Utah is Orange County’s playground—an interesting takeaway I gained when I visited last summer on a press trip courtesy of the Utah Tourism board. Many times when a stranger I had just met asked where I was from, their immediate response would mention a friend, relative or loved one from OC. Not only did I encounter plenty of local transplants, but also visitors from Orange County making their summer vacation destinations here.
The similarities between the two have to be what attract so many people from our county to “the Beehive State.” Both have not only an abundance of nature, but also a variety of it, from deserts to forests to mountains and beautiful waterways. With that, there are plenty of possibilities for outdoor sports, camping, fishing, swimming or other environmental escapades. Combined with urban hot spots such as Salt Lake City and Park City, there’s just a little bit of everything for everyone. (Dare I say that like Orange County, Utah is a Republican-leaning place, but at least people have a politeness about it—unlike a certain set of aggro Huntington Beach bros.)
Cities are my bread and butter, so let’s start our journey there: Park City is where the annual Sundance Film Festival takes place, on a Main Street that includes plenty of old-town vibes thanks to candy-colored buildings, historical museums and . . . Banksy murals? There are two actual Banksy murals hidden on the side of a couple of buildings. This stretch of town also includes plenty of bars, nightlife and shopping for high-end fashion and jewelry, as well as an old-fashioned general store where you can get authentic Native American-made supplies and souvenirs.
Possibly the biggest draw is the Park City Mountain Resort (1345 Lowell Ave., Park City, 435-649-8111; www.parkcitymountain.com), where throughout the year, the largest four-season destination in the country offers summertime activities such as zip lining, mountain biking and alpine coaster fun. When it’s not skiing or snowboard season, you can hike or take a chair-lift ride to get a scenic view of Park City’s pastoral expanse.
I would be remiss to not mention High West Distillery and Saloon (703 Park Ave., Park City; www.highwest.com), located on the very edge of Main Street. Established in the 1870s, Utah’s first distillery produces award-winning whiskeys and vodkas, and its restaurant carries a Western, rustic vibe that has been updated for a modern, hip clientele. The saloon offers everything from cocktails to spirits to wine, as well as hearty small plates and savory dishes. This is also the only ski-in gastro-distillery in the world, so if you come back during the season, you can schuss down from the icy mountains and pop in for a drink. You can also schedule a cool tour of the distillery to gain an understanding of the chemistry behind their acclaimed spirits.
There is a large amount of preservation for the state’s environment, national parks and history. McConkie Ranch (6228 McConkie Rd., Vernal), 10 miles north of Vernal in Dry Fork Canyon, is famous for its preserved petroglyphs on the side of the mountains, detailing battles, deities or rituals enacted by local natives some centuries ago. You’ll need good hiking boots and plenty of sunscreen to trek the marked, mile-long trail, where you can see the petroglyphs with helpful descriptions and summaries printed by local guides. McConkie Ranch is private property, but it’s open to the public, and water and snacks are offered for cash (donations for upkeep are also accepted).
My favorite outdoor activity in Utah was camping at Red Fleet State Park (8750 N. Hwy. 191, Vernal; stateparks.utah.gov/parks/red-fleet/). The communal camping grounds allow visitors to park RVs or campers or set up tents among grassy fields, with nearby grill stations and seating areas for comfort. Restrooms are also on site, so you don’t have to answer the call of nature in the middle of literal nature, you know? Kayak and paddle-boarding canoes can be rented, and hiking, biking, fishing and swimming are possible, too.
Other great destinations for outdoor recreation include Flaming Gorge, which hosts more than 200,000 acres of land and water and where visitors often take in boating, water skiing, windsurfing, camping, fishing and other activities. Tour the Flaming Gorge Dam’s facilities, or go fishing or river rafting through the gorgeous, crystal-blue waters below. It’s so safe that even I felt comfortable rocking on up and down on the raft—I can’t swim to save my life. Guides and rafts are procurable through the Spillway Boat Launch in Flaming Gorge Reservoir (Spillway Boat Launch Rd., Dutch John).
One thing I learned from this visit? You can NEVER have too much sunscreen on hand; that hot Utah sun will leave your skin redder than a lobster ready for dinner. Safe travels!
Aimee Murillo is calendar editor and frequently covers the Orange County DIY music scene, film, arts, Latino culture and currently pens the long-running column Trendzilla. Born, raised, and based in Santa Ana, she loves bad movies, punk shows, raising her plants, eating tacos, Selena, and puns.