Does your family love history? Or do you have a train lover? Golden Spike National Historical Park is a monument to an event that changed American history in a big way.
In a day when cars or airplanes can travel anywhere, anytime, it can be difficult to appreciate just how momentous the completion of the transcontinental railroad was to the United States in 1869.
The railroad was a tremendous feat of engineering that cost the lives of many. This made it possible for people to travel from coast to coast in a few days, instead of a few months. The railroad effectively ended a way of life for the American Indian as white settlements multiplied throughout the West.
Here are our top tips for making the most of your visit to Golden Spike National Historical Park.
Golden Spike is about 30 miles west of Brigham City. Take the marked exit from Interstate 15 and follow the signs. The way is well marked and the road is well maintained.
While you drive through the desert hills at highway speeds, imagine what it must have been like in 1869 for those who laid the track, mile by painstaking mile through all kinds of weather to reach the same spot.
Spiral Jetty is located about 20-30 minutes beyond Golden Spike. If you've ever wanted to see this quirky modern art installation in the Great Salt Lake, it makes sense to visit Golden Spike and Spiral Jetty on the same day.
Related: Tips for Visiting Spiral Jetty
Fuel and Food
There are no fuel or food services at Golden Spike. Make sure your car has plenty of fuel and that you have a picnic or snacks for the drive.
Brigham City has the largest selection of gas stations and restaurants. The small town of Corinne is your last opportunity to purchase fuel or food.
Golden Spike has picnic tables, modern restrooms and a water bottle filling station.
Related: 4 Ways to Save on National Park Fees
Golden Spike is open year-round
Golden Spike is open every day except New Year's Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Visitor Center hours are 9 AM to 5 PM
The Jupiter and 119 trains can be seen in the train yard in the summer and in the Engine House in the winter. Stop by the Visitor Center for an Engine House tour.
May 10 is the anniversary of the Golden Spike. Expect larger crowds and extra festivities that day. This historical park is not crowded on most other days.
See a re-enactment
Local volunteers re-enact the ceremony where the golden spike was driven in 1869 on Saturdays and holidays in summer and fall. They even include the part where railroad executives missed hitting the spike on the first two attempts. This ceremony is held once per day, in the early afternoon.
The re-enactment is about 30 minutes long and is full of speeches. My kids thought it was boring, but the ceremony was the thing that impressed upon me how important an event this was. It's easy to leave with your kidsin the middle of the re-enactment, if needed.
Visit the official website at https://www.nps.gov/gosp or call ahead to get the re-enactment schedule.
The Jupiter and 119 trains at Golden Spike NHS are not original, but they were constructed to look and run like the originals. They are brightly painted and they move short distances a couple of times during the day.
When the trains aren't running, they are parked nose to nose outside the visitor center in warm weather months. Visitors can get as close as they would like and even see into the engineer's seat.
Our children have collected nearly a dozen Junior Ranger badges from different national parks and they were eager to earn another at Golden Spike NHS. The program is geared toward children ages 6-12, but Golden Spike has a simplified booklet for children under 6.
We scoured the Visitors Center, learning a lot along the way, to find the information needed, and our children enjoyed the booklet's activities.
See a movie
The Visitor Center plays a variety of train movies in its small theater. These are films that may interest film buffs and train enthusiasts alike. There is also an animated film for families.
During busy seasons, these may play on a schedule. If it isn't busy, you can request any of the movies, any time. Movies include:
- Golden Spike – overview of Transcontinental Railroad
- The Great Train Robbery – one of the first feature films ever made
- Jupiter and No. 119 – documents the re-creation of historic engines
- This is America Charlie Brown – animated family classic
- Ridin' the Rails – features Johnny Cash
Where to Stay
There is no lodging or campground at Spiral Jetty. Brigham City is the closest city with lodging options. Ogden or Salt Lake City are also close enough for a day trip. Ogden is about 60 minutes drive and Salt Lake City is about 90 minutes drive from Golden Spike.
Click the button below to see rates and availability for Brigham City hotels on TripAdvisor.com.
One of the signs at the Golden Spike National Historic Site explains,
“A telegraph signal sent from the tracks… signaled a truly transcontinental extravaganza. As the word went out over the wires, the nation went wild. In city after city, church bells rang, trains hooted, fire engines howled, gongs clanged and cannons thundered. Citizens thronged the streets to watch parades. People sang The Star-Spangled Banner, prayed and shouted themselves hoarse. Countless orators hailed this as a ‘great day' of national destiny.”
I finally “got” what a feat the transcontinental railroad was and how it shaped America on our family's first visit to Golden Spike, and I was able to share it with my children. Come share this piece of American heritage with your family.
Learn more at the official website for Golden Spike National Historical Park: https://www.nps.gov/gosp