What is Golden Spike National Historical Park?
Have you ever heard of Golden Spike Historical Park?
I hadn’t either! It is part of the National Park Service. On our way back from Yellowstone National Park, we saw a sign off to the side of the road that said Golden Spike National Historical Park, this was in Utah.
We’re the type of people that when we have a destination in mind, including home, we don’t usually make unplanned stops. This time it was still early enough in the day, we were in the area, and so we decided that we would jump off the highway and check it out!
This Historical Park is really far off the main hwy! (My quick check on Google Maps is saying about 28 miles off of the highway.) There are also no other touristy sites in the vicinity, so it will take some commitment to make this stop part of your trip. More on that later.
The transcontinental railroad is a huge part of Utah history. Two of my kids had programs this year about the Golden Spike. They taught us through song about how the railroad connected the east coast to the west coast! Check out the song provided by the Utah 4th grade program song lyric script.
Basically, both workers from the east and west were working hard to finish the track to connect the United States. On May 10, 1869 in Promontory Point the final spike was put in place. As a celebration a golden spike was used!
2019 is the 150 year anniversary of this great event. Therefore, visiting the Golden Spike Historical Park this year is extra special. There are many celebrations and exhibits throughout the state. Reenactments are common every single day, but in honor of the 150 year celebration a special reenactment was performed.
For your viewing pleasure, you can watch part of the celebration! This is provided by the special website that was created for this, called Spike 150.
Brigham Young University
“After Promontory” will be on display at the Museum of Art on Brigham Young University campus until the end of October.
The Utah State Capital had a display earlier in the summer but it is now returning to Washington DC. Other towns such as Heber, Springville, Cache Valley, and Cedar City will have a tribute to the 150 year Golden Spike anniversary throughout the summer and even into October.
Plan Your Visit
Should I Plan a Special Visit
I would say if you live in Utah that 2019 is the year to visit. This is a great Utah State history moment and it is great to be a part of it. If I was coming from out of state I would not necessarily go out of my way to see Promontory Point unless, I had a train enthusiast with me, held a National Park Pass and wanted to get to as many parks as possible, or if I had a trip planned and was near the area.
What to Expect
Golden Spike National Historic Site is located in the Great Desert Basin. It is far from civilization. If you take a look on Google Maps, you’ll see that the park is nowhere near neighborhoods or amenities. It’s 90 miles from Salt Lake City, 50 miles from Logan, and 50 miles from Ogden.
When we went, there were two sites pretty much across the street from each other. The main site housed the visitor’s center. The visitor’s center includes an area where you can watch films (these were dated), and gift shop, and a museum that has items from the era as well as stories.
Outside the museum is a pathway leading to the point where the tracks were joined. The second site, the engine house, holds train cars.
Junior Ranger Program
We enjoyed the junior ranger program available. The program is for kids 6-12. They can participate in activities that will take about 30 minutes to complete. It mostly involves learning all about the history of the transcontinental railroad.
Replica trains Juniper and No. 119 come rolling on display at 10AM and at 10:30 AM. There is a demonstration at 1pm. At 4pm the Trains are taken back to the engine house.
We visited the engine house and got to see the trains up close. The trains are large and colorful! You can go up into one of the trains. If you have a little one that loves machines, this will be a great stop for him or her.
There are reenactments of the Golden Spike ceremony held daily. If you want to see the reenactments, arrive between 11AM and 1pm. This is when the reenactments are performed. We arrived just when the last reenactment of the day was wrapping up! We missed out, and so if you plan a bit better, you’ll be able to see what we didn’t.
After the visitor center you can jump in your car and take a auto tour. The west auto tour is seven miles long and is home to the “10 Miles of Track, Laid in one Day” sign where the Central Pacific Railroad built 10 miles and 56 feet of track on April 28th, 1869.
The east auto tour is two miles long and allows you to see cuts, fills, and culverts.
I recommend you don’t do this with littles. If you have little ones, I would stick with the museum and the surrounding area, and the engine house. But if you are have older children or are there with adult history buffs, the tour helps give context of it took to finish this amazing feat!
I do not think you would need more than an hour to see everything in the visitor center and reenactments.
I’m glad we went. I think it’s important to learn about the laborers, the engineering, and the other historic components of the railroad. This was a major event in our country’s history, and was celebrated in cities across the country. We came away with a greater appreciation of the significance of Promontory Point and the first transcontinental railroad.