Utah, located in the Southwest region of the United States, is well known for its incredible scenic beauty and year round outdoor activities including skiing, snowboarding, hiking, boating, water skiing, horseback riding, camping, and rock climbing. The capital city of Salt Lake City has a number of unique modern and historical sites to visit, including Temple Square, the headquarters for the Mormon church.
Utah has an extraordinary number of national parks and monuments. The following is subdivided into "National parks and monuments" and "Other" as an aid to the reader:
A "Park Pass" from the United States National Park Service is a particularly good investment if you're visiting Utah and planning to see its national parks and monuments. The $80 fee allows unlimited access to all National Park Service units for a year, and also provides discounts on some of the services within the units. Paying for this pass may save you money in the long run as you move from park to park in Utah. (Note, however, that there are a very few national monuments that are not part of the National Park Service, and are therefore not covered by a Park Pass; Monument Valley is one prominent example in Utah.)
Dixie refers to the low-lying area in the southwest corner of the state. It contains the city of St. George, and the climate is more closely-related to the southwestern deserts than it is to the rest of the state, with low annual precipitation, hot, dry summers, and mild winters with infrequent snowfall. Early settlers were able to grow cotton in the area, hence the name Dixie (a name for the cotton belt of the southern U.S.).
The Wasatch Range is the heavily-populated region of basins and valleys located between the Wasatch Mountains on the east and on the west by the Great Salt Lake (to the north) and the Oquirrh Mountains (to the south). 3/4 of Utah's population lies in this portion of the state, which stretches from Brigham City in the north to Santaquin in the south. Ogden, Salt Lake City, Sandy, Orem, and Provo are located on the Wasatch Range.
The benches are former shorelines of the ancient Lake Bonneville on the higher slopes along the Wasatch Range. Residential development on the Wasatch Range typically extends high onto the slopes of the Wasatch Mountains in some areas. Homes here are generally more affluent, as they provide spectacular views of the surrounding areas, and the benches receive more precipitation and much more snow than the valley floors.
Mormons or members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints make up a good part of Utah's population, and their beliefs and practices are one of the strongest influences for public policy in the state, particularly when it comes to drinking, smoking, and homosexuality. Mormons are generally tolerant and friendly towards non-Mormons, but may be taken aback by cussing, smoking, or drinking in their presence, particularly in the more rural cities and towns. Sunday is considered a day of rest, and so some stores will be closed on Sunday. These stereotypes hold more weight in smaller cities and towns, and in some areas (especially Park City and Salt Lake City) the number of non-Mormons do outnumber members of the LDS faith.
Utah has four distinct seasons and widely-variable climate zones. Summer is hot in the north (about 80°-100°F), but rarely extreme, and is often unbearable in the far southern valleys and desert terrain (often exceeding 100°F, and even 110°F). However, summers tend to be quite comfortable in the mountains, making summer an ideal time to experience the mountain terrain of Utah. In winter, temperatures from 20° - 40°F are common in the north, with warmer temperatures in the south. Overnight temps can occasionally drop below 0°F. Snow is common statewide, with the exception of the far southern valleys, from November - March, and often occurs even earlier and later than this. Snow is particularly common downwind of the Great Salt Lake, due to lake effect. A number of excellent ski resorts operate in the Wasatch Mountains, especially around Salt Lake City, from about late November through mid-April. Snow is common in the mountains from late September - May. Summer and fall are both excellent times to enjoy the mountain scenery, with comfortable temperatures, low chance of snow, and easy access to a number of fantastic trails and hiking paths.
Although snow is common in winter in much of the state, rain is less common - it can be expected in winter and spring in the south and in spring in the north, but it's usually fairly light and short in duration. Fall also sees a short but unpredictable rainy season. Although summer is bone dry statewide, thunderstorms are a daily threat, especially throughout the south and in the northern mountains. Although these t-storms are short and small, they can be very intense. Although summer and fall are great times to enjoy the mountains and the slot canyons and desert terrain of southern Utah, attention must be paid to the skies as the evening approaches if camping in the mountains or enjoying the rugged terrain of southern Utah, especially in August. These storms can bring flash flooding to the narrow slot canyons of southern Utah, so make sure to evacuate the slot canyons as soon as possible if you see thunderstorms nearby - if you have a guide they will usually know when precautions must be taken. Summer and fall also bring a serious threat of wildfires in the backcountry.
September and early October is usually the best time to enjoy Utah, especially the mountains, with milder temperatures than summer, less chance of violent thunderstorms, and little chance of snow in the mountains. In addition, significant snowpack can linger in the mountains through May, while by early Autumn, summer has melted all of the snow, and snowstorms are rare. The national parks of Utah can get very crowded during Summer but predictably become less crowded towards late Summer and into Fall. Finally, Fall colors are spectacular in the mountains of Utah, and reach their peak in September. Colors in the valley peak in mid-October but aren't especially spectacular. The gorgeous Fall colors in the mountains rival the famous colors of New England, and are sometimes accompanied by early snow, creating a unique and beautiful mixture of vibrant colors and soft white.
English. On top of the Latino population that speaks Spanish, there are a surprising number of non-native Spanish speakers, especially in Salt Lake City and Provo, since the LDS church actively proselytizes in Latin America. "No hablo inglés" doesn't work anymore when these guys knock at your door. The universities also have a large number of foreign speakers, particularly Chinese.
Take I-15 from Southern California and Las Vegas. It also enters from Idaho to the north, eventually connecting to Canada. I-80 connects west to Reno and northern California - the route begins in San Francisco. It also connects from Wyoming near Evanston, providing the quickest route from Denver to Salt Lake City. I-70 heads straight west from Denver, entering Utah near Grand Junction and providing quick access to the incredible desert terrain of southern Utah, although not to any of the urban centers.
Amtrak runs the California Zephyr from Emeryville to Chicago, stopping in Green River, Helper, Provo, and Salt Lake City.
For more information, see Amtrak's website or Wikivoyage's article Rail travel in the United States.
Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) is the westernmost hub for Delta Air Lines, which offers nonstop service from 109 different destinations, most in the western US, but also from medium-sized cities in the central US and the large cities on the east coast. Nonstop service is also available from Paris-De Gaulle and 5x weekly service from Tokyo-Narita will begin in June 2010.
American Airlines, Continental, United, US Airways, and low cost airlines Southwest and JetBlue also serve Salt Lake City.
Cedar City (CDC) in central Utah is served with prop service to Salt Lake City, and St. George (SGU) in southern Utah has prop service to Salt Lake City and Los Angeles.
Canyonlands Field (CNY) (serving the Moab area) has service to Ely, Nevada (ELY) and Denver on Great Lakes Airlines.
Utah is also home to some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world. Most of Utah's best ski areas are located in Big Cottonwood Canyon and Little Cottonwood Canyon, which are both conveniently located less than an hour's drive away from Salt Lake City.
If you like off-roading, Moab is home to the semi-annual Jeep Safari. The Safari will oftentimes run twice a year, one over Easter Weekend the other over Memorial Day Weekend. The desert terrain combined with its vast canyons can make for some fun and beautiful scenic drives, or wild rides with some very challenging obstacles. You can also bike and in some cases take an ATV out on the trails. For a less arid ride, try your hand at high mountain OHV riding through aspen and pine forests on the Arapeen ATV Trail System.
There is some mind-blowing rock climbing to be done in Utah, some of the best is located at Maple Canyon and Zion National Park. If this is not enough to satisfy your extreme sports cravings, consider snowkiting at high altitudes on Skyline Drive.
Utah's liquor laws are known as one of the more peculiar things about the state. Liquor is sold only in state-owned stores and generally costs more than in other states. Beer contains slightly less alcohol (3.2% alcohol by weight [4% alcohol by volume], as opposed to the standard 5-6% ABV) than the usual brew, which is available in stores and restaurants. "Full strength" beer is available in bars, although not on tap, and liquor stores. Recently, state law changed the previous 1 ounce limit on liquor in mixed drinks to a more standard 1.5 ounces. Secondary alcoholic flavorings may then be added to a mixed drink as the recipe requires. "Happy hours" and other drink specials are not allowed, so prices remain constant regardless of day or time. Keep in mind that driving after drinking is prosecuted aggressively in the state of Utah.
Although liquor laws in Utah are strict, they are not impossible. There are several kinds of establishments to know about:
While much of Utah is developed, there is a great amount of desert especially to the south and west. If going out to the deserts always take plenty of water (at least one gallon per person, per day) and sunscreen as well as light clothing. Let people know where you are going and when you expect to get back.
Always be careful and watch for lightning while hiking. It's often best to hike in the early morning to avoid the possibility of hitting an afternoon thunderstorm. If caught in a storm while hiking seek shelter as quickly as you can. Also, if you see a thunderstorm nearby while exploring the slot canyons or the rough desert terrain of southern Utah, seek high ground immediately! Flash flooding is common in these areas, even when there is not a thunderstorm overhead.
There is a great risk for avalanches after snow storms, especially outside of the boundaries of ski resorts. Stay in groups and have locator beacons.
Scam artists target Utahns frequently, and property crime is a considerable risk. Lock up, use common sense, and store valuables and personal information out of sight.
Because of Utah's High Elevation those not accustomed can be subject to mild altitude sickness, especially when hiking. Always pace yourself when hiking, and drink plenty of water, especially in summer time.
The high elevation also makes the exposure to UV rays far more intense than other places. Too much exposure can lead to skin conditions down the road, including skin cancer. Always apply sunscreen when you are expecting prolonged time in the sun. It's advised to do this year round.
Certain parts of Utah are valley regions. In the winter time they are subject to days of pollution inversions. Those with respiratory and heart conditions should advise the air quality index to see the primary pollutant. You usually can find the indexes in the daily paper as well as watching local news and The Weather Channel.