Heber Valley Utah Offers More Than Spectacular Views

Neatly tucked between the Wasatch and Uinta mountain ranges lives “Utah’s Switzerland,” a magical land peppered with European-style villas, jutting white mountaintops and cheese (yes, cheese.)

Heber Valley Cheese, photo by Susan Tucker
Heber Valley Artisan Cheese, Photo by Susan Tucker

As I soon learned, this Swiss-settled community is a mecca of outdoorsy, thrill-seeking, gastronomically satisfying, mountain-peek viewing delightfulness: from skiing in nearby Park City (think 2002 Winter Olympics) to the thriving agricultural community, from charming Main Streets to a scuba-divable volcano crater. Heber Valley is awesome! (Did I mention the cheese?)

Where to stay

The Zermatt Resort is a European style hotel and spa and the perfect spot to enjoy a couple of kid-free days. Regal and welcoming, it is a bit like getting a warm hug from a big fluffy Swiss bear. Every detail of the lobby is lavishly European, from the over-sized fireplace to the wrought iron chandelier to the tall-white-sock and knicker-clad doormen.

Photo provided by Zermatt Resort & Spa

Really, I could have come to Heber Valley and done nothing but hangout on the Zermatt’s property …. and, by “hangout” I mean I could ride the carousel all day and sit in the hot tub all night. Yet, not only is there a ton of onsite activities like golf (Home of 2012 UGA Senior Amateur Championship), tennis, yoga, and putt-putt, there is also three on-site restaurants. And, for a bonus round…The Zermatt is homebase to week-or-multi-week-long National Institute of Health and Fitness (NIHF) programs (think Biggest Loser, but with much less yelling.)

The Homestead Resort, sister property to The Zermatt and steam-distance to the Homestead Crater (more on that below), is right across the street from the Zermatt. Tree-filled, historical and cozy, I made a mental note to check it out with the family next time (oh, yes, there will be a next time!)

Homestead Resort
Photo provided by Homestead Resort

What to do

So many things to do! I wish I had more than a couple of days to explore.

Here is my not-to-miss list:

Tour a 4th-generation dairy farm and cheese-ery, Heber Valley Artisan Cheese. After a quick rundown on the production of cheese (did you know it takes 10 pounds of milk to produce one pound of cheese?) and a chilly 12.5 minutes in a 35 degree cooler drooling over handcrafted experiments such as Oreo cookie, jalapeno and rosemary flavored cheeses, you will (finally!) be able to taste the cheese.

Heber Valley Artisan Cheese, photos by Susan Tucker
Grant Kohler is passionate about cheese. Photos by Susan Tucker

Those must be some happy cows living in that Wasatch Back mountain range and it’s clear the technique of four generations of cheese makers (originating from Switzerland) have perfected the art of artisan cheese flavors. The varieties I tried were creamy, complex, melt-in-your-mouth, and buttery chunks of love. (I will be ordering gift boxes online for the holidays, you can count on that!)

Ride the Heber Valley Railroad through the valley along the Provo River. Mountains, rivers, lakes, old farmhouses… fly-fishermen, boaters, climbers…. this historical train showcases some of the best this great valley has to offer. The chugga-chugga of the train is calming and the scenery is spectacular. There are several excursion options including scenic, adventure and dinner trains. {Spoiler alert} If you opt for an Adventure Train, prepare to hand over your bag to Wild West Robbers. (We got high-jacked, but were saved by the conductor- whew!)

Heber Valley Railroad, Photo provided by Heber Valley Tourism

Get a massage at the Zermatt Resort & Spa.  When Mama needs a massage, she really needs a massage, so I opted for a 90-minute Signature Experience. I stumbled out of the firm and brilliant hands of Rachel feeling a bit like the buttery cheese I had earlier in the day. It didn’t hurt that I got to hang out in my robe in an overstuffed chair next to a fireplace beforehand, and sit in the steam room afterwards. I heard that the hot stone massage was equally incredible. I’ll be trying that next.

Photo provided by Spa at Zermatt
Photo provided by Spa at Zermatt

Go for a hot air balloon ride. Ok, I have to admit, I didn’t really get to do this so I can’t tell you exactly how it went. However, my travel companions went and they said it was spectacular. I’ll let these photos speak for themselves and help us both to imagine how awesome it would be….

Heber Valley Hot Air Balloon, Photo by Brad Carmony
View from the sky. Hot air balloon views of Heber Valley. Photo by Brad Carmony
Heber Valley Balloon rides
Photo provided by Heber Valley Tourism

Scuba dive in a volcano crater, The Homestead Crater. Say, what? I know, sounds crazy, huh? Well, you can do it. In fact, Heber Valley is the only place in the nation where you can ski (Park City is only 15-minutes away) and scuba dive in one day! The naturally domed crater is a 10,000-year-old geothermal spring of 90-96 degree mineral water and is the only warm water scuba diving destination in the continental US. If you don’t dive, that’s ok, you can still enjoy soaking in the mineral-filled crater water on submerged wooden platforms. Makes for some super soft skin and an incredible story to share with friends back home.

Homestead Crater
The Homestead Crater, Photo provided by Heber Valley Tourism

Where to eat

Steak and Fondue at Z Chop Haus, which is conveniently located on the Zermatt Resort property and was my first stop in Heber Valley. By the time I had arrived, my friends were perfectly situated between the pianist and a roaring-warm fireplace and were all but diving into a vat of creamy Gruyere fondue with vegetables and French bread (my first cheese). A parade of European-inspired offerings continued to fill our tablecloth (and bellies) until I had to be rolled back to my room in gastronomical bliss. Did I forget to mention the steak? Z Chop Haus has a huge mouth-watering selection and each cut is cooked to perfection.

Chop Haus steak
Photo provided by Z Chop Haus

Salsa, salsa, salsa & queso at Tarahumara Comida Mexicana. With their extensive bar of salsas, fresh baked tortilla chips and homemade queso (yes, more cheese) everything on the menu is authentic and handmade from scratch. But, I think the reason Tarahumara is touted as Utah’s best Mexican restaurant is because of those to-die-for duck tacos. Yum!

Tarahumara Comida Mexicana, photo by Susan Tucker
More than 20 salsas at the salsa bar. Photo by Susan Tucker

European elegance at The Blue Boar Inn & Restaurant. Step up to this elegant chateau and you will seriously think you’ve hit 1800’s Switzerland. It made me want to put on a Trachten (Google it) and yodel my way through dinner. (Maybe next time.) I didn’t think it was possible to consume more cheese, but when in Rome, right? I just had to have the fondue, served with Gruyere & Emmental cheese, apples, cornichons, sourdough bread, and pearl onions. The post-dinner tour of the property revealed 12 guest rooms above the dining area, each one is named after a famous literary figure. I think I’ll have to come back with Hubby for a romantic weekend here (and wear my new Trachten?!?)

Blue Boar Inn, photo by Susan Tucker
Blue Boar Inn, photo by Susan Tucker

Salt Lake City

For my final day in Utah, we headed to downtown Salt Lake City to hear the spectacular Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform their weekly Music & The Spoken Word broadcast. The historic Tabernacle Square – located one block over from City Creek Center – was an amazing backdrop for the awe-inspiring voices of 360 dedicated church members. Moist-faced and goose-pimply folks lined pews from end-to-end. It’s a rare gem to feel music on such a deep level.  It was an honor to share a few photos of the experience with my Mormon friends.

Mormon Tabernacle Choir, photo by Susan Tucker
Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Photo by Susan Tucker

Another awesome stop we made was at Antelope Island State Park in the middle of Salt Lake. From bison watching to scenic lake views, this quick stop is a must-do!

Antelope Island State Park, photo by Susan Tucker
Antelope Island State Park, photo by Susan Tucker

Does ZTejas serve cheese? They do! A delicious final Utah meal at ZTejas ended my cheese-filled weekend. After queso and fresh chips, I chowed down on Scrambled Eggs & Jalepeno Bacon Stuffed Relleno, topped with – you guessed it –  Cotija cream sauce.

A fabulous trip to Utah’s Switzerland… and it saved me a couple thousand bucks in air fair!

All opinions are my own. Thank you to Heber Valley Tourism & Economic Development and The Zermatt Resort for hosting this trip.

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