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Park City, Utah
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Nordic Ski JumpWhat’s to Love: Of course, I’m a big fan of Portland, Oregon.  However, while visiting Park City, Utah on one of our “Portland Getaways,” it was hard not to constantly imagine my family living in this beautiful town – a town filled with a lifetime of outdoor adventures.  Amazing restaurants, summer concerts, three premier ski resorts (Park City Mountain Resort, Canyons Resort, and Deer Valley), Utah Olympic Park, summer adventure parks, endless lift-served mountain biking, and jaw-dropping-views await your family.  I’ve cataloged all of this and more for your next family vacation.

Park City Downtown

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Mountain Music Deer ValleyThis was my first visit to Park City, and I’m uncertain how this destination had eluded me for so long.  It’s a quick (under 2 hours!) flight direct from PDX to Salt Lake City airport and then, a short 45 minute drive to Park City.  I have been to Moab, Utah on many occasions, but Park City, home of the Sundance Film Festival and the 2002 Winter Olympics, has all the recreation opportunities of  Moab with much more polish.  Despite the many tourists, the town feels like it has a great sense of community.  The picture on the left is of a summer concert out at Deer Valley Resort.  There were so many families who seemed to know each other.  Kids were playing everywhere.

Park City, UTIt’s a very walkable city offering excellent transportation via an extensive bus system.  Rides between resorts and downtown won’t cost you a penny!  While visiting, it’s possible to keep your car parked for your entire stay!  However if you do drive, the town has free public parking-lots right off Main Street.  I’m happy to report that downtown Park City is a vibrant collection of independent businesses that has somehow been able to keep out chains such as Subway, Target, McDonalds and the like.  If you’re looking for those establishments, you’ll find most of them (and tons of outlets) six miles outside of town in the Kimball Junction area.

If you’re into shopping, I’d plan on spending a whole day downtown checking-out all the small shops.  Eating out will cost you.  We enjoyed several of the art galleries, book stores, and mountain shops, but the highlight for us was the “Java Cow” ice cream shop!  You’ll definitely want to stop in there with the kids.  If you need groceries, there is a Whole Foods Market (about 6 miles from Park City) and two full-service supermarkets within a mile of downtown  Park City – Fresh Market and The Market at Park City.  If you’re driving, plan on bringing your bikes so you can ride the excellent network of paved paths in and around town.  If you don’t bring your bikes, there are plenty of places to rent bikes.  Oh yeah, there is even a KILLER skate park right downtown!  Here is a short video clip…

Marriot MountainsideThere are many options for lodging.  If you can afford to stay at a one of the ski resorts, I highly recommend that route.  The resorts (as you’ll soon see in this article) offer many opportunities for recreation during the summer months.  We stayed at the Marriot Mountainside, which is part of  the Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR).  PCMR is the best option if you want to be walking distance to downtown Park City (about a 10-15 minute walk).  It also has what looked to be a great deal of beginner-friendly ski terrain for winter stays.  For a summer visit, PCMR offers an exceptional adventure park for the whole family.  Let’s take a closer at PCMR.

Park City Mountain Resort

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Park City Mountain ResortWe spent our first full day at the Park City Mountain Resort, and it set an adventurous tone for the rest of our stay.  It was the perfect kick-off to the Park City experience, and I recommend getting a family pass while you’re there.  Riding the rides “ala carte” is not a good idea, financially speaking.  I could detail a laundry list of all the great rides, but I’d rather focus on one of the best rides I’ve ever experienced in my life.  While we did ride everything, and it was all fun, their Alpine Slide and Alpine Coaster (our favorite – details below) provided the most thrilling experience for our family.

Park City Mountain ResortBefore I take a closer look at their Alpine Coaster, for those of you who want to avoid a “white-knuckler,” I recommend just taking the ski lift up and hiking down the mountain on an extensive network of hiking trails.  Make sure your knees are in good shape, because they will take a beating walking downhill.  Also, remember that you’re at 6000 feet when you board the lift!  Bring extra water, a hat, sunscreen, and your cell phone, if you have one.  I’m sure people underestimate the intensity of the sun and how the elevation adversely affects their bodies.  Of course, there are plenty of rides and activities for young children at the base (e.g., putt-putt golf, carousel, trampoline, train ride, etc.), even if a ski lift seems a bit much.

Alpine CoasterOnce you ride the Alpine Coaster, it will be hard to get the same thrill with any other ride.  In my opinion, zip-lines are fun, but the wait is usually not worth the experience.  The Alpine Coaster hauls you up the mountain with a very scenic ride, which gives you plenty of time to soak in the surroundings.  Then, you’re off sailing down the tracks with an easily-controlled car that can hold two adults.  Kids as young as 3-years can ride with an adult, and kids 54″ or taller can ride by themselves.  In the clip below, I’m braking so I can take video at the same time, but the car can really move!  It doesn’t jostle you around as much as a roller coaster.

Since the cars are hooked onto the track, there is no chance of the car flying off  (like alpine slides).  As a rider, as long as you stay buckled-in, you too will stay with the car, even during INTENSE, tight, and windy turns. Just stay back at least 80′ from the car in front of you, and you won’t even need to touch the brake (took me a couple runs to trust it) the entire ride, EXCEPT at the end!  The car gets moving so fast, and it feels like you might go flying, but it’s secure and REALLY FUN!!!  I must have taken at least seven or eight runs down the Coaster.  It should definitely be part of your Park City experience, even if you have to pay for a single ride – it’s worth it!

Deer Valley Resort

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Deer Valley ResortIf you’ve ever picked-up a skiing-related magazine, then you’ve heard of Deer Valley.  Consistently voted as one of the top ski resorts for families, Deer Valley did not disappoint in the summer as well.  As stated previously, the “Mountain Music” concert series is a MUST do for you family.  We had such a great time listening to the music and soaking in the scenery and community.  Our experience with Deer Valley did not end with the concert, we were invited for some lift-served (downhill!) mountain biking, which was an incredible experience that I’m still talking about with local friends.

Rhys mountain bikingLet’s get one thing straight – if you have not done “lift-served mountain biking,” you have not fully lived!  They are so spoiled in Park City!  After years of earning my downhills via arduous uphill climbs, I was more than happy to have them strap my bike (full suspension – another luxury to which I was unaccustomed) to a chair-lift and bring me up the mountain.  It was a liberating experience to say the least.

The full-suspension bike just floated over the trail – it’s so comfortable!  This is one of those activities where your face hurts the most from smiling so much.  The two best trails for people new to downhill riding are “Tour de Homes” and “Deer Crest Trail.”  These are NOT beginner-level trails! All the trails are rated at least intermediate; however, if you’re going to ride the trails, start with these two trails and go easy.

Inside rental shop at Deer ValleyCertainly, I had a lot of anxiety about my 7-year old son riding downhill single track.  It’s fast with tight turns and steep switchbacks and it’s very easy to lose control of your bike, if you’re not experienced.  The friendly staff in the rental shop helped us get bikes, and they talked with me extensively about the trails and gave me plenty of tips, especially for my son.  We started on Tour de Homes, which is basically a service road of loose gravel.  It has very steep sections where it’s easy to skid out-of-control.  I had my son practice using both brakes without locking up the front tire and keeping his weight back on the bike.  He KILLED it!  It was intimidating for him staring down such a massive hill, but he understood how to handle the braking, and we biked for about 6-hours!

As quickly as you can, move onto the Deer Crest Trail, which is one of my favorite mountain biking experiences…period!  The Deer Crest offers tight, hard-packed, super-fast single track riding.  This is the type of riding you have in your dreams, and it all comes true on a beautifully maintained 2.5 mile trail.  Just remember to keep your hands on your brakes or you will have an accident.  Also, don’t forget that some bikers still prefer to “pay their dues” and bike uphill.  I encountered a couple people peddling up, and I was glad that I was riding in control with my son.  Make sure your kids ride behind you to start – that way, they won’t get out of control.  By the end of the day, my son was riding out in front and having a blast.  This is a MUST do, if you’re into biking!

Canyons Resort

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Canyons ResortDue to circumstances beyond our control, we spent the least amount of time at Canyons Resort.  It’s a beautiful resort with a southwest theme.  There are six different lodging options, and Canyons is the largest resort in Utah and the third largest resort in the country at a total of 4,000 skiable acres!  The resort has an open-air, standing lift system that carries you quickly from the parking area up to the resort.  This lift is FREE and definitely worth a ride, even if that’s all you decided to do at Canyons.  The views are excellent and it’s an exhilarating ride!  While looking at the ski trail map, it appears that Canyons has a varied amount of terrain from beginner to expert.  We wanted to play their disc golf course, but much of the terrain was still closed (mid June) due to snow.

Inside "The Farm"Since snow limited our options, we decided to have lunch at their award-winning-chef’s restaurant “The Farm.”  In the spirit of many Portland eateries, The Farm gathers much of their menu from local suppliers and the freshness of the food is apparent.  We found the restaurant to be family-friendly with good options for kids (real food!), and the lunch special ($15 at the time) included half a sandwich, soup or salad, dessert, and a drink.  Incredible iced-tea and lemonade, and the food was as good as the hype.

Although the picture on the left reflects an upscale environment, kids were welcomed here and casual dress is fine.  A drink-spill was no problem at all, and the glass was quickly replaced with a new drink and a smile.  We chose to eat outside in a covered area, which can be opened up to enjoy the views and a mountain breeze. We highly recommend eating at The Farm, which is a pleasant alternative to eating downtown.  Hopefully, in the future, we’ll have another opportunity to explore The Canyons.

Utah Olympic Park

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Olympic ParkI barely remember the 2002 Winter Olympics in Park City, but I certainly was psyched-up for a visit and tour of the facility.  The Utah Olympic Park should definitely be part of your visit to Park City – it was a trip highlight for me.  It seems that Olympic Park has been able to reinvent itself as a tourist destination and Olympic training center for young athletes.  When I say young, I mean that many of these “athletes in training” are in their teens, even the Nordic ski jumpers!

It’s definitely a “see-it-to-believe-it” moment when they come sailing down MASSIVE ramps landing on artificial turf.  While watching, people were in awe that someone so young would have what it takes to land such a jump.  On TV it’s a thrill to watch the ski jump – imagine what it’s like in person, especially if you’re riding up the lift and they are jumping right next to you.  So much to see and experience at Olympic Park – it’s an inspirational place with trainers creating the next generation of US athletes.

Bobsled Run Olympic ParkI’m usually not a fan of guided tours, but the tour here was well worth the time.  You won’t want to miss this informative overview that provides facts and interesting stories. Plus, the tour is given in an air-conditioned bus and stops multiple times for folks to get out and explore.  I got goosebumps standing at the top of the Nordic ski jumps, Bobsled, and the Luge. Wow!  It’s hard to believe that people just sort of throw themselves down these hills.

There is so much skill involved that doesn’t reveal itself (to an observer) while the events are taking place. That’s why the tour is so important – you’ll learn about these techniques: How does someone steer a Bobsled or Luge?  How fast are the ski jumpers traveling when they launch themselves off the ramp? How many spectators were watching during the Olympics?  There is so much more, so please do not miss the tour, even the kids will like it!

Aerial ShowThe picture to the left is the giant pool where they practice aerial ski jumping.  I’m sure you’ve seen these daredevils in action during the Olympics, and the pool provides a nice safe landing spot for training and for their aerial show – “Flying Aces All-Star Show”. The show takes place on Saturdays at 1:00 p.m.  When you sign-up for a tour, make sure to purchase tickets to attend the aerial show as well.  It’s comfortable sitting out on the deck or in the grass, and your kids will be amazed by the flips, twists, and sheer acts of athleticism they’ll witness.  In the picture, you’ll notice a white area down the center-line of the pool.  Right before the athletes launch themselves into their stunt, a button is pushed that releases a huge amount of air, which softens the landing considerably.  How cool is that?

Of course, Olympic Park has its own collection of adventure rides.  It is currently home to the steepest zip-line in the world!  And, the Park also has a zip-line that is suitable for younger children who are 48″ or taller.  Olympic Park also had the nicest Alpine Slide – the track is made out of metal, which provides a very smooth ride.  Also of note, there is a cafeteria right near the pool where your family can sit and have lunch.

Park City Museum

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Park City MuseumAs a family adventure, museums are not always high on the kids’ wish lists.  Museums (other than children’s museums) are a risky activity with a rather high probability of sucking the life out of your kids.  Luckily for us, the Park City Museum had the right amount of adult exhibits combined with hands-on, kid-friendly activities.  I think my 3-year old son could have pushed the plunger (which ignites a mock explosion) a thousand times in a row, every time expanding the smile on his face.  This is an old school, I-know-I’ve-seen-this-before-on-Looney-Tunes plunger!  I couldn’t wait for my turn!

Park City MuseumYou won’t believe how many exhibits they managed to fit in a relatively-small space.  The Museum is well-organized, impeccably clean, and filled with friendly workers and volunteers.  We bumped into a volunteer that used to work in one of the local silver mines when he was younger.  He had many colorful stories for our family and delighted in sharing them with us.  While certainly not a children’s museum, there were plenty of things to keep our kids interested and engaged, and I found the Museum definitely worth a visit.  Plus, it’s right downtown!

Monkey Mountain

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Monkey MountainIf you need a break from outdoor fun visit Mountain Monkey out in Kimball Junction.  Monkey Mountain is a new indoor playpark with a giant playstructure as its centerpiece.  All ages are welcome and drop-ins are fine both for open-play and for summer camps, which offer a wide-variety of cool themes!  The facility offers plenty of space for toddlers to pounce and move around and is best suited for ages 8 and younger.  There are two party rooms for birthdays or special occasions and families can even bring their own food.  Monkey Mountain has a bunch of different packages.

Parent Lounge - Monkey MountainOne of the nice things about indoor playparks is they often provide a comfortable space for parents to hang-out.  Monkey Mountain’s lounge is one of the nicest I’ve ever seen (see photo).  There is free Wi-Fi and food can be ordered from a nearby restaurant.  Whole Foods is also within walking distance, if you want to get a snack, lunch or dinner.  They are fine with outside food in this area.  The lounge is close enough to the playstructure so that you can still see your child playing and/or communicate with them quickly.

Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum

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Children's Museum - Salt Lake CitySalt Lake City is only about 30 -40 minutes from Park City and the drive is well worth it to visit the Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum.  This is the nicest Children’s Museum I’ve ever seen – there are so many well laid-out exhibits and hands-on activities that you could certainly spend an entire day exploring.  Everything looks brand new and indeed, the museum was recently (within the last 5 years) relocated from their former location into the “Gateway” area of town. The Gateway area also boasts a planetarium and I-Max movie theater.

Children's Museum - Salt Lake CityThe museum offers two floors of fun!  We found the first floor, which is actually the second floor of the building, better suited for kids age 5 and under.  There is a special area set-aside for toddlers (kids 3 and under).  The first floor has a dress-up area, a construction area, a “family farm,” an incredible market with shopping carts, check-out, and all kinds of items to “buy.”  There is also a really nice area for water-play.  I liked their machine that transports balls via air and tubes. Everything was so organized and clean – I can’t emphasize this fact enough!

We spent quite a bit of time on the first level, but our older son (age 7) was antsy to get upstairs, which is a better fit for kids ages 6 and up.  I’m not sure if they have “recommended ages” in the museum – I’m just reporting what we noticed with our own kids.  Certainly, our younger son (age 3) had plenty of fun upstairs as well.

Children's Museum - Salt Lake CityThe upper level is incredible featuring a helicopter on the roof!  My only complaint is that there was so much to do, and sometimes, I had no idea where to start!  If you’re new to the museum, it would be nice to get a tour from someone who understands all the exhibits and how they work.  For example, there is a mock television news station where kids can work on getting a newscast together (e.g., preparing news pieces, production, computer-assisted editing, scripting, presenting, etc.).  With so many options, it’s hard to know all the details and how everything works together.

My older son enjoyed working in the “animation station” and drawing comic strips.  There is an entire wall dedicated to building a vertical maze, a HUGE backgammon-like-board that rings out with musical notes as kids step on it.  I enjoyed seeing the museum employees engaging with the visitors.  Several of them were playing a game with giant pool balls, and they even helped manage the game.  It never felt like a “free-for-all” type of environment, which is typical at these types of venues.

Jordanelle State Park & Reservoir

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Jordanelle State Park and ResevoirThe last place I’m going to highlight for the article is “Jordanelle State Park & Reservoir.”  As you can see in the picture on the left, it’s a stunning spectacle!  When you’re up high at the local resorts, you’ll no doubt notice this getaway 15 minutes from Park City.  In a hot dry area, sometimes a little water play is just what the doctor ordered.  While we did not swim in the water, we “rock-hopped” along the shore, skipped stones, dug in the sandy beach, and enjoyed a picnic lunch.  Jordanelle offers much more to those equipped for various water sports.  In encourage you to explore their website for more information.  There is a nominal day-use-fee.

Jordanelle State Park and ResevoirTheir website states, “The park offers an array of recreation opportunities near the Wasatch Front. Camping, boating, swimming, fishing, and hiking are some of the activities to do at this very popular park. Anglers fish for trout, bass, and perch.  The park offers two recreation areas, Hailstone and Rock Cliff (source).  It’s a LARGE lake, and you’ll want to make sure you head toward one of the established entries into the park.  If you make a mistake, you might end-up driving around the entire lake!

Technorati Tags: Park, City, UT, Utah, ski, resort, summer, adventure, activities, kid, friendly, mountain, deer, valley, canyons, Olympic, village, Sundance, Film, Festival, Jordanelle, State

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  1. Absolutely awesome!

  2. I grew up in Salt Lake city! And so often think about moving back…outdoor wise the possibilities are endless!!! And how I do miss me some peak (i mean, serious peak) hiking!

    Great review and I am glad y'all had fun!

  3. Thanks for the extensive review Vince! I've been thinking of taking my family to Utah sometime and I'll definitely keep this article in mind. Next up, Vancouver BC with Whistler?

  4. Nice and best one article keep it up..

  5. My back yard is the best. The variation of parks is excellent. I like the flat spot between town and bonanza so I can get a good laugh at the clowns. I enjoyed so much. Thanks for the share.

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