Secret Sundance: Uncovering the unexpected in Heber Valley, Utah

By: Kristin Finan
February, 2022

Over the course of three days, I swam in a crater, ate lunch in a snow globe, snowshoed to a yurt, skied down a mountain and rode a snowmobile to a vista that felt like the top of the world. 

When it comes to unforgettable experiences, Heber Valley, Utah, pulls out all the stops. 

Heber Valley is a picturesque area of Utah near Park City. Kristin Finan photo

I traveled to Heber Valley, which is located about 20 minutes from Park City, Utah, in late January during the Sundance Film Festival, which annually infuses the area with a healthy dose of celebrity glitz and glam. 

But despite the festival going virtual for the second year in a row, there was still so much to see and do in the Heber Valley area, with surprises and delights around every corner. Here are five magical experiences to consider when visiting Heber Valley. 

Snowmobile through the mountains

Wasatch Excursions offers snowmobile treks through Mountain State Park in Heber Valley, Utah. Contributed by Wasatch Excursions

Miles and miles of snow-covered terrain stretched out before us, sparkling in the sunlight as though its surface had been sprinkled with glitter. The only sound was the light hum of our snowmobiles, carving new-to-us trails across some of the 22,000-acre Wasatch Mountain State Park, where the bright blue sky and jagged mountain panorama made us feel like we had been transported inside a Bob Ross painting, complete with happy little snow-dusted trees. Once we reached the peak, my group felt like we were looking out over the top of the world, which is, aptly, what the overlook is called. The built-in handlebar handwarmers only added to the experience, as did our expert guide, Josh, who paid attention to our cues and comfort levels throughout the two-hour excursion, ensuring a smooth and unforgettable ride. 

Info: https://wasatchexcursions.com/

Ski at Deer Valley

Deer Valley Resort is known as one of the best ski resorts in the country. Kristin Finan photo

Yes, it’s known as one of the best ski resorts in the country. Yes, it’s conveniently located just 5 minutes from Park City. But for me, the real draw to Deer Valley, a 2,000-acre ski-only resort, is the fact that it’s incredibly inviting to all levels of skiers thanks to its expertly groomed and maintained trails. For me, winding my way down a calm green run called Success on a bluebird day at the resort was perfection, while my more adventurous sister tackled blues and greens all across the mountain. For après, don’t miss a late lunch at the St. Regis Deer Valley’s signature restaurant, RIME, where the Lobster Cobb Salad is a revelation. 

Info: https://www.deervalley.com/

RELATED: 5 can’t-miss attractions when visiting St. Louis, Missouri

Nosh on Utah Heritage Cuisine 

The Lakehouse at Deer Creek offers Utah Heritage Cuisine by Chef Tamara Stanger. Contributed by the Lakehouse at Deer Creek

I didn’t necessarily expect to enjoy elk osso buco. But as I bit into the surprisingly tender and flavor-packed meat, complemented by red corn grits and dressed with griddled winter greens, I was instantly sold on the unique, delicious food that Chef Tamara Stanger calls Utah Heritage Cuisine at her restaurant, the Lakehouse at Deer Creek. Stanger, a Utah native, is a master of local flavors – so much so that she can even be found foraging around Heber Valley for items to incorporate into her food. Other standout dishes include rabbit lasagna, open-face bison meatloaf and rotating dinner pies lovingly handmade by Stanger each night. Don’t miss duckfat frybread scones and nixtamalized squash as starters, or the fabulous cocktail program, which was so delightful that it inspired several members of our group to end their “dry January” pursuits early.

Info: https://thelakehousedeercreek.com/

Snowshoe to dinner in a decked-out yurt

The Creekside Yurt Dinner by Wilderness Access Outfitters includes a four-course dinner. Contributed by Heber Valley

If you’re looking for another memorable dining experience, the Creekside Yurt Dinner by Wilderness Access Outfitters is sure to check all the boxes. First, you’ll don snowshoes and trek your way through a half-mile of mountain-framed trails tinged with a pink-hued sunset glow inside Wasatch Mountain State Park. Once you arrive at the fully appointed yurt, complete with string lights and a crackling fire pit, you’ll enjoy a four-course meal that includes a local cheeseboard from Heber Creamery; roasted carrot, fennel and coconut soup in a bread bowl; pinot-noir-braised beef short ribs; and a s’mores bar that includes locally made marshmallows, cookies and chocolates. On the trek back, admire unparalleled stargazing – Utah is home to a multitude of Dark Sky Parks. 

Info: https://www.waoutah.com/creekside-yurt-dinner-private-yurts

RELATED: Seeking relaxation and uncovering empathy at Miraval Resort

Swim in a crater

Enjoy the steaming, mineral-rich water of the Homestead Crater in Heber Valley, Utah. Kristin Finan photo

I’ve gone swimming in a lot of places, but I can honestly say that I never expected to take the plunge inside a crater. After a long day of snow-filled activities, the steaming, mineral-rich 95-degree waters of the Homestead Crater were like a salve for the soul. The Homestead Crater is a geothermal hot spring that was created over 10,000 years as melting snow went into the earth, then percolated upward after being heated by the earth’s interior. As the warm water rose, it picked up minerals and created the 55-foot, beehive-shaped limestone deposit. The experience feels much like swimming in a cave – a tunnel brings visitors directly to the water, while an opening at the top of the crater allows in sunbeams and crisp mountain air. One-hour reservations are available; lifejackets, which are provided, are mandatory. Scuba diving is also available. 

Info: https://homesteadresort.com/

If You Go

Getting there:

Multiple direct flights are available from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to Salt Lake City International Airport. Heber Valley is less than an hour from Salt Lake City.

Stay:

The Swiss-themed Zermatt Utah Resort and Spa in Midway, Utah, is ideally located in Heber Valley near Park City and Deer Valley Resort. Don’t miss the 60-minute massage in the resort’s well-appointed spa. https://zermattresort.com/

Do:

The Midway Ice Castle in Heber Valley, built using hundreds of thousands of icicles hand-placed by professional ice artists, features LED-lit sculptures, frozen thrones, ice-carved tunnels, slides and more. Explore the excitement of the 2002 Olympic Games, and even take a bobsled ride, at Utah Olympic Park.

Eat and drink:

A tasting flight and a couple of appetizers at High West Distillery, Utah’s first legal distillery since 1870, are the perfect way to kick off an evening in Park City. A 17-year recipient of the Forbes Travel Guide Four Star Award, Riverhorse on Main offers inventive cuisine amid a backdrop of live music. And lunch inside an Alpenglobe – think snow globe, come to life – at Café Galleria in Midway is a fun and Instagram-worthy experience.

Info:

https://www.gohebervalley.com/

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