Once a dusty little desert corner, Utah has hit the big time, booming economically and demographically from the 1990s through today. It's no big secret why people are coming to Utah in greater numbers -- its natural beauty is unrivaled and its communities are clean and relatively small, by East and West coast standards. But the increased tourism means that advance trip planning is essential. Hotels and restaurants fill up much more quickly than ever before, and traffic is thickening. But this wide-open state is still full of amazing, undiscovered surprises in literally every corner. Take the time, and drive the extra mile.

Utah is an easy state to visit -- roads are good and generally uncrowded, and you can often expect to pay less for food and lodging than you would in other parts of the country. But once you leave the Wasatch Front -- the area around Salt Lake City, Ogden, and Provo -- distances between towns are long, with few services along the way. Plan your trip carefully and make reservations far in advance for popular areas such as the national parks, and for popular times, such as ski season. The following pages will help you do that and more.

The presence and influence of the Mormon Church -- officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) -- makes visiting Utah a unique experience, from ordering an alcoholic beverage to visiting a historic home with two identical bedrooms -- one for each wife. To learn more about modern Mormonism, as well as Utah's history in general, see chapter 2, "Utah in Depth."

The Happiest State in the Whole USA -- According to the 2009 Gallup-Healthways Well-being Index (wwww.ahipwire.org/wellbeing) -- which is based on interviews with 1,000 Americans a day, 365 days a year -- Utah is the happiest state in the union, just edging the second-happiest state, Hawaii. What's the underlying cause of all the smiling faces in the Beehive State? Maybe it's the weather, or the ample opportunities for outdoor recreation, or the jaw-dropping scenery in all directions. Perhaps, but the biggest factor was a number-one ranking in "work quality," whereas Hawaii ranked dead last on this metric. The moral of the story: A state's natural beauty helps make for happier residents, but looks aren't everything.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.