You can easily split Utah into three distinct regions: the Colorado Plateau, in the southern half of the state, where all those fantastic rock formations are; Rocky Mountain Utah, with rugged peaks, stately pines, deep blue lakes, and most of the state's residents; and the Great Basin Desert, the big middle-of-nowhere where you've always wanted to send that cousin you never really liked.
Truth be told, though, certain sections of Utah do just have a whole lot of nothing. So this guide is organized by destination, based on where you probably will want to go.
Eighty percent of Utah's population lives in the Rocky Mountain region of the Wasatch Front, the 175-mile-long north-central section of the state from Logan to Provo. Salt Lake City is Utah's most populous city, as well as its most cosmopolitan. It's also the international headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Temple Square is Utah's most-visited attraction. Keep in mind that Salt Lake City is still a relatively small city and not as sophisticated or glitzy as New York or Los Angeles (that may be what makes it so likeable). One advantage Salt Lake City has over all other Western cities its size, as any real-estate agent will tell you, is its location; within an hour's drive is some of the best downhill skiing in the United States. Here also is that mystery of nature, the vast Great Salt Lake, eight times saltier than any of the world's oceans.
This brings you to the rest of the Wasatch Front. In this guide, the section that's roughly north of Salt Lake is designated the Northern Wasatch Front. Here you'll find historic Ogden; Logan, Utah's northernmost town of any size; the national historic site where the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads met in 1869; and four ski resorts. The mountains that offer skiing in winter also provide numerous opportunities for hiking, horseback riding, and biking in summer.
The areas east and south of Salt Lake City are designated in this guide as the Southern Wasatch Front. This region contains beautiful Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, which have some of the state's best skiing, as well as great hiking and biking in the summer; Park City, Utah's premier ski-resort town -- and a delightful destination year-round -- with a historic Main Street dominated by intriguing shops and restaurants; some fun spots just outside of Park City, including a historic railroad, Strawberry Reservoir (a real gem of a lake), and several nice state parks; Robert Redford's Sundance Institute; and Provo, a small, conservative city that's home to Brigham Young University.
The western side of Utah, beginning west of Salt Lake City, is dominated by the vast, salty nothingness of the Great Basin Desert, which includes the pristinely white Bonneville Salt Flats, which are so flat that you can actually see the curvature of the earth. The Flats are also famous for the land speed records set on them. This is not the sort of place you want to go for a picnic -- it's hot, the water's undrinkable, and there's very little to see.
Northeastern Utah is home to two terrific recreational areas that creep into the adjoining states: Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, which wanders into Wyoming, and nearby Dinosaur National Monument, which extends into Colorado. Both are what one might call "Undiscovered Utah," because they're really off the beaten path and not what most people imagine when they think of the state -- consider it well worth a visit.
The Colorado Plateau, which extends along the state's entire southern border and halfway up the east side, is where all five of Utah's national parks are located, and for good reason. Ancient geologic forces, erosion, oxidation, and other natural processes have carved spectacular rock sculptures -- delicate and intricate, bold and stately -- and painted them in a riot of color. This is quite likely why you've come to Utah in the first place, and these sections will help you spend your time wisely and enjoyably.
But the Colorado Plateau isn't just national parks. This area offers historic Mormon sites; live theater, dance, and music; as well as skiing and the state's best golf. If you're heading in from Las Vegas, St. George is the first Utah town you'll see.
Utah's best destination for watersports -- maybe the best in the West -- is Lake Powell and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. A boating vacation here is the stuff that stressed-out big-city dreams are made of.
Finally, "The Four Corners Area" is in Utah's very southeast corner. Spectacular American Indian sites, such as Hovenweep National Monument, make a visit here truly worth the drive through the West's vast, empty spaces.
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.