Utah. Home to incredible natural beauty and spectacular national parks. From the majestic Red Rock to the trippy spires of Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, the delicate stone arches to the vast expanse of the Arches canyons, the iconic rock formations of Monument Valley to the surreal landscapes of Grand Staircase Escalante. But all of this jaw-dropping, gobsmacking beauty is in the much explored southern Utah. What about the incredible but largely ignored north? Here is a great backpacking Northern Utah guide for those of you who crave the raw, the unexplored.
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Backpacking Northern Utah : Main Attractions
Most people would have heard of Salt Lake City, the largest city in Utah, perhaps best known as the home to the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints – the Mormons. But what you may not realise is that while backpacking Northern Utah you can also see a national park brimming with dinosaur fossils, attractive historic towns, world-class skiing, alpine hiking with spectacular views, an island that is home to roaming buffalo and sun-scorched grasslands, cosy mountain villages and of course, the Great Salt Lake, the largest salt water lake in the western hemisphere.
Strolling the Historic 25th Street
Historic 25th Street, once derided as Salt Lake City’s badass little sister due to a high density of brothels and gang crime, is now an attractive main street filled with unique stores and boutiques, thriving restaurants and cafes, all housed in beautifully restored brick buildings. There are even views of the surrounding Wasatch mountains. Locals take pride in their lively street with regular festivals and a weekly Farmer’s Market. It is a vibrant and fun place to spend a Saturday morning in summer, with a variety of vendors selling local produce, locally made products and pretty much anything else you can think of. There are also food stalls and live music. 25th street should definitely be on your list while backpacking Northern Utah.
Experiencing the Beauty of Antelope Island
A starkly desolate place where bison and pronghorns roam, Antelope Island is an otherworldly delight. Only a short drive from Salt Lake City, it is the largest island in the Great Salt Lake and the perfect place to hike through yellowed grasslands and over rocky outcroppings. Backpacking northern Utah through this wondrous little island was quite the experience. To admire the contrast of colours from the bright white of salt flats through to the vegetation of browns, greens and reds. To swim in the super salty (and floaty) Great Salt Lake where it is almost impossible to sink. To wander within metres of wild bison and unusual looking pronghorns. And to roam about with barely a soul around, why this wondrous place isn’t more well-known, I may never know.
Discovering Mormon History in Salt Lake City
Even if you aren’t even remotely religious, a visit to the Mormon stronghold of Salt Lake City is a must do while backpacking Northern Utah. The city has beautiful architecture, a riverside walking trail, a beautiful Temple Square, 35 acres of historic buildings, bright and cheerful gardens, and the ultimate cherry on the cake -the hugely Disney-esque Salt Lake Temple. If you’re interested, the LDS Church offers free tours of a few buildings in Temple Square, where they talk about the roots of the religion, which I found pretty informative.
Exploring the Vibrant Mountain Town of Park City
I love mountain towns with their super friendly communities, and cute main streets set amongst surrounding peaks: Park City is no exception. I only got to visit for a day but Park City instantly impressed me with its beautiful downtown filled with loads of excellent dining choices, art galleries and boutiques. I even spied an original Banksy on one of the exterior walls of a building. People watching was great here with so many local outdoorsy folk of different ages, dogs in tow, going about their daily business, stopping to chat with one another on the street. In winter this town really comes into its own with world-class skiing at any of the nearby ski resorts, and it also has the World’s only ski-in gastro pub. I’m pretty sure Park City would be an awesome place to live, but visiting is the next best thing.
Hiking in the Wasatch Mountains
This iconic mountain range stretches 160 miles from the Utah/Idaho border, south through central Utah. Anywhere you go while backpacking northern Utah, these mountains will be in view. The Wasatch Range is the western edge of the Rocky Mountains, and although not as lofty as the Colorado Rockies, the Wasatch are rugged and formidable, with a red tinge that makes them glow like hot embers at sunset. There are many places to hike in these mountains. We chose to do a hike to the summit of Bald Mountain, from the Silver Lake Resort near Park City. This trail offered dramatic scenery of the Jordanelle Reservoir and surrounding peaks, windswept and exposed with only sparse vegetation. I slept comfortably in my camping hammock & awoke to the most incredible view! It wouldn’t be a backpacking northern Utah trip without exploring the Wasatch Mountains.
Soaking up the Small Town Charm in Logan
Cute and charming Logan, a small town about an hour north of Ogden, is a great day trip destination. With a stroll-able main street perfect for grabbing a bite to eat and exploring the shops on vibrant Federal Ave, Logan is quintessential small town America. From Logan you can continue driving further north, through the stunning Logan canyon where you can hike, and leaf peep in Fall. End the drive at peaceful Bear Lake, which straddles the border of Utah and Idaho: a refreshing spot with sandy beaches and cool waters to swim in during hot summer days.
Experience Prehistory at Dinosaur National Monument
See the wall of over 1,500 dinosaur bones at the Quarry Exhibit Hall, hike above a stunning canyon surrounded by multi-coloured rock mountains, and drive through spectacular desert landscapes – Dinosaur National Monument offers so much to see and do. Straddling the border between Utah and Colorado, Dinosaur National Monument is one of the best places in the world to see Jurassic period dinosaur remains. The park is also known for its petroglyphs, left by the Fremont people approximately 1,000 years ago. This virtually unknown National Park was a memorable destination for me while backpacking northern Utah.
Tubing the Weber River
The ultimate way to cool off in the hot summer months is tubing the Class II rapids of the windy Weber River. It is a popular pastime for locals and visitors alike. It’s two hours of blissful floating – with the occasional adrenaline rush when you hit tumultuous rapids – along a river that takes you under gorgeous red mountains, pulling up onto rocky beaches for breaks along the way. You can also get your own tubes and lifejackets (mandatory and regulated) and do it yourself, but you will need two vehicles for this. The starting lot is off of exit 112 on Highway 84, with the end lot located at exit 108. Alternatively, you can do it through a company called Barefoot Tubing which is based out of Morgan, a small town north-east of Salt Lake City. Either way – if you are backpacking northern Utah this summer, you should definitely do it!
To find out more about white water adventures in Utah, check out this post on rafting the Green River.
Scrambling into Willard Canyon
Definitely not for the faint of heart, Willard Canyon is all overgrown trails, steep and narrow with slippery gravel. Make sure you wear sturdy shoes for this. We may have only ventured in part of the way, but what we did see was beautiful, as was the view of the Great Salt Lake, glimpsed while trying to navigate the precarious path. Even if you don’t try entering the canyon, it is a beautiful spot to admire the lake and the surrounding mountains and there are trails down to the small Willow Creek Park. It’s a nice stopover if you are heading between Logan and Ogden/Salt Lake City.
Getting Around in Northern Utah
As with most of the United States, northern Utah is best explored by car so if you have your own vehicle, getting around will be easy. If not, hiring a car will be your best bet and with prices starting from around $18 per day, this is a cost effective option, especially if you are backpacking northern Utah with a group and can split the cost.
Alternatively, getting between Salt Lake City Airport, Salt Lake City, and Ogden is easy and cheap with regular trains. There are also regular buses between Salt Lake City and Park City. Getting to smaller towns and natural attractions such as Antelope Island would be difficult without a car but you could look into ride sharing or taking a tour.
Uber is hand’s down the best way to get around cities, the price is locked in on the app so you can’t get ripped off and it will always work out cheaper than travelling by taxi. Click here and your first three rides are discounted (plus my next ride will be too – cheers!).
Accommodation in Northern Utah
Budget accommodation options in northern Utah are plentiful with lots of camping, affordable Airbnb listings, an active couch surfing community in larger centres such as Ogden, Salt Lake City and Park City and even hostels. Use this Airbnb coupon code for $35 off your first stay at a great property!
A great way to explore the US is by getting an RV (recreational vehicle and you can easily find RV parks and campgrounds near Salt Lake City
Here are a few options for accommodation while backpacking northern Utah:
Camping in Northern Utah.
KOA Salt Lake City: The closest full-service RV Park to Salt Lake City, this KOA also offers spots for tents. It has a pool, a hot tub and even a camp kitchen. There is a free shuttle into Temple Square.
Jordanelle State Park: Located close to Park City in the beautiful Heber Valley, Hailstone Campground in Jordanelle State Park offers tent and RV camping with full hook-ups, on the shores of a reservoir that is popular with boaters and fishermen.
Antelope Island State Park: There are four small, basic camping grounds on Antelope Island open to tents and self-contained RVs.
Willard Bay State Park: Only a 20 minute drive from Ogden off the highway north to Logan, Willard Bay State Park offers camping right on the Great Salt Lake with a swimming beach, marina and hot showers. There are three camping grounds within the park offering tent camping and full-RV hookups.
Dinosaur National Monument: There are three campgrounds located in the Utah section of the National Monument: Split Mountain, Green River and Rainbow Park. All of the camping grounds offer basic facilities with no showers or hook-ups.
|Location||Accommodation||Why Stay Here?!|
|Salt Lake City||Park City Hostel||This upscale Hostel accommodation helps make your stay affordable and comfort. It's home for snow bunnies & athletes who like the hit the slopes.|
|Salt Lake City||Camelot Inn and Hostel||A basic but affordable hostel offering private rooms and male/female dorms. Close to downtown Salt Lake City and Temple Square. Free parking and wifi.|
|Salt Lake City||Avenues Hostel||Friendly hostel in a quiet residential neighbourhood close to downtown. Private rooms and male/female dorms. Free wifi, cable TV and breakfast.|
Where to Eat and Drink
I by no means even came close to experiencing all that the northern Utah dining scene has to offer but I tried to at least get a feel for it. From home-cooked fare to inventive and diverse international offerings, I was really impressed by what I ate during my time here. Here is a selection of the culinary highlights of my backpacking trip to northern Utah.
Salt Lake City
Lion House Pantry Restaurant – Cafeteria style Restaurant serving homestyle fare located next to Temple Square, is housed in the former residence of the second leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints – Brigham Young. They have daily specials – we tried the artichoke chicken with mashed potatoes which was delicious – and all meals come with a free house-made roll, best spread with Utah’s famous honey butter.
JDawgs – Simple but lovingly made hot dogs can be found at Utah institution, JDawgs. They are said to be the best in Utah and are cheap to boot. Perfect for a quick meal.
Spitz – Mediterranean street food with a focus on doner kebabs, Spitz is a cheap and tasty destination for lunch or dinner in downtown Salt Lake City.
Jackalope Lounge – Salt Lake City doesn’t have a lot of nightlife, but if you are looking for a few local beers in a friendly but simple dive bar, Jackalope Lounge will do the trick. We went in the early evening and it was pretty quiet but I have heard it gets pretty busy later on.
Caffe Ibis – Located on funky Federal Ave, Caffe Ibis didn’t have a table free when we went past. This bustling cafe prides itself on their coffee, which they roast onsite. The food menu also looked delicious, with inventive salads and sandwiches with a big focus on fresh seasonal, local and organic food.
Bluebird Restaurant – Founded in 1914, this genteel restaurant with an old-fashioned atmosphere offers sit down dining with classic dishes at very affordable prices. I was so impressed with my Bluebird chicken which came in a sweet and spicy sauce and was served with perfect mashed potatoes and gravy. Their locally made pie is also definitely worth saving room for. A must visit while backpacking northern Utah.
World Famous Pho Noodle House and Grill – Quite a claim and I doubt it is actually world famous but the Pho Ga here is pretty damn awesome. I had been craving a good Pho and this place delivered.
Two-Bit Street Cafe – Fresh home-cooked food surrounded by old-timey decor, I loved their two-bit bleu chips – thick cut potato chips smothered in mornay sauce and chunks of blue cheese.
Roosters Brewing Company and Restaurant – Unlike in Colorado, Brew Pubs and Restaurants are not a dime a dozen in Utah due to it’s super strict liquor laws. Roosters was actually the only one I went to during my time in northern Utah, luckily the beer and food were both great. Sitting on their sunny front patio made the experience even better.
Lighthouse Lounge – We dropped into this dive bar on historic 25th street for a few afternoon beverages and they have a great selection of craft beer on tap including the awesome huckleberry cream ale from Laughing Dog Brewing in Idaho. Lots of local choices too.
Main Street Deli – We only had a coffee here but this little Deli, a Park City mainstay since 1977, has a buzzing atmosphere and the breakfast menu looked awesome.
Peace, Love and Little Donuts – With a eclectic selection of small donuts on offer, I was one very happy donut lover when I found this place. LOVED the strawberry french toast and maple bacon donuts but I could have easily eaten any of the beautifully displayed treats.
501 on Main – Lunch on the sun-drenched patio of 501 on Main, watching Park City life go by is one of my favourite memories of visiting this mountain town. It was hard to choose from their inventive menu but I ended up going with the lobster bisque with a side salad of beets with apricots and gorgonzola. Absolutely no regrets.
O’Shucks Bar and Grill – I didn’t get a chance to visit myself but my boyfriend’s brother lived in Park City for a while and he heartily recommends O’Shucks for a fun night out. They offer great food and drink deals from Mondays through to Wednesdays including $3 beers and wines and $3 burgers. There is also a location in SLC.
What to Pack for Northern Utah
On every adventure, there are five things I never go traveling without:
1. Security Belt with Hidden Pocket: I never hit the road without my security belt. This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside – you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without it setting them off. This is hands down the best way to hide your cash.
2.Travel Water Bottle: Always travel with a water bottle – it’ll save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. AR bottle are tough, lightweight and maintain the temperature of your beverage – so you can enjoy a cold red bull, or a hot coffee, no matter where you are. For every AR bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an initiative to reduce plastic in our oceans!
3. Microfibre Towel: It’s always worth packing a proper towel. Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.
4. Headtorch: I would never travel without a headtorch. Even if you only end up using it once, a decent head torch could save your life. If you want to explore caves, unlit temples or simply find your way to the bathroom during a blackout, a headtorch is a must. Currently, I’m using the Petzl LED headlamp with red light (which insects can’t see).
5. Hammock: Taking a tent backpacking is not always practical but hammocks are lightweight, cheap, strong, sexy (chicks dig hammocks) and allow you to pitch up for the night pretty much anywhere. Right now, I’m rocking an Active Roots parachute hammock – it’s light, colorful and tough.
For plenty more inspiration on what to pack, check out my full backpacking packing list.
Top Tips for Budget Backpackers exploring Northern Utah
To keep your spending to an absolute minimum whilst backpacking Northern Utah I recommend sticking to the three basic rules of budget adventuring….
Hitchhike: Thumb a ride! People are generous and forthcoming. It would be a shame not to give this a shot. Hitchhiking in Northern Utah is an ace way to keep your transport costs down.
Camp: With plenty of gorgeous natural places to camp at as well as numerous campsites, Utah is an excellent place to carry a tent. If you’re craving some company or local experience, jump on Couchsurfing or Airbnb and get a kickass local taste of the place.
Cook your own food: Carry a pocket rocket stove on your backpacking trip. Use this little guy to cook up some quick meals for you and your amigos. So get cooking and save a ton of money!
Pack a travel water bottle and save money every day!
Travel Resources for Backpacking Northern Utah
Utah Road Map – An easy to read road map you can buy online for your Northern Utah adventures especially if you plan on hitchhiking and camping along the way.
Lonely Planet Southwest USA (Travel Guide)– A Lonely Planet is always a great book to have handy while backpacking. There is so much to do in Northern Utah and this book lays it all out excellently.
Fodor’s Utah – It highlights the best of Utah, including awe – inspiring national parks from Arches to Zion, great hiking trails and also talks about Salt Lake City s cultural riches. If you want to explore the National Parks, this book is a great choice.
50 Best short hikes in Utah’s national parks – Lists the best hiking routes in each park that are both “must see” and accessible. It includes distances, highlights, area maps, and easy-to-follow trailhead directions to make hike selection fast and efficient. A must read for hikers.
Moon Utah– The authors include great trip strategies that utilise Utah’s amazing outdoor attractions and unique history. Provides tools that travellers need to create a more personal and memorable experience.
Check out Backpacker Safety 101 for tips and tricks to stay safe whilst backpacking.
Pick yourself up a backpacker security belt to keep your cash safe on the road.
I strongly recommend travelling with a headlamp whilst in Northern Utah (or anywhere really – every backpacker should have a good headtorch!) – check out my post for a breakdown of the best value headlamps to take backpacking.
Insurance for your Northern Utah adventure
Be sure to get travel insurance sorted before you head off on a backpacking trip to northern Utah, what with its scary trails and dangerous hikes. I highly recommend World Nomads.
Find out why I recommend World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review.
So there you have it, Northern Utah, an underrated gem of a region, in a nutshell. Have I convinced you to go backpacking to Northern Utah? Tell me in the comments…
Want to head further abroad in America after your awesome Utah trip? Check out this awesome book for ideas!
Volunteering in Utah
Long term travel is awesome. Giving back is awesome too. For backpackers looking to travel long-term on a budget in Utah whilst making a real impact on local communities, look no further than World Packers. World Packers is an excellent platform connecting travelers with meaningful volunteer positions throughout the world.
In exchange for a few hours of work each day, your room and board are covered.
Backpackers can spend long periods of time volunteering in an awesome place without spending any money. Meaningful life and travel experiences are rooted in stepping out of your comfort zone and into the world of a purposeful project.
World Packers opens the doors for work opportunities in hostels, homestays, NGOs and eco-projects around the world. Broke Backpacker readers get a special discount of $20 – just use this discount code BROKEBACKPACKERand membership is discounted from $49 a year to $29.
Make Money Online Whilst Backpacking in Utah
Traveling or living in Utah long-term? Keen to make some cash when you are not exploring the desert?
Teaching English online is a great way to earn a consistent income—from anywhere in the world with a good internet connection. Depending on your qualifications (or your motivation to obtain qualifications like a TEFL certificate) you can teach English remotely from your laptop, save some cash for your next adventure, and make a positive impact on the world by improving another person’s language skills! It’s a win-win! Check out this detailed article for everything you need to know to start teaching English online.
Learn what it’s like to be a VIPKID teacher, a top company in the field of online English learning.
In addition to giving you the qualifications to teach English online, TEFL courses open up a huge range of opportunities and you can find teaching work all over the world. To find out more about TEFL courses and how you can teach English around the world, read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.
Broke Backpacker readers get a 35% discount on TEFL courses with MyTEFL (simply enter the code BACKPKR), to find out more, please read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.
Whether you are keen to teach English online or looking to take your teaching game a step further by finding a job teaching English in a foreign country, getting your TEFL certificate is absolutely a step in the right direction.
Being a Responsible Backpacker in Utah
Reduce your plastic footprint: Perhaps the best thing you can do for our planet is to make sure you do NOT add to the plastic problem all over the world. Don’t buy one-use water bottles, the plastic ends up in landfill or in the ocean. Instead, pack a tough travel water bottle.
Go and watch A Plastic Ocean on Netflix – it’ll change how you view the plastic problem in the world; you need to understand what we are up against. If you think it doesn’t matter, get off my fucking site.
Don’t pick up single use plastic bags, you’re a backpacker – take your daypack if you need to go to the shop or run errands.
Bear in mind, that many animal products in countries you travel through will not be ethically farmed and won’t be of the highest quality. I’m a carnivore but when I’m on the road, I only eat chicken. Mass-farming of cows etc leads to the rainforest being cut down – which is obviously a huge problem.
Recently, my gear-venture, Active Roots has started to sell water bottles. For every Active Roots water bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an awesome initiative aimed at educating people on the risk of single use plastic and helping to clean up our oceans. Help save the planet, whether you take an Active Roots bottle or not – TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for your plastic footprint, don’t be a dick.
Need more guidance? – Check out our post on how to be a responsible backpacker.
Utah is full of beautiful places. Some of my favorite national parks in the USA are in Utah. They’re incredible! Do your part to help preserve their splendor for future generations.
I know it can be hard, but do your best to use the least amount of plastic water bottles that you can. Refill the ones that you do buy! Use a Steripen. Refill at your hostel! There are plenty of ways to reduce plastic!!!
Want to learn how to travel the world on $10 a day? Check out the Broke Backpacker’s Bible for FREE!
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About the Author
A self-professed crazy cat lady and world traveler, Katie is originally from New Zealand but has been living abroad and travelling the world for over 12 years. She is currently based between the US and New Zealand, where she is learning the ropes to this digital nomad thing and trying to see more of this wonderful world we live in.