When you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of Austin, it’s time to put Sundance, Utah on your agenda. The elevation, cooler summertime temps, and the pervasive aroma of fresh pine trees offer the respite that many Austinites seek.
Today’s savvy traveler follows at least two core principles when flying: fly early and fly direct. Both are easily accomplished when flying from Austin to Salt Lake City. Because Salt Lake is vying to host another Winter Olympics, the state-of-the-art airport places an emphasis on the customer experience. With an open gate and attendants on the ground waiting in advance, my flight into Salt Lake arrived 15 minutes early. My departing flight, which was boarded with efficiency and precision, was already in the air at our scheduled take-off time. This isn’t to suggest you are guaranteed the same, but in a time when flight delays and cancellations are increasingly common, both of my flights touched down ahead of schedule.
Summertime in Sundance not only offers a respite from heat and humidity but it is also protected from the ever-present developers that are changing the faces of Salt Lake City and Park City. It is easy to take advantage of the progressive ingress and egress of the Salt Lake area and in less than an hour be at Sundance. The escape is real and nearly effortless.
Perhaps better known for its two-week independent film festival, Sundance has always attracted winter sports enthusiasts. Off-the-beaten track for summer tourists, it is a haven for locals. The area encompasses 5,000 acres yet only 450 are developed for recreational use, which means hikers, mountain bikers, fly fishers and, really, every visitor, feels the tranquility. The austere, untouched beauty could be addictive for you as it has proven to be for others who return to the area year after year.
Deciding what to do once you arrive may be a challenge. The active-minded can mountain bike, cycle, hike, horseback ride and partake in mountain-top yoga. A five-minute drive from the Sundance Resort beckons the Provo River, home to world-renowned fly-fishing in one of the world’s premier Blue Ribbon trout fisheries. I chose to spend an afternoon on the six-line zipline course that includes one of the longest rides in the nation and the steepest vertical drop. With breathtaking treetop views of the Wasatch Mountains, the zipline crew is so well-trained that my anxiety about the height was quickly replaced with the excitement of “sailing” over the treetops and taking in views that only birds can enjoy.
If athletic adventure isn’t your preference, Sundance offers a bevy of arts and culture. The friendly and accommodating artists who work at the Sundance art studio offer “Make and Take” classes. Pottery, jewelry, candle, soap and even journal-making are things you can make and take home with you; although, depending on the kiln schedule, they may have to mail your pottery to you. As I sit writing this article, the candle I made is burning beside me filling the room with an earthy scent. I chose the essential oils with help from employee/artist, Mandy Darrington, after describing to her the scents I prefer. After the candle is burned, I’ll have a beautiful container to ensure the memory will not fade.
For music and theater enthusiasts, Sundance is the summer home of the Blue Bird Café Concert Series, which features Nashville’s finest singer-songwriters and musicians. The Summer Theater has been a tradition since 1970, with productions from their high-altitude amphitheater that appeals to both locals and tourists, many of whom picnic on the lawn during the performance.
Staying at Sundance Resort is one option and there are restaurants, cafés and a food truck on site. One not to miss is the Owl Bar, open in the afternoons and evenings. Once frequented by Butch Cassidy, the 1890s-era bar was restored and moved from Wyoming to Sundance in 1994 and sits beside a bustling creek with snowmelt from Mount Timpanogos.
A visit to Sundance, however, need not be limited to Sundance. A short and scenic (which is an understatement) drive south is the Heber Valley. The small, Swiss-heritage town of Midway is on the verge of being discovered. There is an energy to Midway that is vibrant not rushed, with a small-town feel that is progressive, not stagnant. As an official International Dark Sky Certified Park destination, Midway and its neighbor, Heber City, can easily be a day trip or a place to be based. Here you can take advantage of this valley located at the convergence of the Uintas and Wasatch ranges, part of the Rocky Mountains. It is this mountain range that is home to some of the tallest peaks in the lower 48 states. This area offers every conceivable outdoor endeavor, including the famous “hot pot” natural springs (which require a reservation). Whether you bike, walk or drive to the top of Memorial Hill, you can pay homage to the veteran’s dedication at the top and take in expansive 360-degree views.
One may think a small town would be limited in its choices for meals. Not so in the Heber Valley. A handful of not-to-be-missed restaurants include the Midway Mercantile and The Lakehouse at Deer Creek, both of which seem to be James Beard Award winners in the making. The Back 40 offers one of the best al fresco views with a locally-sourced menu to match. Head to the Café Galleria for rustic Italian food, and Lola’s Street Kitchen has such a variety of from-scratch meals you’ll likely return a second time — either way, get a cookie. For a hamburger that is chef-made from cuttings from steak, you’ll want to try Z’s Steak & Chop Haus at the Zermatt Resort. The 4-star resort has more than 300 Swiss-inspired rooms and in the summer has mini-golf, shuffleboard, an indoor/outdoor pool, and its own carousel that runs multiple times a day.
Getting to and from a different world may not always be hassle-free, but Utah, with its “Life Elevated” approach, makes it easy. With quick, direct flights in and out of Austin, a break from the triple-digit heat is just the beginning. You’ll soon discover, the escape is real.