If you want to vacation with friends and you want outdoor fun then you want to go to Utah. It is as if everything is built from the ground up with the idea that the best times are had in the company of others. You can go on your own. It isn’t that you have to travel in a group. But wherever you go, it will be easy to meet folks. It’s like camaraderie is mixed with the oxygen in the Utah air you breathe.
Utah is a really great place for women to vacation whether solo or with friends. It has all the adventure you could want at whatever level of fitness you bring to the Beehive State, plus you will feel safe and secure. And since the average adventure traveler is a 40-something size 12 woman, you won’t be a fish out of water. Hotels and guides automatically cater to female abilities and sensibilities. I am a used-to-be fit now pretty-out-of-shape writer who had a fantastic, physically challenging, safe, within my limits adventure through the amazing land that is Utah.
I went on a Girlfriend Getaway trip put together by the office of tourism. Our host explained that the itinerary included all his favorite summertime places and activities in the state. It was extravagantly beautiful and wonderfully exhausting. You can see all we did and use it as a start for your own itinerary. All the places we stayed and ate are locally owned instead of national chains, so you can get a real feel for Utah hospitality while you are marveling at its extravagantly beautiful natural wonders.
Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef is the park to go to for those who want to enjoy the rugged beauty and active challenges of the Utah wilderness without the crowds. It is the least visited of the National Parks in Utah while giving you the same spectacular natural beauty and challenges of the other Utah parks. Hickman Bridge is not a well known as, say, Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, but it is an equally surprising natural formation that I think is a better hike.
Cougar Ridge Lodge - Torrey
If you have a large group, and want to stay in your own Utah ranch while you ride, boat, and hike in the outdoors with your friends to return to the lap of luxury Western style, then try to book a week at Cougar Ridge. I say “try” because the owner only rents the place out for 15 weeks a year and only books the entire Lodge. Cougar Ridge sleeps 12, but 4 of those beds are bunk beds that are comfortable, but not as private as the rooms with their own hot tubs, steam showers, and balconies. Cougar Ridge Lodge is a dream of comfort and fun, with only the best of everything from furniture to beds to bar to hot tubs to stables (yes, you can bring your own horse). Plus there is a second kitchen designed for cooking classes, beer and wine making, a bowling alley, a fire pit, a wood working shop. Cougar Ridge Lodge is an amazing destination all by itself, even if it weren’t smack dab in the middle of some of the best outdoor destinations in the world.
Cafe Diablo - Torrey
Cafe Diablo is one of those foodie gifts that pop up in out-of-the-way places when a great chef falls in love with a small town. Cafe Diablo in Torrey, Utah is only open 6 months a year, but when it is, locals and tourists alike can enjoy world class cuisine and presentation in the signature camaraderie of Utah social life. This Southwestern restaurant serves a fabulous margarita. I had to try the Rattlesnake Cakes appetizer so that I could check off "eat rattlesnake" from my bucket list. And while Cafe Diablo is famous for its Crown Rack of Glazed Ribs, I couldn't pass up the local Marinated Loin of Utah Lamb. My only regret is that the pre-sliced lamb morsels tempted everyone else to grab a bite and there was less for me. Well, I also regret that I do not have the double-stomach anatomy like some animals, and had to stop when my one tummy was full.
Goblin Valley State Park - Green River
When we drove to Goblin Valley, I was sure I would not be into it. We’d already hiked a lot in some pretty amazing places at Capitol Reef Park. I was tired, my knee hurt, and it was beastly hot. From the parking lot, the formations looked interesting, but not anything I would have voluntarily gone down to explore. Then, once I got down among the “goblins” I was hooked. I kept going further and further, always seeing one more “goblin” that was cooler than the last. Goblin Valley State Park is about halfway between Capitol Reef National Park and Canyonlands National Park not too far off the 70. Definitely worth a visit, especially if you have kids. Or are a kid at heart.
River Terrace Inn - Green River
Built right on the Green River, River Terrace Inn was a sweet spot for us to relax after a day of hiking. Checking in at the front, it was halfway between a motel and inn with rooms overlooking the river with sliding doors out to a comfy patio. River Terrace Inn has a terrace down by the river if you want a lazy riverside evening in the greenery that is so refreshing after a day of desert rock and sand. The buffet breakfast served in the lobby with dishes cooked to order is a favorite among travelers. Its location just off the 70 and its proximity to Arches National Park all make this a great place to stop and stay in the middle of the state.
Ray’s Tavern - Green River
The burger fixture in this part of Utah, Rays Tavern has the warm feel of a local joint while being a long time icon among southern Utah visitors. On the menu: burgers. Oh, there are other things, but after hiking or river rafting, the standard fare is a great burger, fries and one of the local microbrew beers. Yes, Utah has beer, and the part of the population that drinks makes up for the part of the population that’s dry. Some sort of cosmic natural equilibrium must be at work. Whatever the reason, Utah has a whole lotta great local beer to go with the local beef at the local eateries like Ray's Tavern.
Rim Tours - Moab
If you go to Utah to vacation, you must mountain bike. Don’t bring your own. Sign up with a tour operator, ride one of theirs with the latest, high-end shock absorbing engineering masterpieces. Rim Tours took us on a moderately challenging ride and I, who am more bike challenged than fit, was able to negotiate it just fine. There are easier rides and much, much harder one. We had a breathtaking backcountry ride in the La Sal Mountains. We were up at the crack of dawn so we could ride in the cool morning air. Before we took off, Rim Tours cooked and served a fantastic breakfast out of the back of the van. We ate overlooking the mountainside that was our destination. Our guides then packed up and instructed us, making sure we were up to speed, so to speak, on our machines. Along the whole 18-mile trek, the Rim Tours leader up front kept riding back to check on the slowest (that would be me) while the van followed well behind, enough to keep out of site. Anyone who faced a challenge that was too hard could ride in the van until ready to resume the ride. Our guides from Rim Tours were fun and professional and I couldn’t recommend them more highly. I wanted to go out with them again the next day, but we were on to our next destination.
Peace Tree Juice Cafe - Moab
Hot from mountain biking and ravenously hungry, we went into the Peace Tree Juice Cafe and had the most wonderful smoothies. Peace Tree specializes in wraps as well as smoothies, and if I hadn’t been so hungry that I just inhaled mine, I would be able to tell you more than that it was delicious. I can say that under normal circumstances, I would have been finished after eating just half, and gotten the other half wrapped to go. Our guides ordered something that was not on the menu at Peace Tree - a peanut butter wrap with fruit and granola that is apparently a signature treat that is a pain to make so the kitchen doesn’t do it unless asked. I didn’t get a chance to taste it because apparently our guides were as hungry as I was and that thing just disappeared.
Arches National Park
Even in the 104º heat, the path to the leading attraction at Arches National Park was busy with visitors hiking up to the Delicate Arch. The more intrepid of our group took to the climb. I went with our guide to a shorter hike that gives you a pretty decent view, but doesn’t let you actually pass under the landmark. If you want to do the hike up to the top and are not a hard-core desert hiker, my best suggestion is that you go in the morning, since the hike has almost no shade and the hard rock path accumulates and radiates the heat of the sun. Even so, those who made the trek were glad they did. The rest of the park is spectacular as well, and even if you think you will just want to drive through Arches National Park and look from the air-condtioned cool of your vehicle, at some point you will feel you just have to get out and walk among these stunning rock formation.
Moab House, Moab
Most people who plan an adventure travel vacation in Utah and want to be located in one place choose to stay in Moab. Some of the best white water rafting, mountain biking and hiking in the world are all within reach of the desert town. If you plan to stay more than a night or two, consider renting a small house. I stayed in Moab House, a real home base for the active adventures and misadventures of our trip. Moab House offers you your own kitchen, living room with tv for movies at night, clothes washing machine, hot tub with killer jets for sore muscles, and generally a place to feel at home. Wifi codes are in the welcome book. Plus, there were home made chocolate chip cookies on arrival. It was a great place to hang out with the others and yet allowed everyone to come and go on their own speed, especially in the morning.
Singha Thai, Moab
Singha Thai is a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that shares an outside door with a barbershop. The real entrance is inside, where you will find a small restaurant that serves up decent Thai food that makes a nice change from the average fare on the road. If you are looking for a change of pace, you can get some spice in your life at Singha Thai.
Sheri Griffith Expeditions, Moab
White water rafting in Utah is another must. Along with mountain biking, it is the essence of the Utah adventure. If one of them doesn’t hook you, the other one will. Our all-day trip was organized by Sheri Griffith Expeditions. The bus ride to Westwater Canyon on the Colorado River takes quite a while. Moab may be in the middle of the wilderness, but the rapids are even farther out from civilization. The two biggest dangers of white water rafting have nothing to do with the river. They are dehydration and sunburn, so they make sure you are prepared to drink and block. They loaded us on rafts and we headed downstream. The first leg before lunch was pretty tame and was all about getting us used to working as a team. Then the rapids began, and the excitement started. Our captain was fantastic; the other rafts on the river gave him the nod to go first through the rapids. I think they all respected his skill and wanted to see how he ran them. It turned out ours was the only raft that took the more difficult, wilder route through the rapids nicknamed “The Skull” and we got a fantastic rush from it. For the final leg of the 17-mile trip, they lashed the rafts together and we relaxes as we motored to the pickup location, tired and exhilarated from a fantastic trip down the Colorado River.
Natural History Museum of Utah, Salt Lake City
Best museum ever. Every kid in America should visit this museum...whatever their age. Go there before you explore the state because if you see something that interests you at the NHMU - a geological formation or a habitat or a petroglyph - there is a small wifi node by the exhibit where you can load its real-world location onto an app on your smart phone. Then go find it as you travel the state with the app as your guide. But even if you are just there for the museum itself, everything is so well thought out and presented as to make it fascinating fun. Start at the top of the NHMU, work your way down. Play with all the cool interactive features that appeal to you. Near the bottom you walk through dinosaurs and come out in the bright modern atrium. Grab some coffee and meditate on the wow! of this world we live in. Best museum ever.
Grand America Hotel, Salt Lake City
Built for the Salt Lake City Olympics, the Grand America Hotel is grand luxury all the way. The 24-story edifice is imposing and a bit intimidating as it overpowers its neighbors, but the minute you walk inside you are in a warm and inviting atmosphere of hospitality. The staff at the Grand America is gracious, the rooms elegant, the common areas lovely and comfortable and the amenities sumptuous. The Grand Spa reminds me of the best European spas and where I got an absolutely fantastic massage. There is an outdoor pool for summer and an equally large indoor pool for all seasons. The Grand America Hotel decor has a decidedly Old World feel, but the warmth of the staff is Utah all the way.
Copper Onion, Salt Lake City
The Copper Onion is great dining. The light and ambiance are designed to create the perfect atmosphere for a companionable evening with friends or loved ones. The food is deceptively simple, in that the flavors of the underlying ingredients, whether meat or vegetable, rise to your palate in full flavor. Only the best ingredients could be so “naked” and still be so delectable. Yet the overtones of the dishes suggest more complexity and skill that only the best can pull off without seeming to try to impress. The Copper Onion staff accommodates special requests and substitutions that communicates to patrons that the first desire of the kitchen is to please your palate, whatever its idiosyncrasies. A perfect coda on a fabulous dream vacation in the state of Utah.