This trip was an unusual one for me – despite eleven nights away thousands of miles from home, I spent all but one in the same city. Nor did I pack in an exhaustive amount of tourism whilst I was there: my chosen few sights could have been squeezed into a long weekend if I was dashing around at my usual pace. I made the journey not because I wanted to visit Salt Lake City specifically – it had already featured on my transcontinental tour – but to continue my project of attending climbing world cups. Across consecutive weekends, Utah’s capital would be hosting four events in total, two each from the speed and bouldering seasons. Altogether, this offered me the chance to enjoy six days of climbing in a single trip.
In truth, I had hoped to make more use of Salt Lake City as a base for exploring further, but I dropped ideas for train rides out to Provo or Ogden when temperatures soared past 33°C. I did however make it to a new state – Idaho – earlier in the week, flying up to Boise for a couple of days.
More ambitious were some of my initial ideas on how to get to Salt Lake from across the pond. The US is generally a safe bet for standby travel, but BA doesn’t particularly serve this region – Denver is closest, so I briefly dreamed of re-boarding the California Zephyr for an overland connection. Other options included overshooting to LA or Seattle then back-tracking, but in the end I did the sensible thing and booked a direct flight – with Delta. They were launching LHR-SLC service a week before I needed to travel, and although I couldn’t afford (or redeem) for business class, I figured the convenience and certainty of a confirmed point-to-point outweighed being in premium economy.
Which was… ok, but I may look into alternatives if I come back next year! Premium Select, as Delta styles it, is configured on an A330 as a three row mini-cabin arranged 2-3-2; during booking I snagged a front row bulkhead spot on the aisle for both flights, the lack of seat selection fees being a welcome change. On the day, passenger loads were light enough that I could spread my things to the unoccupied adjacent seat – although the chunky fixed armrest prevented me from using the extra space myself. As such, I got my usual amount of sleep for premium economy – which is none. I expected this going in, but it did make the return leg in particular a frustrating experience.
The IFE selection was fine, but neither headphone socket working on the outbound wasn’t. Also disappointing was the catering – this is definitely economy food slightly better presented rather than a cut-down business service as you’d get on BA. Even the crew apologised for the state of the breakfast muffin, and the best description I can offer for this chicken dish is ‘wet’:
What did really improve the experience was Salt Lake City airport itself – this I think displaces San Diego as my favourite entry point into the US, from the swift baggage and immigration experience to the tram waiting outside to cheaply and easily continue to downtown. Refurbishment of the existing concourses was only completed 18 months ago, and everything still feels new – even without lounge access, I was happy to settle in at the gate for a couple of hours before my return flight. This is a major hub for Delta, and one they can be proud of!
By complete coincidence, the Homewood Suites I stayed at in January was next to Pioneer Park, where the climbing comps would be held. So that was the obvious place to stay… until I looked at their prices. Any other nearby hotels were similarly wise to the event’s popularity, so I settled on a couple of AirBnBs instead. Obviously these were further out in more residential areas, but the cost savings were significant – especially as it meant I could self-cater (which for a trip this long makes a big difference).
My first stay was in the Avenues, one of Salt Lake City’s oldest and most affluent districts – yet also one of its most left-leaning (by American standards, at least). As well as some excellent breakfast spots, this provided convenient access to some of the hiking trails to the north. Taking advantage of my jetlag, I was up bright and early each day to beat the heat.
I got started with an unplanned meander along the Freedom Trail through City Creek Park, before joining Bonneville Blvd after a scramble up what turned out to be a firmly closed path. At first I was frustrated that there was no pavement for this stretch to Gravity Hill, before realising that an entire lane had been closed to vehicles and given over to cyclists and walkers! Hard to believe anywhere, let alone America… This lead to the Bonneville Shoreline trails – confusingly named, as Lake Bonneville hasn’t existed for some 13,000 years and the modern Great Salt Lake is quite a distance west (and sits much lower). Some of the routes were for mountain bikes only, so a bit more research would be needed to explore more thoroughly!
My second hike was more substantial, and made good on a resolution I made back in January, when I located the base of a trail to Ensign Peak but decided to save it for another day. Cutting across City Creek park once more, I survived the pavement-less East Capitol Blvd before switching to the safer Ensign Vista Drive. From there a small park heralds Ensign Peak trail, a comparatively easy half mile or so ascent to a lookout and monument. I encountered no-one on my way up and was able to enjoy the views alone for a while.
I decided to take the other trail down, the ominously – but fairly – named Hell Canyon route. This was the one I had found earlier in the year, and having now completed a descent of its seemingly endless (in reality, three miles of) switchbacks I feel vindicated in my decision not to go up it! The shorter trail I very much recommend following all the way to the peak, but there are already good views from the point marked ‘scenic mound’ just a short distance after the park.
By the time I had looped around the State Capitol and made my way back to the apartment, I had racked up over ten miles – nothing by the standards of an actual hiker, but plenty of exercise for me, and a good cure for the trials of premium economy… I always appreciate urban areas which can easily be escaped into surrounding nature – in plenty of spots along these trails you would never know you were so near a city.
A third trek was necessary for my other main sightseeing venture, the Red Butte botanical garden being a tricky destination to reach by public transport – Google maps’ suggestion was to give up and take a lyft… The managed gardens were already far more extensive than I expected, and I wandered for a good couple of hours even without tackling any of the trails leading into the hills beyond.
When the midday heat got too much, I was able to retreat to the nearby Natural History Museum of Utah. The state has an incredibly rich geological history, including particularly extensive fossil records and plenty of dinosaurs. There was also a fascinating temporary exhibit “The Nature of Color”, and the museum itself is architecturally striking, with a brutalist interior I enjoyed as much as some exhibits!
Architectural appreciation was the motivation behind my last stop, the Utah State Capitol. I managed to fit this in on my last morning, checking my bags at the airport then hopping back on a tram rather than clearing security. Both this and its counterpart in Boise were highlights of the trip, so I’ve written about them both in this post. And, as usual, there is a gallery with a few more pictures from all the sights discussed above – which also includes a few from back in January.
Salt Lake City is the base of the US Climbing team, so I expect that it will continue to host IFSC competitions – and I’d be happy to return, as it really is a great place. Hopefully next time I can explore a bit more of Utah – if I can resist dashing off to unfamiliar states, of course!