6 Family-Friendly Adventures in Utah County
Writer Brian Berusch takes his family on a late summer jaunt through this naturally picturesque state.
There’s a lot to love about visiting Utah virtually all year round. And sure, the lion’s share of savvy travelers are well tuned into their particular brand of snowfall (light, fluffy, plentiful) and ease of transport to the nearly dozen ski resorts one can reach from Salt Lake City in the wintry months. But some may not be fully aware of two significant things: First, that summer and fall are spectacular times to visit the mountains, valleys, waterfalls and charming towns here. And, second, that Utah County—with Provo at it’s center—is bursting at the seams with family-friendly, high altitude activities before the snow arrives.
On a recent stay in Provo, we came across enough fantastic activities within a 20 minute drive to span nearly a week— but also could be achieved in an action-packed, extended weekend. For those considering a nearby jaunt during one of the three-day weekends before Thanksgiving, here’s a few ideas for the adventure inclined.
We rented UTVs (easy to drop-off and pick up with ATV Rentals Utah) and climbed up steep rocky embankments on Mt. Timpanogos. We careened along well-marked trails that followed the high-altitude, rushing waters where campers had idyllic set-ups. Whether car camping, hiking into a flowery meadow or bringing a full RV rig, many were taking advantage of Silver Lake (9,100 ft elevation) for a midday SUP paddle or swim. Time this with the changing of the Aspen leaves in late September and, well, splendor abounds.
Hike the Timpooneke Trail to summit. This beautifully meandering climb includes a series of switchbacks, gentle stream crossings, and aspen groves before popping out on the Julia Andrews flower meadow. There’s also the high possibility of a mountain goat, bald eagle or moose sighting. We brought a six and a nine year old on this 4.5 mile hike, and they thoroughly enjoyed it.
H0t Air Ballooning
Up, up and away. Flying in a hot air balloon is a “thing” these days, and you can do here. This is a tranquil, relatively safe activity (though best for adults) that has you soaring above historic towns and temples. The Uinta Mountains create a border within which your colorful vessel floats on the wind. For those who wake (with vigor) with the sun, this is a prime activity that you can wrap before mid-morning coffee.
Explore Sundance Resort
Sundance Resort: The intimate resort Robert Redford conceived of and built during the infancy of his film career is a stunning enclave with multiple options for all family members. An expansive zipline course was a popular activity. I opted for a morning of fly fishing with a Sundance guide (Eric was extremely witty, albeit stern, yet managed to push my technical game to the next level). After a delicions meal at the Foundry Grill (smoked trout hash followed by charred brussel sprouts and grilled halibut tacos, anyone?), I rode the chairlift mid-mountain only to charge downhill on a perfectly tuned, full suspension, disc brake mountain bike. The exquisitely manicured trails can accommodate intermediate to expert riders, with no shortage of drop offs and even a few jumps. In the evening, my family joined me for a wonderful performance of Mama Mia at the Sundance Summer Theatre, where we watched the crescent moon sink behind the snow-capped peak beyond center stage. One last idea: The resort offers full moon chairlift rides: A 45-minute experience that requires a blanket and an openness to utter romance.
Food & Nightlife
The food and nightlife happenings in Provo are a quickly burgeoning scene. A recent (last decade) wave of tech companies—seemingly on every corner, with recongnizable brands seen on office parks everywhere, not unlike Silicone Valley—brought with it the ubiquitous hipsters that precede every foodie revolution in cities across America. Provo has benefitted greatly from this movement. And while there are enjoyable breweries—Utah law commands they stick to alcohol levels below 4%—we also managed to find some super enjoyable highlights to boot. A chocolate tasting at Taste cafe and chocolatier (extremely reasonable, from $8 for a “mini tasting” to $30 for a full 12 chocolates, cheese and flavored vinegar tasting with guide) was a great activity for the whole family, assuming your kids lean towards artisanal vs. M&Ms. At Station 22 restaurant around the corner, we sampled craft sodas (a big “thing” in Utah, which caters to teatotalers) and Nashville “Hot” chicken, the Jack Kerouac burger and delicious “Funeral” potatoes (yep, another “thing” to ask about). Don’t miss brunch and/or dinner at farm-to-table Block Restaurant. Pro tip: Ask for “Fry sauce” at each locale—where chefs get creative in finding accompaniment for your French Fries.
Every family trip needs a “down” or mellow day; we did ours at the fantastic Thanksgiving Point. In truth, you could spend three days here at the various buildings/centers, each with a different adventure. A must is the Butterfly Biosphere, which is attached to the young kids activity center. (A perfect combo for those with a toddler in tow.) Hundreds of butterflies in a lush, indoor environment made for a beautiful morning of learning, looking, and photo ops. The Museum of Natural Curiousities is a stunning, glass building with hundreds of interactive experiences. At Farm Country the family can meet and pet all sorts of live animals, and even ride a pony. In the Museum of Ancient Life, they explore the lifecycle of dinosaurs and other prehistoric things. The cafe at Ashton Gardens—overlooking the 55-acre span of highly manicured landscaping— is a worthy place to refuel and rest between the multitude of experiences here.