Fall In Park City, Utah + Things To Do In Park City That Aren’t Skiing
Tucked into the mountains just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah’s tiny Park City has long been famous for its powdery ski slopes and the star-packed annual film festival it hosts every January. But what about Park City in the fall??
As a non-skiier (and non-winter person), I submit that Park City in the fall is the way to go…you have plenty of outdoor activities, FAR fewer crowds, and breathtaking golden autumn leaves from the aspen forests surrounding the town.
Just a note before we dive in—this post contains affiliate links. I don’t work directly with any of these companies, but I may make a small affiliate commission from any sales that come through clicks from my links (which I greatly appreciate, and at NO EXTRA COST to you). It’s a great way to support this site if you find the content helpful. All opinions are, as always, COMPLETELY my own!
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Do I need a car in Park City?
Yes, I think a car is necessary for most trips here. Now, if you’re wanting to just stay in town and explore, the buses in Park City are free, electric, and very convenient (that includes if you’re staying in Deer Valley or downtown). So for skiiers that’s a great option.
But if you’re going to experience the gorgeous scenery and hiking that surrounds the town, a car is the only real way to do that. I flew into Salt Lake City and picked up my rental at the airport. I always search both DiscoverCars and RentalCars.com to compare rates and companies; in this particular case I ended up with Hertz.
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Where to stay in Park City, Utah
I’ll start by noting that I can’t speak to the best skiing accommodation options, which is a hole other thing. But if you’re visiting just to enjoy the area, there are a number of great options—though they won’t come cheap. The Park City area is awesome for renting condos, so I recommend checking out VRBO (Booking.com also has a good selection of apartments and condos).
For more traditional hotels and resorts, I’d looked at Washington School House Hotel, which looks absolutely charming! They didn’t have availability for the one night I needed before moving into my bigger condo for the week. For more of a splurge I considered the Montage (but for less than 24 hours it didn’t feel worth it). I’d look at the Pendry, which balances beauty and amenities with a more affordable price.
Since I was staying for nine days, I rented a pretty great condo but it was further out of town than I’d have liked (5-10 minutes’ drive)…however, it had a beautiful view over the lake that I couldn’t resist.
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I also stayed my first night at Black Rock Mountain Resort, since I couldn’t get into my condo til the next day. I loved the look of the main area, which was cozy and pretty (though whatever they used to clean it was harsh and chemical smelling, which killed my allergies).
The room was fine, it had two beds, a decent size fridge, microwave, and sink. This hotel is a bit further out too, like 5-10 minutes from downtown, but is pet-friendly and has its own coffee shop and bar/restaurant so can be a more affordable option and especially key if you’re traveling with pets. For me it was just an affordable option for one quick night.
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A few general tips
Before we dive into what to do in Park City, just a few random notes from my nine-day stay. First, always remember that there are no alcohol sales on Sundays or holidays in Utah. And the hours for liquor stores can be kind of weird. So make sure you plan ahead!
I talk about this more in my foodie’s guide to Park City, but you definitely need a reservation for dinner at most places! Many places will also have a wait for brunch or lunch as well…and remember, we were here during the early fall which is offseason. In fact, many nicer restaurants shut down for about a month mid-October.
Also, I’ve never run into this anywhere else, but most nicer places I made reservations required a credit card and charged a $25-50 no-show fee—PER PERSON in some cases! So…be aware I guess. Insane.
Also, really random, but I tried ot find a nail salon open on a Sunday late morning/early afternoon and mostly struck out. So I ended upa at the spa at the Park City Hotel. My mani-pedi took 2 full hours (!!!), cost $135, and wasn’t very good at all. Do not recommend.
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Things to do in Park City
So…I have start this out by being honest. I wouldn’t have chosen to visit Park City myself (I was here for an eight-day holy day festival with my family). From my perspective there are not a ton of interesting things to do in Park City.
There’s a lot of hiking and then more touristy things like shopping and the Olympic Village (which I didn’t visit). Would I have planned a trip here myself?? No. But all that said, the gorgeous fall scenery and generally charming vibe are great reasons to visit Park City in the fall.
Explore Main Street
But let’s start with probably the biggest thing to do in Park City—explore the cute downtown area. Main Street has all sorts of independent (and some chain) shops, restaurants, coffee shops, and more, so it’s great to spend a few hours just popping in and out of them.
You’ll find everything from home decor to clothing boutiques to quirky gift shops, adorable bookstores (more on that later), and pricey art galleries. Some shops to check out include Root’d, Prospect, Gorsuch, and Park City Mercantile.
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As you walk around downtown, you can’t miss the quirky Egyptian Theatre, which was the original Sundance Film Festival location. Consider getting tickets to a show while you’re here…I would have loved to see the bluegrass band The Steeldrivers but the show days/times didn’t work for my schedule.
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I’m a sucker for local bookstores (well, ANY bookstore) and found two adorable ones in Park City. My favorite was Atticus Books (pics below), which also has a coffee shop with some baked goods inside it.
Dolly’s Bookstore was also really cute, and the kids liked it more. Both have not only books but also a variety of gift-type items and games.
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Sip on local craft spirits
Another “must” in Park City is to visit the High West Saloon, an outpost of the fairly well-known High West Distillery. The saloon is located right in downtown and has a great restaurant, delicious cocktails, and (I believe) you can do a tasting flight there. My pretzel and beer cheese appetizer and my burger and fries were both delicious, and I had two interesting cocktails as well!
I really wanted to get out to their actual distillery, which is about 30 minutes outside Park City. The location looks beautiful and the restaurant is supposed to be really good. You can take a tour of the distillery, do a tasting, and more. I do recommend booking tours ahead, as they fill up…I couldn’t find an opening that worked with my schedule.
I’m also really bummed I missed Alpine Distilling, a small local craft distillery that produces both gin and whiskey. They have a cool cocktail bar in downtown Park City that’s only open a few days a week, and I wasn’t able to get there but heard good things about it from friends.
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Take a scenic drive toward Mirror Lake
One of the recommendations locals will give is to do a scenic drive up to Mirror Lake. A lot of the drive was really pretty, but I’ll preface this by saying that I don’t understand the appeal of the lake itself?? There weren’t aspens up that high and like half the evergreens were dead.
That said, I thought the drive was really nice. The total travel time each way is 45-60 minutes, so it’s a 2-3 hour round trip, or a half day or more if you add in hiking. One warning: there’s basically zero cell signal for most of it so you’ll be out of range.
The town of Kamas is one of the last “civilization” stops on your way out, and is small but cute. I saw this little coffee truck on the right-hand side of the road and got a tasty iced latte for the trip.
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The drive will take you along the scenic Provo River and through the Uinta Mountains, and there are lots of spots to stop and enjoy the view. The aspens are one of the big draws when it comes to Park City in the fall, and they definitely make this drive much more spectacular.
There are a variety of hikes along the way and I had in my mind that I wanted to do some, but as is so often the case with me and hiking, I didn’t really have a concrete plan and so walked a few minutes and gave up before it got too late.
A few additional notes on the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway:
- You can return the way you came from Mirror Lake (what I did) or continue on over Bald Mountain Pass to Evanston, Wyoming, and then hit I-80W back to Park City.
- You do need a 3-Day National Forest Pass to park and use the facilities at Mirror Lake (and a few of the hiking spots I stopped at). I didn’t know this ahead of time and didn’t have one,
- The best time to drive it is late May to late October. Snow will start to close parts of the road at some point in the fall, and it’s closed in winter.
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Mirror Lake is…pretty enough I guess? It’s a lake?? You can see all the dead evergreens, I’m not sure what’s happened there but it definitely makes it less scenic once you leave the aspens behind (close to the lake, as you climb in altitude).
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Try out some other hikes near Park City
Hiking was definitely one of the things to in Park City that I was actually excited about, though I wasn’t looking for a long or difficult trail. I mostly wanted to get some exercise and enjoy the beautiful scenery—including the stunning fall aspens.
We tried to go to Bloods Lake Trail but there was no parking, so we drove to nearby Bonanza Flat Trail instead. There was barely any parking but we managed to snag a spot.
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Despite the full parking lot, the paths were nice and quiet, and we mostly had it to ourselves. There’s a network of various paths and trails here, and it’s a great option for families with small children or those with fitness issues as it was largely flat (NOT paved, though).
The aspens were just GORGEOUS!
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We also drove out to Bridal Veil Falls one afternoon, in Provo Canyon. It was about a 45-minute drive from Park City.
We were looking for the trail, but Google Maps took us to just the falls instead. We didn’t realize that at first so tried to hike the “trail” that goes up from the waterfall but it is crazy steep and not really a trail.
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The falls are right off the highway, and easy to explore if you stop for a few minutes. Since the falls hike didn’t pan out, we instead walked along the paved walkway that winds along the river and goes past the falls—I think we went to the right if you’re facing the falls?
It was a gorgeous fall day and it’s an easy walk, with lots of scenery to reward you.
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Sample the best of Park City’s food scene
I had several days to eat and drink my way through Park City, and it became my main hobby 🙂
I’ve written a separate deep-dive post on Park City’s food and drink—all the coffee shops, breakfast spots, lunch and dinner options, fancy splurge meals, and cocktail bars I tried, which I recommend checking out! It also includes tips about things like Sunday alcohol sales, restaurant reservations, and more.
So I’ll just mention a few standouts here. From a breakfast standpoint, Five5eeds had great coffee and breakfast (and lunch!), as did Bartolo (breakfast and lunch as well). I didn’t have any exceptional coffee but most of what I had was pretty good and Ritual Chocolate’s latte was probably the best.
For lunch (in addition to the two above), Nosh and Bangkok on Main were real winners, along with High West Saloon if you’re wanting great pub food.
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Honestly all the dinners out I had ranged from pretty great to awesome. Twisted Fern’s apps were a standaout and two special dinners out were Handle and Riverhorse on Main.
If you’re looking for a charming small mountain town with amazing fall foliage, Park City in the fall is definitely a good choice (and would also pair nicely with various Utah national parks).
I haven’t explored the northern and eastern Utah parks, but highly recommend the stunning Zion and Bryce Canyon! And the town of St. George makes a great base for visiting both parks as well as providing other amazing hiking options nearby.
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