Golden Spike National Historic Site   |  Sandra Salvas

4 Days   •   160 Miles

Golden Spike Empire

Participate in railroad history, bird migration and iconic earth art in the quiet stretches of Northern Utah's rural Box Elder County. It starts with a visit to the Utah State Railroad Museum and finishes in a nature reserve for the land's first migrants.
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Start and Finish: Salt Lake City International or Ogden-Hinckley Airport with easy access on I-15

Hours of Driving: 5–7 hours with Golden Spike auto tours. And add around two hours for the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge auto tour and a half-day to explore the remote Transcontinental Railroad Backcountry Byway.

Rolling into Ogden, Utah, on the FrontRunner Commuter Rail, author Tim Sullivan immediately sees the importance of trains to the city's history. With the driving of the last spike and the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad at Promontory Summit, Northern Utah established itself as the Crossroads of the West. While there are multiple cities and towns with lodging options in the area, consider a base camp in Brigham City to see it all.

On this four-day itinerary, you'll explore the region's profound railroad history in Ogden (Day 1) and at Golden Spike National Historic Site, less than one hour to the northwest. Time your trip for a Saturday stop in the summer at Golden Spike (Day 2) to witness the reenactment of the last spike ceremony. Save time (and carry provisions) for two auto tours and a spur trip to the incredible Spiral Jetty earth art on the north shore of the Great Salt Lake. If you're well prepared and have the time, use part of today or tomorrow to set out on the Transcontinental Railroad Backcountry Byway.

To round out your trip, take your time exploring the small towns and communities in the Bear River Valley (Day 3), which can include touring the murals of Tremonton, a stop at Crystal Hot Springs and a spur adventure up the canyon to Mantua. And because Brigham City is the gateway to the world's greatest wild bird refuge (as seen on the grand welcome sign arching over the wide main street), a trip to Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge (Day 4) and the excellent auto tour is a must. Bring your binoculars, a picnic lunch and a sense of wonder for the ancient migrations that made this land a crossroads well before humans laid tracks.

Day 1

Arrive by Train

45 Miles

While Promontory was the place where East met West in the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, Ogden became the transfer point between the Union Pacific and Central Pacific — and one can immediately see how the bustle and grand commercial promenade of Ogden's iconic 25th Street came to be. Today, Ogden's downtown is pedestrian friendly and features an array of local shops, restaurants and bars. Ogden is an outdoor recreation mecca thanks to nearby trails and mountain resorts that are the foundation for endless adventure. With extra time you can explore and play in the nearby Ogden Valley, but the Utah State Railroad Museum (one of four museums housed in Union Station) is a must for railroad enthusiasts and for great context to tomorrow's visit to Golden Spike.

Ogden or at your Brigham City base camp to this itinerary — it's only about 25 minutes away.

Day 2

Spiral Jetty and the Golden Spike

50 Miles

Golden Spike is home to the replica steam locomotives Jupiter and No. 119, which operate daily from May 1 through mid-October. From Memorial Day to Labor Day a dedicated team of volunteers performs the reenactment of the driving of the last spike ceremony. Summer reenactments are on Saturdays and take place at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. To make the most of the day, consider an early start to hit Spiral Jetty in the morning and some afternoon exploration out on the Transcontinental Railroad Backcountry Byway — but proceed with caution! While the Spiral Jetty is typically accessible in any passenger vehicle, these are unpaved roads that can be impassable after a storm and sections of the backcountry byway require a high-clearance vehicle. Visitors should also be mindful that low water levels at the Great Salt Lake have increased the natural presence of tar around the Spiral Jetty shoreline. Watch your step and keep dogs on leash. Always travel prepared, or keep your focus on the excellent auto and walking tours of Golden Spike.

Base camp Brigham City. Primitive camping on public lands is also an option on the backcountry byway.

Day 3

Exploring Box Elder

40 Miles

The Bear River Valley’s small towns are connected by a network of small, relatively flat two-lane byways without much traffic, reminiscent of New England, the Midwest or Coastal California. These roads form a network connecting small towns like Corinne, Honeyville, Deweyville, Garland and Bear River City with the great wall of the Wellsville Mountains in the background. The Tremonton murals and Crystal Hot Springs are among the most popular destinations in this region, but as author Tim Sullivan discovered cycling the region with his eight-year-old daughter, these communities offer an array of wonderful stops.

Oh, and Brigham City itself offers plenty to see and do, including the Brigham City Museum of Art & History, plus great local dining. During the summer, the nearby Fruit Highway makes for a flavorful journey through local agriculture and culminates in the annual Peach Days Festival the weekend after Labor Day.

Return to your Brigham City Base Camp.

Day 4

World's Great Bird Refuge and Beyond

25 Miles

The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is one of the best birding destinations in the entire world. You could easily spend half the day visiting the Wildlife Education Center and exploring the wetlands and waterfowl habitat on the 12-mile auto tour, a narrow and unpaved loop tour that will compel you to pull off multiple times at interpretive signs or to watch for birds. Nearby Willard Bay State Park is another great option for birders but with the added benefits of beaches and water sports rentals to liven up the day. Another escape option is the short drive up the canyon to Mantua [pronounced man-away], where a charming reservoir and community offer a welcoming environment to wrap up your visit to this tranquil corner of Utah.

Spiral Jetty

Photo: Gianfranco Gorgoni photos courtesy Utah Museum of Fine Arts.

Willard Bay State Park

Photo: Utah State Parks

Downtown Ogden

Photo: Sandra Salvas

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