The first thing you’ll notice when you get to the rail line of the Golden Spike National Historic Site, west of Brigham City, Utah, and just north of the Great Salt Lake is the silence. With the midday sun high overhead the only sound you’ll hear is the wind coming down from the Promontory Mountains. It wasn’t always like this. In 1869 this was where the first transcontinental railroad was completed.
During the 1860’s the United States Congress ordered that a railroad be built across the nation in an effort to connect the sparsely populated western half of the nation with more established areas in the East. The connection would help build the economy, shorten travel times, and help the military control resistance by the native tribes. Two companies sprang forth to make this happen, Central Pacific Railroad (CPR) and Union Pacific Railroad (UPR). CPR would build a railway east starting at the city of Sacramento. Beginning in Omaha, Nebraska UPR would lay its line heading west. The last spike to join the two was driven by Leland Stanford, the President of Southern Pacific Railroad, at Promontory Summit, Utah, May 10th, 1869.
Photos by Louis Arevalo
What Makes It Great
Today a short section of line has been rebuilt and holds a gold tie at the meeting spot. Just behind the visitor’s center you can wander the tracks and see numerous relics they have on display. During the summer months “Driving of the Last Spike” is reenacted daily with two life-size, fully operational, replicas of the Jupiter and No. 119 steam locomotives on the tracks. The two steam engines run daily unless scheduled for maintenance.
The Golden Spike has two short auto tour routes that shouldn’t be missed. The West Grade Auto Tour starts seven miles west and is the stretch of line where CPR set the world record for most track laid in a single day, 10 miles and 56 feet. The East Grade Auto Tour begins four miles east of the visitor center. This path takes you on the Union Pacific Grade. Building the line through the Promontory Mountains was difficult. In only eight miles UPR blasted five cuts, and built four trestles and four fills. The route will take you by the Final Cut and the Chinese Arch, a natural limestone arch named as a nod to the numerous Chinese laborers of the CPR.
The East Auto Tour ends at the Big Fill Loop Trail. Park the car and walk out to a large ravine filled in to support the line. The Central Pacific used earth, the Union Pacific built a large trestle and you can still see the abutments.
What You Will Remember
The history of railroads and travel in the United States will remain at the forefront of your mind after leaving Golden Spike. The amount of work it took to build a railroad of this magnitude is also astounding and not easily forgotten.
Who’s Going to Love It and Things to Do at Golden Spike
A visit to Golden Spike National Monument is a sightseeing activity. With minimal walking and easy paths to follow it appeals to anyone – adults and kids alike – who has an interest in history and all things railroad. Each May, Golden Spike is the scene of an annual re-enactment that marks the anniversary of the original ceremony, which completed the nation's first transcontinental railroad. An annual Railroader's Festival is also held each August. Working replicas of the 1869 steam locomotives, Jupiter and 119, are in operation from May–October. There are also two auto tours and an easy 1.5 mile (2.4 km) trail called the Big Fill Walk. The visitor center is open year-round with cool slide programs, films, and museum exhibits. Explore things to do at Golden Spike and make plans to visit this historic attraction with your friends or family.
GPS Coordinates, Parking, and Regulations
(N 41.62048 and W -112.54747)
Golden Spike National Historic Site is 32 miles west of Brigham City, Utah, via Utah Hwy. 83
Northbound on I-15: exit #365, turn right (west) on Hwy. 13 to Hwy. 83. Follow signs to Golden Spike. (32 miles)
Southbound on I-15: exit I-84 west to exit #40 (Hwy. 102). Turn left and follow signs to Hwy. 83. Turn right on 83 and follow signs to Golden Spike. (Approximately 29 miles)
Eastbound on I-84: exit #26, south on Hwy. 83 past ATK Rocket display, turn right at sign to Golden Spike. (Approximately 27 miles)
Westbound from Logan: Hwy. 30 west to I-15, then follow directions for Southbound on I-15. (Approximately 50 miles)
Golden Spike National Historic Site
Golden Spike Road
Corinne, Utah 84307