Salt Lake City, Utah, is certainly not one of the first destinations that most Australian families consider when planning a trip to the USA, but it really should be in the top 5! Not only is Salt Lake City incredibly family friendly, with a huge selection of attractions for all ages to explore, but it serves as a great base for exploring the rest of Utah.
The mountains and the snow
Salt Lake City is situated in a valley. The city is surrounded by stunning mountains that are generally sprinkled with snow for much of the year (we visited in early May and there was still snow covering the higher caps!). On top of the widespread gorgeous views from all parts of the city looking towards the mountains, the snow being so close to the city means that you can actually take the kids to see the snow for an afternoon and still be home for dinner. Skiing and other snowy pursuits can be enjoyed at one of the many ski resorts located to the east of the city for many months of the year, though several destinations do close their slopes at the end of the official ski season (around mid-April). This doesn’t mean that you can’t visit the snow after April though. As children who have never set foot in or even seen snow up close, our Brisbane Kids had a fantastic frolic in the snow just beside the carpark of the Alta Ski Area, where the snow was quite a few feet deep even at the end of Spring!
Attractions for Families in Salt Lake City
The USA does family-friendly VERY well. Restaurants, transport systems and other public spaces cater to families of all sizes and really do make it easy to get out and about with kids. Of the many, many attractions in Salt Lake City, these are some of our favourite places to visit with kids…
Utah’s Hogle Zoo
Hogle Zoo is located to the east of the centre of Salt Lake City. With expansive animal enclosures (the zoo itself covers 42 acres), amusingly named stores and cafes (be sure to have a snack at the Beastro, or check out the souvenirs from the Wild Zootique), the Zoofari Express mini train ride, the Conservation Carousel, and an awesome playground for the kids to burn off some energy, you could easily spend all day here. A must-do is the train ride, which is a great way to get your bearings and learn some more about the zoo (you may even chug past some recent additions in the baby animal nursery!).
We were thrilled to be able to observe the zoo’s newborn female zebra, who was only 19 days old on our visit, as well as a baby giraffe spending time with its mum in the animal nursery. Other exhibits at Utah’s Hogle Zoo include the African Savanna with zebras, African lions, ostriches and giraffes, Rocky Shores with sea lions, otters and seals, Asian Highlands with the big cats, Elephant Encounter with rhinos and elephants, as well as a Primate Forest and a bird show that takes place at various times throughout the day.
Find out more about Utah’s Hogle Zoo at http://www.hoglezoo.org/.
Natural History Museum of Utah
From the moment you lay eyes on the outside of the Natural History Museum of Utah you will be enraptured. The museum itself is set into the mountainside, with the hiking and bike tracks of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail behind, and features bands of copper arranged to represent the layered rock formations of Utah.
The Natural History Museum of Utah has a great number of permanent exhibitions, set over several floors that wind their way to the top of the building (completely accessible by wheelchair or pram). With a focus on the local environment, these exhibitions cover Past Worlds, First Peoples, the Great Salt Lake, Gems and Minerals, and more. Dozens of hands-on activities maintain interest for all ages—ranging from dinosaur digs to making it rain and watching the Great Salt Lake fill with water. Coupled with the outstanding dinosaur collection and these interactive displays, there is easily enough to see and do at the Natural History Museum of Utah to fill several hours. The museum also houses visiting exhibitions from time to time, so be sure to check out their website to plan your visit.
Find out more about The Natural History Museum of Utah at https://nhmu.utah.edu/.
Located in Lehi, to the south of Salt Lake City, Thanksgiving Point comprises two expansive sites and features four primary attractions – Ashton Gardens, the Museum of Natural Curiosity, the Museum of Ancient Life, and Farm Country. We managed to visit both the gardens and the natural curiosity museum in one day, though the kids could have easily spent the entire day at the Museum of Natural Curiosity.
Ashton Gardens hosts many events throughout the year, including music evenings with the Utah Symphony, family friendly outdoor movies in the summer months, and the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival in September. We were fortunate enough to visit in late April, when the annual Tulip Festival was still running, and could not get over the beauty and variety of colourful tulips scattered across the space—flowers that we rarely see growing in Brisbane!
Covering 55 acres, Ashton Gardens is open seasonally from late March to late October. The expansive gardens feature 15 themed spaces, including the fountains of the Italian Gardens, peaceful Koi ponds, and the largest man-made waterfalls of the Western Hemisphere. Enjoy a leisurely stroll through the gardens, or have a bite to eat at the Trellis Café with wide-spread views across the lawns and trees—Ashton Gardens provides a respite from the non-stop sightseeing, but still has tonnes of room for the kids to move about.
Find out more about Ashton Gardens at https://www.thanksgivingpoint.org/experience/ashton-gardens/.
Museum of Ancient Life
The Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point invites visitors to explore prehistoric life—from one of the world’s largest mounted dinosaur exhibits, to a Carboniferous Forest. The museum also houses a working paleontology lab, along with a junior lab where kids can drill for a real fish fossil or even cast their own fossils.
The Mammoth Screen Theatre located inside the museum is Utah’s only National geographic Experience Theatre, and screens a selection of 3D films where patrons can explore prehistoric times and come face to face with dinosaurs brought to life.
Be sure to check out the museum’s ‘Late Night with Rex’ events (held once a month), where there are numerous activities and classes to keep the kids entertained after dark, followed by a 3D movie on the Mammoth Screen.
Find out more about the Museum of Ancient Life at https://www.thanksgivingpoint.org/experience/museum-of-ancient-life/.
Museum of Natural Curiosity
With four completely interactive zones, the Museum of Natural Curiosity is a child’s paradise. Both educational and fun, kids can climb, jump, move and experiment for hours –
- Investigate with science experiments and water play at the Water Works
- Climb the rope and ladder jungle of the Rainforest
- Play outdoors in the Archimedes Playground in the Discovery Garden
- Play pretend in the imaginary world of everyday life at Kidopolis
The hundreds of hands-on experiences on offer include a variety of activities for different age groups, so you can keep the kids entertained for hours. Along with the café and Trading Post, families could spend an entire day at the Museum of Natural Curiosity alone.
Find out more about the Museum of Natural Curiosity at https://www.thanksgivingpoint.org/experience/museum-of-natural-curiosity/.
Farm Country is a real working farm in the city. Here you can get up close with horses, sheep, chickens, pigs, cows, goats, rabbits, and even llamas and peacocks! Kids of all ages can learn more about farm life, including the milking process; seeing the cows being milked in the afternoon, and then finding out how milk is bottled and distributed. For a true farm experience, you can go for a ride in the wagon or hop on a pony for a trot. April is a great time to visit, when all of the baby animals finally come out to play.
Find out more about Farm Country at https://www.thanksgivingpoint.org/experience/farm-country/.
Salt Lake City Connect Pass
One of the very best ways to see a city when you are travelling, and to visit the biggest tourist attractions, is to grab a pass that entitles entry to several places on the one ticket. We adored visiting Utah on our family trip to the USA, and we already knew there would be lots of family friendly things to do when in Salt Lake City, so we made extensive use of the Visit Salt Lake Connect Pass. On the one two day pass we managed to visit Utah’s Hogle Zoo, learnt more about this stunning state at the Natural History Museum of Utah, visited the gorgeous Tulip Festival and the largest man-made waterfall in the western hemisphere at Ashton Gardens at Thanksgiving Point, and spent hours exploring the Museum of Natural Curiosity at Thanksgiving Point. These are just a few of the 13 locations you can visit on the pass, which highlights just how awesome Salt Lake City and Utah are as a destination for families visiting the US.
Find out more about the Visit Salt Lake Connect Pass at https://www.visitsaltlake.com/things-to-do/connect-pass/.
*The writer was a guest of Utah Office of Tourism. Visit: www.visitutah.com*
Whilst Salt Lake City should definitely be high on your bucket list, we think the whole of Utah rates a special mention and should be included on the list too. Utah is home to 5 incredible National Parks (plus many state parks) that feature an awe-inspiring collection of canyons, rock formations and wildlife that must be seen to be believed. Take a read of our full review of Moab, a town on the east side of Utah that is the perfect base for exploring two National Parks (Canyonlands and Arches), as well as Dead Horse Point State Park.