Day Trip: Heber Valley, Utah

Almost 25 years ago, Craig Simons and his father and brother decided they wanted access to the 65-foot-deep Homestead Crater, which was covered by a dome and wire cage at the time. The water around Heber Valley and the Wasatch Mountain State Park is bone-chilling cold and Simons, who had a scuba shop 25 miles away, was looking for a better option than the cold and murky mountain reservoirs and lakes. Because the valley’s one-of-a-kind crater has a thermal spring temperature that’s in the mid-90s year-round, the family got to work digging a 120-foot tunnel through the limestone rock to access the crater. Now, with changing rooms, lockers and a variety of unique opportunities to enjoy the warm mineral water, Homestead Crater is one of the many reasons to head to Heber Valley, home to Utah’s Swiss Alps, dubbed so by the original Swiss settlers who were reminded of the grassy valleys and the rocky, snowcapped slopes of their home country.

With three state parks, a rustic railroad, 90 holes of golf and more, the valley is an adventurous getaway located just 30 minutes from Montage Deer Valley.

The Homestead Crater, located on the grounds of Homestead Resort and created over the course of more than 10,000 years, was formed when melting snow from the Wasatch Mountains heated up 2 miles below the surface. As it seeped back upward, it gathered minerals, which eventually resulted in the beehive-shaped limestone deposit known as Homestead Crater. There, visitors can enjoy a self-guided tour and learn about the history of this natural phenomenon, or take advantage of the custom-built decks and soaking area to swim, scuba dive, snorkel, enjoy a therapeutic soak or schedule a paddleboard yoga class through Park City Yoga Adventures, which holds classes for two to 10 people before or after hours.

Paddleboard yoga with Park City Yoga Adventures in Homestead Crater (Photo by Andy Jenkins)

“We also have scuba instructors there,” says Simons, who is originally from San Clemente, California. “So, after doing the academic training online, you can become fully certified in two to three days in clean, warm water.”

Reservations are required for soaking or diving in the crater as well as yoga classes. To book, please call the activity center at 435-657-3840 or visit homesteadresort.com.

The colorful road to Midway on a fall day (Photo by Johnny Adolphson/shutterstock.com)

To get to the crater, Simons suggests driving from Montage Deer Valley down the picturesque Guardsman Pass to Wasatch Mountain State Park, where there are three golf courses within 5 miles—two with 36 holes and one with 18 holes. “In the Wasatch Mountain State Park there are 22,000 acres full of hiking trails, a visitors center, fly-fishing on the Provo River and mountain biking trails,” he says.

Provo River

Local company Rocky Mountain Outfitters offers one-hour to full-day guided horseback rides from Soldier Hollow Stables and Sundance Stables, where riders can enjoy views of the Wasatch Mountains or ride up to the majestic Stewart Falls. Or, trained guides will take you fly-fishing on the Provo River or, during the winter season, snowmobiling in the powder-filled Strawberry Valley.

Horseback riding through the Wasatch Mountains on a tour with Rocky Mountain Outfitters (Photo Courtesy of Heber Valley Tourism)

Also in the Wasatch Mountain State Park is the Soldier Hollow Nordic Center. Primarily known as an Olympic venue, Soldier Hollow hosts a variety of activities throughout the year so that athletes at world-class levels as well as weekend enthusiasts can enjoy the facility. The venue’s Competition Center also holds major events, ranging from the U.S. Cross Country Skiing Championships to the annual Soldier Hollow Classic Sheepdog Championship.

Heber Valley Railroad’s historic train crossing Wildwood Bridge (Photo courtesy of Heber Valley Tourism)

Once you get to Heber, Simons suggests hopping aboard the train at the historic Heber Valley Railroad, which travels through agricultural territory, crosses the Provo River and continues along the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains before tracing the west bank of Deer Creek Reservoir. From the reservoir, the tracks go down into Provo Canyon and follow the path of the Provo River, where you might spot wildlife like bald eagles, deer, elk and rainbow trout.

Heber Valley Railroad’s historic train crossing Wildwood Bridge (Photo courtesy of Heber Valley Tourism)

“There’s usually an activity on the train, like a murder mystery, the North Pole Express, and seasonal activity rides, such as the Tube ‘n Train [snow tubing and train ride] and Rafts ‘n Rails [river rafting and train ride],” Simons says. Running between the valley and Vivian Park in Provo Canyon, the train traverses 16 miles of alpine splendor and excursions range from 1 1/2 to 3 hours. For specific event dates and departure times, visit hebervalleyrr.org.

For lunch, Simons suggests Lola’s Street Kitchen in Midway, which serves locally sourced, organic, artisanal street food with bread baked in house daily. Try the buttermilk fried chicken sandwhich or the Utah Peach & Chicken Nugz with all-natural rice and tapioca-breaded chicken nuggets, arugula, shaved Parmesan, peach pico, golden raisins and Lola’s passion fruit-orange vinaigrette.

For dessert, head over to Heber Valley Artisan Cheese, also in Midway. “It’s one of the few dairies that’s left, and it has ice cream,” Simons says. “Most of the [local] restaurants … get their cheese and milk from that dairy.” For nearly 100 years, the Kohler family has produced premium milk at this small dairy and, in 2011, they built a new creamery and began using their farm’s milk to handcraft and age artisanal cheese produced by their 150 free-roaming, grass-fed dairy cows. The cows wander in mountain-valley pastures with natural springs and are fed diets free of corn and other GMO feeds. The creamery makes sharp and flavorful cheddars, queso fresco, salsa-infused Monterey Jack and juustoleipä (the Finnish word for cheese bread), which is meant to be grilled, fried or baked. Dairy tours are available as well as cheese tastings and mozzarella-making classes.

Zipline Utah offers the longest zip line section over a body of water anywhere (Courtesy of Heber Valley Tourism)

If more adventure is in the cards, Zipline Utah is also based here, with the famous 3,900-foot Screaming Falcon, the longest zip line section over a body of water that size to be found anywhere. In fact, the full Screaming Falcon tour is the longest zip line course in the world: In addition to the famous section over Rainbow Bay, it has 10 zip lines and seven suspension aerial bridges, totaling over 2 miles of zip lining fun.

Make it back to Montage Deer Valley for a brick oven pizza at Daly’s Pub & Rec, where you can bowl a few rounds with the family before calling an end to an adventurous day.

By Justine Amodeo

Feature Image: Horses and barn in Heber Valley (Photo by Johnny Adolphson/shutterstock.com)