Salt Lake City has quickly become one of the top destinations for travelers looking for a budget-friendly vacation. And for good reason.
Salt Lake City is nothing short of an outdoor lover’s dream. Utah’s capital city is surrounded by the snow-capped Wasatch mountain range and, thanks to its world-class ski resorts, even hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics.
There’s also tremendous history in Salt Lake City. It’s the home of the Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is the epicenter of the Mormon faith. Every year, travelers come from all over the world to admire the beauty of the historic Salt Lake Temple.
While travelers are more than happy to embrace the nature and history here, there’s still so much more to Salt Lake City. In addition to its unrivaled natural beauty and important place in American history, this city offers visitors an eclectic mix of arts, dining, and culture that rivals larger cities – often at a fraction of the cost.
And that’s precisely what makes it one of America’s best places for an affordable vacation. Even with so much to offer visitors, Salt Lake City still remains a fairly cheap place to travel.
With this in mind, we knew Salt Lake City would be a great addition to our budget travel guide series. Read on to learn our top picks for visiting Salt Lake City on a budget.
Free and cheap things to do in Salt Lake City
Similar to Denver, most travelers come to Salt Lake City to enjoy the great outdoors. The city is surrounded by a seemingly endless amount of hiking trails, lakes, and mountain ranges. Fortunately, getting outside (usually) doesn’t have to cost you a dime.
Here are some of our favorite outdoor spots in Salt Lake City.
It’s only fitting that a trip to Utah’s capital would include a visit to the largest saltwater lake in the Western hemisphere. The Great Salt Lake is a popular spot for locals to enjoy everything from hiking and bird watching to swimming and sailing. You can reach the lake by heading to either Antelope Island State Park or Great Salt Lake State Park. Antelope Island is the better jumping-off point for those who hope to see wildlife such as bison, bobcats, deer, and coyotes. Be sure to bring cash, as there is a $10 admission fee per car at Antelope Island State Park.
2. Liberty Park
Thanks to Salt Lake City’s oldest and most famous park, city dwellers don’t need to travel far to enjoy the great outdoors. Located in Central City, Liberty Park’s 80 acres contain something for everyone, including running paths, horseshoe pits, playgrounds, basketball and tennis courts, BBQ grills, and paddleboats for rent. Liberty Park is also home to America’s oldest aviary, the Tracy Aviary, where visitors can see and learn about over 130 species of birds.
3. Ensign Peak
For breathtaking views of Salt Lake City, head to the Capitol Hill neighborhood and take a trek up to Ensign peak. This quick hike is steep at times but overall quite easy. Bring some snacks and water to take in the view from where the Mormon pioneers once surveyed the city. In fact, an 18 ft tall monument now stands at the summit to commemorate the original pioneers.
Situated just 12 miles outside of Salt Lake City, this canyon in the Wasatch Mountain Range is probably most famous for its two world-famous ski resorts, Brighton and Solitude. However, Big Cottonwood Canyon also offers some of Utah’s best options for hiking, rock climbing, fishing, and so much more.
If you’re in full vacation mode, take it easy with a leisurely stroll around serene Silver Lake. The trail is located near Brighton ski resort and is suitable for all ages and skill levels, as most of the trail runs along a boardwalk around the lake.
For a longer, more challenging hike, Dog Lake is a popular out-and-back hiking trail that takes you through an alpine forest hike out to a small lake.
Tour historic Temple Square
Temple Square is one of Utah’s most popular tourist attractions and, thanks to free tours of its 10-acre complex, is an absolute must-do for budget travelers. Visitors will learn the rich history of the square that has served as headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since their arrival in 1847, including why it took 40 years to build the magnificent Salt Lake Temple.
Temple Square attracts both Salt Lake City locals and visitors year-round thanks to the spring and summer blossoming flower gardens and mesmerizing light display during the holiday season.
Attend a free rehearsal at the Salt Lake Tabernacle
Located within Temple Square, the Salt Lake Tabernacle is the home of the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir. This massive dome-shaped auditorium was built in 1867 and originally served as a place for LDS church members to hear the spoken word. To truly experience the building’s phenomenal acoustics and massive 1,623 pipe organ, visitors are welcome to attend free choir rehearsals, organ recitals, and the weekly Music and the Spoken Word program.
Admission to the Salt Lake Tabernacle is free. Organ recitals are held daily, while choir rehearsals and Music and the Spoken Word programs occur weekly. Be sure to check the Tabernacle website for the events schedule.
Take a tour of the Utah State Capitol Building
At the Utah State Capitol building, travelers on a budget can tour the building and its grounds free of charge. While guided tours are offered, visitors can opt for the self-guided tour option by grabbing a brochure from the visitor’s center, located just inside the East doors of the Capitol on the 1st floor.
After hearing legislators debate bills and admiring the beautiful artwork inside the capitol, take some time to enjoy the grounds outside as well. In addition to well-manicured lawns and gardens, the grounds also feature several monuments and memorials, such as the Vietnam War memorial and the Mormon Batallion monument.
Visit a military museum (or two)
If you’re a budget traveler with interest in the military, Salt Lake City’s got options for you.
The Fort Douglas Military Museum is located in the University/Foothill neighborhood, essentially right on the University of Utah’s campus. The fort was established in 1862 during the American Civil War and now serves as a military history museum. The museum houses items and relics such as tanks, transports, artillery, helicopters, and uniforms from various periods of military history. While the museum is completely free to visit, donations are always welcome and appreciated.
Part of the United States Air Force Heritage Program, the Hill Aerospace Museum is a Military aircraft museum with more than 90 military aircraft, missiles, and aerospace vehicles. The museum’s extensive collection and knowledgable staff have made it massively popular with both aircraft and military enthusiasts alike. Visitors can get close enough to touch the aircrafts (though they shouldn’t) and, depending on the time of their visit, are sometimes able to step inside of one. Admission to Hill Aerospace Museum is completely free, but donations are gratefully accepted.
Whether you’re a fan of Kindig It Design’s popular television show on MotorTrend or just a lover of all things custom cars, you’ll want to check out Kingdig It’s showroom tour. On this 45 minute tour, car lovers can visit the showroom and see a working custom car shop in action. Depending on their filming schedule, tours are given on Fridays and cost a very budget friendly $5.
Wander through the Gilgal Sculpture Garden
If you’re visiting Downtown Salt Lake City on a budget, stop and pay a visit to the unique Gilgal Sculpture Garden. If you can find it, that is.
This quirky sculpture garden is described as being off the beaten path because so many people visit it accidentally, as it’s hidden in the center of the block behind houses and businesses. Once you’ve successfully located the garden, walk amongst the park’s 12 sculptures and 70 stones all engraved with Mormon scriptures, poems, and philosophical texts. Entrance to the garden is free.
Shop for souvenirs at the Downtown Farmer’s Market
If you’re looking to take off your tourist hat (or money belt) for a while, do as the locals do and visit Salt Lake City’s Downtown Farmer’s Market. The market has been held at Pioneer Park since 1992 and is packed with so much more than Utah’s best organic produce. Market-goers can grab a cheap bite to eat from a local food truck as they hunt for deals on everything from art and souvenirs to homemade jams and luxury bath bombs.
Shoppers can enjoy the market year-round, as it moves into the famous Rio Grande building. Be sure to check the Downtown Farmer’s Market schedule to see when and where you can visit.
Where to stay in Salt Lake City
This charming bed and breakfast is a little bit further out – about a 20-minute drive from Temple Square – making it perfect travelers who prefer a quieter accommodation. Though the hot tub, cabin aesthetic, and homemade breakfast are all crowd favorites, guests of Engen Hus are most fond of their accommodating and hospitable hosts.
In addition to the clean rooms and convenient downtown location, budget travelers will be glad to know that the Hampton Inn offers free breakfast. After a long day of exploring Salt Lake City’s best hiking trails, guests can kick back and unwind at the hotel’s indoor pool and hot tub.
The Crystal Inn is a great option for travelers who want to enjoy the comforts of a big chain hotel without decimating their travel budget. The hotel offers clean, spacious rooms and a free hot breakfast buffet. And thanks to the free airport shuttle, you can skip the Uber and save a few bucks.
How to find cheap flights to Salt Lake City
Recently, Dollar Flight Club members have saved between 60-90% on cheap flights to Salt Lake City. On average, our members spent $117 on airline tickets to Salt Lake City and saved $159 per ticket.
Here are a few samples of cheap flight deals to Salt Lake City that Dollar Flight Club members have received recently.
- Denver (DEN) to Salt Lake City (SLC)
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- San Diego (SAN) to Salt Lake City (SAN)
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- New York City (JFK) to Salt Lake City (SLC)
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- Los Angeles (LAX) to Salt Lake City (SLC)
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- Austin (AUS) to Salt Lake City (SLC)
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Best places to find cheap eats in Salt Lake City
If you had any doubts that Ruth’s Diner is a historic institution in Salt Lake City, they’re sure to be erased once you’re shown to your table in an old school trolley car. The only things people love here more than the scenic views are Ruth's Famous Mile High Biscuits and Country Gravy.
If you thought Salt Lake City’s food scene was all American diners and deli’s, think again. Though customers love the entire Southeast Asian inspired menu, Oh Mai Sandwich Kitchen is most famous in the city for its savory banh mi sandwiches. How famous? Even Guy Fieri visited while filming Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives just so he could try the delicious garlic rib-eye banh mi for himself.
Moochie’s serves authentic East-Coast-style sandwiches, so travelers from New York City and Philadelphia should feel right at home here. Their meatball sub received the Guy Fieri seal of approval when they were featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, but it’s their Philly cheesesteak that has developed a cult following among locals.
Sure, you should almost always expect a wait at Red Iguana. But you’ll probably never find someone who says it isn’t worth it. Widely considered to be Salt Lake City’s best Mexican food, the restaurant is most famous for serving 7 different kinds of mouthwatering mole. Have no fear if you’re the indecisive type, though. Just order the mole sampler.
Get ready to see more of Salt Lake City while spending less
If you’re looking to plan a trip to a place with culture, natural beauty, a multicultural food scene, and rich history, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better spot than Salt Lake City. So whether you’re on your way to hit the slopes at Brighton or want to finally cross the Bonneville Salt Flats off your bucket list, now is the time to sign up to receive free instant cheap flight alerts and plan your Salt Lake City vacation.
BY: ZACH ANDERSON, CONTENT MARKETING & FLIGHT EXPERT
Zach is a digital marketer, copywriter, and flight deal expert at Dollar Flight Club where he helps 1 million people travel more. As a digital nomad, he is deeply passionate about location independence, Thai food, and helping others see the world affordably.