By Darren Nelson, feature writer for My Local Utah
When I first attended Swiss Days with my family as a teenager, I was impressed by all there was to see at this modest craft fair. Since then, Swiss Days has become a big event in Wasatch County. Probably the biggest of the year. Saying Swiss Days is merely one of many craft fairs in Utah is an understatement. Over the decades it has become a “can’t miss” event for Labor Day weekend amongst many Utahns (and out-of-staters for that matter).
I have had a unique experience over the years as both an attendee and a vendor at Swiss Days. As an attendee, I can testify that this is a shopper’s paradise, especially if you like homemade crafts and art. The prices you will see here run the gambit from expensive to affordable. And the variety of what you can buy is incredible. My memory as a vendor is that it is not unusual to run out of inventory due to the volume of shoppers. My advice to shoppers is if you see something you like, don’t pass on it until later. It might not be there when you come back to buy it.
Swiss Days includes something for everyone. The weekend events include a 10K and a parade on Saturday morning. There is a designated kid’s area at Swiss Days too, with games and bounce houses for children that may lack the patience for shopping. Speaking of non-shoppers, this event can also be an excellent excuse for some husbands to play a round of golf at one of the local courses while their wives shop at the Swiss Day booths. Everyone can meet up for lunch or dinner to finish the day. As you can see, Swiss Days can be a real win-win for couples and families. And if finish what you want with Swiss Days, you can always check out what else the charming town of Midway has to offer.
Welcome to Midway
If you are unfamiliar with Midway, it is a small town that sits just west of Heber City in the Heber Valley. Nestled at the Eastern foothills of Mount Timpanogos and along the shores of Deer Creek Reservoir, Midway is a charming city with a very distinct Switzerland vibe to it.
My mother was raised here, and I still have family in the area, so visiting Midway was a frequent thing for me growing up. This is truly a beautiful place to visit. It is lush and green all summer, with some more mild temperatures you would expect in the mountain valleys of the Wasatch. It is mostly farmland intersected with tree-lined rivers and streams flowing into Dear Creek from the East and eventually westward to Utah Valley. It has really grown over decades since I was a young boy, but it has maintained that wonderful small-town charm to it.
In 1866, Brigham Young visited the Heber Valley and encouraged the settlers in an area to build a fort to protect them from Indian hostilities occurring at the time. Brigham Young settled a dispute between two existing communities on the location of the proposed fort by picking a spot “midway” between them. Thus, the town of Midway was born.
Shortly thereafter, Midway became a gathering point for Swiss migrants to Utah, giving the town its unique Switzerland-like feel. Midway is also famous for its local hot springs, giving birth to such resorts as The Homestead and Zermatt. There is also Soldier Hollow and Sundance Resorts nearby, along with Wasatch Mountain State Park, Heber Valley railroad, the Alpine Loop, and plenty of other outdoor activities available. Today, Midway can boast the title of a tourist town, with some fun things to do and see. However, the biggest event of the year in town is arguably Swiss Days, as it draws many more visitors than residents to the town’s center.
The Main Event
Swiss Days are more than a craft fair—or if you feel that “craft fair” is the best term—then a craft fair on steroids might be a more accurate description. A hundred thousand-plus people descend on this mountain community every year on Labor Day weekend to not just shop—but to immerse themselves in the Swiss Days experience.
Getting there is easy. Whether you are coming from Utah County or Park City, Midway is just a short drive away. Parking is less easy. Swiss Days are held on the Midway City Square located between Main Street and 100 North, and between 100 West and 200 West. Although there is some handicapped street parking available and a small lot next to the Post Office to the South of the city square, most parking is in two nearby designated lots with a shuttle service. Several of Midway’s residents living near the event, understand how to make a buck or two, and will allow you to park their home yards and fields for a small fee.
Free for everyone
Admission to Swiss Days is free to everyone, as is the entertainment they provide. Plenty of music, dancing, and other entertainment is constantly going on in the central plaza area. There is also shaded seating available. So, if you like entertainment and just window shopping, Swiss Days can be a lot of fun without spending a dime.
Of course, Swiss Days is made for shoppers. The booths at Swiss Days, and there are many booths to see, offer a variety of goods made by local artisans and others who travel from across the country to be here. If buying arts and crafts for your home, yard, or office, is the kind of thing you really go in for, then you are going to love, love, love, Swiss Days.
Another attraction for shoppers at Swiss Days is the package drop-off. This is a secure location where you can drop off things you have purchased and pick them up when you leave. It is a sort of “coat check” for all your purchased treasures. This way you don’t have to carry around items while you shop. I strongly encourage this, as it makes shopping so much more pleasant.
Aside from arts and crafts, you can also find some things to satisfy your taste buds. Fair-style food is available for lunch, including some massive Navajo Tacos. Homemade treats like pie, ice cream and scones are also plentiful. I never miss the baked goods booth. Bakers from local church groups have an incredible selection of cookies, cakes, and brownies—including a bunch of Swiss and German-themed desserts. I typically buy in quantity here and take home my treats to snack on the rest of the week.
Some Things to Keep in Mind
Swiss Days are usually beautiful weather, but sometimes too much sun and high temperatures can lead to unpleasant shopping and health issues. Keep yourself hydrated and take breaks in shaded areas if it gets too hot (there are several pavilions and shade trades around the square).
Strollers are a difficult challenge to navigate. It is recommended by Swiss Days to use a baby carrier if you are bringing an infant with you. Simultaneously pushing a stroller across the grass, through people, and into booths is not fun. For older children, the play area can be a real relief for parents. Plan ahead and create a strategy that works best for you.
The parking lots with shuttle service are located near 500 East on Main St and 800 North on River Road. These are the two main routes into downtown Midway, and the two lots are well-marked and easy to spot.
More Fun Things to Do and See in Midway
I already mentioned golf as a distraction, but this might be the main event for some. Visit The Homestead resort and use it as a meet-up location at the end of the day. Not only do they have a great golf course, but they have places to eat and rest your shopping legs. (I recommend lunch on the patio by the duck pond). The Blue Boar Inn is also a tasty place to catch a meal but comes with a higher price tag. There are also some good restaurants at the nearby Zermatt Resort as well. All are a very short drive to the West and North of downtown Midway. The Heirloom on the corner across the street to the Southwest from Swiss Days is also a good place to catch a meal. If small-town adventuring is what you like, then a stroll down Main Street will lead you to several family-friendly, and budget-friendly eateries.
Want to take in some sights? Drive to the top of Memorial Hill in Midway. Finding Memorial Hill is easy, it is an unnaturally high mound in the middle of the flat valley close to the middle of town—you can’t miss it. (Entrance to the road up the hill is on River Road.) The view at the top gives a great view of the valley and the East slopes of the Wasatch Range. For a unique experience, visit the hot pot at The Homestead resort. This geological feature resembles a small volcano. It costs nothing and you can use the stairs on the South side to walk to the top of it and look down into its crater. There is also a door on the West side that gives access to a cave-like hallway cut from the rock to the interior of the crater. Here you can walk on a dock that extends into the deep hot spring that fills the entirety of the crater.
And lastly, you can grab some artisan cheese or a yummy Aggie ice cream cone from Heber Valley Artisan Cheese. This is a real cheese factory located on River Road North of the aforementioned Memorial Hill. Take a drive and stop for a picnic along the scenic Alpine Loop behind Mount Timpanogos to finish your Swiss Days experience.