From scuba diving in a warm-springs crater to riding a heritage railroad, Heber Valley overflows with fun
By Kathleen Curry and Geoff Griffin
As the weather along the Wasatch Front teeters between the fall finale and the first stages of winter, it’s the perfect time for a weekend getaway to a mountain valley that can be reached from greater Salt Lake in less than an hour. The Heber Valley, ringed by mountains and home to Heber City and Midway, is so picturesque that Latter-day Saint pioneers who came from Switzerland in the 19th century settled here because it reminded them so much of home.
Whatever time of year you visit, the Heber Valley features outdoor water recreation at Jordanelle State Park and Deer Creek Reservoir as well as world-class fly-fishing along the Provo River. The area also evokes a sense of nostalgia and tradition for many Utah families with attractions such as the Midway Crater or Heber Creeper railroad.
Whether you’re brand new to Utah or looking to relive that time that Grandma took you ice skating, check out the following weekend itinerary.
Salt Lake City to Heber
Head east for 25 miles out of Salt Lake City on Interstate 80. Just east of the Kimball Junction exit to Park City, take Exit 146 to U.S. highways 40/189 and head toward Heber for about 15 miles. Before you arrive in Heber, turn off to heed the call of dinner at Back 40 Ranch House Grill (1223 N. Highway 40, Heber, 435-654-3070, Back40Utah.com), a farm-to-table restaurant that features the cheeses of Heber Valley Creamery. You can try the white cheddar as part of a bacon mac-n-cheese dish, or the jalapeño-bacon cheddar that comes on the Back 40 burger, a colossus also topped with pastrami and caramelized onions. Don’t forget the house-made potato chips served with charred onion dip.
Once in Heber Valley, check in at Zermatt Utah (784 W. Resort Drive, Midway, 435-657-0180, ZermattResort.com), an Old World, Swiss-themed resort that comes with a spa, multiple dining options and help with setting up adventures with local recreation outfitters. If you are not ready to turn in for the night, check out the Pub, an on-site spot for a variety of beers, including some from nearby breweries.
Start the day with a stop at The Bagel Den (570 N. Main, Heber City, 435-654-3193, TheBagelDen.com) where you can pair 19 different kinds of bagels, including a French toast flavor, with eight different cream cheese options, such as bacon and scallions. There’s also a full coffee and tea menu.
If the weather permits, head southwest out of Heber to Deer Creek State Park for a session with Zipline Utah (U.S. 189 at Mile Marker 22, 866-923-1063, ZiplineUtah.com). Their Screaming Falcon tour is the longest zipline journey in the world, running a total of almost 4,000 feet over Rainbow Bay while never touching the ground. The views of the Wasatch Mountains and Deer Creek Lake are part of an experience that takes two-to-three hours and must be booked in advance. The ziplines are open year-round.
Fantastic Mexican food can be found for lunch at Tarahumara (380 E. Main, Midway, 435-654-3465, TarahumaraMidway.com). In addition to tacos, fajitas and a fresh salsa bar, they make a ceviche with a lime-marinated mahi and plantain chips along with albondigas (meatball soup) served with tortillas.
After lunch, head over to the Midway Crater (700 N. Homestead Drive, Midway, 435-657-3840, HomesteadResort.com), a volcano-shaped limestone deposit rising 55 feet above ground that was 10,000 years in the making. A favorite destination for generations of Utahns, the cone encloses a pool of geothermal-heated spring water that stays at 90-96 degrees. It’s great for a soak, but you can also snorkel or dive in the only warm scuba diving destination in the continental United States. Be sure to make advance reservations.
Midway to Heber
The Blue Boar Inn (1235 Warm Springs Road, Midway, 435-654-1400, TheBlueBoarInn.com) is an award-winning old-style European inn and restaurant, and its chef, Eric May, is regularly recognized for his cuisine. The Blue Boar menu features classics such as filet mignon and rack of lamb, but also European dishes such as Swedish meatballs served with lingonberry sauce or Holsteiner schnitzel with sautéed spaetzle.
If you’d like to keep the evening to keep going, check out Melvin’s Public House (139 N. Main, Heber City, 435-654-9464, MelvinsPub.com), a family-friendly sports pub with full bar and a dozen local beers on tap.
Start off the day at Fill ’Er Up Coffee Station (201 E. Main, Midway, 435-657-2700, FillerUpCoffeeStation.com). The name comes in part from it being a place to load up on great coffee along with made-from-scratch waffles and quiche, but also because it’s a renovated 1930s gas station full of nostalgic decor.
After you grab breakfast, you’re within walking distance of Midway City Ice Rink (75 N. 100 West, Midway, 435-709-2980, MidwayBoosters.org), which is Utah’s largest outdoor sheet of ice. Gliding along the ice in a mountain town is the stuff winter dreams are made of. The rink usually opens around Thanksgiving weekend.
Saturday Afternoon & Evening
Skating will help you work up an appetite for lunch at Dairy Keen (199 S. Main, Heber City, 435-654-KEEN, DairyKeen.com) also known as Home of the Train, or Trainburger, which is a quarter-pound burger that also happens to have ham, Swiss and American cheeses and a special Train Sauce on top. Dairy Keen, which has been open since 1946, has been winning Best of Utah awards for its burgers and shakes for years and serves up gallons of fry sauce each day so you know it’s Utah-approved.
Keep the train theme going with a ride on the Heber Valley Railroad (450 S. 600 West, Heber City, 435-654-5601, HeberValleyRR.org), also known as the Heber Creeper. The Deer Creek Express leaves from Heber City on most Saturday afternoons at 3 p.m. and makes a 90-minute scenic journey along Deer Creek Reservoir out to Decker Bay and back. The trip includes a staged train robbery, but don’t worry—it’s comical and kid-friendly. There are also various themed trains throughout the year. The North Pole Express runs during November and December and a certain red-suited traveler has been known to be a frequent passenger.
Snake Creek Grill (650 W. 100 South, Heber City, 435-654-2133, SnakeCreekGrill.com) calls itself Utah’s Favorite Little Local, referring to the number of locals who clamor for chef Dean Hottle’s cuisine. But, you can also judge by the number of guests who’ve driven there from some distance because they know it’s a spot for a great meal. Whether you’re a local or a visitor, you’ll enjoy the seasonally rotating menu with dishes such as cornmeal-fried red trout topped with an avocado and tomato relish. One favorite that stays on the menu year-round is the black-bottom, banana-cream pie.
Given its mountain locale, there are several weeks during the winter when Midway Ice Castles (IceCastles.com) turns Midway into a winter wonderland. It’s is one of six spots across North America operated by a local company that utilizes water and freezing temperatures to create structures and sculptures that are illuminated at night. When the display starts and ends is dependent on the weather, so check the website for details before making plans.
The building where Midway Mercantile (99 E. Main, Midway, 435-315-4151, MidwayMercantile.com) is located was built in 1874, but opened as a restaurant in 2017 that now serves a Sunday brunch menu with Echo Falls smoked salmon lox on stone-hearth toasted bread. It’s also your chance to try the “Imperial Mix Up,” which combines eggs, coconut rice, Hawaiian-style sausage and vegetables tossed together in a ginger sauce.
Whether enjoying the last vestiges of fall weather or if winter has arrived in full force, finish off the weekend at Soldier Hollow (2002 Soldier Hollow Lane, Midway, 435-654-2002, UtahOlympicLegacy.org) This spot, site of the 2002 Olympic Nordic skiing events, offers recreation regardless of the weather. If it’s a late fall and the ground is still clear, try hiking and mountain biking along the trails. If the snow has arrived, it’s time for cross-country skiing (you can rent equipment and schedule lessons) or taking a ride on the tubing hill.