Utah Heritage Hot Spots
Every July 24, Utahns celebrate Pioneer Day with parades, fireworks and festivities that rival the 4th of July. The day honors 1847, when Mormon settlers first colonized what is now the Salt Lake Valley. While Utah has a proud pioneer heritage, the region’s human history dates back thousands of years. Visitors to central and southern regions can explore countless reminders of ancient peoples, including prolific rock art and the ruins of their homes and villages. Today, evidence of this blend of indigenous culture and Mormon pioneer heritage abounds throughout Utah’s astonishing landscapes. This combined heritage is the foundation for a modern legacy of arts and culture that also includes a thriving Olympic spirit, inspiring earth art and fascinating drives on historic roads.
Here are 11 hot spots of Utah heritage to enrich your vacation. Some are hidden gems on the scenic route to some of Utah's top national parks while others are destinations unto themselves or unexpected surprises in a major metropolitan area.
1. Fremont Indian State Park and Museum (Sevier)
Take a trip back in time by visiting thousands of rock art panels. The construction of Interstate 70 uncovered the largest known Fremont Indian village. The large visitor center and museum showcases many fascinating artifacts preserved from the site. Nearby access to hiking, Castle Rock Campground and the Kimberly Ghost Town make Fremont Indian State Park a great stop in Central Utah or an intriguing companion piece to the Fremont Culture petroglyphs found in Capitol Reef National Park. The day-use fee is $3 per person/$6 per vehicle. The campground is $15 a night.
2. Nine Mile Canyon (Price area)
Discover the “World’s Longest Art Gallery.” Several thousand years ago, ancient people carved and drew the world around them on the rock faces, many of which are accessible by road in this 46-mile-long gem. Many visitors combine Nine Mile Canyon with trips to Price and the San Rafael Swell. Plan at least a half-day to drive the canyon with options to get out and hike or bike around.
Also read: The 46 Miles of Nine Mile Canyon
3. Newspaper Rock (Canyonlands Area/Monticello/Indian Creek Scenic Byway)
Newspaper Rock is located 15 miles west of U.S. 191 along the Indian Creek Corridor Scenic Byway in the Indian Creek unit of Bears Ears National Monument. The rock is called Tse' Hane in Navajo, or “rock that tells a story.” There are hundreds of petroglyphs here that feature a mixture of forms, including pictures resembling humans, animals, tools, and more esoteric, abstract things. The 200-square-foot rock is a part of the cliffs all along the upper end of Indian Creek Canyon.
4. Highway 89 (Statewide)
Before Interstate 15, U.S. Highway 89 was a primary Utah thoroughfare. From Kanab, travel near Zion and Bryce Canyon through pioneer-era towns. Explore Miners’ Park at Marysvale, the “Little Denmark” section of the Mormon Pioneer Heritage Area, Utah’s Fruit Highway and Logan Canyon north to Bear Lake.
5. Chase Home Museum of Utah Folk Art (Salt Lake City)
One of Utah’s best hidden museums, Chase Home Museum features examples of folk art traditions practiced by Utah’s multicultural communities including the Native American Gallery, Ethnic Folk Arts Gallery and the Occupational Folk Arts Gallery, which includes authentic hand-forged tools and cowboy gear, part of Utah's deep pioneer and Western heritage. The beautiful 150-year-old home is located at the heart of Liberty Park, next to the Tracy Aviary and is open Tuesday–Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the summer and Tuesday–Friday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the winter. Admission is free.
6. Alf Engen Ski Museum (Park City)
Located within Utah Olympic Park, this museum covers Utah’s rich ski heritage over 150 years, from the 1800s through the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. The Alf Engen Ski Museum is open daily 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and admission is free. Also visit the Park City History Museum and Kimball Arts Center on historic Main Street.
7. Wendover Air Base (Wendover)
Take a step back to WWII for a fascinating look at the secret Manhattan Project and how this base was used as a bomber-training site for the bomber pilots, including those bound for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Wendover Air Base is open from 8:00 a.m. to 6:30 pm daily, but to visit the museum, arrive at least an hour before closing. The air base is close to the Bonneville Salt Flats and Sun Tunnels in Utah's West Desert.
8. Daughters of Utah Pioneers: Pioneer Memorial Museum (Salt Lake City)
The Pioneer Memorial Museum features the world’s largest collection of Utah pioneer artifacts and offers a great slice of historic Western living. The museum is open Monday–Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with extended hours on Wednesday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. There is also a history and photograph department for extended research. The museum is located next to the State Capitol and close to Memory Grove Park.
9. Frontier Homestead State Park (Cedar City)
This living museum displays mining equipment, horse-drawn wagons, historic buildings, and a Paiute native camp from the area’s pioneer history. The Frontier Homestead State Park Museum is located in Cedar City and can easily be combined with visits to the Tony Award-winning Utah Shakespeare Festival, Brian Head Resort and Cedar Breaks National Monument. Frontier Homestead is $3/person and is open September–May 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon-Sat and June–August 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday–Sunday.
10. Spiral Jetty (Rozel Point, Great Salt Lake)
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. Located on the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake, Spiral Jetty is a 45-minute drive from the Golden Spike National Historic Site and the ATK Thiokol Rocket Garden — check local conditions as the last 15 miles of the drive are on a gravel road and take extra water, supplies and towels. (Read: "At 50, the Spiral Jetty, Utah’s Most Iconic Land Art Sculpture, Keeps Drawing a Crowd").
11. Wheeler Historic Farm (Salt Lake City)
A slice of 19th Century life in Salt Lake City. Lots of family activities, from historic house tours and wagon rides, to farm animals. Come experience old-time Utah farm living. Wheeler Historic Farm is a public park and is open everyday during daylight hours to walk the farm and visit the animals. Check the Wheeler Historic Farm website for current events like May's Farm Fest, October's Pumpkin Days and Haybale Maze and the summer-long Farmers Market.