NEW YORK (Money Magazine) - Months of ceaseless Olympics buildup and coverage may have convinced you that there's nothing left to discover in the mountains of Utah. Think again.
The Heber Valley, an uncrowded weekend haven within 15 minutes of both Park City and Sundance and less than an hour south of Salt Lake City, got little attention from the film crews. In fact, unless they stumble on the valley on the way from one buzzing resort to another, most out-of-staters never get to know this alpine hideaway. Stretched between the Uinta and Wasatch mountains at the base of 11,750-foot Mount Timpanogos, the valley has miles of hiking trails, streams teeming with trout and a string of fine public golf courses.
The best way to experience the area is a stay at one of its several family-oriented resorts--at a fraction of the cost of the nearby luxury hot spots. There's no better choice than the Homestead Resort (800-327-7220) in Heber City, a historic farm at the base of the Wasatch with 155 rooms and suites. The Homestead features 39 holes of golf, but its unique feature is the Crater, a 55-foot-tall, beehive-shaped limestone rock that, thanks to a geological quirk, is filled by a 96 degrees (farenheit) natural hot spring. Guests enter through a tunnel to lounge on decks and soak in the crystal-clear mineral water. Rates range from $119 a night for a room with a queen-size bed to $314 for a one-bedroom suite.
Another good choice is the Inn on the Creek (800-654-0892), which has 44 rooms and 32 chalet homes spread over several acres and sits between a 36-hole golf course and the mountains. Suites in one of the eight main inn rooms go for about $165 a night on weekends, 20% less on weekdays (and are available only for adults). The chalet suites, most of which have living rooms, fireplaces and full kitchens, average about $140 a night.
Both the Inn on the Creek and the exclusive Blue Boar Inn in Midway are gaining renown for their laid-back but elegant restaurants. For many more dining options and other evening activities, Sundance's outdoor theater offerings and Park City's restaurants and microbreweries are just a few miles in either direction.
Area visitors shouldn't skip the Heber Valley Historic Railroad--a.k.a. the "Heber Creeper"--which takes you on a slow but spectacular 3 1/2-hour mountain ride in restored 1920s coach and open-air cars.
Most Salt Lake City residents think of Heber as a good day trip, but we suggest you do it the other way around. Temple Square, home of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Salt Lake Temple, is well worth a visit, as is the Mormon church's genealogical library, the largest in the world, where visitors can trace their family roots.