Utah is known for formidable views and incredible slopes in Park City and Deer Valley, but there is so much more to this beautiful state. We knew there was more to the story, so we toured Southern Utah for the best hidden gems and put together a guide of the must-see destinations.
The quickest way to Brian Head for us Texans is to catch a short flight to Las Vegas and drive the 3 hours to Southern Utah. Brian Head is known for some of the best snow, with annual snowfall of over 360 inches, and Utah’s highest base elevation. The resort spans 650 acres and is connected by two mountains, Giant Steps and Navajo. The resort offers over 70 runs and eight chair lifts. This is family-friendly resort, and not overly crowded while being well equipped to welcome the many guests it does each year.
Navajo Lodge offers ski and snowboard equipment, as well as group or individual lessons. Taking my first lesson this year after snowboarding for many years changed the way I ride completely and I highly recommend taking a lesson even if you are a seasoned snow bunny. Lift tickets range in price from $38 to $59, putting this resort on top of my list as affordable while delivering high quality skiing. Saturday nights are known for the famous barbecue dinner that takes place at the Last Chance Saloon at the resort, a tradition brought by the owner who hails from Kansas City.
Whether you are visiting with a small group of friends of your children, find many lodging options here, my personal recommendation being the Grand Lodge. Find cozy bedrooms, a great breakfast, and fun entertainment at the bar, including of course, a night cap and at least one round of karaoke.
Another must see activity at Brian Head Resort are their “Star Parties”. Join a small group for an astronomy lesson and gazing at the stars through telescopes, followed by hot chocolate by the fire (or whatever you have in your flask). This is a great way to wind down from the day and bond with your group, learn to finally identify the rest of Orion’s belt and leave with plenty more knowledge to impress your friends back home.
Imagine speeding through a white forest of cypress trees, with only trail of snow ahead of you and the sound of a powerful machine revving up and kicking back fluffy snow behind you. There are few things as special as this snowmobiling tour, and this is an experience you won’t ever forget. The high end snowmobiles and excellent tour guides will take you to the very top of High Mountain, where your phone will likely shut off from the cold but the view alone will give you a boost of heat.
The scenic mountain top and exhilarating ride are more than worth the trip to Thunder Mtn. Motorsports and the $85 per machine fee for the 1.5 hour tour. Opt for a longer 3-hour ride ($149) or make a day of it with the all day tour package ($249) which includes lunch and leaves at 10 AM. This is a day to leave your fears in your hotel room, so dress warm and wear gloves – And, if you happen to go up a snowbank going 40mph to make a turn and flip over in your eagerness, don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt.
There is a reason why cross-country skiing it an Olympic sport, and I found it when trying it for the first time. This activity requires serious coordination as well as endurance, but it pays off at the end. Drive in to Bryce Valley Tours for cross country equipment rentals for your group (there is also ice skating for the little ones if you feel your child is too young for the big skis), and head out to the trails which weave through Bryce National Park and offer breathtaking views the whole way.
Wear a backpack and light layers, and don’t forget to stretch – this is an intense workout but it gets easier as you fall into the gliding movement. Make sure to stop in a Ruby’s Inn for lunch after working up an appetite.
Eagle Point is a small, unassuming resort that packs a big punch of personality. The homey feel of this place is perfect for the group of friends that enjoys making the yearly trip and creating memories, or families with small children who want a ski resort to call “home” and come back to every season as they grow up. All lodging is condo-style and operated by the resort, offering a self-service, no-fuss option for visitors.
The shockingly low lift ticket prices ($40) attract all sorts of skiers and snowboarders, and clean runs and excellent customer service make this resort feel like your own private slice of heaven. After dinner, drinks and sunset hot-tubbing at Canyonside Lodge, you will feel like part of the family and want to stay as long as you can. (photo by Ski Utah)
Snowshoe tour of Puffer Lake
If you’ve never walked across a frozen lake, this is your opportunity to do it. Rent snowshoes from the Eagle Point Resort ski shop, pack a snack in a backback, and dress in light layers as the hike gets intense. The fluffy snow and beautiful hike make this a family-friendly day, and the powdery snow is like walking on clouds. Adults and children will enjoy the day off from skiing while still getting exercise and stunning scenery.
A short 2.5 hour drive from Eagle Point Resort is the famous Zion National Park. The nature preserve is marked by steep red cliffs and the famous Narrows, through which the Virgin River flows. There are many hikes to fit many styles, but if you’re feeling adventurous take the Zion Narrows hike in the winter. You will want to rent a dry suit and pack your camera in a dry bag as the water gets quite deep in some places, but the experience is one to make you forget to take it out for photos anyway. This is a demanding hike that requires some level of fitness, but there are plenty of other hikes and activities around Zion, including biking, canyoneering, tubing, swimming, as well as tours by jeep, helicopter and ATV.
Lodging and Dining at Zion National Parking is also plentiful. My recommendation is to stay in one of the modern Cliffrose Lodge & Gardens suites which offers beautiful views and luxury amenities, and make dinner reservations at 9 EAST for some fine dining after a day of exploring.