At a little over eight hours apart, Denver and Salt Lake City aren’t exactly next-door neighbors. Luckily, the road from Colorado to Utah will take you by plenty of parks, museums, and other points of interest. With everything from mountains and waterfalls to dinosaurs and trains between these two cities, you couldn’t ask for a better road trip opportunity than the drive from Denver to Salt Lake. Keep reading to see what exciting places could be on the horizon during your next trip!
The city of Boulder is only about 45 minutes north of Denver, but how can you pass up spending some time in one of the happiest cities in the country? Some of Boulder’s top attractions include its iconic sandstone Flatirons, Downtown’s historic Pearl Street, Boulder Theater, and Flagstaff Mountain. But if you’re looking for an activity that’s both unforgettable and budget-friendly, consider taking a trip to Celestial Seasonings, a tea manufacturer that’s responsible for more than 1.6 billion cups of tea every year.
With a history that dates back to 1969, Celestial Seasonings has been serving up specialty blends for over five decades. Today, Celestial Seasonings produces over 100 varieties of tea using ingredients from more than 35 countries. Despite its international success, Celestial Seasoning hasn’t forgotten its roots, which is why the company offers free factory tours almost every day of the week. During the guided 30-minute tour, you’ll get a firsthand look at the tea-making process, complete with free samples! While you’re at the Celestial Seasonings Headquarters, you can also check out the gift shop, the Celestial Tea Shop, and the onsite restaurant, the Celestial Cafe.
A little over an hour north of Denver, Fort Collins is another Colorado city that you don’t want to miss! Like the rest of Colorado, Fort Collins is an awesome place to get outside and enjoy the state’s versatile geography. From rafting and fishing to hiking and horseback riding, there’s something for everyone in this eclectic town that’s home to Colorado State University. But outdoor recreation isn’t all that Fort Collins has to offer visitors—the city also boasts a vibrant arts and culture scene, as well as a healthy bit of heritage. One of the best places to see all of Fort Collins’ moving parts come together is Downtown in Old Town Fort Collins.
With over 20 restored historic buildings, as well as dozens of local shops and restaurants, Old Town is a section of Fort Collins that perfectly harmonizes the past with the present. In addition to preserving the city’s history, Old Town is also a bustling community center where you can find events and festivals, museums, galleries, and more, if not right in the neighborhood then within walking distance.
Steamboat Springs is around three hours northwest of Denver, and in addition to being a popular vacation destination, the city is located on the outskirts of Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests, a 2.9-million-acre preserve that stretches from north central Colorado to central and northeastern Wyoming. Just north of Steamboat Ski Resort, Fish Creek Falls is among the area’s most visited points of interest, due to its stunning views and relatively easy accessibility.
Fish Creek Falls is divided into upper and lower falls, the latter of which is only a quarter-mile walk down a gravel path. Meanwhile, Upper Fish Creek Falls is a more moderate hike with a there-and-back trail that’s a little over three miles. A popular attraction in Steamboat Springs, Fish Creek Falls is known to get relatively crowded, though the hike to the upper falls is usually not as congested. Fish Creek Falls is open year-round from 6 am to 10 pm, and most people visit during the midday, so if you’re trying to avoid foot-traffic during your time at the falls, early morning or later in the afternoon might be better times to go.
Dinosaur National Monument was established in 1915 by President Woodrow Wilson, and 23 years later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt added an additional 200 thousand acres to the monument in order to protect more of the area. Named for the wealth of dinosaur fossils discovered on the site, Dinosaur National Monument is an extraordinary destination where you can see bones in-situ, meaning that they’re exposed but still in the ground. Many of the fossils that were originally found in Dinosaur in the early 1900s can now be seen at various natural history museums across the country, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C., and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
Camping, biking, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, river rafting, stargazing, and auto touring are all activities that can be enjoyed in the park. The most popular auto touring routes on the Colorado side of Dinosaur are Harpers Corner Road, Echo Park Road, Yampa Bench Road, Gates of Lodore, and Deerlodge Park. On the Utah side, the most popular routes are Tour of Tilted Rocks and Island Park Road. Whether you explore the park on foot or in the car, the age-old energy—and the thousands of dinosaur fossils—that you’ll find on these lands will surely leave you wanting to come back.
Vernal, Utah, is located about five-and-a-half hours northwest of Denver and around three hours southeast of Salt Lake City. Some of the attractions that are within driving distance from Vernal include Steinaker Lake State Park, Red Fleet State Park, and Ashley National Forest. In the city itself, you’ll find the Manfred and Ethel Martin House and the Uintah County Heritage Museum. However, the city doesn’t have a sign that read, “Utah’s Dinosaur Land,” for nothing—anyone looking to learn more about the region’s prehistoric reptiles should head to the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum, right in Vernal’s city center.
With interactive exhibits designed to help visitors learn about different prehistoric time periods, the Utah Field House is an immersive way to understand the significance of the land that you’re driving over on your way to Salt Lake City. Inside the museum, you’ll also find a free visitor center with more information about the area and its major points of interest. Many visitors are impressed by the museum’s comprehensive displays and educational resources, despite its modest size and low cost, and whether you go to the Field House before or after visiting Dinosaur National Monument, the two attractions go hand-in-hand, so be sure to check out both on your way through.
Situated between Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest and Wasatch Mountain State Park, Heber City, Utah, is approximately 45 minutes southeast of Salt Lake City, and while it might be a small town, it’s still a nice place to make a stop, especially if you’re a history lover, a train enthusiast, or just someone who appreciates an unconventional roadside attraction. The Heber Valley Railroad first opened in 1899 as part of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. While the railway line was rendered obsolete in 1967, local residents petitioned to save the railroad, which led to its rebranding as the Heber Valley Historic Railroad, a recreational railway with excursion train rides.
Today, the Heber Valley Historic Railroad is largely considered the town’s most popular attraction. The rail line runs 16 miles from Heber City to Vivian Park in Provo Canyon, taking visitors on a leisurely ride lined with some of Utah’s most spectacular views. In addition to its scenic trains, the Heber Valley Historic Railroad also offers themed rides and special seasonal events. The rides range in duration and can be anywhere from an hour-and-a-half roundtrip to three hours.
A little over half-an-hour south of Salt Lake City, the city of Provo serves as the home base to Brigham Young University and its affiliate institutions, like the BYU Museum of Art, the Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum, and the BYU Museum of Paleontology. Other points of interest in and around the city include Provo Canyon, Utah Lake State Park, Provo Pioneer Village, and the Black Sheep Cafe. But if you’re looking to mix things up (literally!), try taking a trip to the Soap Factory, an experience-workshop where you can make your own soap, no reservation needed!
Choose from over 400 shapes, 150 essential oils, colors, and paints to design and create all-natural soap, as well as scrubs, lotions, lip balms, and more bath-and-body products. The cost is $5 per person, plus five cents for every gram of the final product, which usually comes out to under $5—making this an inexpensive but unforgettable activity that the whole family can take part in!
Before finally making your way to Salt Lake City, consider taking one last detour to Lehi, Utah, about 20 minutes south. Here, you’ll find a multifaceted attraction that combines learning with entertainment, featuring topics like history, agriculture, and nature. Thanksgiving Point is a nonprofit that lives on a farm, garden, and museum complex that includes its Museum of Ancient Life, Farm Country, Museum of Natural Curiosity, Ashton Gardens, and Butterfly Biosphere.
Attracting more than two million visitors every year, Thanksgiving Point is a can’t-miss stop outside of Salt Lake City that’s family-friendly as well as educational. With so many different activities to choose from, Thanksgiving Point is a place that has something for everyone, regardless of age. In addition to its museums and other learning experiences, Thanksgiving Point also has an 18-hole golf course, a movie theater, and a restaurant. Basically, whatever type of fun you’re looking to have, you can find it at Thanksgiving Point!
With so many breathtaking landscapes and such a rich history, the Western United States is the perfect place to plan a road trip. From national parks to offbeat attractions, the destinations in this part of the country are both diverse and plentiful. If you’re driving from Denver to Salt Lake City, you’re in luck—because no matter which roads you take, every route is the scenic route when you’re out West! And while you could make the drive all in one day, you’d be missing out on everything that lies between the two cities, which, as you’ve just seen, is quite a lot. So, take the long way to Salt Lake City, and, like the American pioneers before you, do a little exploring as you go!