Golden Spike Empire
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.
- Ogden's Historic 25th Street
- Utah State Railroad Museum
- Ogden's Eccles Dinosaur Park
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.
Ogden's 25th Street is remembered as a place of excitement and variety. Saloons and bordellos stood side-by-side with businesses that thrived on Ogden's status as a railroad hub. Today, 25th Street offers a glimpse into the past with the opportunity to enjoy unique shops, antique stores and local restaurants.
One of four museums in Ogden Union Station, and includes a real train yard and a model railroad that snakes around a network of hallways and excellent exhibits and depicts in miniature the key Utah Transcontinental scenes — Promontory, Weber Canyon, Corinne, and what became known as the Lucin cutoff, the shortening of the route by bridging across the Great Salt Lake.
Along the Ogden River Parkway and just north of Salt Lake City, the George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park is in the business of fulfilling dinosaur daydreams. With more than 100 exhibits and realistic, full-sized dinosaur replicas, the 8.5-acre park appeals to dinosaur-loving types of all ages in an entertaining, interactive setting.
- Spiral Jetty
- Transcontinental Railroad Backcountry
- Golden Spike Reenactment and Auto Tours
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 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 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. 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.
Sculptor Robert Smithson’s piece is one of the world’s most unique works of art using the natural environment. Smithson formed the Spiral Jetty from six thousand tons of black basalt rocks and earth from the site. The spiral reaches 1,500 feet in length and is 15 feet wide. Check local conditions as the last 15 miles of the drive are on a gravel road and take extra water, supplies and towels.
This remote 90-mile backcountry byway on the Central Pacific Railroad Grade is on the National Register of Historic Places. Start west of Golden Spike National Historic Site or access from the north on S.R. 30 to start at Kelton. The byway follows the original path of the railroad through the remnants of old towns, trestles and 20 interpretive sites along the grade. Carry plenty of water, spare tires and be prepared for gravel roads in a remote setting. Curious? See the BLM georeferenced map.
A visit to Golden Spike National Monument is a sightseeing activity that appeals to anyone — adults and kids alike — who have an interest in history and all things railroad. While May 10, 2019 marks the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, you can enjoy reenactments on Saturdays and holidays throughout the summer. There are also two auto tours and an easy 1.5-mile trail called the Big Fill Walk.
- Bear River Valley
- Crystal Hot Springs
- Brigham City
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 and 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.
Besides being Golden Spike country, the Bear River Valley is one of Utah’s most scenic and compelling rural agricultural areas. This is a bounty for the traveler — especially for those willing to move slowly and look around. Follow author Tim Sullivan and his eight-year-old daughter as they explore some of the small towns and sites of this quiet corner of Utah. Read this story below:
Head to Crystal Hot Springs park for a rejuvenating soak in their hot mineral pools. The pool area at Crystal Hot Springs consists of three jetted hot tubs, a soaker pool, lap pool, Olympic-sized pool and two 360-foot water slides. Surrounding the pools you will find a beautiful grass-covered and tree-lined campground that has full RV hookups and tent sites.
Few cities of the Wasatch Front feel as "nestled" as Brigham City. Its Main Street archway proclaims "Gateway to the World's Greatest Wild Bird Refuge," and welcomes visitors to a historic main drag that also serves as part of a base camp to year-round adventure and vast tranquility of the nearby national forest and stark beauty of the West Desert.
- Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
- Willard Bay State Park
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.
This site is one of the best birding destinations in the entire world. Located only miles from Brigham City, Utah, spend a day visiting the Wildlife Education Center and exploring the wetlands and waterfowl habitat along the auto tour route.
Pack the inflatable paddleboards or load up the canoes for Mantua's tranquil reservoir tucked high in the canyon east of Brigham City. Or, if you and the family are more into mountain trails, bring your mountain bikes to ride the Eagle Rise Trail System that rolls around the reservoir in the surrounding mountain. With little climbing, this non-technical system is a perfect outing for a family or for people with beginner skills.
Willard Bay has become the ideal spot for anything water related. Whether it’s splashing near the shore, carving the water’s surface, reeling in hefty fish, birding or camping on the beach, you really can’t go wrong with a visit to the Bay.