Although it may be best known for “The Greatest Snow on Earth” and the opportunity for skiers to be on the slopes of one of four world-class ski resorts within an hour of landing at the Salt Lake International Airport, I prefer to visit Salt Lake City in the summer. As the perfect powder melts, it fuels crystal-clear waterfalls, and the trails carved into the mountains attract hikers instead of skiers.
July and August are the hottest months in Salt Lake City, with daytime temperatures regularly reaching 90 degrees. But one of the benefits of visiting this high-desert destination is that the night temperatures regularly drop into the 60s.
From scenic hikes to Olympic history, these are the best outdoor activities in Salt Lake City, Utah, during summer.
Pro Tip: If your travels take you to Salt Lake City in the fall, here’s why it’s one of the best United States cities to visit in October.
Relive The 2002 Winter Olympics (Without Snow)
Although the 20 years have flown by faster than Apolo Ohno on ice skates, the last Winter Olympics held in the U.S. took place in Salt Lake City in 2002. With events like hockey, figure skating, and bobsledding, it may be hard to imagine how the event would factor into a summer trip to Salt Lake City. But Olympic Park is full of thrilling fun, even without snow. For the ride of a lifetime, tear down the track behind a bobsled pilot once the blades have been replaced with wheels. When your heart rate returns to normal, board a shuttle bus to see one of the world’s highest Nordic ski jumps as well as one of the fastest sliding tracks in the world.
Pro Tip: Looking for more to see and do in Salt Lake City? Check out this article.
Tour Temple Square
When you visit Salt Lake City during ski season, you’ll find Temple Square filled with festive lights and illuminated paper lanterns from Thanksgiving until the new year begins. But in the summer, this quiet, 35-acre refuge in the heart of Utah’s capital city is filled with shady trees, calming fountains, and colorful flowers. Whether you explore Temple Square on a guided or self-guided tour, there is no charge to visit Utah’s number-one attraction.
Fun Fact: Welcoming up to 5 million visitors a year, Temple Square attracts more people than all five of Utah’s national parks combined.
Admire The Sculptures In The Gilgal Garden
After Salt Lake City was founded by Latter-day Saints escaping persecution, other members of the Mormon Church flocked to Utah, where they grew to a majority. Although Salt Lake City and the state of Utah are becoming more religiously diverse, the city’s Mormon roots remain deep, from the soaring towers of the temples that stand out across the valley to the city’s street addresses.
One of the best ways to explore the culture of Salt Lake City is by walking through the Gilgal Sculpture Garden. Established in the mid-1900s, it includes original sculptures, engraved stones, and other visionary art pieces that give visitors a glimpse of the beliefs of Latter-day Saints.
Wander Through The Red Butte Garden And Arboretum
Located on the eastern edge of campus in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains, Red Butte Garden and Arboretum is operated by the University of Utah. Spread across 100 acres, it features several gardens, a large pond, and a natural area. Don’t miss the trio of themed gardens — fragrance, medicinal, and herb — filled with scented blooms, healing plants, and edible herbs. They feel like the grounds of a European castle! Summer is also the perfect time to wander through the rose garden and explore the water conservation garden that provides practical advice for reducing water usage while winding up a hill to beautiful valley views.
When you visit Red Butte Garden during the summer, you’ll have the added benefit of attending one of its outdoor summer concerts. A wide variety of artists have performed at Red Butte Garden over the years, including names that will bring back youthful memories for many 50+ travelers: Howard Jones, Lyle Lovett, Sheryl Crow, Violent Femmes, The B-52s, and Billy Idol.
Pro Tip: Exploring Utah’s capital city is sure to make you hungry, so fuel up at the best restaurants in Salt Lake City.
Spread Your Wings At The Tracy Aviary
Botanical garden and bird lovers will enjoy experiencing the blend of both at Tracy Aviary. The oldest aviary in the U.S. is set on 8 lush acres in Liberty Park, where guests can gaze at and interact with more than 100 species of birds from around the world, including eagles, owls, pelicans, flamingos, sandhill cranes, and macaws.
Hunt For Bison On Antelope Island
On the largest island in the city’s namesake lake, Antelope Island State Park is better known as the home of one of the largest and oldest publicly owned bison herds in the country — not for its pronghorn antelope. In addition to scouting for bison, Antelope Island is a great place to hike, with 20 miles of trails offering spectacular views of the Great Salt Lake and Wasatch Mountains. The lake’s brine shrimp attract a variety of migrating and nesting birds, so keep an eye out for great blue herons, pheasants, owls, red-winged blackbirds, bald eagles, a variety of ducks, and more than 200 other bird species.
Pro Tip: When visiting Antelope Island, I recommend stopping at the visitor center first. The rangers are your best bison-tracking resource and can usually give you the most up-to-date information about locating the free-range bison herd and other creatures recently sighted in the area.
Monkey Around At Hogle Zoo
Expand your animal interactions beyond the creatures native to North America with a visit to Hogle Zoo, which covers about 40 acres just south of the University of Utah. Let the warmer months take you on a safari on the African savanna, where you can watch giraffes graze and hear lions roar. But best of all, the Hogle Zoo recently welcomed an adorable baby zebra, Zion. You can also spend time with polar bears, snow leopards, a white rhinoceros, and more than 200 other critters from around the world.
Pro Tip: Not only are the African animals easier to see during the warmer months, but outdoor giraffe feedings are only offered between May and September.
See The Sights With An Interactive Scavenger Hunt
One of the best ways to see the sights of a city while learning more about its history and culture is an interactive scavenger hunt. Let’s Roam offers two fun hunts in the heart of town. This 2.4-mile hunt takes about 2 hours and includes many of the city’s biggest landmarks, including the Utah State Capitol and Temple Square. And this 2.6-mile scavenger hunt explores a section of Salt Lake City south of Temple Square, including the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art and St. Mark’s Cathedral.
Fun Fact: Do you wonder how the Beehive State got its nickname? The symbol dates to the mid-1800s, to the original settlers who believed that this new land for the Latter-day Saints would only blossom if its citizens worked hard together.
Take A Hike
Located in a valley encircled by the Wasatch and Oquirrh Mountains, Salt Lake City has no shortage of scenic hikes. One of my favorite easy hikes is the Donut Falls Trail. This 1.5-mile out-and-back trail winds through trees in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest and treats hikers to a beautiful waterfall that flows through a hole in a rock. Another easy hike in Salt Lake City is the Ensign Peak Trail. Less than a mile long, this out-and-back trail treats trekkers to the same spectacular views of the Salt Lake Valley and Great Salt Lake that Brigham Young saw when he arrived in the area in 1847. A more challenging Salt Lake City hike is the Living Room Lookout Trail. This 2-mile out-and-back trail with an elevation gain of about 900 feet gets its name from the rudimentary furniture someone constructed from flat rocks.
Pro Tip: For more great hikes in the Beehive State, check out this article.
Cheer For The Home Team
When it comes to summer sports, join the fans at Rio Tinto Stadium in the southern Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy to cheer on the city’s Major League Soccer team, Real Salt Lake. Or grab a hot dog and cold beer and spend an evening at Smith’s Ballpark with the Salt Lake Bees, Salt Lake City’s minor league baseball team.
If you’re more of a football fan, you should be able to catch a University of Utah Utes preseason game at the end of August. Even if you don’t attend a football game, you’ll discover the structure that held the Olympic flame during the 2002 Winter Olympics in the southwest corner of the team’s Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Whether you’re a history buff, animal lover, or sports fan, you’re sure to find an outdoor activity to suit you when you visit Salt Lake City in the summer.