Utah’s Salt Lake City is a lively location that’s home to entertainment venues, outdoor recreation, and excellent restaurants. However, for those interested in learning about the city’s past, there are plenty of historical sites worth visiting.
From railroads and mines to Native American villages, in no particular order, here are the top places in Salt Lake City to learn about the industries and people who built Utah:
The State Capitol Building
The Utah State Capitol sits proudly on a hill at the north end of the city. The building was designed by a local architect, Richard K. A. Kletting, and has been in use since 1916. Housed in the four-story Capitol are numerous government offices, including that of the governor.
The Capitol building and its surrounding grounds are filled with paintings, statues, and exhibits. Visitors can choose from three different tour formats: docent-led, self-guided, and virtual. Docent-led tours generally do not require a reservation, unless you have a group of 10 or more, and take place numerous times during weekdays.
Self-guided tours may be taken any time during the Capitol’s business hours, meanwhile, virtual tours are given via Zoom and are available on specific days and times, which can be found by checking the official website. Requiring a reservation, virtual tour groups must be between 10-100 people.
All tours of the Utah State Capitol are free of charge and it’s recommended you check online for the exact hours of operation as they may vary. Additionally, there are three different visitor parking lots available on the grounds.
350 N. State Street, Salt Lake City, UT | 801-538-1800 | utahstatecapitol.utah.gov
This Is the Place Heritage Park
In 1847, Mormon pioneers arrived in what would come to be known as the Salt Lake Valley. As they looked down over the valley, their leader, Brigham Young, is said to have uttered the phrase, “This is the place.” Years later, This Is the Place Heritage Park was built to honor the pioneers who settled in the area.
Many of the structures in the park are relocated or replicated homes and businesses of real Utah pioneers. At the park, visitors can experience early Utah life by panning for gold, taking train tours, and visiting pioneer-era businesses like blacksmiths and saddle-makers.
The park also includes a Native American village, the Mormon Battalion Museum, and the Walk of Pioneer Faiths, created to honor early religious groups. Train and pioneer home tours are each offered several times a day, however, you can take a self-guided tour if you like. Food, ice cream, and donuts are also available for purchase on-site.
2601 E. Sunnyside Avenue, Salt Lake City, UT | 801-582-1847 | thisistheplace.org
Golden Spike National Historic Park
The Transcontinental Railroad was one of the greatest human accomplishments of the 19th century, stretching all the way from Nebraska to California. It took seven years to complete, and construction crews ran into many problems along the way.
Finally, in 1869, the final spike, known as the Golden Spike, was placed on the tracks in Promontory, Utah, about an hour’s drive out of Salt Lake. The railroad no longer runs through Promontory; rather, in its place stands Golden Spike National Historic Park.
At the park, guests can see the site of the last spike, view costumed reenactments, and see replicas of Victorian-era locomotives. Many activities at Golden Spike are seasonal, so summer visitors may have a different experience than winter guests.
In the summer, guests can watch the Locomotive Ranger Program, a daily show with demonstrations of two locomotives. During the winter, engine house tours are given multiple times a day, followed by a Q&A session with a ranger. Year-round activities include two driving tours and a hiking trail.
6200 N 22300 W, Corinne, UT | 435 471-2209 ext. 429 | nps.gov…
Bingham Canyon Copper Mine
The Bingham Canyon Mine, also known as Kennecott Copper Mine, has been in operation since 1903 and is the world’s largest man-made excavation. The mine is so large, it can be seen from space. Since mining began in the canyon, more than 19 million tons of copper have been extracted.
Rio Tinto Zinc purchased the mining assets at Kennecott in 1989 and continues to mine there today. The mine is about a 40-minute drive south of Salt Lake City, just outside Herriman, Utah. Visitors can learn about the history of the mine and how the metals are used through the mine’s Visitor Experience program.
The Visitor Experience is a self-guided tour with several exhibits and a shuttle ride up to the mine overlook, which takes about an hour to complete. Entirely outdoors, guests are encouraged to pay attention to the weather on the day of their visit and dress accordingly. Kennecott is only open to visitors from April through October, however, virtual tours are available online.
12732 Bacchus Hwy, Herriman, UT | 801-204-2007 | riotinto.com…
The Beehive House
Located in downtown Salt Lake, this 19th-century mansion was the home of three different leaders of the Mormon church. Brigham Young, the first resident of the home, was also the governor of the Utah Territory before the area became a state. From the end of World War I until the 1950s, the building served as a boarding house for young women working or going to school in Salt Lake.
The building is now a museum that is open to visitors. Guests can tour the mansion, which has been restored to look as it would have when church leaders were living there. Local volunteers guide the tours that last about 30 minutes and feature Brigham Young’s office as a governor, 19th-century carpentry tools, and maps and pictures of the Utah Territory.
It should be mentioned that the home is not wheelchair-accessible and does not have public restrooms, though there are some nearby.
67 E. South Temple, Salt Lake City, UT | 801-240-2681 | churchofjesuschrist.org…
Fielding Garr Ranch at Antelope Island
Antelope Island is a 28,000-acre swath of land in the middle of the Great Salt Lake that was once how to Indigenous people. Today, the area is a state park that’s home to hiking trails, campsites, and Fielding Garr Ranch. In 1848, pioneers came to Antelope Island, and one man, Fielding Garr, built a ranch house there.
Over the next century or more, settlers lived at the ranch and used the island for raising livestock, mining, and oil drilling. In the early 1900s, the island was home to one of the largest sheep ranches in the western United States. Today, the Fielding Garr Ranch is open for self-guided tours. Visitors can explore various buildings, including the ranch house, blacksmith shop, and shearing barn.
Other structures open to the public include corrals, a grain silo, and a mechanic’s pit. The ranch’s position within the park makes it a great addition to a day spent exploring the rest of Antelope Island. Please note that there is a small fee for each car entering the park.
4528 W. 1700 S. Syracuse, UT | 801-927-0545 | stateparks.utah.gov…
Cathedral of the Madeleine
Built in 1909, the Cathedral of the Madeleine serves as the Diocese of Salt Lake City or the mother church for Roman Catholics in the area. The building’s exterior is largely the same today as it was at the time of its construction. The Neo-Romanesque architecture and Neo-Gothic interior design make it a must-see for visitors to the area.
Guests can stop by for a self-guided tour booklet. Mass and other religious services are held daily, and the cathedral is often a venue for performances by local choirs. If traveling with a large group, call ahead of time to schedule a tour.
331 E. South Temple, Salt Lake City, UT | 801-328-8941 | utcotm.org
Wheeler Historic Farm
First purchased in 1848, the 75-acre Wheeler Historic Farm gives visitors a chance to see what life was like for farmers in the early days of Utah. The farm served to feed local families for over a century before it was acquired by Salt Lake County and turned into a living, working, and historic farm.
Today, guests can attend milking demonstrations, take nature walks through backwoods areas, and ride tractor-drawn wagons over the property. The farm includes two playgrounds– one for older children and one for toddlers. The on-site Rosebud Country Store sells snacks, drinks, and Utah honey.
Guided tours of the farmhouse are available by reservation and take approximately one hour. The lower floor of the farmhouse is wheelchair accessible, as are the wagon tours. Wheeler Farm is open daily during daylight hours for public use of trails and green areas. While access to the farm and parks is free, tours and demonstrations require tickets.
6351 S. 90 E. Murray, UT | 385-468-1755 | slco.org/wheeler-farm
The state capital and a hub for entertainment, Salt Lake City has plenty of activities to keep Utah tourists busy for days. Those interested in learning more about Mormon pioneers, mining history, or seeing church architecture will find plenty of places while visiting.