Thanks to plenty of wide-open space and its emphasis on all things outdoors, Utah is a fantastic destination for travelers on a budget.
From millions of acres of public lands and the occasional fee-free day at the state’s majestic national parks to natural hot springs and land art in the middle of the desert, many of Utah’s natural attractions are free to visit. And it’s not just about the great outdoors: you’ll also find plenty of parks, historic sites and architectural wonders in Utah that also require no fee. Here’s our list of the top free things to do in Utah.
Squeeze through slot canyons in the San Rafael Swell
There are millions of acres of public lands in Utah that are just as scenic as the official state and national parks – and, unlike them, totally free to visit. The San Rafael Swell, a huge uplift in the earth’s surface between Arches and Capitol Reef National Parks, is one of the most impressive of these free areas to visit. The “Swell,” as it’s often referred to, is home to dozens of narrow slot canyons, from easily accessible, family-friendly hikes like Little Wild Horse Canyon to full-day adventures requiring ropes and a good deal of technical skill. There are also plenty of free camp spots in the San Rafael Swell, particularly around the Temple Mountain Area.
Visit the orphaned animals at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
Just 30 minutes from Zion National Park in Kanab, Utah, is America’s largest animal sanctuary for homeless pets. Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is located in beautiful red-rock Angel Canyon and is home to roughly 1600 rescue animals, from cats and dogs to parrots, pigs, goats, horses and more. The sanctuary offers free daily tours, including animal-specific visits where you can walk among the pot-bellied pigs, take a trip to Horse Haven or visit the wild animals being rehabilitated for release at Wild Friends. Better yet, plan ahead to volunteer and spend the day walking dogs, serving pet food or grooming the mules.
Wander the beaches near the once-great Saltair Resort
Just 15 miles west of Salt Lake City, you’ll see a strange pavilion with turrets near the shores of Great Salt Lake. This is the third iteration of the Saltair Resort, a once-bustling lakeside resort and amusement park whose previous versions burned to the ground. Just beyond the Saltair, you’ll find easy beach access to the briny Great Salt Lake – a fun place to explore, especially with kids.
Visit one of Utah’s best-preserved ghost towns
Grafton is a well-preserved ghost town just outside Zion National Park where several classic western movies were shot (including several scenes from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). The settlement dates back more than 150 years, when early Mormon pioneer families settled along the fertile lands of the Virgin River, building small villages and hoping to grow cotton. The river had other ideas – and frequent flooding drove the last hearty residents out by the late 1940s, leaving a picturesque if forlorn site for visitors to explore today. Don’t miss a visit to the cemetery, which offers a sobering reminder of how difficult it was for early pioneers to make a life here.
Catch a free performance by the Tabernacle Choir
The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, formerly known as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, is one of the most famous chorales in the world, and visitors can enjoy free performances each week. On Sunday mornings, the choir performs its Music & the Spoken Word broadcast in the Conference Center, with no tickets required (though guests must be eight years or older). Guests are also welcome to attend daily free organ concerts and Thursday-night choir rehearsals in the Tabernacle at Temple Square.
See a unique land-art installation in the middle of the desert
Known best for her public sculptures and land art, American artist Nancy Holt has created a massive installation in the middle of the Great Basin Desert. Located by the Utah–Nevada border near the abandoned railroad town of Lucin, her Sun Tunnels are four huge concrete cylinders arranged to capture the sun’s rays during the summer and winter solstices. Each cylinder has small holes drilled through the concrete which allow sunlight or moonlight through, casting enchanting projections of constellations.
Hike and bike along the Jordan River Parkway
Paralleling the Salt Lake Valley’s Jordan River and weaving in and out of urban areas and parks, the Jordan River Parkway is a 40-mile pathway for foot and bike travel. The spot where three Salt Lake City creeks come together and flow into the Jordan River before it empties into Great Salt Lake, the Three Creeks Confluence is one of the best spots to visit along the parkway. A series of bridges span the creeks in the park, offering a lovely place to relax or fish.
Take a dip in a natural hot spring
Fifth Water Hot Springs is a gorgeous collection of hot spring pools built along a creek about an hour south of Salt Lake City. The springs are totally free to visit but require a 2-mile hike from the trailhead in Diamond Fork Canyon to reach. Just south of the town of Fillmore, Meadow Hot Springs is also free to visit. These springs are only a short walk from the parking area and consist of three clear pools with temperatures hovering around 100°F. Both hot springs can get a little crowded given their popularity, so for a quieter experience try to plan your visit for a weekday.
Explore one of America’s most beautiful libraries
With curved glass walls, spiraling fireplaces and a public piazza, the six-story Salt Lake City Public Library is a work of art and one of the best free things to see in Salt Lake City. Don’t miss the panoramic views of the city from the rooftop terrace – which is home to an urban hive of honey bees – and then descend down to the plaza via the curved and walkable wall.
Stroll along Park City’s historic Main Street
Although Park City can be an expensive place to visit, there are numerous free things to do in this resort. Once a silver boomtown, Park City had been all but abandoned before its rebirth as a year-round adventure sports destination. Much of the city’s Main Street has maintained much of its late 1800s character; these charming Victorian-style buildings are now filled with boutique shops, galleries, restaurants and more. Parking can be a challenge so find a space a few blocks away and take advantage of the free trolley that runs up and down the street.
Take advantage of free days at the national parks
Entrance to all National Park Service sites is free a handful of days a year. Visiting on one of these fee-free days is a great way to save on money and see a new place. If you’re overly enthusiastic you can even visit two nearby parks such as Arches and Canyonlands or Zion and Bryce Canyon in one day. Also keep in mind that current military members and veterans, all American 4th graders and their families, and individuals with disabilities are eligible for free parks passes.
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