On the southern shore of the Great Salt Lake framed by the Wasatch Mountains, Utah’s high-altitude capital city boasts “the Greatest Snow on Earth.”
With winter highs that hover around freezing, Salt Lake City receives an average of 54 inches of snow per year. And during ski season, the mountains surrounding Salt Lake City receive nearly 1 foot of perfect powder every 5 days. Here are the best outdoor activities in Salt Lake City in winter.
Hit The Slopes
When you visit Salt Lake City during winter, you’ll definitely want to spend time outdoors in the snow! If you’re a skier, you’ll be delighted to learn that the mountains around Salt Lake City are home to several world-class ski resorts. Even more exciting is that you can land at Salt Lake City International Airport and on the slopes at one of four of those resorts within an hour of arrival.
Pro Tip: Sundial Lodge and Park City Mountain Resort are two of the best family-friendly ski resorts in the area. For ski runs off the beaten powder-packed path, check out Powder Mountain, one of the best uncrowded ski resorts in the US.
Glide On Cross-Country Skis
If your midlife knees are no longer in their downhill skiing prime, then perhaps you’ll enjoy cross-country skiing as a less strenuous alternative. Cross-country skiing is good for all skill levels, especially beginners. Simply strap on a pair of skis, and explore the winter wonderland that surrounds you!
Pro Tip: If you haven’t visited Salt Lake City, its street addresses, calculated from the Great Salt Lake Base and Meridian, can be confusing. Crack the code with these tips!
Take A Winter Hike
Another way for visitors of all skill levels to explore a snowy Salt Lake City is on a winter hike. Strap a pair of snowshoes onto your hiking boots, and the steel crampons will help you explore the path less traveled with all the confidence of a caribou.
Pro Tip: If you don’t own cross-country skis or snowshoes, it’s easy to rent them locally for a day, week, or the entire season. Both Sports Den and Canyon Sports have all the gear you need! If you plan to purchase a pair of snowshoes, read this first.
Slide In Style
Another snowy activity to consider in Salt Lake City in winter is snow tubing. Simply glide up the “magic carpet” with your inflatable tube, then let gravity do all of the work while you sit back and enjoy the ride. One of the best places for winter tubing in the Salt Lake City area is on the Toyota Tubing Hill at Soldier Hollow. At 1,200 feet, their sliding lanes are some of the longest in the Beehive State. Plus, Soldier Hollow has accommodations for tubers in wheelchairs and visually impaired guests.
Pro Tip: Enjoying the best snow on earth is likely to make you hungry! These incredible Salt Lake City restaurants are some of my favorites.
See The Sights Via Snowmobile
For an even bigger adrenaline rush, glide across the snowy mountains surrounding Salt Lake City on a snowmobile. The team at Lofty Peaks Adventures offers guided snowmobile tours in Heber City and Snowbird. Hop in the driver’s seat and command the craft, or hold on tight and enjoy the ride. (If you’re new to snowmobiling and can share a craft with a travel buddy, the passenger rate at Lofty Peaks is heavily discounted.) If you’re an experienced snowmobiler, you can also rent a rig for a few hours to explore the trailheads solo.
Twirl On The World’s Fastest Ice
Salt Lake City’s Olympic Oval boasts the fastest ice in the world. Why? At 4,675 feet above sea level, the arena is the highest-altitude rink in the world. At higher altitudes, the ice is harder and denser. Plus, the reduced air resistance makes the speed skating events much faster. That’s why Salt Lake City has been the site of the majority of the speed skating world records that stand today.
Whether you want to race around the rink or twirl under the stars, one of the best outdoor ice rinks in Salt Lake City is Gallivan Center. Located in the heart of downtown, this large oval rink is just south of the Utah State Capitol Building.
Fun Fact: While it’s an indoor rink, the ice at the Cottonwood Heights Recreation Center was the official practice site for American Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi during the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Celebrate The 2002 Winter Olympics
Speaking of the Olympics, Salt Lake City is well known for hosting the XIX Olympic Winter Games. Gathering 2,400 athletes from around the world in February 2002, Salt Lake City was the last American city to host a winter Olympics. Relive the event with a visit to the Joe Quinney Winter Sports Center, where you can often watch bobsled, skeleton, and other winter sporting events. If you’re not content to just sit and watch, then take a ride with a professional bobsled pilot via the Winter Bobsled Experience. And before you go, be sure to visit the Eccles Salt Lake 2002 Winter Games and Alf Engen Ski Museums on site.
Pro Tip: You can see the metal structure that held the Olympic flame during the 2002 Winter Olympics in the southwest corner of the Rice-Eccles Stadium. This football stadium at the University of Utah was the site of the opening and closing ceremonies for the XIX Olympic Winter Games in February 2002.
Fawn Over Frozen Fortresses
Greater Salt Lake City is one of four ice castle destinations in the United States. Channel your inner Elsa and embrace the cold by bundling up and exploring the LED-lit sculptures, frozen thrones, and carved ice tunnels fashioned from hundreds of thousands of icicles created by professional ice artists.
Admire The Holiday Lights
While there are more than 100 Mormon temples around the world, the 210-foot-tall, cream-colored granite church in downtown Salt Lake City is the largest. Just as impressive as its size is its draw. With three- to five-million visitors annually, Temple Square attracts more sightseers than all five of Utah’s national parks combined.
During the warm months, Temple Square is a lush and quiet refuge from the cement sidewalk and busy city beyond the gates. Tall trees provide shade, and the grounds are filled with colorful flowers from March through November. But one of the best times to visit Temple Square is during winter. From the day after Thanksgiving until the new year begins, the 35-acre Temple Square grounds are filled with millions of festive lights, illuminated paper lanterns, and Nativity scenes.
You can also enjoy festive holiday lights at ZooLights! at Utah’s Hogle Zoo. This secular holiday attraction features twinkle-light tunnels, illuminated displays, and a chance for wee ones to meet Santa.
Take The Plunge
Speaking of the North Pole, you can channel your inner ursine and jump into the frigid water at Stansbury Park during the Polar Bear Plunge. Or spend more time outdoors this winter by first running a 5k and then jumping into the Utah State Lake with the Frigid 5k and Penguin Plunge.
Go Scuba Diving
If you prefer water that’s far from freezing over, you’ll love this next tip. The Homestead Crater in Midway is a geothermal spring hidden within a 55-foot-tall, beehive-shaped limestone rock. With constant temperatures between 90 and 96 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s the only warm scuba diving destination in the continental U.S., making it a unique outdoor winter activity in Salt Lake City.
Hunt Bison (With A Long Camera Lens) On Antelope Island
On the southeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake, Antelope Island is the largest of the lake’s ten islands. With several scenic trails and one of the country’s oldest bison herds, Antelope Island is one of my favorite places to spend a beautiful day outdoors in Salt Lake City. In addition to being less crowded and often blanketed with snow, another benefit of visiting Antelope Island during winter is that the mosquitos, biting gnats, and non-biting brine flies aren’t around.
Bonus Activities In Salt Lake City In Winter
While they are not outdoor activities, basketball and hockey fans will want to consider these two bonus recommendations. NBA fans can attend a Utah Jazz basketball game at the Vivint Smart Home Arena, the Salt Lake Ice Center during the 2002 Winter Olympics.
If you’re a hockey fan, take in a Utah Grizzlies game at the Maverick Center. As you cheer for this minor-league affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks, you’re doing so in the venue where Olympic athletes competed for gold during the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Another big draw to Salt Lake City in the winter is the Sundance Film Festival at the end of January. The largest independent film festival in the country, the event attracts celebrities while showcasing some of the best cinematic works across all genres from around the world.
From sliding like a kid down the slopes in a tube to exploring the path less traveled on snowshoes, cross-country skis, or a snowmobile, there are plenty of fun outdoor activities to enjoy in Salt Lake City in winter.