This post was most recently updated on October 24th, 2022
Utah County is at the heart of Utah, just south of Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City. It is probably most famous for being the home of Brigham Young University, but is also a very popular place to live and work. Cities in Utah County are beginning to attract more tourists as outsiders learn what’s available. Keep in mind it’s a great location for families! I’ll highlight the best of Utah County’s cities and share at least one awesome thing to do, to see, or experience while you are visiting (or living) here.
My best of Utah County list includes 18 cities with populations over 5,000. And just so you know, I’ve focused on activities that are free or inexpensive. Here they are, in alphabetical order:
1. Alpine, population 10,500
Alpine is nestled against the mountains and has some of the best views of the valley. The most stunning place to go is Lambert Park, where there are hiking trails with incredible views. In the spring, red poppies bloom and crowds show up to take photos amongst the blossoms. For more details, read my post: Alpine Poppy Field & Trail in Utah County. Cost: free
2. American Fork, population 31,600
While not technically inside the limits of American Fork city, you have to see American Fork Canyon and the American Fork River it is named after. The canyon includes the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway with lots of hiking trails, picnic areas, and even campgrounds. Highway 92 winds between gorgeous granite walls and forests. Also in this canyon is the Timpanogas Cave National Monument, where you can take a cave tour. Cost: $6 pass for 3 days to drive the Alpine Loop
Within the city, you’ll also find the beautiful Mt. Timpanogas Temple with its 190-ft spire and turquoise glass stained windows.
3. Cedar Hills, population 10,200
One of the newest attractions in Cedar Hills is the Murdock Canal Trail, a 17-mile paved trail over an enclosed Pioneer canal. Only a portion of it passes through Cedar Hills, but you’ll enjoy cycling, jogging, or walking along this trail. A favorite park (Harvey Park) in Cedar Hills features a great climbing structure kids love! With pickleball, basketball and tennis courts and a space-themed playground and splashpad, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Cost: free
4. Eagle Mountain, population 35,400
Eagle Mountain is on the west side of Utah Lake and might be best known for Mountain Ranch Bike Park, designed and built completely by volunteers. Here you’ll find bike jumps, slope style trails, a pump track, trails through Juniper trees, picnic tables, and banked turns. There’s no admission fee and it has trails for all skill levels. Cost: free
5. Highland, population 19,000
The city of Highland might be better known for some of its events than actual attractions. Highland was named by Scottish homesteaders and still holds Scottish-style Highland Games every year at its annual Highland Fling, where you can also watch a parade with a marching bagpipe band. At Christmas time, a neighborhood in Highland spends days setting up an elaborate Christmas lights display dubbed “Christmas Lights for a Cure”. Donations are accepted to help cure Juvenile Type 1 Diabetes. Totally worthwhile as the lights show lasts for nearly a half hour before repeating, and it’s different every year! You’ll find it at 11671 N. Granite Flats Rd.
Cost: free, unless you make a donation
6. Lehi, population 67,000
Lehi is the home of Thanksgiving Point, a collection of wonderful museums that appeal to all ages — and spectacular gardens. Whether you are interested in dinosaurs, farmlife, butterflies, or just exploring, there’s a museum for you. My personal favorite? The Museum of Natural Curiosity! But don’t forget the 50 acres of themed gardens at Ashton Gardens: Secret Garden, Rose Garden, Italian Garden, the Light of the World Garden and so many more, plus a huge waterfall.
Cost: Admission to Thanksgiving Point venues is required. However, there are two Super Tuesdays coming up where it’s only $5! — August 23 & 30, 2022
If you’re also interested in movie trivia, the Lehi Roller Mills were featured in the movie Footloose. You can stop by and purchase delicious jams and baking products. Cost: free to look
7. Lindon, population 11,100
Here’s a unique find for you! How about the world’s largest puzzle wall? Dowdle Folk Art Gallery, at 1280 W. 200 S. in Lindon, is both a jigsaw puzzle creating studio and a folk art gallery for Dowdle Puzzles. And in the back room is a HUGE puzzle wall. The image on the wall is of a world map all put together from smaller puzzle pieces. Dowdle puzzles are top quality with bright colors, and each has a story to tell. You can even sit down and work on a puzzle.
Cost: Free, unless you wish to buy something, but it will be hard not to.
8. Mapleton, population 10,300
Mapleton is another city nestled at the base of mountains in the southern portion of Utah County. It is more rural and if you ask me, that is one of its greatest assets. There are a lot of walking and cycling paths — and the entrance to Mapleton Canyon is also in Mapleton. You can enjoy hikes that include wildflowers, mountain views, a stream, and even wildlife. One of the easiest places to enjoy walking or cycling is the Mapleton Walking Path (also known as Mapleton Lateral) because much of it it is level and paved. Just look at this view! Cost: free
9. Orem, population 97,900
In Orem, you’ll find a playground that is very unique. Called the ‘All-Together Playground’, it features all abilities playground equipment especially designed to accommodate children with handicaps. With wheelchair ramps, special swing seats, and even swings for wheelchairs, this park allows everyone to have fun playing. It is conveniently located near the Orem Public Library, which offers a full schedule of activities for children and families. Cost: free
10. Payson, population 20,200
Just south of the Payson city limits is the pretty little Spring Lake and nearby Spring Lake Trout Farm. At Spring Lake, you can stand-up paddle board, picnic on the grass, watch the ducks, or take out a canoe or rowboat. At the trout farm, there are lots of trout!
There’s one more thing about Payson — it’s the entrance to the Mt Nebo Loop, a 38-mile scenic byway. Sights along the route include the Grotto Falls trailhead, Payson Lakes, Devil’s Kitchen (beautiful red rock formations), and a magnificent valley overlook.
Cost: Free to visit Spring Lake or drive Mt. Nebo Loop, fee to catch fish at the trout farm
11. Pleasant Grove, population 38,500
When I asked my son what he liked best about Pleasant Grove, he said this was his favorite tip. The Water Gardens Theater is an excellent family-friendly theater, with movies rated only G, PG, or PG-13. But the best part is their Triple Play Tuesday deal: watch a movie on Tuesday when $5.00 pays for your movie ticket, small popcorn and a small drink. Where else can you do that these days?!
Looking for something else to do in Pleasant Grove? There’s an easy hike to Battle Falls even your children can do.
Cost: $5 for a movie, free hike to Battle Falls
12. Provo, population 116,900
Provo is the largest city in Utah County, and if you’re looking for the best of Utah County, this is probably it! You can’t really narrow down to only one or two best things to do in Provo. Especially since it’s a foodie’s haven and all kinds of activities cater to the college crowd. I’m going to give you a list of some of my favorites:
- BYU campus including the Creamery on Ninth for great ice cream, the Bean Life Science Museum, Museum of Art, BYU stadium for a classic college football game, and the BYU Bookstore — that’s just for starters! (Cost: free to walk around & explore museums, admission for football games, $ for purchases in bookstore)
- An art and architecture walk to see murals, sculptures, and statues in downtown Provo – cost: free
- Visit the Provo City Center Temple grounds — beautiful landscaped gardens and a sacred temple built where a historic tabernacle destroyed by fire once stood, cost: free
- Shops at the Riverwoods Mall — a gorgeous outdoor mall with some of the best shopping, local performances, a splash pad, Provo Beach with an indoor wave machine, and the ‘Lighting of Riverwoods’ with Christmas lights and fireworks *Cost: free for events and splash pad, admission for Provo Beach, $ for purchases
13. Salem, population 8,400
Salem has a small-town feel to it and is more rural. Enjoy a visit to the Salem Pond where many of the locals go to cool down in the evenings. There’s a small sandy “beach”, places to picnic, and the views are calm and pretty. Near the pond is the quaint Soda Retreat with antique gas pumps; they sell sodas, Rockwell ice cream, and cookies.
Cost: free to visit the pond, $ for purchases at the Soda Retreat
14. Santaquin, population 12,300
Santaquin’s Rowley’s Red Barn can be seen from I-15 and it is definitely worth a stop. With a nice green lawn and picnic tables out front, you could just stop for a picnic. But don’t miss the homemade ice creams, vintage sodas, and fresh produce they sell inside! I chose the ‘Summer Nights’ ice cream – a blend of lemon and blueberry – and fell in love! Cost: $ for purchases
15. Saratoga Springs, population 31,300
I feel like Saratoga Springs has “sprung” up overnight, but it was actually incorporated in 1997. They’ve built some incredible parks for residents and visitors alike to enjoy. Neptune Park has an amazing pyramid climbing structure, an outdoor stage, pavillion and picnic areas, restrooms, and much more.
Patriot Park is a baseball park with a baseball-themed playground that wins all kinds of praise from the kids (and adults, too!). Cost for both parks: free
16. Spanish Fork, population 40,100
Here’s something I never expected to find in rural Spanish Fork — a Krishna Temple! But you just have to visit it because there’s a lot to do here. You are allowed to enter the temple if you take your shoes off, and I suggest you do for the cultural experience. There’s a very interesting gift shop, too. Outside, there’s a beautiful reflecting pond and fountain…and llamas. Yep, llamas and cows, peacocks, koi fish, and parrots! My grandchildren loved seeing them. But the Krishna Temple is probably most popular to visit in March when they hold their colorful Holi Chalk Festival of Colors (next one: March 25/26, 2023). You can eat onsite, too, at the vegeterian Govinda’s Buffet ($10).
Cost: free to walk around grounds and enter temple, $ for gift store purchases or buffet
17. Springville, population 33,300
It’s hard to choose between two awesome things to do in Springville, so here are both!
The Springville Museum of Art is the oldest museum for visual fine arts in Utah. They often hold special events, and the exhibits are stunning. There’s something that appeals to everyone. One of their most popular exhibits is their annual summer quilt show, going on now until Sept 17, 2022. The Museum of Art is always free to visit!
For a completely different kind of museum, visit the Legends Motorcycle complex. You don’t have to be into motorcycles to appreciate this museum of vintage motorcycles and sidecars. It has lots of cool factor! There’s no charge but you’ll have to schedule your tour with Jenny at 801-919-4404. Also related are the “Container Stores” across the parking lot. Wander around inside this unique mall, relax on bench swings, and maybe take a ride on the ferris wheel. Oh, and you can get a bite to eat at the Sidecar Cafe, too!
Cost: free for museum although donations are appreciated, $ for purchases
18. Vineyard, population 12,500
Vineyard just happens to be the fastest growing city in Utah. It is situated alongside the east side of Utah Lake.Two parks are highlights of Vineyard:
1) Vineyard Grove Park with a splash pad, playground, and ziplines. This playground’s features are very unique and so much fun for kids.
2) Sunset Beach Park has a nice play area with sand and shade. It is close to the lake and accesses the Utah Lake shoreline trail for jogging, walking, and cycling. It’s still a bit of a walk to actually reach the lake if you want to launch kayaks or stand-up paddle boards.
And finally, the best thing about Vineyard, in my opinion, is its access to sunset views. If you are a sunset chaser like I am, visit Vineyard Beach to get amazing sunset views of the mountains on the west side of the lake! Cost: free
Use this interactive map to help you plan where you want to go in Utah County!
Summary of the Best of Utah County
I lived in Utah County over 30 years ago, and a lot of what I’ve shown you didn’t exist then. As I come back to visit every year, I’ve been amazed at how much Utah County has grown and developed. Nearly every time I come, I discover something new, so I’ve been excited to publish this ‘best of Utah County’ guide. I’m sure you have your own favorites, and I hope you’ll share them with me and my readers in the comments below!