Provo: Happiest Place on Earth

In the happiest town in the whole USA, candy shops outnumber bars. Downtown parking is free. The residents are mostly young, outdoorsy and religious. And, if the latest Gallup-Healthways survey is accurate, they, along with neighboring Orem, boast the nation’s highest overall sense of well-being. The annual survey of 500,000 Americans in 189 metropolitan areas quantifies attitudes on quality-of-life factors ranging from emotional and physical health to job satisfaction.

Utah has so many things to do for those who are looking for an adventure.

With its woodsy-chic accommodations, spa, art studio, performance space and ski area, Robert Redford’s Sundance Resort, 15 miles up Provo Canyon from downtown, might be the region’s most high-profile tourist draw. But it’s not the only one in a county where G-rated, à-la-carte diversions rule. Thanksgiving Point, a 300-acre non-profit complex in Lehi, 17 miles north of Provo, boasts 55 acres of gardens (with 250,000 tulips blooming at the moment), the Western Hemisphere’s largest man-made waterfall, a major dinosaur collection and a soon-to-open Museum of Natural Curiosity for children. Just south of Provo, the Springville Museum of Art’s impressive collection — financed, in part, by annual bake sales in the town of 30,000 — has one of the nation’s largest assemblages of Soviet realist paintings. Excursion trains on the historic Heber Valley Railroad make forays through the cottonwood- and aspen-forested Provo Canyon and along Utah Lake. Multiple recreational trails attract cyclists, runners and walkers. The Provo River gets high marks from serious fly fishermen. Timpanogos Cave National Monument beckons visitors up a steep, 1¼-mile paved trail to its three limestone caverns. Hiking and climbing are huge among the energetic. And for those who aren’t, a network of scenic byways traverse spectacular, off-the-beaten-path mountain scenery.

If you go to Prove

Where to stay, eat, and what not to miss.

Provo has an abundance of chain lodgings, primarily clustered along University Avenue off Interstate 15. For one-of-a-kind digs, head up Provo Canyon 15 miles to Sundance Resort, where lodgings start at $239 a night.sundanceresort.com

Independent restaurants abound in the historic downtown. The Black Sheep Café puts a modern twist on Native American foods with dishes like hog jowl tacos glazed with maple- bay leaf barbecue sauce. Entrees: $12-$24. The ambiance is bare-bones, but the food at Sam Hawk Korean Restaurant is authentic. The beef bulgogi and chicken kalbi draw raves from regulars. Entrees: about $10. Sundance’s elegant Tree Room is a longtime special-occasion favorite. Entrees: $30-$46. Locals pack the counter stools at Sammy’s for the “pieshakes,” juicy burgers and hand-cut fries.

Hiking, biking or strolling on paths – both paved and wooded — in and around Provo. Mount Timpanogos Cave National Monument has guided cavern tours May-September ($7 adults; $5 children). nps.gov For a cultural fix, visit theSpringville Museum of Art just south of Provo. Admission is free. Brigham Young University, which also has several public museums, offers free golf cart tours by arrangement. saas.byu.eduThanksgiving Point in Lehi, which consists of expansive gardens, two museums and a farm area, sponsors events and classes. Admission varies. thanksgivingpoint.org

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