Living in Salt Lake City, Utah

Explore Utah's mountainous capital city.
By: Annie Cutler

Salt Lake City is Utah’s capital city and is known for mountains and Mormons. Depending on who you talk to, it’s often described as a big city with small town charm. Within city limits, Salt Lake is home to nearly 200,000 residents, and just over 2.2 million within the larger urban area known as the Wasatch Front. Nestled at the base of the Wasatch Mountains, Salt Lake is a destination for outdoor junkies of all seasons.


Salt Lake City was founded in 1847 by Brigham Young, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS Church). Young and his Mormon followers migrated west to find an isolated area to practice their religion without violence and persecution. The city’s name came from its proximity to the Great Salt Lake.

Initial economic growth came from immigration of LDS members, mining and construction of the transcontinental railroad. In the 1850s, disputes flared between LDS settlers and the federal government over the practice of polygamy, which led to wars and massacres. The LDS Church began their abandonment of polygamy in 1890.

The Salt Lake Temple, which serves as the city’s centerpiece, took 40 years to build. To this day, the city’s street system and addresses stem from the landmark. Salt Lake remains home to the headquarters of the LDS Church, though less than half of the population within the city’s limits is Mormon today.


Salt Lake City sits just over 4,200 feet above sea level, surrounded by the Great Salt Lake to the north, Wasatch mountains to the East, and Oquirrh Mountains to the West.

Marshlands separate the Great Salt Lake from the city and for a few hours a couple times a year, residents will notice a foul odor in the air known as “lake stink.” The scent of rotten eggs can be blamed on the metabolic activities of the bacteria in the lake.

The mountains surrounding Salt Lake City are an international destination for skiers and snowboarders of all levels. Utah claims to have the greatest snow on earth. In fact, it says so on the license plates.


With the great outdoors just minutes away, most Salt Lake City residents find it tough to complain about the weather; be it long, cold, snowy winters which are great for skiing and snowball fights, or hot, dry summers prime for hiking and camping.

Salt Lake averages about 17 inches of precipitation each year. Snowfall is typical between November and April, with the city getting an average of five feet of snow. Salt Lake has seen snow as early as September, and as late as May. Spring is typically the wettest season.

One weather phenomenon in Salt Lake is known as lake-effect snow. The nearby Great Salt Lake can help enhance rain fall from Pacific storms resulting in excessive snowfall in the city. Weather experts estimate about 10% of the city’s precipitation can be attributed to lake effect.

The city also experiences inversion (smog to the rest of the country). Inversion is typically at its worst in the dead of winter and peak of summer (January/February and August). Lined with mountain ranges on both sides of the valley, air in the “bowl” below gets trapped from the thermal layer above.


Salt Lake City is known as the “Crossroads of the West,” and that makes getting around a cinch. There are two cross-country freeways that cut through the center of town with a myriad of smaller highways. For the non-licensed or environmentally friendly, a light-rail system will get you around the metro area. Bus lines are established but not used by the majority of residents.  

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