Golden Spike National Historic Site, Northern Utah
Thirty miles west of Brigham City and 700 vertical feet above Great Salt Lake sits one of the most crucial landmarks in contemporary American history — and you can see it all from the saddle. Golden Spike National Historic Site, administered by the National Park Service, commemorates the point at which the United States’ First Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869.
Brigham City, a town of just over 18,000 at the northern edge of the Wasatch Front, is the best place to begin this 80-mile route. Two bike shops and plenty of restaurants and lodging make it easy to plan a day tour here. From downtown, head north on UT-38 toward Honeyville and, eventually, Deweyville — both are tiny and offer few services.
Just before Mile 16, turn left off gently graded Highway 38 and onto sate Route 102 heading south, which almost immediately crosses the Bear River. In Tremonton, four miles west, you’ll wind through town on Highway 102 until it meets up with Golden Spike Road, where the climbing soon begins in earnest. All 700 feet of this route’s elevation gain takes place in the last two miles up the road to Golden Spike, at grades as steep as 8 percent. There’s no shoulder here, so be on alert for passing motorists.
Arrive at Golden Spike National Historic Site at Mile 47. During the summer months, the park puts on reenactments of the driving of the last spike on Saturdays and holidays, but regardless of when you go, there’s plenty of opportunity to experience the history at Promontory Summit. It was here that the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads met nearly 150 years ago, establishing the “Overland Route” thanks to thousands of Chinese and Irish laborers. The railroad workers were so efficient, in fact, that they finished laying the last 10 miles of track in a record 12 hours, completing the railway just in time for the grand ceremony — this fact keeps things in perspective during the steep climb to Promontory Summit.
In addition to the reenactments and steam demonstrations, cyclists are allowed on the upper portion of the Big Fill Trail, which follows the railways’ original grade, and you can also ride along both the east and west auto tours, when they’re open. The East Auto Tour follows the Union Pacific grade for a mile and a half, and the West Auto Tour heads nine miles from the visitor center along the county road, then back seven miles along the original Central Pacific. Again, keep an eye out for vehicle traffic, but there’s no need to worry about trains: the line was rerouted to avoid Great Salt Lake, and the last transcontinental passenger train ran through Promontory Station in 1904.
When you’ve finished exploring Golden Spike, retrace your steps on the gravel county road, then hang a right onto Utah state Route 83. Follow Highway 83 through Corinne, where it becomes southbound Utah state Route 13. In total, it’s 31 mostly-flat miles from Golden Spike back to Brigham City, where your first stop should be at Peach City Ice Cream for an outstanding burger — the kind that tastes best after a long ride.
Despite the diminishing shoulder near Promontory Summit, roadways on this route are generally well-maintained. July and August are the hottest months, so visitors should be prepared to carry plenty of water on this shadeless route. If you plan to visit in the cooler months, keep in mind that though Golden Spike is open year-round, the auto tours close when the snow flies.