In today’s super-connected world of travel updates and social media, discovering something entirely new is more difficult than ever. At times, it may feel like everything everywhere has already been put on the map, that there’s nothing left to uncover.
But, sometimes, it’s less about discovering somewhere brand new and more about catching a place at the tail end of a transition. That is, experiencing a place with an outdated reputation just as it turns the corner, after it has done the hard work of its reinvention but before word gets out to the masses that it’s now a cool place to be.
Just an hour north of Salt Lake City, Ogden fits that bill perfectly. When you visit today, you may find yourself wondering why no one seems to be talking about it. The city of about 90,000 people sits right up against the edge of the mountains, with hiking and biking trails that leave from town, riverside breweries, a university, and easy-access to two world-class ski areas.
Visit Ogden’s Director of Marketing and Communications Colt Jarvis said that even people who live in the region, such as Salt Lake City or Provo, are just catching on to how much his city has changed.
“Many people [from Salt Lake] are just starting to discover that Ogden is not what it used to be,” said Jarvis.
With that in mind, here’s an overview of what’s going on in Ogden.
Once a hard-nosed train town, Ogden has smoothed out its edges.
Ogden’s history is rich. The area was once home to a variety of Native American tribes, and later became a Mormon settlement. In the mid-1800s, it became a hub for the industrial railroad. Historic 25th Street became a rebellious and often raucous gathering place for railroad workers and those passing through.
“The city quickly became known for its rough and tumble character, a place where one could witness gambling, prostitution, narcotics sales, robbery, rape, and even murder,” reads Ogden’s own historical description.
Luckily, times have changed. While the railroad history is preserved at Union Station – where events are often held – 25th Street is a more pleasant experience today.
It still has its fair share of dive bars – much to the delight of college students and ski bums – but it also has rounded out its offerings to include local restaurants (Tona Sushi), breweries (Roosters), and even trendy, underground nightlife spots (Unspoken).
On the first Friday of every month, the city offers a guided walking tour of 25th Street to learn more about its history. On this tour, you’ll have the chance to see, very starkly, how it used to be and what has changed.
It’s the hub for two tremendous ski areas.
From almost anywhere in town, one can look east and see the tall peaks of the Wasatch Range hovering high above. A quick 30-minute trip through the canyon will transport you out of the city and into higher elevations where you’ll find two world-class, complementary ski areas, Snowbasin Resort and Powder Mountain.
Snowbasin Resort is best known for hosting some of the 2002 Olympic events, including the men’s and women’s alpine ski races – courses that you can ski yourself (leisurely) when you visit today. The resort is owned and operated by the Holding Family, who also owns the infamous Sun Valley Resort in Idaho.
If you’re seeking a ski experience that combines Olympic-worthy terrain and tasteful ski culture, Snowbasin excels at both. For the latter, one need not look farther than its collection of on-mountain lodges, elegant and grand, with large windows, bright wood construction, and colored-glass chandeliers. The Needles Lodge, John Paul Lodge, and Earl’s Lodge (Cinnabar) should all be admired with a meal and cocktail.
On the slopes, you’ll find a little bit of everything. The family-friendly Needles Gondola greets you at the base, offering easy (and warm) access to much of the mountain’s front-country terrain, a mix of greens, blues, and blacks. The Allen Peak Tram services the high-altitude terrain for expert skiers seeking extreme thrill, and the Strawberry Gondola provides access to endless high-alpine and side-country terrain, providing the longest runs on the mountain.
Powder Mountain is unique in both its design and operation. It forgoes a singular base area for several, each with small, modest lodges and parking areas of their own, establishing a variety of access points to the mountain (they are all connected via lifts and cat tracks, though). Powder is also unique in that, even before the pandemic, it caps the number of lift tickets it sells each day.
The result is a mountain that feels very spacious and open, with plenty of room to find fresh tracks on powder days. With ample side country, large bowls, and the opportunity for CAT rides up its ridges, Powder Mountain is a playground and a true, down-to-earth local’s mountain. That said, you can expect its new, in-development Overlook Neighborhood to add a luxury component in the coming years.
Once you’ve explored those two mountains, there’s also another, smaller ski area called Nordic Valley to check out.
You can have one foot in the city, and one in the country.
Ogden is a city for sure, but those who live there would not consider themselves city dwellers. Indeed, the aforementioned quick access into the mountains is part of the draw.
One can stay at any of the numerous hotels around the city or on Historic 25th Street, where it’s easy to walk around to bars, restaurants, and shops. But, it’s also possible to stay out in the country, away from the city’s buzz, and still have access to it.
Huntsville is located just east of Ogden, a 20-minute drive through a winding, beautiful canyon. There, condo complexes, such as the Escape at Edgewater, offer upscale, mountain living, with views of the mountains and immediate access to the outdoors. Many condos are three or four bedrooms, with hot tubs, pool tables, ping pong, garage parking, and more – ideal for a family or multi-group outing.
In the country, you’ll find a different kind of charm that pairs well with Ogden’s city vibes. Be sure to stop in for a beer and burger at the Shooting Star Saloon, a local, historic dive bar you’ll not soon forget.
Summer could eventually be cooler than winter.
In the past, a lot of Ogden’s draw came from its proximity to the ski resorts. But down the road, it’s fair to assume that summer could be just as big a draw.
This year, Ogden River Brewing opened alongside the Ogden River and Ogden River Parkway, with an outdoor patio that overlooks the water and the riverside walking path. While breweries are in no short supply in Ogden, the opening points to how the city hopes to incorporate the outdoors into city life.
Hiking and mountain biking trails are popping up all over, and it’s a good sign when businesses dig in along these routes, solidifying them as gathering places and encouraging everyone to enjoy the natural offerings within the city.
The Ogden River is also home to fly fishing opportunities right there within the city limits, and the nearby canyon is home to many climbing routes. Snowbasin and Powder Mountain both have downhill mountain bike courses with lift access during the summer months.
It’s perfect for inclusion in a road trip or regional travel.
Ogden has certainly turned a corner, and there’s no sign of it slowing down anytime soon, but it’s understandable if people aren’t yet ready to dive in head first. Ogden’s blessing is also a curse: Though it is now a destination all its own, it lives close to enough to Salt Lake City and Park City to be both a complement and a competitor.
Our suggestion is that you see with the former mentality. Whether you’re road tripping or simply looking to expand your horizons, Ogden can be incorporated into a regional trip that allows you to explore the more established places, like Salt Lake City and Park City, while at the same time trying something completely new in Ogden.
Together, these three destinations, separated by only an hour, provide a wonderful glimpse into what makes Utah’s mountains so enjoyable.