When it comes to planning vacations, Southern Utah gets a lot of attention. It is out-of-this-world beautiful and offers unique landscapes that can’t be seen anywhere else. If the National Parks do not happen to be the focus, then all eyes are probably on Salt Lake City with the historic, athletic, and cultural activities. But those aren’t the only vacation options in Utah-far from it! Northern Utah is also full of amazing day-trip and overnight opportunities that shouldn’t be missed.
Northern Utah is home to some incredible displays of transportation history. This outing covers trains, rockets, military planes, and has a few antique farm toys thrown in as well.
Golden Spike National Historic Site is located less than 90 minutes from Utah’s capital and celebrates the connecting of the east and west lines of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869. The site includes a small visitor center with several movies about the event and times. More impressive, though, is a live re-enactment of the original celebration day. Plagued with delays and miscommunications, the day was full of surprises and they are all played out with restored and working trains, telegraph messages, and the driving of the official Golden Spike. Be sure to check the park service website for re-enactment times and details as they change depending on the season.
After returning to the main road, turn left instead of heading back to the freeway. Only 2 more miles down the road is the ATK Rocket Garden. ATK is a premier aerospace components engineering company and here is where they test many of their new technologies. It is occasionally possible to view tests of major propulsion equipment (think big booms and lots of fire), but on the greater chance that it’s not a test day, the rocket garden is captivating as well. To look around, park in the company’s front parking lot and watch the kids run straight towards the rocket booster motors and missile capsules from decades (and technologies) past.
From here there are two options: head back to the freeway and on to the airplanes or meander a little further into the countryside to play at one of the most unusual parks we’ve ever seen. For that adventure, the road in front of the rocket garden continues west and winds around past the rocket testing grounds. Staying always to the left, follow the road back towards civilization, and watch for Marble Park. Created from old iron farm implements, there are swings, a teeter totter, chimes, and bells. It’s hard to tell who has more fun, the parents or the kids, when we take our family there.
The Hill Aerospace Museum can be the wrap-up to this day trip full of transportation fun, but also is worthy of a visit all its own. Located at Hill Air Force Base, it is half an hour’s drive from Salt Lake City and home to 90 military planes, missiles, and vehicles and several displays on different eras of airplanes and the military.
Opportunities for exploring outdoors are abundant in Northern Utah. The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is a great place to start, and only 90 minutes north of Salt Lake City. Stop into the beautiful visitor center to look around and get information on the auto tour, what birds and animals might be visible, and to pick up a Junior Ranger bag filled with activities for the kids to do along the way. The refuge does sometimes offer guided tours, and even hunting and fishing.
Anyone coming to Salt Lake City of course wants to see the Great Salt Lake. The perfect place to do that is Antelope Island State Park. Amazing views begin immediately while crossing over the causeway, and continue on in every direction from any place on the island. In addition to the visitor center, there are hiking/biking/horse trails, a driving route, roaming bison & bighorn sheep, and of course, opportunities to float in the famous salty water. Bring a picnic lunch or try the park’s buffalo burgers and enjoy the day!
For Just Plain Fun
The mountains all around Salt Lake City invite trail lovers of all skill levels to have a try at mountain biking or riding an ATV. For an adventurous day trip not far from Salt Lake City, the Farmington/Bountiful Skyline Trail can provide a few hours or an entire day of exciting twists and turns.
We recently rented a 4-person ATV and struck off exploring up there in the pouring down rain and had the time of our lives! With a variety of paved road and dirt path, the terrain will accommodate whatever the family is looking for, and the trails open up in more than a dozen directions on the backside of the mountain.
Last, but not least, who doesn’t love a relaxing day at the beach? Drive one hour north of Salt Lake City to Willard Bay State Park and enjoy the day splashing in the water and playing in the sun! Willard Bay is a fresh water reservoir on the shores of the Great Salt Lake. Find a spot in the generous sandy area, or set up for the day in the shaded tree areas and have fun hanging out together with the family. Concessions are available, as well as watersports equipment and jet skis, and make the outing even more exciting by booking wakeboard or waterski lessons!