“It’s just like the Northern Lights,” my daughter exclaimed as she marveled at the translucent blue, green and red sculpted waves dancing on the frozen walls, showcasing our very own aurora borealis. Thousands of hand-crafted icicles dripped around us as we explored the Midway Ice Castles’ ice-carved tunnels, slides and sculptures.
My family has been living the dream since we ditched city life three years ago and moved to the Heber Valley, a winter wonderland of bubbling hot pots, three Utah State Parks, 2002 Olympic Nordic skiing venue Soldier Hollow and a Swiss-themed mountain hamlet with iconic lodging properties, Zermatt Resort and Homestead Resort. If it seems like the perfect setting for a Hallmark holiday movie, that is because it often is.
Nestled between Robert Redford’s Sundance Mountain Resort
and the world-class Deer Valley Resort
--and less than 50 minutes from the Salt Lake City International Airport--this winter wonderland is unique and charming.
Wasatch Mountain State Park
In the winter, this 23,000-acre state park
transforms into an uncrowded playground for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, fat tire biking, and snowmobiling Snake Creek Canyon and Guardsman Pass.
Fat Tire Biking
Our family recently took our maiden voyage on fat tire bikes and we were hooked! So named because of their bulbous tires measuring 3, 4, even 5 inches wide, these two-wheeled monster trucks make you feel indomitable...until you land in a pillowy pile of snow. For the beginner, start with Wasatch Mountain Golf Course’s groomed trails and as you grow more confident, head over to Dutchman Way, Prospect and Donkey Ridge--all groomed single-track trails in the Dutch Hollow Trail System.Insider tip:
The softer the snow, the lower the desirable air pressure on your tires and “Think Before You Sink.” If the trail is mushy or muddy, play another day.
Who would have thought some of the easiest and most memorable winter explorations can be done with two giant racquets strapped to your boots? Start your family’s explorations by snowshoeing the moderate Huber Grove trail or Wasatch Mountain Golf Course and if you want more elevation, try the Spring Pond loop or the Overlook trail at the Dutch Hollow. For an enchanted evening, the WAO Wilderness Access Outfitters hosts a four-course meal in their Creekside Yurt
, accessible via a 0.5-mile snowshoe route under a blanket of stars.
The Wasatch Mountain Golf Course’s undulating 10K of groomed diagonal stride and skating lanes
on the “Lake” course are local favorites for their gorgeous views and quick access. On a big snow year, they also groom their “Mountain” course which takes you several miles up, up, up into the state park’s most pristine and untouched wilderness.
There is a nominal trail fee for the golf course and state park pass. Stop by the Visitor’s Center for the latest trail conditions and to rent snowshoes, fat bikes and cross-country ski gear. The state park also hosts many family-friendly events including a Winter Festival and Moonlight Snowshoe Hike.
Soldier Hollow Nordic Center
When we moved to Midway, my priorities were to enroll my kids 1) in school and 2) in Nordic ski lessons at Soldier Hollow
. Sure, education is important but so is living next to the site of the biathlon and Nordic events during the 2002 Winter Olympics.
The Nordic Center has more than 20 miles of immaculately groomed ski trails that wind through the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains. Snow is almost always a guarantee thanks to their excellent snow-making capabilities. Soldier Hollow has trails for all levels of skiers but one section of the terrain was designed for Olympic events and is among the toughest in the world.
Soldier Hollow also boasts the longest lift-serviced tubing lanes in Utah—some extending for 1,200-feet—and night tubing is one of the biggest social events of the season. If you go over the hills and through the woods to neighbor Rocky Mountain Outfitters, you can enjoy horse-drawn sleigh rides while snuggled under a warm blanket. For the ultimate selfie, stop by the nearby historic Tate Barn, an important architectural landmark and a symbol for the Heber Valley.
Heber Valley Railroad
All aboard! Fun for all ages, the popular Heber Creeper
winds along 16 miles of track between the Heber Valley and Vivian Park in Provo Canyon, skirting the west bank of Deer Creek Reservoir. If you’re lucky, flakes will fly, yielding you some snow-dusted panoramas through the heart of the Wasatch Mountains. The historic train hosts year-round themed excursions like the North Pole Express, Murder Mystery, Tube ‘n Train (snow tubing and train ride), dinner trains and more. The scenic excursions range from 1.5 hours to 3 hours round-trip.
One of the Heber Valley’s most famous features is the Homestead Crater
, a 95-degree geothermal hot spring covertly ensconced in a natural cave. Upon entering the tunnel you’ll swear you’ve been teleported to the Caribbean’s azure-blue waters where you can take a therapeutic soak or a SUP yoga class. The 65-foot-deep crater also offers PADI Open Water certifications.
The Heber Valley’s culinary scene has evolved in all the best ways since we moved here. Gather around Midway Mercantile’s
stone hearth for upscale American plates like the M.M. Raclette Cheese Fondue or the Campfire Idaho Trout. Try the Old Goat’s smoked meats and Family Meal Wednesdays, delicious take-out for $40. Indulge in one of the Midway Bakery
on Main’s oversized cinnamon rolls or stop by Heber Valley Artisan Cheese
for a sample, topped off with their gourmet grilled cheese sandwich and soup.
Rest assured, whether you’re skiing on the path of Olympians or recharging in some of the state’s finest mineral-enriched water, the Heber Valley is one winter family vacation to be remembered.Content sponsored by Heber Valley