Top Gear gets off to a spectacular start on Sunday when Matt LeBlanc, Chris Harris and Rory Reid head to Utah.
Utah is one of the ultimate road destinations and it’s easy to see why as they explore in the McLaren 570GT, the Jaguar F-Type SVR and a pokey Ford Mustang – all of them chosen to celebrate the 116th anniversary of the V8 engine.
They also have a bash at imitating moonshine smugglers and becoming Nascar drivers, as well as experiencing the world’s fastest racetrack.
The stunning roadside scenery isn’t the only reason to visit America’s Wild West.
Here are seven other reasons why Utah should be on your bucket list.
1. Ski like an Olympian
Team GB’s youngest member, Izzy Atkin, became a household name last weekend after winning a historic bronze in the women’s ski slopestyle event at the Pyeongchang Games. Atkin earned the first skiing medal in British Winter Olympic history, after months of training in the beautiful, snow-covered mountains of Park City, Utah – which Atkin now calls home.
Utah claims to have the greatest snow on earth. In fact, it’s even trademarked the phrase “The Greatest Snow on Earth”. Why is it so great? Due to the unique meteorological impact of the nearby Great Salt Lake, which creates conditions that lead to consistently soft, fluffy powder in Utah’s ski resorts.
2. Brave the bobsled
Utah is famous for its 14 ski resorts, but there are numerous ways for non-skiers to enjoy the state’s famous snow: a snowmobile safari, fat biking (off-road cycling with oversized, under-flated tyres), tubing (sliding down specially prepared ice alleys on inflatable rings), snoeshowing and ice-skating.
You can even channel the Cool Runnings vibe by riding Utah’s Olympic bobsled track from the 2002 Winter Games. The four-man Comet Bobsled is driven by a professional, but the other three seats are all up for grabs (priced from $175 per person). Expect an unforgettable, adrenaline-drenched experience as you shoot around 15 curves at speeds of up to 70 mph.
Utah is speedily emerging as a road-running mecca. The state’s popularity among runners of all ages, levels and abilities has seen a swathe of competitive races spring up in recent years.
One of the most fun is Utah Midnight Run, which takes place in July and has something for everyone – 5K, 10K and half-marathon – and is contested under a full moon, glow sticks in hand. The idea is to ‘chase the midnight hour’ along picturesque Legacy Highway, making it to the finish line before the clock strikes 12.
The fastest is the Northern Utah race series Top of Utah Races,which range from full and half marathons to the popular 15K Top of Utah Freedom Run and runs from July to September. The route slices through some of the most gorgeous mountain scenery in the US, but is notoriously flat.
4. Hipster cocktails
The capital of Utah has, somewhat unexpectedly, found itself as America’s latest craft cocktail hotspot. Described as a “super cool hipster haven” by the Boston Globe last summer, a raft of new bars have opened across Salt Lake City since a key change in local alcohol legislation earlier in the year. Ranging from a semi-hidden speakeasy to chic cocktail lounges, the city is attracting top mixologists from across the US and beyond, serving everything from Old Fashioneds to Dirty Girl Scouts.
5. Native American history
The name ‘Utah’ comes from the Ute tribe who settled around the Great Salt Lake basin, and there are plenty of ways to explore their heritage and traditions – as well as those of Utah’s other native tribes, including the Navajo, Shoshone and Piute.
At This Is The Place heritage park on the outskirts of Salt Lake City, you can explore a Native American village. The site includes the largest teepee in America as well as an authentic medicine wheel and both male and female ‘hogans’ – traditional buildings used for religious ceremonies and family life.
Deep in the Utah desert, you will find the world’s longest art gallery. Don’t be fooled by its name: Nine Mile Canyon actually runs for more than 40 miles, and is adorned with thousands of Native American petroglyphs and pictographs, many of them over 1,000 years old.
Utah is America’s all-star capital. It’s home to nine International Dark Sky Parks – more than any other state or province on the planet.
Antelope Island is Utah’s newest Dark Sky Park (photo: Dan Ransom)There are nighttime activities for star-gazers throughout the summer, including full moon mountain treks, free star parties at Cedar Breaks National Monument, and the renowned Astronomy Festival held at sprawling Bryce Canyon National Park every June.
7. The real Westworld
The hit sci-fi series Westworld was shot in Utah’s breathtaking backcountry around Castle Valley.
It’s just the latest starring role for the Beehive State, which has been Hollywood’s go-to outdoor filming location for more than 75 years. Since the early 1930s, hundreds of blockbusters have been shot in Utah’s rugged wilds, from early hits like Stagecoach to classics like How the West Was Won, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Planet of the Apes. More recent hits include Independence Day, 127 Hours and JJ Abrams’ Star Trek reboot.
For more information, go to visitutah.com/uk. Top Gear returns to BBC2 on Sunday 25 February, 8pm