Salt Lake City and Denver’s main draw are pretty much the same. They’re top-notch destinations for breathtaking natural wonders and endless outdoor excursions. But look a little closer and you’ll find that these two cities indulge you in many other ways.
Both celebrate art and all its forms, with murals, impressive museums, and galleries sprinkled across the city. They also have a diverse, multicultural culinary scene that caters to every palate. More than that, the fun doesn’t stop when the sun sets as these two cities have vibrant and laid-back nightlife.
With so much more going on in both, they still have a ton of hidden allures. So it’s time to get to know themmore belowto see which one best suits you.
Salt Lake City
No matter the season, Salt Lake City is a breathtaking and scenic playground. Flanked by the mountains, surrounded by lush greenery, and more, you’re never too far from nature here. But there’s more to this city than its stunning natural beauty and endless outdoor fun.
Salt Lake City is also an art and cultural hub, and the city celebrates this in many ways. It also has a vibrant nightlife and thriving food scene that continues to get better one plate at a time. And for many other reasons, you can never go wrong with a trip to Salt Lake City.
What Makes Salt Lake City Unique?
Countless Natural Wonders
Salt Lake City is a nature lover’s paradise as it’s dense with natural wonders. With its diverse landscape, there are tons of hidden gems to discover in the city.
Mountains, canyons, lakes, and more, are at your fingertips in Salt Lake City. And when it comes to natural wonders, Salt Lake City excels both in quantity and quality.
The city is named after the Great Salt Lake. This lake is the Western Hemisphere’s largest lake and ranks number eight as the world’s largest terminal lake. It’s also nicknamed “America’s Dead Sea” due to its resemblance to the Dead Sea.
Once you arrive at the lake, you’ll understand why it has this nickname. Surrounding the lake is a sprawling land of white due to the lake’s high salt content. Pockets of green around the area give the lake pops of color, making the sight even more picturesque.
The Great Salt Lake has a visitor center, marina, and observation deck for you to enjoy your trip. You also get beach access if you want to take a dip.
Other than the lake, Salt Lake City is also a gateway to several national parks. The city is an accessible base to five of the country’s most popular national parks, such as:
- Zion National Park
- Arches National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
- Capitol Reef National Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park
If you need a bit more exploration, these national parks aren’t your only choices. There are plenty more that surround the city if you’re willing to travel for a few hours.
You can still find a tranquil green pocket in Salt Lake City without venturing too far from the city center.
There’s the Red Butte Garden, a sprawling botanical arboretum. It features stunning themed gardens, hiking trails, natural areas, and more. This garden sits right at the foot of the valley so you’ll get views of the mountain ranges too.
A smaller park that’s right at the heart of the city is Liberty Park. It’s a popular spot for getting active as it has tons of recreational grounds. This includes cycling and walking paths, a swimming pool, and a basketball court.
An Outdoor Lover’s Playground
With Salt Lake City’s wealth of natural wonders, it’s a great base for a plethora of outdoor adventures. And while the other destinations are only worth visiting depending on the season, this doesn’t apply to Salt Lake City.
No matter what time of the year you visit, the outdoor fun doesn’t stop in the city. Instead, its outdoor activities change with the season!
The mountains nearby offer plenty of trails for hikers and mountain bikers. And with tons of options, you can always find one that suits your fitness level. Wasatch Mountains is a popular choice for this as it’s so close to the city. If you want an easier hike, make your way to Ensign Peak. But if you’re an expert who loves a good challenge, hiking near Lake Blanche is for you.
Hiking isn’t the only thing you can do in Salt Lake City during the summer. You can go rafting at Provo River, fishing at Weber River, golfing in any of the city’s full-service golf courses, and more! For the daredevil in you, you can even try paragliding at the Point of the Mountain.
If you still want to see the city’s incredible views, you can go to Big Cottonwood Canyon without getting out of your car. This canyon is a scenic natural landscape that hosts tons of outdoor activities. It’s also a must-visit for hikers, mountain bikers, rock climbers, and those who want to immerse themselves in nature.
Salt Lake City doesn’t slow down during the winter though. It’s the opposite as the city transforms into a thrilling skier’s paradise!
The city is home to many ski resorts to choose from. If you love snow sports, make your way to the quaint ski town of Park City. There are popular ski resorts within the area, such as the posh Deer Valley.
Go snowboarding, ice staking, tubing, and more! The best part about these ski resorts is that many of them offer spa services too. So you can cap off your fun-filled day with a soothing spa trip.
Utah’s Vibrant Art Capital
Salt Lake City has a deep appreciation for art in all its forms. It has long been a hub for passionate and creative minds who proudly share their work with the city. Whether it’s performance art, fine art, music, or anything else in between, Salt Lake City’s art scene is unmissable.
Sprinkled across the city is a plethora of art venues that show Salt Lake City’s love for art. Many of these venues celebrate the city’s art contributions through festivals. And these attract thousands of visitors to the city each year.
Right in downtown Salt Lake City lies the Utah Museum of Fine Art. It’s the perfect starting point for exploring the city’s artistic side.
The institution became famous for its artworks from renowned international and national artists. This includes several oil paintings by one of the greatest artists in history, Vincent van Gogh.
The museum continues to contribute to Salt Lake City’s art scene today. It showcases rotating exhibitions by artists from all around the world in its six gallery areas. And the best part about the museum is that it’s free and open to the public!
Other than the Utah Museum of Fine Art, there are other museums in the city that have free admissions. This includes the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art and the Urban Arts Gallery.
Museums in Salt Lake City focus on a vast range of topics other than art though. Exhibits that explore science and technology are everywhere in the city too.
Spend an educational afternoon at the Natural History Museum of Utah. Here’s where you can discover the state’s cultural and natural heritage, and even dinosaurs that are unique to Utah. The museum also doubles as an active research institution. So discoveries here keep you updated with new exhibits.
Tons of Historical Landmarks
Dotted across Salt Lake City are landmarks that tell many stories of the city’s history. Some stand as magnificent monuments that dominate the cityscape. While others offer a more interactive approach to your learning.
With the variety of historical landmarks in Salt Lake City, there are tons of ways to uncover its long history.
You can’t delve into Salt Lake City’s history without perusing its strong Mormon roots. The city’s pioneers were Mormons who came to the valley to seek freedom in the early 1800s. On the first day, they got to work and tilled the soil to grow their crops. From these humble beginnings, the city grew to become what it is today.
A strong symbol of the city’s Mormon influence is the Salt Lake Temple. This is the largest Mormon church in the world and it serves as the headquarters of the Mormons. Only faithful church members can enter, but you can wander through its South Visitors Center.
During the late 1800s, Salt Lake City had a big mining business. Nearby canyons got mined to harvest gold, silver, copper, and more. It was then that wealthy mine owners erected lavish mansions as their homes.
The Kearns Mansion is one of the magnificent structures built during this era. This incredibly detailed French châteauesque home was the fruit of the owners’ fortune from silver mining. It became the center of the state’s elites in the past, but it’s now the Historic Governor’s Mansion.
If you want a more immersive historic tour, make your way to the Wheeler Historic Farm. This farm has been operating since the 1850s. Today, it’s also a public agricultural museum and recreational spot.
This sprawling park gives you a taste of farm life. You’ll tour the historic garage, milking parlor, and farmstead. Cow milking demonstrations are also available here if this interests you.
Another fun thing to do here is to get a tour around the farm on a tractor-drawn wagon. If you want to relax instead, the farm also has a public garden that’s open daily from dawn to dusk. This spot also has a picnic area and playground that are free for use.
Endless Gastronomic Adventures
Salt Lake City is famous for its wealth of natural attractions and outdoor excursions. But the city’s gastronomic adventures are also part of its growing allure. Whether you’re craving a hearty meal for fuel or some booze to cap off your day, Salt Lake City spoils you with options.
Salt Lake City’s food scene is as diverse as it can get. You have hundreds of restaurants to choose from based on price point and ambiance. Not only that, the city offers plenty of international cuisines to cater to every palate or craving.
Italian, Greek, French, Mexican, and more, your tastebuds will get a tour of the world within the city. Of course, Salt Lake City also serves delectable American fare. Barbecued pork and charbroiled steaks are the stars of almost every menu here.
Gastronomic delights continue in the city even in the dark of the night. This time, you’ll uncover Salt Lake City’s exciting nightlife.
With a wide array of night spots in the city, you’re bound to find one that suits you best. Dance the night away in hip clubs or take in the lively atmosphere with a beer in hand in rowdy sports bars.
If you don’t have a favorite spot yet, make your way to the city’s Main Street. Lining this long street are the best live music bars, clubs, and bar restaurants in the city.
Denver is where the wilderness is only a hike away from the convenience of an urban city. With incredible mountains, lakes, and dense forests, Denver is outdoorsmen’s exciting playground. But nature is ever-present in the city too, along with many other allures that make Denver such an exciting destination.
With the mountains constantly looming over you, it’s easy to forget that Denver is more than its impressive park system. Denver holds so much more up its sleeve that excites art lovers, foodies, shopaholics, and more. With its eclectic mix of allures, Denver is a city that everyone will enjoy exploring.
What Makes Denver Unique?
An Incredibly Green Concrete Jungle
Denver may be the bustling capital of Colorado, but it’s one of the best-loved, greenest cities in the country too. The Mile High City is famous for its diverse and impressive natural beauty. Both within the city and surrounding it, nature is always within your reach here in Denver.
Nestled at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Denver has 14000 acres (5666 hectares) of mountainous parks for you to explore. But this is only one aspect of the city’s exceptional park system.
Denver also has over 250 urban parks across the city. This includes campgrounds, recreational parks, and verdant forests. Combine that with the city’s rocky plains, incredible rivers, and more, and Denver is such a picturesque city.
This is why avid outdoorsmen from across the country, and even the world, make Denver their playground. But photographers, nature lovers, and even sightseers will find tons to marvel at in the city.
The mountains always seem like they’re calling you in Denver as you can always see them from the city. But just an hour away from the city center is the Denver Mountain Parks. This sprawling park offers a wealth of outdoor activities and is home to some famous sites in the city too.
But you don’t have to venture too far off from the city to immerse yourself in nature.
If you need a change of pace right within the city, Skyline Park and Civic Center Park are within the downtown area. Denver even has its own version at the east of the center, the City Park. But if getting active is your idea of unwinding, you can go ahead and kayak at Confluence Park.
A Multifaceted Art Scene
With so many natural wonders in Denver, it may not be as tempting to stay indoors on your trip to the city. But Denver is a city full of creative minds, with a vibrant and eclectic art scene that doesn’t fail to both impress and surprise. The city has plenty of museums and art galleries of all kinds for you to get a taste of its artsy side.
The Mile High City’s art scene is as diverse as it gets as well. Some museums are the best of both worlds, both fun and educational. Others are more intimate, quiet, and packed with contemplative art.
So not only does Denver’s art scene cater to everyone, but there are also plenty of ways to explore it.
The top landmark museum in the city is the Denver Art Museum. It’s the city’s largest one and has over 70,000 artworks in 10 permanent exhibits for you to discover. This museum has a range of attractions, from paintings to interactive art, so there are tons of ways for you to explore it.
Denver Art Museum’s collections come from various time periods and countries worldwide. So while it’s best known for Native American Art, you’ll also get to see European, Asian, and other artworks from around the world.
A more unique art exhibit is the Meow Wolf, which offers a more psychedelic art experience. This museum houses the work of hundreds of local artists. And these creative minds combine all forms of art within the colorful exhibit.
From sculptures, music, painting, and more, Meow Wolf is a surreal experience that will inspire your own creativity too.
While there are tons more museums and art galleries for you to discover in Denver, art lives in its streets too. Denver is full of colorful and impressive murals across various districts. So the city’s much like an open-air museum too!
Neighborhoods With Distinct Charms
Denver is a city so full of character, and a lot is going on in the city. It’s filled to the brim with diversity, creativity, and culture. And each block offers a distinct vibe that never fails to surprise those who explore the city on foot.
Thanks to Denver’s unique neighborhoods, you’ll always find a spot that suits the atmosphere you love. Some neighborhoods feature old-town architecture that many love. While others take pride in their modernity and colorful urban charm.
Denver is home to over 70 neighborhoods, so you’ll have endless explorations to do. But if don’t have time to explore each of these, here are the top neighborhoods in the city:
Washington Park is the marriage of suburban tranquility and city convenience. It offers the classic charm of the city, featuring old bungalows and American foursquare homes. With lakes, picnic spots, and hiking trails, it’s the more family-friendly spot in the city.
Lower Highlands is among the most visually appealing neighborhoods in the city. It’s brimming with Victoria-era buildings and well-manicured parks.
Cherry Creek is the glitzy and glamorous neighborhood of Denver. Everything here is upscale, from the shops, and restaurants, to the houses. If you have a hankering for the finer things in life, this is the spot for you.
RiNo, or the River North Art District, is unofficially the art capital of the city. Full of creativity, there are tons of street art, studios, and galleries sprinkled across the area. RiNo also loves to host music venues, breweries, and trendy eateries in historic buildings.
Exciting Food Culture and Nightlife
Denver is not only a paradise for outdoorsmen and nature lovers but also hungry foodies. Denver is home to award-winning chefs and amazing restaurants that opened their doors and grew right in the city. With a diverse and thriving food scene, you don’t have to look far and wide to get some good food in Denver.
The city’s vibrant food scene appeals to everyone. Denver has proud farm-to-table bistros to Michelin-star restaurants. There are also tons of classic steakhouses along with restaurants that feature cuisine from all around the world.
If you want a fix of upscale dining, head over to Cherry Creek North. Abrusci Pizza Company is popular for its delectable wood-fired pizzas. While Ella’s American Fare serves classic American dishes and is well-loved for its unique cocktails.
Meanwhile, the Golden Triangle is the place to be for some affordable yet tasty eats. You’ll find diverse international cuisine here. The well-known ones are Vieng Thai Basil and Santa Fe Bar & Grill.
But if you want to dine at the best restaurants in the city, make your way to the Highlands. Among the well-known restaurants here, the Sushi Den is an unmissable stop for foodies. One of the best craft beer spots in the city is also in the area, so head over to Drake’s Brewing Company.
The Denver Tech Center is home to a wide array of choices for every palate. Mexican and Korean restaurants are aplenty here. But you’ll also find popular food chains here like Chipotle!
Countless Things to Do
While you can spend most of your trip immersing yourself in nature, there’s a lot of action within the city of Denver too. There are so many ways to enjoy all that Denver has to offer no matter what your interests are. Shopaholics, history buffs, sports fans, and everyone in between, will have a blast in the city.
Peel back the layers of the city’s history and learn more about Western history. Denver is home to many landmarks that take you through the city’s eventful past.
At the History Colorado Center, you’ll have an immersive experience with hands-on exhibits. And if you want to learn about the city’s culinary history, make your way to the Buckhorn Exchange. Operating since 1863 this is the city’s original steakhouse, where you can try several delicacies like alligator tail.
If retail therapy is your idea of a good time, Denver has tons of trendy marketplaces and shopping districts. This includes LoDo, which is home to a plethora of boutiques.
But you’ll find the best shopping experience in Denver in the Cherry Creek area. This spot indulges the fashionista in you with countless upscale stores.
If you love sports, so does Denver, especially if it’s baseball. Make your way to the Coors Field and watch the Colorado Rockies in action! You can also marvel at the view of the Rocky Mountains as you watch the game.
Another major draw of Denver is its booming weed tourism. Marijuana is legal in the state, and this has allured tourists from all around the country to flock to Denver.
Dispensaries are everywhere here. And with a wide range of ways to consume this, there’s something for everyone here.
Is Salt Lake City Better Than Denver?
As both cities are similar, you can’t go wrong with either of the two. The decision boils down to what kind the atmosphere you want on your trip.
Salt Lake City packs a ton of adventure and is quite diverse, but it’s a quieter and more relaxed city. It’s not as busy as Denver, so choose this city if you want a more tranquil trip.
If you want a more lively trip, choose Denver instead. It’s a bustling and vibrant city. And because it’s busier, you’ll find no shortage of things to see and do here.
Salt Lake City vs. Denver Weather
Although they have similar weather, Salt Lake City is a warmer destination. The temperature in Salt Lake City is around 23 to 93 F (-5 to 33.8 C). Denver’s temperature is around 22 to 89 F (-5.6 to 31.7 C).
Summers are dry and hot yet clear in Salt Lake City. The hot months here are from June to September. The average daily high during these months is above 81 F (27.2 C).
The hottest month in Salt Lake City is in July.
Winters in Salt Lake City are quite cold and snowy. Its cold months run from November to February with an average high below 47 F (8.3 C).
The coldest month in Salt Lake City is in January.
Denver has hot summers that last from June to September. Average daily highs in the city are above 80 F (26.7 C).
The hottest month in Denver is in July.
Winter in Denver is also quite cold and snowy that lasts from November to March. The average daily high is around 53 F (11.7 C).
The coldest month in Denver is in December.
Denver vs. Salt Lake City Air Quality
According to IQAir’s data, Salt Lake City has better air quality than Denver. It has a US AQI of 47. Meanwhile, Denver’s US AQI is at 38.
Seasonal fluctuations have a big impact on both cities’ air quality. This is especially true during their winter months due to temperature inversions.
Under normal temperatures, warm air is near the ground and cool air rises into the atmosphere. But during inversion, the air on the ground is cooler than the air above. This prevents cool air from going up and dispersing, trapping polluted air on the ground level.
How Far Is Denver From Salt Lake City?
The straight line distance from Denver to Salt Lake City is around 371 miles (597 km). But if you wish to travel between the two by land, you’ll cover a longer distance due to road curvature. The driving distance between the two cities is around 519 miles (851 km).
Salt Lake City Elevation vs. Denver
Both cities have a very high elevation, but Denver is higher than Salt Lake City. Denver’s elevation is around 5279 feet (1609 meters). Meanwhile, Salt Lake City’s elevation is around 4226 feet (1288 meters).
Denver to Salt Lake City by Train
Usually, there is only one train that travels from Denver to Salt Lake City per day. With this, you have to catch the 8:00 AM train for this journey.
This trip covers a distance of 371 miles (597 km). The fastest trains take around 15 hours to complete this trip.
Given the long distance of this route, train tickets can be quite pricey. The average train ticket price from Denver to Salt Lake City is around 120 USD. Though you can score cheaper tickets if you book your trip at least 29 days in advance.
Wednesday is the busiest day to travel on this route. So you can expect to pay for a pricier ticket on Wednesday than any other day of the week. Not only that, the train is more crowded too.
If you can, Saturday is the best day to travel from Denver to Salt Lake City. Not only will you have more room for yourself on your trip, but it’s also more likely that you’ll find great deals.
Scenic Train From Denver to Salt Lake City
What makes the train ride from Denver to Salt Lake City so delightful is the amazing views throughout your trip. You’ll go through magnificent mountain landscapes, verdant green lands, and more.
Earlier on your trip, you’ll get breathtaking views from the left side of the train. But the best, picture-perfect views are from the right. Especially once you go through Glenwood Canyon.
Denver to Salt Lake City Drive
Driving from Denver to Salt Lake City offers you spectacular views throughout your journey. The best part of this option is that you have total freedom in making stops wherever you want. And you have a few routes to choose from on this trip depending on what you want to see.
But the biggest factor you should consider on your trip is the seasonal weather conditions. Driving from Denver is not recommended between October to early April. Sometimes even during the warmer months.
This is due to the strong winds whipping at full force. Winds can top as strong as 60 to 80 mph (97 to 129 kph). With this, it’s not uncommon for long parts of the I-80 to close down.
Another thing to consider is the eight-hour-long drive. While this is doable, you’ll go through plenty of hotels or lodges on your way to Salt Lake City.
Other services, such as restaurants and gas stations, are also easily found on your trip. Though they are quite spread out, so keep an eye on your gas during your trip.
Driving Distance From Denver to Salt Lake City
The driving distance from Denver to Salt Lake City depends on the route you take. You have three routes to choose from on this trip, though they have little difference in travel time or distance.
The shortest route is via US-40, with a distance of 490 miles (789 km). The estimated travel time on this route is around 8 hours and 30 minutes. You’ll go through interesting spots as you pass through this route too.
The fastest route is via I-80, and this route has a distance of around 520 miles (837 km). If you choose this route, your trip will only take around 7 hours and 45 minutes.
A route that’s popular for its scenery is the I-70. This route has a distance of around 525 miles (845 km). And it takes about 8 hours to reach Salt Lake City on this route.
Driving From Denver to Salt Lake City in Winter
Heavy snow is always a concern when driving from Denver to Salt Lake City during winter. All routes on this trip have pros and cons that you should consider.
Driving via the I-80 is the fastest option. But this route is notorious for its strong winds in the Wyoming area. This blows snow, along with other concerns such as high winds, blizzards, and whiteouts.
You may have trouble with road closures between Laramie and Evanston on this trip. Problems due to winter conditions can also arise between Evanston and Salt Lake City.
If you choose to go through I-70, you’ll have a ton more mountain driving to do. This involves the area between Denver and Glenwood Springs. Passing through Vail can be a problem too as it’s likely to have road closures.
But once you’re past Glenwood Springs, you’ll be driving through flatter terrain.
Plenty of locals and tourists alike drive from Denver to Colorado during winter. Just make sure to keep track of the weather and road conditions before your trip.
Make sure your schedule is flexible too, and prepare yourself for any travel delays in case of a winter storm. Pack survival blankets, warm clothes, and more.
Salt Lake City to Denver – I70 vs. I80
The I-70 and I-80 are popular routes from Salt Lake City to Denver. The route that’s better to take will depend on your priorities on your journey.
The I-80 route is 5 miles (8 km) shorter than I-70. It’s also the fastest route, with a travel time of around 7 hours and 45 minutes.
So if getting to Denver right away is your priority, take the I-80 route.
If you have time, take the scenic route of I-70 instead. This route offers breathtaking views throughout your drive. To top it off, there are also tons of popular stops along the way here!
You’ll get views of forests and waterfalls, and climb the Rocky Mountains on this route! It only gets better when you catch the sunset on this route too.
On this route, you can stop by Aparraho and the Roosevelt National Forest. You’ll also pass by the famous small town of Vail. Soon after, you’ll reach the White River National Forest.
You’ll also pass by the stunning Hanging Lake before you reach Glenwood Springs. Once you descend, you’ll go through the lush vineyards of the Palisade. You’ll traverse the beautiful Green River soon after that.
Best Route From Denver to Salt Lake City
The best route from Denver to Salt Lake City is the most scenic one, the I-70. You’ll go through marvelous natural sceneries on this route throughout the way. And although it’s not the fastest, it’s also not the slowest route.
The fastest route is via the I-80, which has an estimated travel time of around 7 hours and 45 minutes. But the driving time on the I-70 is only 15 minutes more, at around 8 hours. With this, you’re sacrificing little in the speed of travel. But you’ll have plenty of stunning views to marvel at, along with other famous stops along the 1-70.