Considered off-season, summer in Utah is when snow-obsessed crowds disperse and warm-weather activities lure kayakers, mountain bikers, hikers and glamping enthusiasts. My interests skew toward the latter, so in the span of five sizzling summer days, after touring through three distinct Utah regions: Salt Lake City, Park City and Garden City, it was glamping that offered the most authentic experience.
Cordially yours, from Salt Lake City.
My trip began with immersion into the inaugural Salt Lake City Food and Wine Classic held at the Park City Culinary Institute, located in a modest storefront on South State Street.
Inside, a handful of culinary students cooked up Crepe Suzettes drizzled with caramel and crowned with a dollop of bourbon-infused whipped cream.
While the chefs kept busy, more than 30 guests mixed and mingled with the event’s numerous featured local distillers. Among the various liqueurs, single malt whiskeys, vodkas and mixed cocktails showcased, the event, titled “Meet the Makers”, singled out one Park City distiller named Rob Sergent, Jr., whose artisanal Preserve Liqueur, made with black tea, blood orange, ginger, raspberry and lemon, was especially memorable (and kosher, too!).
Panting in Park City
East of Salt Lake City, with the Wasatch Range providing a picturesque backdrop, is Park City. My first impression of its Main Street, with its profusion of 19th-century building structures built during the area’s silver mining boom, was that it’s a main street on steroids.
The uphill climb to explore its many retail shops, restaurants and bars left me panting, so I gratefully succumbed to the city’s handy, free shuttle bus. The bus led me two miles up and down hills to the entrance of The Peaks Hotel, where I checked in for two relaxing nights.
Main Street summoned me at dinnertime, where I perched on an open-window seat at a restaurant named and located at 350 Main. The essence of summertime was translated through citrus vinaigrette splashed over orange slices, raspberries and garden-fresh salad.
From my spectator’s seat, I sipped my Whispering Angel rosé and immersed myself in watching the parade of vacationing families, couples and locals strolling past.
My reverie was broken by an amazing plate of corn-on-the-cob served on a bed of orange-red Romesco sauce and chartreuse topping. So colorful! The topping was a creamy basil aioli that sent my taste buds swooning as I chomped row after tasty corn row. I swore right then and there to forever coat my corn-on-the-cob at home using this delicious recipe (see recipe below). The corn appetizer was followed by a terrific New York Sirloin with frites.
The next morning, I experienced Park Silly Sunday, a regular Sunday event showcasing the city’s artisans and artisan food, which takes place at the low end of Main Street.
Glamping in Garden City
Heading northeast toward Idaho, through Evanston, Wyoming, my final stop was Garden City, intriguingly known for its “famous” raspberry shakes. These local refreshers are in locations throughout Raspberry Square and made with thick, soft-serve ice-cream meant to be devoured by spoon.
I sampled a raspberry shake at Zipz, said to offer one of the best (vs. a gas station on the way out of town). I can report that I was able to eat only half of a small serving. While I indulged, a local explained to me that local raspberries once proliferated, but began to die out due to disease, so now the raspberry in the puree is “imported”.
Authentic to Garden City is the turquoise waters of Bear Lake. The lake’s premier beach is about a 20-minute drive from Conestoga Ranch; North Beach is actually over the Utah border in Idaho. The beach attracts rentals for kayak, stand-up paddle boards, jet-skis and motorboats, if only to settle in a spacious body of water whose color is reminiscent of the Caribbean. This is not an island, however; it is home to mountains and woods full of wildlife, including cranes, mountain lions, black bear, deer and elk. The best way to experience all that Garden City has to offer is to become one with nature, and I always prefer to do so in a luxurious style. Conestoga Ranch offers the ultimate in “glamping” – a term coined in 2005.
To be historically accurate, glamping began in Scotland during the reign of King James V, who decreed that lavish outdoor tents be pitched and decorated with palatial objects. And in nearby France, Francis I glamped surrounded by thousands of tents equipped with red wine fountains. And even earlier, Ottoman rulers insisted on military tents with ostentatious ornamentation.
Twenty-first century glamping can be enjoyed in many forms: yurts, pods and tree houses to name a few. Conestoga Ranch offers tents of various sizes and luxury levels, as well as stagecoach-shaped structures that can fit a double bed and two sets of bunk beds to sleep six.
My Grand Teton tent was perched high on a hill with a splendid view of Bear Lake and the mountains. As a luxury aficionado, my glamping experience provided a healthy mix of adventure and creature comforts, and the best sleep I’ve enjoyed in a long time. The cool night air, lack of LED light sources or television, coupled with a 10 p.m. curfew created a luxuriously detoxifying atmosphere.
With all the hiking, biking, swimming and relaxation available, you’re sure to work up an appetite. If only fine dining will do, the only place within a 100-mile radius of Garden City is on ranch property at Campfire Grill, where Chef Vince Liberato serves up locally-sourced beef and pork, the latter smoked from a whole pig. His pork chop with deep-fried Brussels sprouts is a must-try for dinner. The barbeque sauce is made from a rub with a secret ingredient, coriander, inspired by Vince’s South African wife.
Within just a few minutes of driving the curvy canyon roads between Garden City and the Salt Lake City airport, I’d already begun to miss my peaceful post on top of the hill at Conestoga Ranch, where wildflowers provided privacy and the vista of Bear Lake hypnotized. Each evening, as I roasted marshmallows over a fire-pit and watched the burst of pastel sky as the sun set over my glamp-site, I knew this would be a travel memory I’ll long treasure.