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.
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 and the opportunity to participate in the recreation of the "Champagne Photo." In fact, May 10, 2019, marks "Spike 150," the 150th anniversary of the completion of the railroad. Learn more at spike150.org. Save time (and carry provisions) for two auto tours, a hike to the Big Fill 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.
Arrive by Train
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.
Spiral Jetty and the Golden Spike
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 Holidays 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 or explore lodging and Airbnb options in the surrounding communities. Primitive camping on public lands is also an option on the backcountry byway.
Exploring Box Elder
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 or explore lodging and Airbnb options in the surrounding communities like Tremonton.
World's Great Bird Refuge and Beyond
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.
10 Places to Honor Women's History on Your Trip to Utah
Notable places you can visit where women have shaped history
11 Family-Friendly Activities Near SLC
Find fun family activities in Salt Lake City with this guide from the Utah Office of Tourism. From roller coasters to ski slopes, SLC has it all. Plan your trip now!
A Matter of Geological Consent
A billion years of geological history surrounds Salt Lake City, where a modern landscape reflects ancient constraints.
A View From the Past
Follow a historian on a tour of the Transcontinental Railroad Backcountry Byway as he reconstructs forgotten history.
Arrive by Train
Follow author Tim Sullivan and his eight-year-old daughter as they travel by train, bus and bike on a "pilgrimage" to Golden Spike National Historic Site.
Bear Lake for History Buffs: Top 5 Don't-Miss Sites
Bear Lake’s charms are pretty apparent for anyone interested in the outdoors, water sports, cute small towns or fresh-picked raspberries. But beyond a lovely azure freshwater lake surrounded by cool hiking trails and berry stands, the area has a few special historic sites that you might miss if you didn’t know better.
Bear Lake Monster Winterfest
It all started decades ago with the “Cisco Disco” and has grown to include a polar plunge, chili cookoff and winter festival known as the Bear Lake Monster Winterfest.
It’s a Dog’s Life: The Canine Crew of Tavaputs Ranch
Catching up with the working dogs of central Utah’s remote Tavaputs Ranch.
Legacy and Craft
Three of Glen Thompson’s custom leather horse saddles are fitting examples of craftsmanship and a Utah folk art tradition. See more at the Chase Home Museum.
Movies Filmed in Utah: Plotting a Cinematic Drive-Through
Follow a Germany-based film enthusiast on an extended road trip to discover the rich history of Utah cinematography.
Seeing the Dinosaurs of Utah Valley
Tons of dinosaur fossils have been found in Utah, and plenty of them are on display in museums in the Utah Valley area. Ranging from smaller collections to one of the world’s largest collections of complete dinosaur skeletons, there’s something for every dinosaur lover to enjoy!
For hearty and adventurous visitors with a few days, Tavaputs Ranch provides a rare glimpse into a historic western American lifestyle.
Temple Square: The Geographical and Musical Heart of Salt Lake
Learn more about Temple Square: The Geographical and Musical Heart of Salt Lake City and home to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and their weekly performances.
The Art of Supporting Utah Artists
Here’s a look at six local artists whose work draws upon Utah’s diverse environments as inspiration.
The Hunt for Tavaputs Ranch
Spectacular skies, off-road adventures and abundant wildlife in remote central Utah at Tavaputs Ranch.
The Legendary Joe McQueen: Utah's Original Jazz
Legendary saxophonist Joe McQueen came to the city of Ogden , Utah, in 1945 for a two-week gig and he never left. For decades he was the musical godfather of Ogden's lively 25th Street.
The Unparalleled Paiute ATV Trail
If you’re looking for great ATV vacations, look no further than the Paiute ATV Trail in central Utah. Read all about it and plan your off-road adventure today!
Time Traveling at Ogden's George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park
Many have dreamed of exploring jungles and forests only to discover a land filled with dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes? The George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park is the place to bring that dream to life, with 100-plus exhibits and realistic, full-sized dinosaur replicas, capturing the imagination of young and old alike.
Touring the Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway
Discover dinosaurs in Utah. The Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway is one of the best places to see dinosaurs in Utah.
Touring the Sheep Creek and Spirit Lake Scenic Backways of Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area
Explore the Utah Sheep Creek backways within the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. Experience awe-inspiring scenery, rock formations, and wildlife.
Tracing the Outlaw Trail
Cowboys and dinosaurs don’t always come to mind in tandem. At Dinosaur National Monument in northeastern Utah, however, they do share one thing: an incredible landscape as a backdrop. This landscape, as well as some wild history, make Dinosaur a must-visit part of the state.
Utah Female Artists Explore the Sublime Through Art
See how Utah women artists are creatively interpreting a dramatic landscape into art.
Utah’s Women Make History
Walk in the footsteps of Utah’s earliest women’s suffrage leaders at sites throughout downtown Salt Lake City. Along the way, view public art installations commemorating voting rights and stop at trail-adjacent local women-owned businesses.
Vernal Equinox: A New Season in Vernal, Utah
Looking for things to do in Vernal, Utah? Read our guide to the town here for attractions, restaurants, breweries and more. Make plans to visit Vernal!
Video: The Golden Spike Unites a Nation
May 10, 2019, marked 'Spike 150,' the 150th anniversary of the First Transcontinental Railroad. Visit the Golden Spike site in Promontory for a bit of Utah history.