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Day Trippin’: Leave holiday stress, catch North Pole Express in Heber

December 5th, 2011 Posted in Arts and Life

Story & photos by Allie Jeppson

HEBER CITY — Hidden behind Utah’s Mount Timpanogos is the quiet little valley town of Heber City, where friendliness is a tradition and recreational activities are never lacking.

Although it is surrounded on both sides by two heavily populated areas, Salt Lake City and Provo, Heber maintains a small-town mentality and serves as the perfect getaway during the holiday season with only two hours of traveling for Cache Valley residents, and many seasonal benefits that can be experienced within a day.

“The thing that’s awesome about Heber is just the clear blue skies and the crisp fresh air, the high mountain valley … and living in the tops of the mountains,” said Paul Sweat, school district administrator and Heber Valley native.

With some of the best snow on earth, Heber offers a plethora of wintertime activities such as ice skating, snowmobiling, and skiing and snowboarding at world-class resorts.

One activity unique to the Heber Valley is tubing at Soldier Hollow, home of the 2002 Winter Olympics. Its 1,200-foot lanes and lift service allow for the perfect afternoon experience, with a price of $20 for a two-hour session. If flying down a hill on an uncontrollable tube sounds too adventurous, Soldier Hollow also offers cross-country skiing and snowshoeing around the Olympic trails through some of Utah’s most beautiful countryside, for a rate of $30 including ski rentals.

“We’re in the heart of some awesome areas that are breathtaking,” Sweat said.

After enjoying the December snow, stop by one of Heber’s most historical restaurants, The Dairy Keen, started in 1946, for a lunch of homemade soup, burgers and shakes. Located on Heber’s main street, The Dairy Keen prides itself in expanding beyond a traditional burger joint with seasonal assortments including Thanksgiving and Christmas Shakes, stated the restaurant website.

“If you have nothing but chain restaurants and chain hotels then you are just like every other place in the United States,” said Jan MaWhinney, whose family has owned The Dairy Keen for four generations. “If you have independence then you become unique.”

With Best of State Awards since 2003, The Dairy Keen is famous for its Train Burger ($4.99), Ranch Burger ($3.79), and fresh raspberry and strawberry shakes starting at $2.56.

The Dairy Keen’s theme, “Home of the Train,” refers to the Heber Valley Railroad which began in 1899 and is still running today. Although the train has gone through several reconstructions and is no longer used for cargo transfer, it continues to operate as a steam locomotive and offers scenic passenger rides through the Provo Canyon – a rare evening activity found in few other places other than Heber.

“We have the means of seeing some fantastic scenery,” Craig Lacey, executive director of Heber Valley Railroad, said. “And you have to slow down to enjoy it.”

Commonly known as the Heber Creeper, the railroad offers more than just train rides with seasonal activities such as the Haunted Canyon ride, the Comedy Murder Mystery ride and the widely known North Pole Express.

“People come for more than a ride now,” Lacey said. “It’s a package deal for an economical amount of money.”

During the holiday season, North Pole Express tickets start at $32 for adults and $21 for children, including hot cocoa, a cookie and a gift from Santa.

As a non-profit organization, the Heber Valley Railroad contributes over $12 million a year to the community.

“Heber Valley Railroad is such a neat little trip,” Hub Restaurant manager Linda Witt said. “We don’t have many of those steam locomotives anymore.”

End the day with a home-style, country-cooked meal at The Hub, another very historic piece of Heber City started in 1933, and similar to Logan’s own Angie’s. Known for its all-day breakfast, The Hub is also popular for its country-fried steak ($9.99), fish and chips ($10.99), homemade soups ($2.50), rolls and scones.

“I think every place needs that place where they can go gather and visit and have a reasonably priced meal,” Witt said. “Money is really an issue and no one can afford high prices all the time, but you can always afford ham and eggs.”

With a convenient location on the cross section of Main Street and U.S. 189 from Provo, The Hub serves as a local gathering spot with a welcome and friendly atmosphere Witt said. “It’s always been a part of Heber,” said Hub employee Missy Witt, daughter of the manager. “It wouldn’t be Main Street if you didn’t start your drag at the Hub and end up at Smith’s.”

Heber is also a host to many other activities including fishing on the Provo River and ice fishing on Deer Creek Reservoir in the winter, scuba diving in Midway’s crater located at the Homestead, and flying in a personal airplane from the city airport.


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