Cheap Adventures in the Crossroads of the West: Free Family Fun in Salt Lake City
Utah's capital snuggles between the Great Salt Lake and the Wasatch Mountains, bringing with it topography as diverse as the people who inhabit it. From the history of Mormon pioneers to Olympic glory, there's lots to explore with the kids when you visit Salt Lake City. Best of all, many activities won't cost you a penny.
Explore Outer Space
Grab the kids and get ready for hands-on adventure at the Clark Planetarium (110 S 400 W, Salt Lake City, UT). With 10,000 square feet of exhibit space, delve into learning about our planet, the solar system or space far beyond. Control an aural display with a wave of your fingers, step inside a giant tornado or discover what it's like to be inside a black hole. The exhibits are free, but there's a $7 charge for theater shows.
Romp in City Space
Weather in Salt Lake City is ideal for getting outdoors from March through November. Spend summer days in the 90s in the cool shade of towering trees at the city's oldest and most expansive park, Liberty Park (600 E 900 South, Salt Lake City, UT). Explore Utah folk art at the Chase Home Museum (1150 South Constitution Drive, Salt Lake City, UT), frame vacation photos along the scenic trellis path or have a picnic under a historic gazebo on an island in the park's lake. Expansive Rotary Playground in the northwest corner of the park has age-appropriate equipment for toddlers and older kids, as well as a splash pad. The park also has attractions that cost money, like concessions, rides and an aviary.
Head for the Hills
Go on a nature adventure as you hike along a forest path to a breathtaking waterfall. Donut Falls Hiking Trail (FR019, Salt Lake City, UT) gently rises 420 feet in elevation over its .75-mile course. There's restrooms in the parking area and a hill for wintertime sledding. The trail takes off through tall trees, meandering alongside a stream as you approach the falls. Leave the dogs at home and bring a picnic to enjoy at the nearby Jordan Pines Picnic Area (Hwy 190, Sandy, UT).
Don't worry about finding a parking spot or battling traffic when you head to Salt Lake City's downtown fare-free zone. Begin and end the journey within the zone and let the conductor or bus driver know you're staying within the free zone. Passengers who go outside the fare-free zone have to pay for the ride. See the historic side of the city inside the zone. The state Capitol (350 North State St., Salt Lake City, UT) has a fourth-floor art museum with free guided tours. The Gallivan Center (239 Main St., Salt Lake City, UT) puts on free lunchtime and Wednesday evening concerts and hosts food trucks on Thursdays.
Discover Lakeside Living
Head to the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve (41 S 3200 W, Layton, UT ) to learn about the diverse species of animals and plants that live along the lake. Go ahead and use the stroller. The mile-long boardwalk gives easy access to the salt marsh. Look for white-face ibis, snowy plovers and colorful ducks and learn from informative exhibits along the way. Bring insect repellent if you stay toward evening to ward off mosquitoes. Midges and brine flies are pesky but don't bite. If you go in spring or early summer, make sure to bring insect repellent that is rated to repel no-see-ums.