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Destination: Utah Valley

Lacie Hales - April 27, 2009

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Utah Valley offers countless choices for family-friendly day trips, romantic getaways for two, or even exciting destinations for the adventurer in all of us. The variety is endless and changes with each season, bringing new elements to be enjoyed and explored.

Utah Valley is a place near and dear to many Latter-day Saints, if not for their personal visits to the area, then for its history - so deeply intertwined with Church history. And though it has many historical sites to explore and appreciate, this community nestled between the Wasatch and Uinta Mountain Ranges is also home to breathtaking natural wonders and entertaining attractions.

Long before the LDS pioneers arrived, Utah Valley was inhabited anciently by numerous Native American tribes, the most early being the Desert Archaic people. Then, at the time of European expansion, when the Spanish explored Mexico and the southern U.S., five distinct tribes inhabited Utah: the Northern Shoshone, the Goshute, the Piute, the Dine, and, of course, the Ute.

Until the Mormon pioneers arrived in the 1800s, the area was an unsettled territory of Mexico and was mostly inhabited by natives and fur trappers. Then in 1847, the pioneers arrived in Salt Lake Valley and began carving out an existence. In 1849, Brigham Young began sending settlers to establish cities in Utah Valley. Provo - named for Etienne Provost, a fur trapper - was one of the first and largest settlements, and was a center point for many of the other cities established in the 1850s. Since then, Utah Valley has been a place for the beauty of nature and progress to exist hand in hand. Making a trip to Utah Valley can satisfy your need for adventure, culture, and history all in one vacation.

Each season has a different forte for showing off the natural beauty of the valley, but many activities and locations can be enjoyed year-round. The versatility of Utah Valley's recreation is one reason it is an ideal place for a getaway, no matter where you live.

All Things Outdoors

Utah Valley is a world-class outdoor adventure destination. With abundant mountains and trails, rivers, lakes, and campgrounds, make sure to bring your gear so that you can experience the best that Utah has to offer!

Hiking

There are hundreds of miles of trails just waiting to be hiked in the mountains surrounding Utah Valley, and springtime, as well as summer, offers beautiful wildflower displays to be enjoyed from a hiker's perspective. Some of the best trails include Mount Timpanogos Trail (moderate difficulty), Box Elder Canyon Trail (high difficulty), and the Alpine Loop trails: Box Lake (1 mile), Stewart Cascades (2 miles), Big Springs (4 miles), and Bear Canyon Trail (2 miles).

Canyons

Summer heat is no reason to have lazy days. Canyons offer ways to escape the heat in cooler temperatures and shady trails. You can choose from destinations like Vivian Park - one of several parks located a short drive up Provo Canyon - for a family picnic, or choose from over fifty trails of varying difficulty for some serious mountain biking. Provo River Parkway is a paved trail that runs from Provo to Bridal Veil Falls that can be used for hiking, biking, or rollerblading.

Camping

If you want to extend your trip to longer than just the afternoon, there are ample places to camp in the valley. The Uintah National Forest and Utah Lake State Park both offer campgrounds, and there are RV parks located in Provo and Springville. Utah Lake State Park also offers a full marina, boat launching sites, and beaches to lounge on.

Fishing

Utah Valley is home to some great fishing spots. Payson Lakes, at the south end of the valley, is a beautiful recreation area, centered on three lakes. It's a great picnic spot and a good place to teach the kids how to cast their first lines.

For those who are a little more experienced, Provo River is considered one of the top ten fly-fishing rivers in the United States. You'll find many a flyfisher there on the weekends, fully decked in waders. Some other favorite holes include American Fork Creek, Hobble Creek, and Spanish Fork River.

Local Attractions

If you want to be outdoors, but would like a more manicured experience, there are several options for your entertainment. Seven Peaks water park in Provo offers water fun for the entire family, including a wave pool, a lazy river, and multiple tube and body slides. Scera Waterpark Centers are also available in Orem, Provo, American Fork, Lehi, and Pleasant Grove.

Utah Valley also has a couple incredible golf courses. For a golf experience unlike any other, try Cascade Golf Course in Orem, where the mountain nine will give you a run for your money. As beautiful as they are difficult, these nine holes are manicured on the mountain, so make sure to take plenty of extra balls - if you miss the green, you may not find your ball ever again. Hobble Creek Golf Course also provides a uniquely green and lush experience, as the entire course is nestled in a canyon.

Fall and Winter

Just when you think it can't get any better with camping and hiking, the cold front comes in. But fall brings its own set of outdoor attractions. This time of year, the canyon trees really show their best colors. And with the falling temperatures, it's a great time to take scenic drives through the mountains. Nebo Loop starts in Payson and takes you through the Wasatch Mountains to Nephi. And don't forget to check out the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival during the first week of September.

One of the most popular reasons for visiting Utah Valley comes each winter. Being home to the "greatest snow on earth" gives Utah plenty of bragging rights, and Sundance resort is just a short trip up Provo Canyon and offers great skiing. (Look at "Four Places You Must See," below.)

But downhill skiing isn't all there is to do in the snow. At Sundance, Soldier Hollow, and Wasatch Mountain State Park, there are trails open for snowshoeing and cross country skiing, as well as places to snowmobile.

Historical Sites

Utah Valley has plenty of historical sites available for touring and exploring. Native American inhabitants were the first to appreciate the natural beauty of the valley and its surrounding canyons, and some of their history can be found in the North American Museum of Ancient Life in Lehi, or near Sundance resort.

There are multiple pioneer museums, located in Spanish Fork, Provo, Pleasant Grove, Springville, and Alpine, and several parks that feature Pioneer-era cabins, as well as a little-known Civil War historic site - Camp Floyd - located roughly twenty-five miles southwest of Lehi.

The history behind Camp Floyd begins with President Buchanan, who, before the Civil War, sent a third of the U.S. Military to Utah in an attempt to divert attention from the tensions between the Northern and Southern states. Their mission was to put down a rebellion going on in Utah, but the troops arrived to find it was nonexistent. Brigham Young made a deal that the troops were not to stop in Salt Lake, so they continued to Utah County and built the fort. Eventually, though, the tensions between the North and South escalated to the Civil War, calling the troops back east.

Camp Floyd offers tours and activities such as candle making, pioneer games, and even an era rifle demonstration. The Stagecoach Inn, part of the state park that includes Camp Floyd, was a stop for the Pony Express.

Culture and Performing Arts

Utah Valley is also home to a wealth of culture and class. While you're in the area, be sure to take a stroll through Historic Downtown Provo. This area, a registered national historic site, features a mix of old architecture and unique shopping and dining experiences. On the first Friday of every month, the galleries located in this historic area host a Downtown Gallery Stroll from 6:00-9:00 p.m. to show off local artists and their work, and often include live music and refreshments.

The area also has some spectacular art venues. With the help of donations, the Brigham Young University Museum of Art has come to own some incredible pieces, including Carl Bloch's "Christ Healing the Sick at Bethesda." The sculpture garden there is also beautiful, especially during spring. In Springville, the Springville Museum of Art gives "Art City" its nickname; there you can see various pieces, including several from LDS artist James C. Christensen (who is also featured in this issue). Aside from the museums, there are multiple galleries, including the Terra Nova Gallery and Window Box Gallery in Provo.

Performing arts also have a strong tradition in Utah Valley. To view some of the better shows, visit the Scera and Hale Center theaters, which provide year-round opportunities to experience everything from Shakespearean classics to musicals from Andrew Lloyd Webber to comedies that highlight the unique culture of the valley. Utah Valley's schools are also known for their generation of Broadway professionals, which can bee seen in BYU's and UVU's stellar pre-professional productions. And this summer, Utah Valley University will join the Sundance Institute in bringing back the summer theater program. Though details are still pending, it will likely happen in July.

Four Places You Must See

Utah Valley boasts surrounding beauty in many forms. Check out these four places to enjoy the best of nature, as well as the majesty of two LDS temples.

Provo Utah Temple

Dedicated in February 1972, the Provo Utah Temple was the first temple built in Utah County and was the fifteenth operating temple. It is adjacent to the Missionary Training Center, and close to BYU campus. The temple, a sister building to the Ogden Utah Temple, offers sessions in eight languages, and is often called one of the busiest temples in the Church.

The building originally had a gold spire, and the angel Moroni statue wasn't included, despite being in the building plans. As part of a renovation in 2003, the spire was painted white, and Moroni was placed atop it.

Mount Timpanogos Temple

President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the Mount Timpanogos Temple in October 1996 as the forty-ninth operating temple and the second in Utah County. The temple gets its name from Mount Timpanogos, which can be seen east of the temple grounds.

When the angel Moroni statue was placed on top of the building in July 1995, a crowd of an estimated twenty thousand people surrounded the temple to watch. The crowd, which filled the streets, cheered and spontaneously began singing "The Spirit of God" when the statue was in place.

Thanksgiving Point Gardens

Just past Lehi off I-15, the trademark Thanksgiving Point Water Tower draws visitors in to explore the charity-funded institute. Thanksgiving Point offers unique shopping and dining experiences, an eight-screen movie theater, and a museum that offers the largest collection of mounted dinosaurs in the world.

With springtime just around the corner, this is a great time to check out the gardens at Thanksgiving Point - fifteen themed gardens that spread over fifty-five acres, including the Butterfly Garden, Rose Garden, and Secret Garden. And from April 17 to May 2 of this year, Thanksgiving Point will host the Fourth Annual Tulip Festival, with thousands of bright flowers to enjoy. This is a gorgeous setting where families can enjoy music, food, gardening demonstrations, and hundreds of beautiful tulips. The festival will run 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Monday through Saturday; admission is $10 for adults and $6 for children.

Sundance Resort

This resort offers year-round activities and enjoyment. Famous for its ski runs and film festival in the winter, Robert Redford opened the resort as a way to give people the chance to help conserve and enjoy the natural beauty of the area. During spring and summer months, the resort is home to hiking and biking trails, fly fishing, and horseback riding. Also during summer on various nights of the week, Sundance hosts the Outdoor Film Festival when the sun goes down; they also host the Sundance Theatre Lab for playwrights and theater directors. Visit the events calendar at sundanceresort.com to find out the line up. And don't miss the opportunity to take a moonlit ride on the lift during the full moon each month!

A couple more places to visit . . .

Legendary Caves

Timpanogos Caves is a national monument that was first discovered in American Fork Canyon by Martin Hansen in 1887. As Hansen was tracking a mountain lion, he discovered the entrance to Hansen Cave, one of three limestone caves in the monument (the other two: Middle Cave and Timpanogos Cave). All three caves are connected by a series of man-made tunnels and rest at the top of a mile-and-a-half long trail. Around 70,000 visitors each year come to experience the beautiful surroundings from the 2,740 foot-high viewpoint.

Aside from the beautiful view from that height, the variety of formations in the caves continues to intrigue visitors. One of the most famous formations is the Heart of Timpanogos Cave, due in part to its captivating legend. According to legend, the Heart belongs to Timpanac, a Nez Perce brave, and Ucanogos, a Ute princess. They loved each other, but because of jealousy from other braves, Timpanac was killed on the mountain. Ucanogos, unable to bear the separation, lay down on the mountain and died. The Great Spirit took her body to protect it, and now she is known as the Sleeping Woman, and the mountain takes on her figure. The Great Spirit took the hearts of the lovers and locked them away in a cave as the heart of the mountain.

The park is open from mid-May to October, depending on snow conditions, and guided tours through the caves are available for $7 or less.

Bon Appetit!

Utah Valley offers more than 600 choices of restaurants. The diversity ranges from five-star dining to fast food, covering classical American dining to the exotic dishes of India and Korea. Whatever your taste, you’re sure to enjoy these Utah Valley favorites.

Fine Dining

These two are the top rated restaurants in the valley; both have received rewards and were given top ratings by Zagat, a prestigious consumer guide to restaurants all over the country:

  • Chef's Table (Orem)
  • Tree Room (Sundance Resort)

Family Favorites

These time-tested favorites of Utah Valley locals are sure to please the family at dinnertime:

  • Los Hermanos, Mexican (Provo, Lindon)
  • Art City Trolley (Springville)
  • Pier 49 Pizza (Provo, Springville, Spanish Fork)

Global Cuisine

With the missionary culture predominant in Utah Valley, there are more authentic foreign restaurants than you would expect. Here are some of the best:

  • India Palace(Indian; Provo)
  • La Dolce Vita (Italian; Provo)
  • Thai Chili Gardens (Orem)
  • Maria Bonita Mexican Grill (Orem)
  • Osakas (Japanese; Provo)
  • Sam Hawk Korean Restaurant (Provo)
  • Bamboo Hut (Hawaiian; Provo)
  • Tango House (Argentine; Provo)
  • Tucanos Brazilian Grill (Provo)

© LDS Living, Mar/Apr 2009; Photo courtesy of Utah Valley Visitor's Bureau