When the gifts are opened and the kids start to get bored during their holiday break from school, getting outdoors or enjoying a recreation center for a family adventure might be just the ticket to create some great memories.
Given the bitter inversion along the Wasatch Front in recent days and lack of snow so far this December, that might require some creativity.
Some may want to escape to a southern Utah park where the weather is warmer and the air quality much better.
Others may want to stay close to home, heading into the canyons for some skiing on mostly man-made snow, fishing or wildlife watching.
And, of course, there are things to do that require little or no driving for those on the Wasatch Front, with indoor options in the case of an inversion.
Here are 10 suggestions:
Mouth of Emigration Canyon activities
Spend a day or two exploring the activities on the northeast corner of the Salt Lake Valley. This would include possible visits to Hogle Zoo (open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with Zoo Lights in the evening through New Year’s Eve), This Is the Place Heritage Park (open daily with limited programs on Sundays), the Natural History Museum of Utah, Red Butte Garden, Fort Douglas Museum and Utah Museum of Fine Arts.
Start with a visit to Tracy Aviary at Liberty Park. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and offers a great introduction to many Utah birds as well as birds from around the world. Then consider driving the 12-mile scenic loop at Bear River Bird Refuge near Brigham City, open from sunset to sunrise. There is a 1.5-mile boardwalk hike around wetlands at the Bear River visitor center (check in advance for hours at the visitor center). Closer to Salt Lake, there are walks and driving tours of Farmington Bay. And the Nature Conservancy’s Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve west of Layton has a boardwalk trail, an observatory tower and an outdoor visitor center.
Southwestern Utah camping and parks
This part of Utah offers much warmer weather in the winter. Get some new camping gear? Consider camping at Zion National Park, Snow Canyon, Quail Creek or Sand Hollow state parks or the Bureau of Land Management’s Red Cliffs Campground near Leeds. It can get cool, so staying in St. George, Hurricane or Springdale motels and just hiking is a good possibility as well. It’s almost impossible to beat the crowds these days, but it can be a little less crazy at these parks in December and January.
Soak in a hot spring
There is something invigorating about jumping into an outdoor hot spring when the temperature is below freezing in the winter. The closest place to enjoy this activity along the Wasatch Front is Crystal Hot Springs near Honeyville. This classic outdoor facility is open noon to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; noon to 11 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday; and 10 to 8 p.m. Sunday. The waterslides are open every day but Monday, though hours vary. If you want to go a bit farther, consider spending a weekend at historic Lava Hot Springs in Idaho, where there are outdoor hot springs and an indoor pool.
There is something magical and a bit romantic about ice skating outdoors. One of the best places to do this (and escape the inversion) is near the Midway town hall in Wasatch County. There is another outdoor rink at the base of the Park City Mountain Resort. In Salt Lake City, the Gallivan Center outdoor rink surrounded by holiday lighting is popular. Indoor rinks are available in Salt Lake County at the Kearns Olympic Oval, West Valley, Murray and the Steiner Center near the University of Utah. Indoor rinks can also be found in Provo, Ogden, Bountiful, North Logan and Park City.
Off-highway vehicle riding
Get a new ATV or UHV for a gift? There are places to ride in the winter. Camping may be on the cool side, but the riding can be great. Little Sahara Sand Dunes near Delta is the largest; the Knolls riding area east of Wendover is a good bet as well. In southern Utah, ride at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park near Kanab or the Hurricane sand dune area near Sand Hollow State Park. On a warm winter day away from the inversion, the riding can be amazing.
Winter fishing requires some planning ahead and knowing when it’s safe to go on the ice. The Division of Wildlife Resources reports stocking some local waters heavily in the fall, which should make good winter ice fishing. The best family fishing waters include Hyrum Reservoir (rainbow trout and yellow perch), Mantua Reservoir (rainbow trout and bluegill), Rockport (rainbow trout), East Canyon (rainbow trout) and Deer Creek (rainbow trout).
This might seem like a weird suggestion in December, but many cities offer fine indoor pools that often include lazy rivers and water slides. Salt Lake County Recreation Department indoor pools include Dimple Dell, the Fairmont Aquatic Center, Gene Fullmer in West Jordan, the Holladay Lions, J.L. Sorenson in Herriman, Marv Jenson in South Jordan, Northwest Recreation in Salt Lake City, the Salt Lake City Sports Complex on Guardsman Way and the Steiner West Pool. Don’t forget the Kearns pool near the Olympic Oval and the Cottonwood Heights Recreation Center.
Jordan River Parkway
The recently completed parkway starts in Utah County near Lehi and spans the entire length of the Salt Lake Valley with paved trails, parks, covered picnic areas, playgrounds and covered picnic areas to enjoy. This is a great place to try out new bicycles found under the Christmas tree or even to see some winter birds, including bald eagles.
Antelope Island State Park
Each time of year offers a different personality at the Great Salt Lake’s largest island. But the bugs are not out in the winter and, on a calm day, the water of the lake is mirrorlike. Enjoy seeing wildlife such as bison, deer and antelope as well as birds. There are some nice hiking trails. And the historic Fielding Garr Ranch offers an amazing look at Utah history.