes
Top Activities: Water sports, Fishing, ATV riding
Best Season to go: Summer
Located at the exact opposite end of the state as Lake Powell, you’ll find another great lake to escape to for the weekend, Bear Lake. Situated right on the border of Utah and Idaho, Bear Lake is over 100 square miles in size. Since it’s farther north, you’ll want to wait until summer warms up for a visit to swim in Bear Lake. While you’re there, you’ll find several cute little towns along the western shores of the lake, where you need to make sure to stop for a famous raspberry shake in Garden City.
Along the shores of the lake, you’ll find lots of great beaches that are perfect for hanging out for the day, so it’s great for families. Most people come to Bear Lake to enjoy water sports and fishing, since the large size of the lake allows everyone to spread out, so no one place feels too crowded. If you’re looking to get a bit more variety in your vacation, there are also some great hiking trails (the Limber Pine Trail is beautiful), as well as some areas for ATV riding and rentals nearby too.
Distance from Salt Lake City: 1 hour 20 minutes
Top Activities: Hiking, climbing, skiing, biking
Best Season to go: Year Round
A weekend trip to Logan could easily be tacked on to a visit to Bear Lake or vice versa, since the two are so close together. Home of Utah State University, Logan has plenty of great outdoor adventures in the area that you should check out.
In the winter, you’ll love skiing at Beaver Mountain. If the high price of skiing has you intimidated, Beaver Mountain has some of the cheapest lift ticket prices and ski school lessons in the entire state (compare that to other Utah Ski Deals).
If you visit during the warmer parts of the year and are looking for adventure, the steep hike up to the wind caves, is a pretty awesome trek (though not lots of shade on the trail, so plan accordingly). If you want to get your vertical in another way, try out rock climbing in Logan Canyon. If you want just a nice spot to relax, then take a walk or bike ride down the Logan River Trail. Whatever you do, make sure that you don’t forget our favorite Logan landmark with a stop at the Creamery for some famous Aggie Ice Cream.
9. Goblin Valley
Distance from Salt Lake City: 3 hours 30 minutes
Top Activities: Hiking, climbing, camping
Best Season to go: Spring and Fall
If you like hiking and exploring, then a weekend trip to Goblin Valley is a must do. Goblin Valley State Park is packed full of sandstone hoodoos that you can walk through, climb on and overall have a blast exploring. It’s one of those natural places that will make you feel like you’ve traveled to another landscape, since the terrain is so unique and interesting.
Goblin Valley is really remote, with the nearest town being Hanksville, so plan on coming with all your necessities packed. There is limited camping available within the state park at the campground (which even has a few amazing yurts for rent), or you can enjoy dispersed camping on the BLM land right outside of the park as well (practice Leave No Trace rules, and remember to pack ALL waste out.
While you’re down at Goblin Valley, if you’re interested in hiking a slot canyon, Little Wildhorse Canyon is absolutely breathtaking. The entire hike is 8 miles, though you can pretty easily just go as far as you want and then turn around. It’s a great introduction to slot canyoneering without the technical knowledge that many other slot canyons require.
10. St George
Distance from Salt Lake City: 4 hours 15 minutes
Top Activities: Hiking, climbing, biking, swimming
Best Season to go: Winter, Spring and Fall
St George almost needs no explanation. This is probably the most visited destination for visitors looking for a weekend trip away from the Wasatch Front. It’s a great middle ground for people who want lots of adventure nearby, but with the convenience and amenities of a decent sized city. St George is in the middle of the desert, so it makes a great place to escape the cooler northern temperatures in Fall, Winter and Spring, though it gets quite hot in the summer, so most people tend to avoid the area then.
While you’re in St George, make sure to plan on getting a bit dirty in all the red sand around. Our favorite activities are mountain biking (Bearclaw Poppy is great for beginners), hiking (Red Cliffs and Snow Canyon are nearby and have great hiking), and swimming at Sand Hollow State Park.
St George is also incredibly close to Zion National Park, which is a must visit. Plan to get there early as the parking lots fill before 9am on weekends. Shuttles are required to visit the most popular areas at peak times. Some of our favorite short hikes in Zion are the Emerald Pools Trail and the Watchman. If you’re there during the summer, plan on spending some time splashing around in the Virgin River to cool down. If you want a more adventurous hike, head up to the top of Angels Landing, though if you’re afraid of heights or have small children, skip this one as you are on top of thousand foot high cliffs at the peak.
11. Capital Reef National Park
Distance from Salt Lake City: 3 hours 20 minutes
Top Activities: Hiking, Camping
Best Season to go: Winter, Spring and Fall
Capital Reef is one of the least visited National Parks in the state of Utah, but it’s no less amazing than the other 4. We visited a while ago and had an awesome time and feel like a weekend is a perfect amount of time to explore all the highlights of the area.
While you’re at Capital Reef, our favorite was seeing all of the exposed geology, especially the Waterpocket Fold. The Grand Wash is a medium length hike that gives you an idea of what the park holds. Don’t miss a quick jaunt out to Cassidy Arch – the trail is only 0.3 miles so it’s one that just about anyone can do.
For the best views in the park, make sure to hike the Hickman Bridge Trail. The hike is about 2 miles long and gives a great overlook of the valley and ends at Hickman Natural Bridge.
Although there are plenty of easy hikes to do in the area, there are also some great drives that you won’t want to miss, including highway 24 along the river as well as the Scenic Drive trail.
If you want to really add some excitement to your stay, you can stay in a Teepee or Conostoga Wagon for the night at Capital Reef Resort. We haven’t been there yet, but it’s high on our list of places to stay in Utah.
Distance from Salt Lake City: 3 hours 45 minutes
Top Activities: Mountain biking, climbing, hiking, ATV, rafting
Best Season to go: Winter, Spring or Fall. Summer can be incredibly hot and Moab is best avoided then.
Make sure to check out our year round packing list for Moab here.
There’s no way we could make a list of the best weekend trips from Salt Lake City and not include Moab. It’s essentially the Mecca of outdoor adventure in the Utah desert. Here you can find everything from mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing, ATV trails, rafting, and so much more.
With 2 National Parks, Arches and Canyonlands, and Deadhorse Point State Park within a short drive of town, you’ll find more than you could ever do in a weekend (so be smart and plan on coming a couple times a year). Check out our guides for visiting Canyonlands and taking a trip to Arches National Park before you head out.
Plan on getting dirty on your adventure trip to Moab, and coming home with a good amount of sand in your car is considered a sign of a trip well spent. We’re here to make sure that you don’t miss anything amazing on your trip down to Moab and have compiled a list of the top 14 adventures to do in Moab.