One of Utah’s best kept secrets is a quiet, bucolic happy valley, just southeast of Park City, where horse farms, a serpentine trout-filled river, Swiss chalets, a private Lear-jet friendly airport, and gold–medal golf sit encircled by the craggy peaks of the Wasatch Mountains and rolling Uinta range. Recently, this sleepy cowboy town has evolved into an enticing year-round playground, family community, and second-home destination. Sure it’s an easy 20-minutes to Park City’s famed ski resorts Deer Valley, The Canyons and Park City Mountain for champagne powder and wintertime shredding, but the glorious days of summer call for hiking adventures, horseback riding, world-class fly-fishing, wake surfing on the reservoir and superlative golf in Heber.
Heber’s Public Golf
Heber Valley hosts some of the best, most affordable public golf in the state–90 holes within five miles of each other. Wasatch State Park boasts four beauties, all $42 and under for 18 holes and a cart. The Mountain Course traverses the natural contours of Snake Creek ravine with nice elevation gains and tricky side-hill lies. Stunning views of the valley await from myriad vantage points with wildlife like elk, moose, foxes, trotting turkeys, and deer abound. During the fall, the hillside lights up in an autumnal blaze of color during those crisp-air games. The highly playable Lakes Course meanders along eight lakes and ponds with tree-line fairways and a gentle terrain for a relaxed afternoon of golf. Nearby Solider Hollow, the historic site of the Nordic skiing and biathalon competitions in the 2002 Olympics, has two stellar resort-style courses worthy of a round or two. Meticulously designed by veteran Gene Bates, both the Gold and Silver proffer intoxicating views of the verdant farmlands and towering Mt. Timpanogos, the majestic peak that overlooks Robert Redford’s magical Sundance resort. The Gold plays long (7,598 yards) and nature provides many of the built in challenges like intimidating ravines, steep drop-offs, and ball-gobbling native brush along the fairways. The Silver boasts wider fairways, sweeping views, menacing grass bunkers and undulating greens for more invigorating play. Added bonuses: a grass driving range and an architecturally striking clubhouse that serves up decent food. Finally, at the Homestead Resort, a traditional family-oriented property, you can play their par 72 designed by PGA tour professional Bruce Summershays. The resort-style course navigates the Snake River and meanders through the Swiss enclave of charming Midway where chalets with turrets and pastoral murals dot the landscape.
The big excitement in town is the newly finished Jack Nicklaus signature course at Red Ledges, the private recreational community set on 2,000 acres with the best views of Mt. Timpanogos in the valley. Owner Tony Burns, the former Chairman, CEO, President of Ryder Systems, along with his partner Nolan D. Archibald, the current Chairman, President and CEO of Black & Decker have spared no expense on this project (read $100 million) that took 37 dedicated years to come together. After multiple real estate deals (27 in all) over time, Burns and Archibald, who both have family and ties to the Heber Valley, were able to create their vision for Red Ledges which opened in July. Burns hired his long-time friend Jack Nicklaus to design the community’s memorable course, a milestone for Nicklaus as it represents the 200th U.S. golf course fashioned by his firm Nicklaus Design. The 7,653-yard course pays homage to the red rock setting and breathtaking views of Mt. Timp, brilliantly carving through the majestic landscape with holes nestled into the sandstone ledges—truly one of the prettiest courses in the country, that’s also managed by Troon Golf and will sport a Jim McLean Golf School. McLean is rated as the number 3 instructor in the country by Golf Digest, so his academy will undoubtedly improve your swing. While Nicklaus, who loves the Beehive State and spends a fair amount of time in Utah, calls the course highly playable (easy for him to say), myriad fun challenges await from dizzying elevated tees, dastardly deep bunkers, and long par 5s requiring power drives. Any golf fan, from neophyte to expert, will appreciate the savvy design that respects the topography, jaw-dropping setting and exceptional course. Those interested in a second home with spectacular golf, an equestrian center, spa, tennis academy, and access to world-class skiing and fishing should check out Red Ledges with its home sites ranging from $250,000 – $850,000 and spec cottage homes start in the low $900’s.
Recreation Beyond Golf
After you’ve had your fill of golf, don’t leave the valley without a trip on the Provo, one of the Rocky Mountains top rivers for trout fishing. Grab a license and an affable guide at Four Seasons. These fish fanatics know where the cutthroats are biting and which flies are doing the trick, along with the less-trodden secret holes for an afternoon of sunshine, hooking, and more views of breathtaking Mt. Timp. For another perspective of the lovely Heber Valley, rise above it all in a hot air balloon with Utah Outventures. Or conversely, one can go down below by diving in the town’s infamous crater, a large rock dome and geothermal hotspot with 90-degree mineral water. If you’ve got kids in tow, hop on the historic Heber Valley train for a scenic trip through Provo Canyon and a sunset barbecue excursion. If you are feeling like a good adrenalin buzz, head over to the Utah Olympic Park in Park City and ride their monster zip-line or brain-rattling bobsled “The Comet,” which hits upwards of 80 miles per hour and 5 G’s of force. Then spend some time in the free Olympic Museum or check out the US Ski Team as they train–a performance of acrobatic aerials and splash landings in the giant pools with their skis strapped on. When it’s time to relax, visit the spa at Zermatt Resort an Alpine Village themed-resort also in Midway. Their European-styled spa, a cozy oasis, features sybaritic therapies like redolent sugar scrubs, detoxifying seaweed wraps, romantic couple’s massages with baths elixirs, Swiss facials and “fondue” mani/pedis. Relax in the coed aromatherapy steam grotto post treatment and take home some of their exceptional products like True, for great skin care. If you happen to be in town for the Heber Pow-wow, do not miss this window into Native American culture and the opportunity to watch traditional dance in full regalia, as well as to hear storytellers, and support the Native American artisans.
Blue Boar Inn
Do not miss dinner on the porch of the Blue Boar Inn where chef Eric May cooks up the valley’s best edibles in Midway. His European cuisine features savories like beef carpaccio with baby arugula, Manchego cheese, and aromatic truffle oil; smoked duck breast salad with Mandarin oranges; wild boar spare ribs; and the house signature Holsteiner Schnitzel, a breaded veal cutlet, jazzed up with German potato salad, asparagus, and a fried egg. Bed-and-breakfast fans will love the quaint Bavarian-style inn with its 12 rooms named for famous authors and decorated with hand-carved European furnishings. But truly, the best thing about The Blue Boar is genial innkeeper Jay Niederhauser whose charm permeates the scene. Ask him to show you his Olympic pin collection and you’ll hear some scintillating tales of the 2002 Winter Games and history of the town.
Once the quiet neighbor of Park City, Heber Valley has bloomed into an exciting destination for four season recreation that’s worthy of a visit.