UTAH LUXURY: 7 HIGH-END TRAVEL EXPERIENCES YOU WON’T BELIEVE
1. Hiding out at Amangiri in Canyon Point
Like a water-filled uber-minimalist mirage, Amangiri blends right in with its desert surroundings near the Arizona-Utah border. Hidden among ancient mesas and rock formations, the 600-acre property is so secluded and so focused on relaxation that you don’t have much of a choice but to sit back and allow yourself to slip into a state of near-constant meditation.
Each room at Amangiri has its own private courtyard entry, furnishings that elicit overuse of the word “zen,” and massive glass doors that open onto an outdoor living space with resting mattresses, a fireplace, and a human-free view of the surrounding wilderness. The grounds have several marked trails for hiking, plus a few naturalists and archaeology/geology experts on hand to help you understand what you’re looking at as you go. Multiple guided via ferrata routes access summit views that aren’t available to hikers, as long as you’re willing to strap on a harness and clip and navigate a series of fixed cables, rungs, and pegs sticking straight out of the cliffs.
After your excursions, the Aman Spa, a 25,000-square-foot luxury relaxation zone, will lower your heart rate back to normal. If the deep-tissue massages and plunge pools don’t do the trick, get in their Floatation Therapy Pavilion for a dose of sensory deprivation.
2. Getting wined and dined on the Colorado River
There’s only one thing that improves a day of rafting the Colorado, staring up at Canyonlands National Park’s huge red canyon walls, and detouring to hike to nearby Native American ruins, hidden beaches, and less accessible canyons: knowing you won’t be pitching your own tent that night. Starting with a leisurely introduction to the Colorado River on Day 1, Sheri Griffith River Expeditions‘ luxury river tour of Cataract Canyon kicks off for the most indulgent river-rafting tour ever. While you’re exploring the alien-like rock formations and grabbing a drink on the sand, the tour’s staff is handling the transformation of your river camp into a river resort.
Get used to it. Every night for the next several will include a baffling moment when you’ll stare at your dinner plate wondering how the river chef prepared this meal while, you know, actually being on a river. Then, a second moment of confusion when you’re presented with wine pairings, which you’ll consume by candlelight while sitting at an actual table. Seriously, is this camping? Lunches are similarly gourmet, as are hors d’oeuvres, freshly baked desserts, and every morning’s hot breakfast — ever had Eggs Benedict on a river trip?
After dark, you can chat up the on-staff area expert to learn more about your surroundings or just tuck in early in the sleeping quarters that have already been set up for you when you weren’t looking — complete with actual bedding, bedside tables, and night lights. (It’ll magically disappear in the mornings, too.) During the days, you’ll be guided via river by Utah’s famous arches and canyon ridges, including Dead Horse Point, Airport Tower, Lockhart Canyon, and Lathrup Canyon. After being tossed around by whitewater rapids in Cataract Canyon, the tour reaches Lake Powell, from where you’ll be flown back to Moab on a scenic flight over the White Rim, Henry Mountains, and other Colorado Plateau features.
3. Eating for 3 hours straight at Forage in Salt Lake City
Squash the autonomous little menu-orderer inside you for just one night and let Chef Bowman Brown at Salt Lake City’s Forage take over. From the moment you accidentally walk past the restaurant twice because it just looks like a cute little house in a residential neighborhood, you’ve relinquished the controls. Once in the door, the experience begins.
Dinner at Forage typically involves somewhere between 14 and 16 courses. Unless you’ve called ahead to notify the kitchen of your gluten allergy or any other food intolerance, you get what you get and you’ll smile and like it. No, seriously, you’ll like it — Chef Brown prides himself on sourcing local seasonal ingredients, many of them wild-harvested in the area or attained from friendly neighbors and nearby farms, all of them presented masterfully to highlight their natural states.
The menu at Forage changes daily, but (depending on season) expect highlights like local dandelions with honey, a bunch of vegetables you’ll spend a solid four minutes trying to pronounce, house-churned butter with your homemade bread, fennel croquette, soft scrambled egg with white truffle, elk heart tartare, some edible flowers produced by a neighbor up the street…the food, it just keeps on coming, along with detailed explanations for every bite. At the end of your meal, when you’re sent off with your little souvenir baggie of house-made granola, you’ll burp and wonder if what you just witnessed was a meal or performance art.
Tasting menus are $89 per person, plus an extra $65 for full wine pairings ($35 for half the wine).
4. Skiing Deer Valley with an Olympic medalist
Just skiing at Utah’s Deer Valley is pretty luxurious in itself. Consider the fact that, with the exception of dangling them from your feet on a chairlift, you won’t be spending much time carrying your skis. From the second you pull up to the property, one of Deer Valley’s curbside ski valets meets you to relieve you of your gear. Then there are the attendants who preemptively brush snow and ice from your chairlift benches before you sit down, the ever-present staff members directing you exactly where you want to go, and of course the lift-line Kleenex stations. Everything at Deer Valley, from the on-site artisan cheese-maker to the wood-paneled bathrooms, is designed to make you feel like a Very Big Deal.
But you can still take it up a notch by parking your bags at the St. Regis Deer Valley overnight. Here, another famous set of people-pleasers — the St. Regis butlers and concierges — will follow up on your every demand, any time of day or night. Even when it involves delivering an Olympic medalist to the slopes to take you out on an excursion.
That’s right — St. Regis Deer Valley’s Ski Ambassador, Olympian medalist Shannon Bahrke, will treat you to a day on the slopes, where you can pretend to also have what it takes to medal in the Olympics…twice. After $2,400 worth of her trying to make you a better skier and showing you around her favorite Deer Valley spots, it’s back to the patio at the St. Regis for a good ol’ champagne sabering ceremony.
5. Going all out at Sundance
The Sundance Film Festival — one of the biggest and most influential independent film fests on the face of the planet — takes place in Park City, Utah. Two hundred films are screened here each winter, many of which will later go on to give you tons of indie street cred when you casually remark that you attended a Q&A with the director and cast back at Sundance years ago — you know, before the Oscar.
But where to stay? In the middle of Historic Park City, the Washington School House is the pinnacle of uber-luxury and centrally located to the best of Sundance, while also functioning as an elegant-but-not-overly-stuffy retreat from the scene when needed. After standing in two-hour lines in the Utah winter and negotiating your entry into celebrity-laden parties, retiring to the property’s private dining room and fireside lounge (open only to guests of the hotel’s 12 rooms) is like returning to the safety of the womb. Eat in peace thanks to the private chef, skip the late-night scramble to the nearest open convenience store thanks to the 24-hour concierge, and never, ever get out of bed again. Thanks, unspeakably magnificent Pratesi bedsheets.
And you can go one further with membership to the Sundance Patron Circle. For an incredibly generous donation to the Sundance Institute (if you skip the bonuses, it’s totally tax deductible!), you can make it rain with film screening tickets and credentials, attend private screenings and receptions with filmmakers, and get in hassle-free to the opening and closing ceremonies — a true ‘insider’ experience of this iconic cultural event.
6. Unplugging at Red Mountain Resort
Southern Utah’s Red Mountain Resort is all about relaxation, being in nature, and getting your wellness on. Its self-contained, remote location means you don’t have to plan anything. Their prepackaged excursions cover guides, transportation, and snacks for you — just like summer camp. Retreat packages include three healthy meals per day and a mix-and-match assortment of fitness classes, guided hikes and excursions, cooking demos, spa packages, and “personal discovery” experiences. There are over 50 fitness class options available each week, but ain’t nobody going to judge you if you spend your entire trip sitting in one of the many whirlpools or swimming pools, or if you just wander around the on-site labyrinth over and over again.
Excursions are varied enough that you can follow up a day of hardcore athleticism — mountain biking around Zion National Park or canyoneering — with a chill day checking out the local wild mustangs, getting a 1-on-1 photography lesson, or taking dogs from nearby Ivins City Animal Shelter out for a hike.
Their “Adventure Concierge” can also hook you up with a round of golf at the nearby Ledges Golf Course designed by Matt Dye. The course itself is surrounded by red sandstone mountains and lava rock, so your 18 holes can totally double for some time spent checking out Utah’s scenery, especially the epic view of Snow Canyon State Park from the back 9.
7. Yachting on Lake Powell
A huge amount of the land surrounding Lake Powell isn’t accessible by car; it’s the lake itself that serves as the road to many of the natural landmarks and features in the area. To reach Lake Powell’s most remote Martian-like canyons, you’ll need on-water transport.
A huge upgrade from the crowded houseboat your friends are all stuck on, an Axiom Star Lake Yacht is hands-down the most luxurious way to explore Lake Powell’s 1,960 miles of shoreline. The yacht rental from Bullfrog Marina includes a personal captain, so literally all you have to do is dictate where the boat should dock next, then sip champagne on the top deck while watching the red sandstone cliffs and arches pass by.
Each of these 65ft yachts have four staterooms (all fully loaded with a flat-screen and queen-size bed), two full-and-fancy bathrooms, a kitchen, a dining area, living room, a screened-in upper deck, big ol’ BBQ grill, a waterslide (seriously), and an 8-person hot tub so nobody feels left out.
Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas’ yacht package also includes a powerboat or a couple of jet skis so you can park the yacht and make a faster and more adrenaline-fueled escape into some of the lake’s narrower slot canyons. Check out West Canyon, where you’ll probably end up abandoning your watercraft to stand slack-jawed and teary-eyed looking at a ray of sunlight dropping into the canyon or a waterfall sliding into a hidden pool.