Hit the top places to travel in the US without leaving your state
If you had asked me before I lived in Utah whether I’d ever try cross-country skiing, I would have definitely said no. It looked more like work than fun. A few years ago I gave it a chance—by gave it a chance, I mean I did it because it was required for a class I took—and I went places I couldn’t have visited otherwise.
Utah was recently named the top pick on Fodor’s Go List 2016. You might already know some of the wonder that Fodor tells readers about: “[Utah] promises exceptional scenery, unforgettable adventures, and something for everyone.” If you don’t, or if you’re tired of the same old trips, we’re here to help you find some of that exceptional scenery hiding a few miles away, or help you discover an “unforgettable adventure.”
Other publications have also named Utah a top 2016 travel destination. The New York Times named Park City, Utah one of the 52 places to go in 2016.
It can be hard to find the right balance of an “unforgettable adventure” and not risking your retirement or kids’ college funds to do it. Traveling within Utah is a good way to save money vacationing and feel connected to the places around you.
Here’s the Utah location and activity I’m glad I discovered:
I learned to cross-country ski in Utah Valley at local parks and in Provo Canyon. I found affordable ski rentals at Outdoors Unlimited—look at local shops for prices. I only went two or three times before going with a group of friends on a cross-country skiing trip in the High Uintas, where we skied from one yurt to the next on a four-day cross-country skiing-backpacking trip. I felt prepared and competent enough to have a great time. Anytime you do a high-adventure activity, make sure you have the right equipment, supplies and training to do it safely. It might be easier than you think, but it’s important to check expert advice.
I started downhill, or alpine, skiing when I was young and loved it from the start. As I would head inside for lunch each day, I saw cross-country skiers nearby and couldn’t imagine why that was a fun alternative to alpine skiing. As it turns out, it’s not an alternative. It’s a totally different activity and workout. Also, there’s less technical skill required to learn and enjoy cross-country skiing than I thought prior to trying it out, and it’s inexpensive compared to other winter sports.
For families or individuals who enjoy walking or hiking together, cross-country skiing is a good winter activity to try. You can enjoy a slow, leisurely pace or really pick it up and feel all of your muscles burn (cross-country skiing is one of the most aerobic sports).
Here’s how my trip through the Uintas went down, and some details that might help you plan.
The High Uinta National Forest is a good place to try out cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and a winter “camping” experience without sacrificing fun or spending a fortune. There are several yurt systems managed by private companies in the Uintas (Google “yurts in the Uintas”). You can reserve the night or nights you need, head out with some adventuring essentials and still have a warm bed to sleep in at night.
The Lily Lake Hut System has five yurts in the north slope of the Uinta Mountains, which are inside Utah, but sit just thirty miles south of Evanston, Wyoming. The drive from Utah Valley into the Uinta Mountains takes you through that bit of Wyoming before you make it in to the trailhead. The yurts sleep six-eight on bunk beds, but I can attest that most accommodate a larger group if you’re willing to squeeze, and cost $50-$75 per night to reserve, depending on the day of the week. You can also check out some of the other yurt systems here, here and here.
The yurts are 1.5-7.5 miles from the trailhead so we skied to one of the nearer yurts the first night, built a fire in the wood stove, played card games, explored in the nearby aspens, made a hot dinner and then relaxed. The following days we headed out to the next yurts we had reserved and enjoyed new scenery the whole way. Since the yurts are only accessible by ski or snowshoe, you can really get away from it all.
The Uinta Mountains are home to aspen groves and hundreds of glacier-formed lakes and are home to elk, mule deer and moose—all of which are out during the winter. Skiing through the mountains that are home to Utah’s highest peaks, with the sun and blue skies reflecting on the snow, is a neat and unique experience.