Wasatch Wandering: The Lesser-Known Side of Utah

By Hayley Haws

When considering a trip to Utah, visitors are often encouraged to either head to one of its five national parks or go on a winter ski trip. As a result, some visitors picture Utah as only a red rock state with some snowy areas in the winter. 

In reality, those who explore Utah in the warmer months can also discover green valleys lush with wildflowers, beautiful fresh lakes surrounded by dramatic peaks and alpine forests with wildlife wandering through the trees. Here is one route through the Wasatch mountain range that will ensure a trip full of awe-worthy scenes. This looping route is 132 miles roundtrip and could be done in a single fast-paced day or broken up into multiple overnight stops. 

Beauty in Big Cottonwood

Salt Lake City is the perfect place to begin seeing the lush mountainous side of Utah, whether arriving by car or via the airport. For a full-circle road trip, visitors should begin by leaving the city behind and heading 17 miles south to the entrance of Big Cottonwood Canyon. Each of the canyons near Salt Lake City has their own defining charms. Big Cottonwood Canyon is known for its narrow windy road that is flanked by dramatic rock formations and forests of aspens and evergreens. In the summer, the canyon is used as a gateway for hikers heading out on popular trails such as the Lake Blanche Trail (6.8 miles) or the Silverlake Boardwalk Trail (0.9 miles). 

After some time spent seeing the beauty of this canyon, travelers can take the seasonal Guardsman Pass. Closed in the wintertime, this road opens access to additional stunning hikes like Bloods Lake (2.7 miles) and to the famous town of Park City. 

Park City

In the summertime, Park City sheds its winter crowds and hotels are usually heavily discounted with many offering additional last-minute booking deals. While some restaurants close, due to summer being the quote-unquote off-season, visitors will find the area still full of energy, especially around Historic Main Street, the local farmer’s market or one of the many outdoor concerts. Those wishing to stick to nature can head into the hills either by chairlift, mountain bike or on foot. 

Just down the road, (either by returning to the mountains via Guardsman Pass or using the highway) is the European-influenced town of Midway.


The town of Midway is full of nods to Swiss culture, due to a group of early settlers from Switzerland feeling at home in a vibrant green valley with white peaks in the distance. Swiss designs decorate buildings throughout the town, while the annual Swiss Days in September fully embraces the town’s history. 

Those wanting a break from the road can use Midway as an overnight pit stop and stay at one of the local hotels such as the Zermatt Resort & Spa or the Homestead Resort. On the grounds of the Homestead Resort, the town of Midway holds one of Utah’s treasured hot springs, the Homestead Crater. Located below ground, the hot springs are a dramatically beautiful place to enjoy some relaxing hot water. Visitors to the springs don’t need to be staying at the resort but will need to pay a fee that depends on if they want to swim, snorkel or scuba dive. 

Photo by Jennifer Pratt

Sundance Resort 

Leaving the town of Midway behind, travelers can take Highway 189 to Sundance Mountain Resort. Founded by the actor Robert Redford, Sundance Resort has a cozy mountainous charm and is a great place to stop for an hour or stay overnight. Day visitors can ride the chairlift to see canyon views from above. No visit is complete without a purchase of one of their giant cookies from the deli at the base of the resort.

Alpine Loop

Moving on from Sundance, the route’s final stretch is ahead – the Alpine Loop. This loop moves through the canyon with the narrowest road on this route (it can feel tight just when two cars need to pass each other). The moments of claustrophobia are worth it as the road takes travelers through miles of wilderness. 

A favorite stop on this route is the Stewart Falls Hike, a 3.4-mile trail that takes trekkers to a cascading waterfall. Another favorite is the Timpanogos Cave Monument, another trail that can take visitors with a reservation into a cave system run by the National Park Service. The Alpine Loop is beautiful enough that travelers can also be satisfied by staying in their cars, rolling the windows down and having a peaceful drive through the levels of the forest. 

A good final stop on this route is at Tibble Fork Reservoir, where picturesque peaks meet a body of water big enough for paddleboarders and kayakers to splash around. Finishing up, visitors can take the Alpine Loop back into the city and head back to where the journey began.

Designed by Aubrey Fite/Ranger Collective