It’s become one of my favorite traditions. Every year, some of my best girlfriends and I head to Utah. We play in the mountains with our dogs, splash in hidden swimming holes, marvel at the Milky Way. Every trip has a different flavor, but we always come back as a more fulfilled version of ourselves. Utah is good like that. And, if you're like me, you've found peace and grounding in nature this year like never before. Whether it’s late night conversations around the campfire or the kind of blazing sunrise only the red-rock desert seems to be capable of producing, the state’s epic landscapes have a profound way of helping you reconnect with friends and focus on what really matters. Sound like what you’re looking for, too? Here are some ideas to get a big dose of nature’s nourishing power.
You Can Go Off the Grid or Live in Luxury
Utah has seemingly endless swaths of public lands where both the dispersed and established camping are unrivaled. As of early July, while some activities and services may be limited, nearly all of the state’s parks and open spaces are open (check out the state’s continuously updated guidelines on responsible travel here). You can browse thousands of camp sites online, but in Utah there’s room to roam and explore however you want to. I’ve found some of my favorite dispersed sites by chance, in areas near Valley of the Gods, a landscape whose stunning deep-red hoodoos do its name justice, and Natural Bridges National Monument, where you can hike to archeological sites of Ancestral Puebloan villages. (The visitor center is currently closed, but trails, roads, and restrooms are open, as is dispersed camping in the surrounding BLM area).
Prefer something a little more luxe? The state is home to dozens and dozens of world-class luxury resorts within footsteps of mountain playgrounds. Ski resorts turn into mountain-biking meccas by summer. In Park City, you can rip singletrack all day at Deer Valley’s bike park, which is operating this summer with socially distant measures in place, and then sleep slopeside in luxury at resorts like the Montage, which reopened for business on July 1st, by night. Rebecka Zavaleta, who works in ad tech in Los Angeles, visits Park City with friends almost every year, in part, because she loves the city’s atmosphere, views, and dining scene. After a long day of adventuring in the mountains, she loves coming back to town. “The food scene in Park City is amazing," she says. She recommends dinner at the upscale Tupelo, which features southern-style dishes and, like many of Park City's incredible restaurants, is offering curbside pickup to keep customers safe.
You Can Learn a New Sport—Safely
You don’t have to be a seasoned outdoor adventurer to take advantage of the state’s natural playgrounds. From rock climbing and rafting to trail running and paragliding, there are experienced guides all across Utah who are ready to show you the ropes, many of which have women-specific classes or clinics and nearly all of which are now operating with social distancing measures in place. “There are so many benefits that can be gained from going outdoors, and one of them is to be able to rediscover yourself and step into your own innate power," says Nailah Blades Wylie, the founder of Salt Lake City-based Color Outside, a travel and coaching company dedicated to helping women of color harness the power of outdoor adventure. “The whole goal of Color Outside is to really help women of color tap into their unapologetic joy through outdoor adventuring.” Western Rivers, a fly-fishing shop in Salt Lake City, offers women-only fly-fishing clinics throughout the spring, summer, and fall on a limited basis. Sacred Rides, one of the world’s premier mountain-bike tour operators, chose St. George as the base camp for its Desert Rose women’s mountain-biking trip, complete with skills clinics, post-ride yoga sessions, and, of course, plenty of pedaling on the area’s world-class singletrack.
It’s one of the main reasons why Lindsey Davis, the Vice President of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, a coalition of outdoor recreation trade associations and organizations, chose to live in Salt Lake City. She regularly hikes, mountain-bikes, hunts, and fly-fishes in the backcountry surrounding the city, like the Wasatch and Uinta mountains, and Stansbury Island, in the Great Salt Lake. “I can do anything I want to do here,” she says, “and most of it within a few hours of my house.”
You Don’t Have to Share the Views
Yes, some of the National Park Service’s most popular—and stunning—offerings are in Utah. But with dozens of equally amazing state parks and BLM areas, it’s still easy to find secluded trails and viewpoints. St. George is a perfect example: just over 40 miles down the road from Zion National Park, this city in far southwestern Utah is enveloped by underrated gems like the über-colorful Hurricane Cliffs and Snow Canyon State Park, and the slot canyons of Red Cliffs Recreation Area. The views are all the more impressive for the scores of tourists you won’t have to share the scenery with. “Places like that make you feel like you’re really tiny in the world, but in a good way,” Zavaleta says. “It’s a good place to anchor yourself in terms of relativity.”
You Can Fast-Track New Friendships and Deepen Old Ones
You can find Utah’s special blend of magic just about anywhere in the state. But I seem to experience it most often with desert sunsets on the empty trails in places where it's easy to find solitude, like the massive wilderness areas beyond Moab. On one of my recent trips to Utah with a crew of girlfriends, we spent an afternoon meandering around unmarked trails north of Mexican Hat and the stunning Goosenecks State Park, which is like if Horseshoe Bend were a triplet. “Not only were we alone with each other and our dogs in this amazing landscape, we also had to route-find and problem-solve together,” my friend and freelance outdoor writer Amelia Arvesen recalls. The experience allowed us to share parts of ourselves that we normally don’t tap into in our everyday lives—and that’s what keeps us coming back.
From fighting for suffrage to experiencing the wild lands today, Visit Utah is highlighting the achievements of Utah women past and present. Watch the mantra video and read the stories of #SheTravelsUtah.