In the Details: Red Butte Garden Is Salt Lake City’s Desert Oasis

By Matt Gibson,

Located at the east end of the University of Utah’s campus where Salt Lake City rubs up against the tall, rolling, brush-covered foothills of the Wasatch Mountains sits Red Butte Garden, one of Salt Lake City’s most under-appreciated attractions.

Utah is hiking country. The city borders the Wasatch Mountains on one side and the Great Salt Lake on the other; you can venture in virtually any direction and almost inevitably wind up on a hiking trail. Although the mountains around Salt Lake City are spectacular, and there are trails everywhere, the 5 miles of trails that crisscross the 18 acres of the Red Butte Garden are my favorites.

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Hiking around Red Butte Garden. Photo courtesy of Red Butte Garden.

There are several reasons these trails are my favorite.

First, although you won’t find exactly the same solitude as you would wandering through Mill Creek, the Red Butte Garden is empty much of the time, which is surprising for what is probably the most accessible hike in the city, and almost certainly one of the most beautiful.

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Red Butte Pond in the Fall. Photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

This is likely related to the $10 adult entrance fee ($8 for seniors and $6 for children)– I think it must be. And I can only assume that few people know you can become a member with free entry for $35/year, or buy a membership that allows entry for yourself plus 3 guests for $75/year, which works out to less than $5 per visit per person if used twice. I won’t complain however if this information remains uncommon knowledge and keeps the trails quiet.

Second, the Garden is open year-round and undergoes dramatic changes from season to season. The Garden is also very well maintained, so in the summer it remains lush, in striking contrast to the dry desert climate and flora of the surrounding area.

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Spring at the Red Butte Garden. Photo courtesy of Red Butte Garden.

Utah is a gorgeous place in the fall – there’s just no denying it. But it still doesn’t compare with the brilliance of the colors produced by the Garden’s diversity.

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An impressive fall season at the Red Butte Garden. Photo courtesy of Red Butte Garden.

Winter is the season the garden looks the most like the rest of the city. Everything looks the same when covered in snow.

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Winter blankets Red Butte Garden. Photo courtesy of Red Butte Garden.

But it’s quickly followed by spring, when the Garden displays 450,000 blooming bulbs, which is probably the most visually spectacular event of the year.

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A floral walk through Red Butte in the spring. Photo courtesy of Red Butte Garden.

The other reason I will always look forward to visiting the Garden is their summer concert series. In addition to the classical music that you’d expect to see in a publicly funded garden, they draw a lot of big pop and rock acts. This summer Michael Franti and Spearhead, John Fogerty (of Creedence Clearwater Revival), Wilco, Cake, Ben Harper, and Orquestra Buena Vista Social Club have all sold out the venue.

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Summer Concert Series at Red Butte Garden. Photo courtesy of Red Butte Garden.

I’ll be honest. The Garden is beautiful, and the music is great. But I probably never would have ended up visiting so frequently if they weren’t so convenient. They were just a few minutes drive from my house and when I left them I was only minutes away from Salt Lake City’s best eating and drinking spots in The Avenues, Downtown, and Sugar House.

 

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*Cover image by Quinn Dobrowski CC BY.