Utah, a continental state in the United States, was admitted to the United States on January 4, 1896, as the 45th state. Utah is located in the Mountain West subregion of the United States and is bordered to the east by Colorado, to the northwest by Wyoming, to the north by Idaho, to the south by Arizona, and to the west by Nevada.
Utah is known for its natural diversity and for being one of the Four Corners states. Utah is home to two mountain ranges: the Wasatch Range, which runs north to south through the middle of the state, and the Uinta Mountains, which run east to west in the state’s northeastern region. Other geographic regions are the Colorado Plateau in the southeastern portion of the state and the Great Basin in the northwestern portion of the state. Utah has 2,755 square miles of water, making up 3.25% of the state’s area. The state’s most famous geographic feature is the Great Salt Lake, the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere.
Before the arrival of white settlers, various Native American groups, such as the ancient Puebloans, Navajo, and Ute, occupied the lands of Utah for thousands of years. Utah’s recent history and culture have been defined by the influence of the Mormon religion since its founding as a colony. Utah is the only state in the United States where a majority of the population belongs to one church, the vast majority of whom are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). Since the 1990s, the state has become more religiously diverse. Since 2000, Utah has consistently been ranked as one of the fastest-growing states. The 2020 U.S. census confirmed that Utah had the fastest-growing population in the U.S. since 2010.
Utah State Geography
Utah is well known for its great natural diversity, featuring arid deserts, thriving pine forests, and towering mountains. Utah is located in the Western Mountain region of the United States. It is bordered by Idaho to the north, Wyoming to the northeast, Colorado to the east, New Mexico to the southeast, Arizona to the south, and Nevada to the west. It is also a Four Corners state. Utah is 84,899 square miles. The state has three geographic regions: the Rocky Mountains, the Great Basin, and the Colorado Plateau.
The Rocky Mountains extend for 3,000 miles (3800 km) from north-central New Mexico to northern British Columbia, Canada. The Rocky Mountains are made up of multiple mountain ranges. Two of these ranges are in Utah. The Wasatch Mountains run south to north through the central-northern part of Utah. The Uinta Mountains extend west to east along the state’s northeastern border into Wyoming. The Wasatch Range extends to heights of almost 12,000 feet (3,700 m) above sea level, while the Uinta Mountains rise to over 13,000 feet (4,000 m) above sea level. The state’s highest point, Kings Peak, at 13,528 feet (4,123 m), is in the Uinta Mountains. These mountains are home to 15 world-renowned alpine ski resorts including Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley Resort, and Sundance Mountain Resort. The climate in the mountains is characterized by cool summers and severe, cold winters.
Western Utah is characterized by a mostly arid desert with a basin and range topography. This region is dotted with small mountain ranges and rugged terrain. The Bonneville Salt Flats are an exception to this topography, as they were once part of the lakebed of the ancient Lake Bonneville. Freshwater once covered the majority of the eastern Great Basin. Four lakes (Great Salt Lake, Utah Lake, Sevier Lake, and Rush Lake) are remnants of this lake. To the west of the Great Salt Lake is the Great Salt Lake Desert. Snake Valley is an exception to this desert because it is comparatively lush because of the large springs and wetlands supplied by groundwater and snowmelt from the Snake Range and Deep Creek Range mountains. Most of Utah’s population lives in the Great Basin along the Wasatch Front. The climate is characterized by hot, dry summers and snowy winters.
The south and southeastern landscapes are made of sandstone. The Colorado River and its tributaries wind through the sandstone, eroding the rock and creating striking terrain. Canyons, gullies, arches, pinnacles, buttes, bluffs, and mesas are common. This region has five national parks, five national monuments, and two state parks.
Eastern Utah is characterized by plateaus and basins, including the Tavaputs Plateau, San Rafael Swell, and the Uinta Basin. Most of eastern Utah’s population lives in the Uinta Basin. Dinosaur National Monument is located in northeastern Utah, near Vernal. The climate in eastern Utah is characterized by hot summers and cool winters with very little precipitation.
Southwestern Utah contains the northernmost section of the Mojave Desert making it the state’s lowest and hottest spot.
The federal government owns the majority (70%) of the land in Utah. Utah is the only state where every county contains a national forest.
Utah People and Population
The state of Utah ranks 30th in population. According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the 2022 population measured 3,380,800, making it the 30th most populated state. The 2020 population count of 3,205,958, marking a 16% population increase since the 2010 census. Most of the population lives in cities and towns in the Great Basin region. The Wasatch Front is a metropolitan region that runs north to south along the Wasatch Mountains. Utah is the fastest-growing state in the United States.
77.2% of Utahians identify as white alone, followed by Hispanic or Latino (14.8%), two or more races (2.8%), Asian alone (2.7%), American Indian and Alaska Native alone (1.6%), Black or African American alone (1.5%), and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander alone (1.1%). Since the 1990s, Utah has seen a steady increase in diversity.
Utah has a very young population. The median age is 31.1 years old. Age demographics breakdown as under 18 (35.5%), 18-64 (52.8%), and 65 and over (11.7%). Despite having such a young population, Utah has the lowest child poverty rate in the country. The conservative values of the state give Utah the country’s highest fertility rate; it also ranks 47th in teenage pregnancy, is the lowest for births out of wedlock, has the lowest number of abortions per capita, and has the lowest number of teen pregnancies terminated in abortion.
Utah consistently ranks high for metrics that measure quality of life. Utah ranked fifth in the nation for health and well-being. The state also ranks fourth in the nation for crime rates. Utah has the lowest ratio of law enforcement officers to citizens, at 293 officers per 100,000 citizens. Utah’s healthcare system is ranked second best in the country.
Utah is the only state in the United States where a majority of citizens belong to a single church, the LDS Church (55%). This number is directly correlated to the state’s early years as a haven for Mormon followers who trekked across the United States to establish a safe haven. Members of the LDS Church represent 34%–41% of the population in Salt Lake City. Provo, Logan, Tooele, and St. George have high Mormon populations. Only 15% of the state’s citizens identify as being non-religious. The percentage of the population who identify as Mormons has been decreasing in recent years as more people move to the state.
Utah is home to five US Indian reservations and eight tribal nations. These include the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, the Southern Ute Reservation, the Navajo Nation, the Skull Valley Reservation, and the Ute Mountain Reservation.
The Executive Branch is headed by the Governor of Utah, who is elected for a four-year term. The Governor has the power to veto any bills passed by the legislature, along with the power to appoint judges, with the advice and consent of the Senate. The Governor of Utah is Spencer Cox, who was sworn in on January 4, 2021.
The legislative branch is the State Legislature, which is a bicameral body consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate has 29 members, while the House of Representatives consists of 75 members. Six Senators are members of the Democratic Party while 23 are members of the Republican Party, and 14 Representatives are members of the Democratic Party, while 61 are members of the Republican Party.
Members of the Senate are elected for four-year terms, and members of the House of Representatives are elected for two-year terms. The Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate are the leaders of the two chambers of the legislature.
The Judicial Branch of the state is headed by the Supreme Court of Utah, which is the highest court of the state. The Supreme Court is made up of five justices who are appointed by the governor and then subject to reelection. The Utah Court of Appeals hears appeals from cases from the trial courts, which include the District, Juvenile, and Justice Courts. Trial courts also include two administrative bodies: the Judicial Council and the Administrative Office of the Court. All justices and judges are subject to retention elections after their appointment.
The State Legislature is responsible for making laws on any subject, except for those specifically reserved to the federal government by the United States Constitution. The State Legislature holds its sessions in the State Capitol building in Salt Lake City. They meet for 45 days, beginning in January, annually. The Senate has a variety of committees through which its members participate in the legislative process. The House of Representatives also has a variety of committees through which its members participate in the legislative process.
The state government includes the following agencies, whose heads are appointed by the Governor and serve in their cabinet:
Utah Department of Administrative Services
Utah Department of Agriculture and Food
Utah Department of Corrections
Utah Department of Technology Services
Utah Department of Commerce
Utah Department of Environmental Quality
Utah Department of Financial Institutions
Utah Governor's Office of Economic Development
Utah Department of Health
Utah Department of Human Resource Management
Utah Department of Human Services
Utah Insurance Department
Utah National Guard
Utah Department of Natural Resources
Utah Department of Public Safety
Utah Department of Transportation
Utah Department of Community and Culture
Utah Department of Workforce Services
Utah Department of Veteran Affairs
Utah Board of Pardons and Parole
Utah Labor Commission
Utah State Tax Commission
The Utah Board of Higher Education governs the Utah System of Higher Education, which oversees Utah’s eight public colleges and universities and eight technical colleges. Higher education institutions include Utah State University, Southern Utah University, Utah State University, and Weber State University.
The economy of Utah reached $248.2 billion, making it the 29th largest economy by GDP in the United States. The economy is diverse, and major industries include tourism, mining, agriculture, manufacturing, finance, and information technology. The top three sectors by total employment and contribution to GDP are manufacturing, real estate, rental & leasing, professional, scientific, and technical services. The median income in 2021 was $79,133, and the unemployment rate was 2.3% as of April 2023.
Utah is home to five national parks, eight national monuments, two national recreation areas, and seven national forests, in addition to a large number of state parks and monuments that drives tourism to the state. The Moab area is known for challenging mountain biking trails. Ski resorts in the northern part of the state also draw tourists. Other attractions include Temple Square, the Sundance Film Festival, the Red Rock Film Festival, the DOCUTAH Film Festival, and the Utah Shakespearean Festival. Other attractions are Monument Valley, the Great Salt Lake, the Bonneville Salt Flats, and Lake Powell.
Since the 2002 Winter Olympics, Utah has seen an increase in tourism. Park City is home to the United States Ski Team.
Mining is another significant industry. In the late 19th century, the state experienced a mining boom, drawing numerous companies and immigrants. Large silver mines attracted people who hoped to gain wealth. In the early Cold War years, uranium was mined in eastern Utah. Mining still plays a large part in Utah’s economy. Copper, gold, silver, molybdenum, zinc, lead, and beryllium are all mined in Utah. Fossil fuels drive mining in eastern Utah.
Major manufacturing companies include Vivint, L3Harris Technologies, Inc., Clyde Companies, Inc., and doTerra International. More Utah industrial companies are publicly owned (11%) versus the national average (5%), 2% of manufacturers are women-owned, and 26% distribute their products internationally.
Utah Interesting Facts
Utah is well known throughout the United States for its stunning natural landscapes, large Mormon community, and hosting the independent film festival, the Sundance Film Festival.
Temple Square in Salt Lake City is the sixteenth most visited tourist site in the United States, and the abundance of national and state parks, forests, and monuments draws in naturalists. The state is also known for its dinosaur fossil beds.
Additionally, Utah is home to several famous people: comedian and actress Rosanne Barr, hotel founder John Willard Marriot, singers Donny and Marie Osmond, dancers Julianne and Derek Hough, and singer Brendon Urie were all born in Utah.
Utah is home to the largest population of Mormons in the United States. Mormons first reached Utah on July 24, 1847. Over the next 22 years, more than 70,000 Mormons emigrated to Utah. Today, Mormons represent 55% of the population of Utah. The Mormon religion is one of the most significant influences on Utah’s culture. They are more conservative than other religions, and while the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints remains neutral on political issues, the religion’s influence can be seen in Utah’s laws. As of 2016, 88% of the state legislature was affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Utah has some of the strictest alcohol sales laws in the United States. While consumption and sale laws are the same in Utah as elsewhere in the United States, state law heavily regulates alcohol sold in restaurants and bars. While both can sell for the same hours, a restaurant must serve food with a wine, beer, or liquor order. This does not apply to taverns, breweries, or bars. Only beer 5% or lower can be sold on tap, but varying alcohol contents are sold in bottles. Supermarkets and stores follow the same law and only sell beer that is 5% or lower. Liquor and wine can only be purchased at a liquor store. Liquor stores are closed on Sundays and holidays and are usually closed by 7 p.m. Unlike Colorado and Nevada, Utah has only legalized marijuana for medical purposes.
In 2023, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed HB467 into law, which sought to reduce abortion access. The law bans abortions after 18 weeks and restricts care to a hospital, where physicians can choose to deny services to a patient seeking an abortion. Before the law was enacted on May 3, 2023, most women received abortion care at a clinic, and most hospitals did not offer abortion services.
Utah’s vast landscape and many national and state parks bring tourists to the state in droves. Utah is the only state in the country that has a national forest in each county. It boasts five national parks (Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, and Zion National Park), the third most of any U.S. state, eight national monuments (Cedar Breaks, Dinosaur, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Hovenweep, Natural Bridges, Bear Ears, Rainbow Bridge, and Timpanogos Caves), two national recreation areas (Flaming Gorge and Glen Canyon), and seven national forests (Ashley, Caribou-Targhee, Dixie, Fishlake, Manti-La Sal, Sawtooth, and Uinta-Wasatch-Cache). Utah also has 43 state parks.
The Wasatch and Uinta Mountains boast some of the United States’ best ski resorts. Ski resorts are so important to the state’s economy that in 1975, Utah registered “The Greatest Snow on Earth” as the state’s trademark.
Utah’s geography is varied and includes salt flats, canyons, mesas, sandstone carved by water and wind, gulches, wetlands, and sand dunes. The Great Salt Basin is home to the Bonneville Salt Flats, the Red Rock region in the southeast is home to Zion National Park, Arches National Park, north of Moab in eastern Utah is home to awe-inspiring sandstone arches, and the Great Salt Lake sits in the northwestern region of the state.
Whether you’re looking for incredible Rock Mountain skiing, gorgeous forests, or desert beauty, the terrain can be found in Utah.
Sundance Film Festival
Park City hosts the Sundance Film Festival each year. The event attracts over 40,000 attendees annually and is considered the largest independent film festival in the U.S. Unlike other film festivals, anyone can attend the festival with a ticket. The Sundance Film Festival showcases independent films from all over the world. Many famous movies premiered at the event, including horror hits “Saw”, “Get Out”, and “The Blair Witch Project”; comedies “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, “Napoleon Dynamite”, and “Little Miss Sunshine”; and dramas “In The Bedroom”, “Precious”, and “Brooklyn”.
The festival began in 1978 as an attempt to attract more filmmaking in Utah and highlight American independent films. In 1984, the festival changed its name from the U.S. Film Festival to the Sundance Film Festival. In 2012 and 2014, the festival introduced spinoffs in London and Hong Kong. The festival brings millions of dollars in economic benefits to Utah.
Utah has a rich history characterized by its Native American history and the influence of Mormon settlers in the region. Utah became an American territory in 1850 and gained statehood on January 4, 1896, as the 45th state. Utah’s history is largely shaped and influenced by the settlement of Mormons.
Utah has been home to various Native American tribes for thousands of years. Ancestral Pueloans and Fremont people lived on the land until around the 15th century. In the 18th century, the Navajo, Goshute, Paiute, Ute, and Shoshone tribes settled in the region.
In 1540, Spanish explorer Francisco Vazquez de Coronado first explored southern Utah during his quest to discover the city of Cibola. The Dominguez-Escalante expedition, a group led by two Catholic priests, left Santa Fe in 1776 in the hopes of finding a route to the coast. They traveled as far north as Utah Lake, encountering the native people of the region. Spain led several more expeditions to explore the region but did not have an interest in colonizing it because of the region's desert climate.
Traders and trappers explored some areas of Utah. In 1824, Jim Bridger became the first known English-speaking person to see the Great Salt Lake. Bridger believed that he had found the Pacific Ocean before realizing that the body was a large salt lake. After his discovery, American and Canadian traders and trappers established posts in the area.
In 1844, Brigham Young, president of the Quorum of the Twelve, became the leader of the LDS Church in Nauvoo, Illinois. Young agreed with Illinois Governor Thomas Ford that to avoid conflicts between the Mormons and neighboring communities, the Mormons would leave. Young led the first group of Mormon pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley, arriving on July 24, 1847. At this time, Utah was Mexican territory but would be annexed to the United States with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on February 2, 1848.
Over the next 22 years, 70,000 Mormons would cross the plains to settle in Utah. The first few years of settlement were difficult, but the settlers remained in the desert, believing it was a desirable place where they could practice their religion without harassment. The first wave of settlers brought African slaves with them, making Utah the only place in the American West to have slavery. The settlers also purchased American Indian slaves.
Mormons spread from Utah to establish settlements in the surrounding states, as well as in Canada and Mexico. Utah first applied for statehood with a proposal for a State of Deseret (an ancient word for honeybee, according to the Book of Mormon) in 1849. The proposed state encompassed present-day Utah and Nevada, most of New Mexico, and parts of California, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, and Colorado. The U.S. government never formally recognized the State of Deseret.
Pre-Civil War History
The Compromise of 1850 created the Utah Territory. This territory was much smaller than the State of Deseret but included the entirety of present-day Nevada and Utah and pieces of Wyoming and Colorado. The territory was named for the Ute tribe of Native Americans.
In 1850, there were about 100 black people in the territory, most of whom were slaves. In 1852, the territory’s legislature passed the Act in Relation to Service and the Act for the Relief of Indian Slaves and Prisoners, formally legalizing slavery in the territory. Slavery was abolished during the Civil War.
The territory of Utah faced criticism and backlash from the American public and government when the country learned that they practiced polygamy. While the practice was sanctioned by the LDS Church and leadership, participation varied greatly around the territory. Most Mormons never participated in the practice. In 1858, federal troops arrived in Utah intending to take over control from Brigham Young. Young surrendered control, but commentators claim that he still maintained power in the territory. Federal troops were pulled from Utah territory when the Civil War started.
In 1862, the United States Congress passed the Morrill Act, which banned plural marriage in territories, disincorporated the Mormon church, and restricted the church’s ownership of property. However, because of the Civil War, the law was not enforced.
Post-Civil War History
Utah applied for statehood seven times, first in 1849. After 1852, the United States Congress refused Utah’s application for statehood, largely because of polygamy. With the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, new immigrants from the East began to settle in Utah. The tension between non-Mormon immigrants and Mormons festered in the territory. Frustrated with the church’s power in Utah, the Liberal Party formed to oppose the Mormon People’s Party. In 1874, Congress passed the Poland Act, which gave the government more power to prosecute polygamists.
Utah continued to apply for statehood with constitutions that did not address polygamy, and Congress continued to reject the applications. In 1890, LDS President Wilford Woodruff advised church members against illegal marriages. This policy was called the Manifesto and signaled a shift in the church’s views on polygamy. Congress passed the Enabling Act in 1894. This act outlined the steps Utah had to take to achieve statehood. One requirement was to ban polygamy in the state constitution. On January 4, 1896, Utah was formally recognized as a state.
Beginning in the early 20th century, Utah became well known for its natural beauty with the establishment of national parks, such as Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park. Alta Ski Area was established in 1939, bringing attention to Utah’s mountains and earning the state a reputation as a winter haven.
Utah has continued to grow in population and reputation since the mid-20th century. The state’s natural beauty drives tourism to the state. In 1957, the Utah State Parks Commission was created. Salt Lake City hosted the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, driving economic and infrastructure development. Preparation for the Olympics led to the development of the TRAX, a light-rail system in the Salt Lake Valley, and the reconstruction of the freeway system.
On March 8, 2020, a 5.7-magnitude earthquake hit northeast of Magna, near Salt Lake City. This was the largest earthquake in Utah since 1992 and caused damage to buildings, railroad tracks, and power lines across the region. The state quickly acted to assess the damage, repair infrastructure, and help affected families.
Today, Utah is known for its natural beauty and vibrant culture. From skiing in the Alta Ski Area to hiking in Zion National Park to stargazing at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah offers a unique experience of nature’s splendor. The state also has many popular festivals, like the Sundance Film Festival and Bonneville Salt Flats Speed Week, that attract visitors from around the world each year. Utah continues to be an attractive place to live with a strong economy driven by tourism, technology firms, and film production studios.
People Also Ask…
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What Is the State of Utah Known For?
Utah is famous for its stunning natural landscapes, thriving Mormon community, and hosting the Sundance Film Festival. Utah is home to a large number of state and national parks, recreation sites, and forests. The diverse landscape ensures that everyone will find something they enjoy from skiing in the north to exploring desert canyons in the south.
What Are 3 Facts About Utah?
Utah is the only state where the majority of the population is a member of the same church.
Utah is third in the country for the number of national parks, at five in total.
Utah is the second-driest state in the United States after Nevada
What Is Utah Best At?
Utah ranks in the top 10 in financial stability and economy, education, health care, and infrastructure. The state is also one of the fastest-growing states in the country, having seen a population increase of 16% since 2010. Utah is also the fastest-growing economy in the United States. The state’s job growth is 2.6%, well above the national average of 0.2%.
Selected famous natives and residents:
- Maude Adams actress;
- Roseanne Barr actress;
- Frank Borzage film director and producer;
- John M. Browning inventor;
- Butch Cassidy outlaw;
- Laraine Day actress;
- Bernard De Voto writer;
- Avard Fairbanks sculptor;
- Philo Farnsworth television pioneer;
- Jake Garn senator;
- Anthony Geary actor;
- John Gilbert actor;
- Jon Huntsman former governor, political figure;
- Jewel singer, songwriter;
- J. Willard Marriott restaurant and hotel chain founder;
- Peter Skene Ogden fur trader and trapper;
- Donny Osmond, Marie Osmond singers;
- Ivy Baker Priest U.S. treasurer;
- Lee Greene Richards painter;
- Leroy Robertson composer;
- Brent Scowcroft business executive and consultant;
- Reed Smoot first Mormon elected to U.S. Senate;
- Mack Swain actor;
- Everett Thorpe painter;
- Robert Walker actor;
- Mary Elizabeth Winstead actor;
- James Woods actor;
- Brigham Young territory governor and religious leader;
- Loretta Young actress;
- Steve Young football player.