Salt Lake City, a pioneer way-station as well as a destination, is rich in the combined history of the Mormon-Pioneer, Pony Express, and California national historic trails. This itinerary starts at This Is The Place Heritage Park for an overview of the three trails at one tour stop. From there, this itinerary becomes a walking tour downtown. Note: Many of these sites are related to the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail but you will find Pony Express sites as well.
There are optional extensions utilizing the National Historic Trails Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide: Utah – Crossroads of the West and the Utah National Historic Trails Guide. This tour was excerpted from the Auto Tour Route guide and a PDF version of it can be found at:
Begin Your Tour – This Is the Place Heritage Park (2106 Sunnyside Avenue, Salt Lake City)
*Consider driving to this site – begin your tour here and then drive downtown for the walking tour. Make your way to Sunnyside Avenue. The entrance to This Is The Place Heritage Park is on the right 0.7 mile beyond Crestview Drive (odometer mile 22.1). Parking for the Pony Express monument is on the right shortly after entering the park. Continue east and up the hill to the visitor center and other attractions.
Commemorates the arrival of Mormon (Latter Day Saints) pioneers in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. Mormon tradition holds that when Brigham Young first gazed on the valley from this vicinity on July 24, 1847, he experienced a heavenly vision that led him to declare, “It is enough. This is the right place.” Inside the 450-acre park is the National Pony Express Monument with a replica Pony Express station, a dramatic Avard Fairbanks sculpture of a relay rider changing horses, and several interpretive wayside exhibits. Statuary Walk east of the Pony Express monument includes other sculptures and the 60-foot high This Is the Place Monument, with bronze figures of Brigham Young and other early church leaders.
Around the monument base are bas relief depictions of significant figures in Utah history. Beyond the nearby visitor center is Heritage Village, a reconstructed village of original pioneer-era buildings where costumed docents and historical interpreters share history and demonstrate early crafts and trades. Young visitors can ride ponies and trains, make crafts, and pet farm animals here.
This Is the Place Heritage Park, near the location where Brigham Young first surveyed the valley, is represents the Mormon arrival. But as the City of the Saints grew from a rustic frontier village to a bustling territorial capital, many California-bound travelers paused here for a layover to rest, re-supply, or spend the winter — or, as in the case of English adventurer Sir Richard Burton, to satisfy their curiosity about Brigham Young and the Mormons. The Pony Express descended the canyon and went through town, too, carrying mail to one of two home stations on Main Street.
To go downtown from This Is The Place Heritage Park, turn west (right) from the park exit onto Sunnyside Avenue. Stay in the right lane. Approaching the second stoplight, bear right and merge onto Foothill Drive. To begin the tour at Fort Douglas National Historic Landmark, Fort Douglas Military Museum, see driving and TRAX directions in entry SLC-1 below. Otherwise, continue on Foothill, which makes an S-turn and becomes 400 South Street. If walking, park anywhere in the downtown area; if driving the tour, consult individual site entries for more specific parking suggestions.
Walking Tour Begins Here
1. Emigration Square/Washington Square Pioneer Campground, 400 South Street and State Street
For several years, emigrants on their way to California corralled their cattle and camped here during their stay in Salt Lake City. Later, the livestock pens were moved outside of the city. The 1894 City and County Building occupies the site today, and a monument commemorating the Mormon pioneers is located at the northwest corner of the square. (The monument is erroneous in stating that the vanguard Mormon pioneers camped at this location — the 1847 vanguard pioneer company camped on the banks of City Creek, southwest of what is now Exchange Place, the nights of July 23-25, 1847. The area is now occupied by buildings and the creek is channeled through an underground conduit.)
As the Mormon pioneers approached the Salt Lake Valley, they split into four groups: a party of scouts at the front; a party of roadbuilders; the main camp of pioneers; and then Brigham Young, who was sick with Mountain Fever, with a caretaker, two days later. The scouts, roadbuilders, and main camp merged at the mouth of Emigration Canyon, where they had to break through the limestone ledge that had forced the Donner Party to crawl up out of the canyon. They entered the valley together the following day, July 22, and then moved to City Creek (downtown) on July 23. Brigham Young didn’t reach the valley until July 24.
Curbside parking is available on the streets bordering Washington Square.
2. Pony Express Station Monument, east side of Main Street between 200 South and 100 South
A curbside monument in front of the First National Bank Building at 163 South Main Street commemorates the Great Salt Lake City Pony Express Station. A plaque, located near the entrance of the Tribune Building a few doors north of the monument, lists Utah Pony Express riders and superintendents. The Tribune Building stands at the former site of Salt Lake House, a historic hotel where many notable travelers, including Mark Twain and Sir Richard Burton, stayed while visiting Salt Lake City on their way to California. Because the daughter of a Pony Express rider stated that her father had slept at Salt Lake House, the hotel long was assumed to have been a Pony Express home station. However, recent research has determined that the mail station originally was directly across the street from the hotel. After several months of use, the station was relocated a block north.
Entries 3 through 11 are Mormon church-owned properties, part of greater Temple Square and the historic heart of Salt Lake City.
3. Brigham Young Monument, South Temple and Main Street
The monument features a heroic-sized statue of Young created for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, along with smaller sculptures representing the Utah Indian tribes and fur trappers who preceded the pioneers. A plaque on the monument lists the members of the original Mormon advance company. Curbside parking is limited in this area; underground parking may be available at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, the white building to the right (east) of the monument.
4. Lion House, South Temple Street, west of State Street
The Beehive House and the Lion House were the residences of Brigham Young’s large family. The Lion House, named for the stone lions at the front entrance, was built next door in 1856 two years after the construction of Beehive House, next door to the east. It was Young’s family residence and is where he died in 1877. Only its lower level, occupied by The Lion House Pantry restaurant, is open to the public.
5. Beehive House, South Temple Street, west of State Street
The Beehive House is named for the beehive structure on its roof. For several years it served as Utah Territory’s executive mansion, where Governor Young worked and received visitors such as Ulysses S. Grant, Horace Greeley, Mark Twain, and Sir Richard Burton. The Beehive House is open for free, missionary-led tours.
6. The Eagle Gate, South Temple and State Street
The Eagle Gate spans State Street east of Beehive House. The monumental gateway was originally erected in 1859 at the entrance to Brigham Young’s private family compound. Today a bronze eagle perches atop the gateway. The original wooden eagle is exhibited at the nearby Pioneer Memorial Museum (see Stop 12).
7. Brigham Young Cemetery, 150 East on the south side of 1st Avenue
The cemetery is a place of reverence and contemplation for Mormon visitors. In the outer garden stand sculptures of Mormon emigrants and monuments commemorating pioneers William Clayton and Eliza Roxcy Snow. Clayton wrote a detailed traveler’s guide to the Mormon Trail and composed the motivational hymn Come, Come, Ye Saints during his own 1846-47 trek from Nauvoo. Snow was a wife of church founder Joseph Smith and, after his death, of Brigham Young. She became a poet and songwriter of renown among the Mormon pioneers. Her grave, in the inner garden, is near that of Brigham Young and other members of his family.
8. Brigham Young Historic Park, State Street and 2nd Avenue
The park was once a part of Brigham Young’s family farm. Today it includes a water wheel with a wooden flume and lifelike sculptures of pioneers at work and play. Free evening lectures and concerts are offered here June through August.
9. The Church History Museum, 45 North and West Temple Street
View exhibits and many important artifacts associated with the Mormon exodus to Utah, including objects related to the assassination of church founder Joseph Smith at Carthage, Illinois; Joseph Smith’s death mask; a wagon with a “roadometer” (odometer) invented by Mormon pioneers during the 1847 trek west; a cannon hauled west from Nauvoo by the advance company; and many personal belongings carried to Utah by the emigrants. Original paintings and artwork depict historical events and experiences.
10. Deuel Pioneer Log Cabin, next to the Church History Museum
The log cabin is an original pioneer home that was built in 1847 at a cost of $60. Only one other Salt Lake home built that year still exists; it is located at This is the Place Heritage Park. Lumber was scarce in the largely treeless valley, and most homes built after 1847 were constructed of adobe brick. Free. The cabin is located between the museum and the Family History Library.
11. Temple Square, between South Temple and North Temple Streets
Visit extensive, enclosed formal garden area where the Salt Lake Temple and famous Mormon Tabernacle are located. Many passing emigrants, curious to hear Brigham Young speak, attended open-air Mormon Church services here and described the construction of the temple and tabernacle in their journals. All are welcome to visit the square, but entrance to the temple itself is restricted.
For information about buildings, monuments, gardens, and other features within the enclosed portion of Temple Square, go to www.lds.org. Click on “About the Church” and then on “Places to Visit.” Maps and brochures are also available at on-site visitor centers.
12. Pioneer Memorial Museum, 300 North Street and Main Street
The Daughters of the Utah Pioneers proudly proclaims the museum as “the world’s largest collection of artifacts on one particular subject.” The claim is easy to believe: this museum is packed with thousands of objects both mundane and fascinating, all part of Mormon history. Allow at least a couple of hours to visit. Objects of particular note include an Army supply wagon captured from Albert Sidney Johnston’s troops by the Mormon militia during the 1857 Utah War; and three feathers from the “Miracle of the Quail,” when a flock of quail fluttered into an encampment of starving Mormon refugees on the Mississippi River in 1846.
Upon leaving the museum, walk out to the sidewalk and look north up Main Street for a view of Ensign Peak, the last stop on the Salt Lake City Pioneer Tour.
End Your Tour – 13. Ensign Peak Memorial Garden & Ensign Peak Nature Park; Ensign Vista Drive
*Consider driving to this site – it is one mile north (uphill) of Temple Square and 700 feet higher than the downtown sites.
Two days after arriving in the valley, Brigham Young and 7 other pioneers climbed this hill to view the valley and begin planning their new city. Today the hilltop provides a stunning view straight down State Street, across the city the pioneers planned, to the south end of the Salt Lake Valley. Ensign Peak Memorial Garden trailhead includes plaques that explain the history and significance of the site. Another overlook is an easy walk about 0.3 mile up the trail at 5,060 feet elevation; an interpretive sign there identifies major landmarks and key buildings across the valley. Continue up the trail to the top of the peak for the best view. The sight is particularly beautiful at dusk as the sun sets and city streets begin to sparkle with lights. Allow at least an hour from the trailhead for a leisurely hike, and carry water. Ensign Peak is 5,414 feet.
Last updated: February 12, 2019