How to Spend a Long Weekend in Salt Lake City (And Nearby): 3 Day Itinerary
January 6, 2024
If you're wondering how to spend a weekend in Salt Lake City, you're in the right place! Salt Lake City is most known as the religious center of the Mormons, but the area has so much more to offer! Personally, I was blown away by the incredible hiking opportunities located just minutes from downtown. Whether you’re looking for great food, unique landscapes or nearby hiking trails, Salt Lake City has something to offer for everyone.
If you’re wondering how to spend 3 days in Salt Lake City, you’re in the right place! This Salt Lake City weekend guide includes hiking trails, delicious food and some of the things that make Salt Lake City special.
Keep reading to discover the best things to do in Salt Lake City during a short trip. This guide is based on my experience spending a month in Salt Lake City in summer 2022 and includes several hiking trails. If you’re new to hiking, check out my beginner’s hiking guide to get started!
The Best Time To Visit Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City is beautiful year round. You can enjoy skiing in the winter, beautiful foliage in the fall and incredible wildflowers in the summer.
In the Spring, you can expect high temperatures in the 70s (Farenheit) and low temperatures in the 40s.
In the summer, highs are typically in the 90s and lows are in the 60s. Although the average highs are in the 90s, the heat can certainly reach the triple digits and be very intense.
In the fall, you may have highs in the 70s and lows in the 30s. You’ll also get to enjoy some beautiful fall foliage! Leaves typically peak in early October.
Finally, in the winter, you’ll likely have highs in the 40s and lows in the 20s. There are many ski opportunities near Salt Lake City and also options for winter hiking.
For this Salt Lake City weekend itinerary, I recommend either visiting in mid-july for wildflower season, or May, September or early October to take advantage of nicer weather.
Where to Stay in Salt Lake City
There are many hotel options around the city to satisfy your budget and preferences. I recommend staying in downtown Salt Lake to be centrally located among restaurants and the surrounding outdoor destinations.
For a stay on the more luxurious side, try the Grand America Hotel. It is centrally located downtown and features great views, large rooms and elegant decor.
Another nice, downtown hotel that tends to be a bit more affordable is the Kimpton. The Kimpton Hotel Monaco is in a great location and is pet friendly with elegant decor.
If hiking in the Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons is your priority, there are some nice hotels in the Cottonwood area that will be more affordable than downtown. Check out the Cottonwood Hampton Inn for great standard rooms at reasonable prices.
If you’re interested in a home stay, I really enjoyed my month-long stay at this Airbnb in the Liberty Wells area. The home is pet friendly, has laundry, a well stocked kitchen and a parking spot.
How to Get Around Salt Lake City
If you don’t plan to venture far from the main areas of the city, there are public transportation options that will get you from the Salt Lake City International Airport to downtown. There are also plenty of rideshare options around town. However, you will need your own car or a rental car to travel to the various parks and trailheads that this itinerary recommends.
Salt Lake City Itinerary: Day One
Antelope Island State Park
If you enjoy outdoor adventure, start your Salt Lake City trip with a trip to Antelope Island State Park. This is easily one of the best places to hike near Salt Lake City! The park is about an hour away from the city but feels worlds away. From the park, you’ll enjoy great views of the Great Salt Lake, spot bison and have the chance to challenge yourself on the trails. The park costs $15 per vehicle to enter for the day.
If you’re into hiking, I highly recommend the trail to Frary Peak. Frary Peak is the tallest point on the island and provides panoramic views of the surrounding area. The trail is not easy, so you’ll need to come prepared.
The Frary Peak hike is about 7 miles with over 2,300 feet of elevation gain and many steep areas. There is also little to no shade, so you should start early and bring a lot of water. When you’re almost to the top, you’ll pass a radio tower where you’ll want to follow the trail to the right. The last bit of the trail has a little bit of rock scrambling and some overgrown areas.
The climb is worth it for the views. You’ll be able to see the entire island, the surrounding mountains, the Great Salt Lake and Salt Lake City in the distance. I really enjoyed this adventure and was blown away by the views!
For a shorter option, you can start at the same trailhead and hike to Dooly Knob, a 2.4 mile hike with just over 700 feet of elevation gain.
In addition to these trails, be sure to drive around the island and keep an eye out for bison. I saw them as I was driving towards the Fielding Garr Ranch.
Along with looking for wildlife, make a stop at the visitor center and the Beach At Bridger Bay. From the beach, you can swim in the Great Salt Lake (the high salt concentration makes it very easy to float). However, my experience swimming here was very buggy and muddy, so I don’t really recommend it.
The visitor center offers some nice views and has exhibits to help you learn more about the island.
After a morning at Antelope Island, head into the city for lunch. One of my favorite restaurants is Red Iguana, a Mexican restaurant that has been serving tacos, enchiladas and more since 1985.
The mole sauce is especially good at Red Iguana and I really enjoyed the enmoladas with mole negro, refried beans, pickled red onions and cheese. I don’t think you can go wrong with their large menu.
This restaurant is popular so expect a wait, but it tends to move quickly.
Bonneville Salt Flats
In the afternoon, head to the Bonneville Salt Flats and time your visit to stay for sunset. This unique area is located an hour and a half west of Salt Lake City. Plus, it's one of the best free things to do near Salt Lake City!
The Bonneville Salt Flats is an incredibly unique place that deserves a spot on your Utah bucket list. The Salt Flats make up 300,000 acres of lake in a 12-by-5 mile area. This is a beautiful place for photography and where the one-time land-speed record was set at 630 mph.
The salt flats may look different depending on when you visit. The flats tend to be flooded in the winter and spring and dry in the summer and fall. When they’re wet, you can enjoy a stunning reflection. When they’re dry, you can drive your vehicle out onto the flats. Make sure that the flats are completely dry before driving on them, you don’t want to get stuck!
You can access the flats from the Salt Flats Rest Area Westbound and from the Bonneville Salt Flats International Raceway. Make sure not to miss the exit, it’s a long route to circle back. During my visit in the summer, the area near the rest stop was textured and bumpy while the speedway area was extremely flat and smooth.
Both areas are worth visiting and it’s really fun to drive around the flats! There is no speed limit (well, technically the speed limit is 999 mph) on the flats so you can see how fast your car will go if there is space to do so. Note that Speedweek occurs in August if you would like to see racing.
It’s also worth your time to make quick stops at the The Tree of Utah sculpture on your way to the Salt Flats and at the Eastbound Rest area on the way back (where there is a platform for a higher view).
Salt Lake City Itinerary: Day Two
King Peak Coffee Roasters
Spend your second day in Salt Lake City exploring the city! I recommend King Peak Coffee Roasters for breakfast. This spot serves high quality coffee and fresh pastries along with specialty avocado toasts. The space feels industrial with both indoor and outdoor seating. I loved the vibe, coffee and food here.
Salt Lake City is home to the headquarters of the Church of the Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS Church) and a large population of Mormon’s live there. If you want to learn more about the religion, it’s worth exploring Temple Square.
Temple Square is a five-block area that includes gardens, museums, restaurants and more with the Salt Lake Temple as the focal point. Typically, you can visit the Church History Museum, take public tours, explore the grounds and more.
As of this writing in January 2024, the Salt Lake Temple is under renovations and much of the square is under construction. Be sure to check ahead of time for current openings and closures.
Try a Dirty Soda
The ‘dirty soda’ trend is becoming more common across the US, but it has its roots in Utah. Mormons are prohibited from drinking coffee and tea, but soda is not specifically prohibited. Therefore, the concept of dirty soda became popular starting in 2010. The original version was made with Diet Coke, cream, coconut syrup and lime. Today, there are all manner of combinations with many different sodas and flavors.
Swig and Thirst are two popular chains around Salt Lake City where you can try the sodas. I love the Fresh Prince from Thirst with lemonade and fresh fruit, and the Pure Bliss from Swig with Diet Coke, cranberry and lime. The sodas are super refreshing and delicious!
International Peace Gardens
As you explore Salt Lake City, it’s worth a walk around the International Peace Gardens. This park is one of two peace gardens in the United States and is meant to be a lesson of peace and understanding between nations.
Each Utah-based national group pays for the Salt Lake City Parks Division to maintain their area. Countries represented include Switzerland, Holland, Ireland, Brazil, China, Japan and more. Each area is different and you’ll find a giant rock mountain to represent Switzerland, a tree tunnel in Holland, a Japanese Garden and more.
The park is free to visit and won’t take long to explore.
Visit a Brewery
If you drink beer, explore one or two of Salt Lake City’s many breweries! Note that the alcohol percentage may lower than you’re used to in other states. The limit for draft beers is 5% ABV but a higher percentage can be purchased in cans.
One brewery to check out with a lively atmosphere is Proper Brewing. The brewery is right next door to Proper Burger Co, so you can also order food to the brewery. The brewery has games like Pinball and Pac Man, plus weekly events like Trivia Nights. It’s a really fun place to spend an evening!
Another brewery to add to your list is Templin Family Brewing. They have a large patio space and often have food trucks outside. I really enjoyed their sour beers!
If you prefer cocktails over beer, Purgatory Bar is a great restaurant to visit. They have a huge alcohol selection and some inventive cocktails. I enjoyed the Pimm’s Cup. They also have a creative food selection and great vegetarian options. I loved the pan fried udon noodles and the Japanese Style Croquettes.
Watch the Sunset from Ensign Peak
Catch the sunset over the city with a short hike up to Ensign Peak! It is just under a half mile to reach the peak with 374 feet of elevation gain. The trail is a bit steep but well maintained and easy to follow.
When you reach the top, you’ll have an amazing view looking down at Salt Lake City. Plus, you can see the surrounding mountains, the Salt Lake City airport and more. The top has some signage at the top and a large stone pillar marking the peak.
This spot gets crowded, so expect company on a nice day. You can park nearby on the street for free, just be sure to carry out all of your trash and keep this area beautiful.
Salt Lake City Itinerary: Day Three
Hike in the Mountains near Salt Lake City
Head into the mountains for your final day in Salt Lake City! If you’re interested in a longer hike, Lake Blanche is an incredible option. The hike is 6.8 miles and has about 2,800 feet of elevation gain, making it a steep climb. When you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with an incredible view of Lake Blanche with the Sundial Peak behind it. There are also additional lakes next to it that you can hike around and explore. This trail is very popular so I recommend starting super early to get a parking spot. And make sure you’re prepared with plenty of water and all of the hiking essentials.
For a shorter trail in the Big Cottonwood Canyon, check out Donut Falls. This unique waterfall is special because the water flows through a ring that resembles a donut. The trail is rated easy but has a difficult and slippery scramble at the end to actually see the waterfall up close. It is a 2.3 mile round trip hike from the closest parking lot. This is also a very popular trail so go early to beat the crowds.
If it’s wildflower season (usually the middle of July), head to Albion Basin to see an incredible display of Indian paintbrush, sunflowers, fireweed, lupine and many more flowers. I recommend hiking through the Albion Meadows to see the wildflowers and hiking up to Cecret Lake for a 4.5 mile journey. This area is stunning year round, but especially beautiful when the wildflowers are popping.
Not far from Albion Basin in the Little Cottonwood Canyon, Gloria Falls is another great trail to check out. This 2.2 mile trail will lead you to a beautiful waterfall with some great views along the way.
Whether you are after hiking opportunities or in it for the views, both the Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons make for beautiful scenic drives. I recommend downloading offline maps ahead of time as cell service may be spotty. And be sure to come prepared for any hike with the 10 essentials and by checking current conditions.
For more hikes near Salt Lake City, check out my Salt Lake City hiking guide.
Whether you’re visiting the city, the salt flats, the mountains or a bit of everything, Salt Lake City is full of gems! This city is an underrated destination and should definitely be on your USA bucket list.
For more information on visiting Utah, check out some of my other guides:
- An Epic Itinerary for the Utah Mighty 5 (12 Days)
- 11 Amazing Trails near Salt Lake City
- How to Spend 3 Days in Moab
- Two Days in Zion National Park
- How to Spend One Day in Capitol Reef National Park
- The Best Day Hikes in Bryce Canyon
- The Best Things To Do in Kanab, Utah
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