Chances are good that the next time you roll in to Utah, your mode of transportation will be somewhat modern. No rickety covered wagons, no sooty steam engine trains, no galloping horses. That is how the pioneers arrived here in the 1800’s, however, and all across the state of Utah are fun and interactive opportunities for kids to learn about a time when living and visiting in Utah happened very differently!
This Is The Place Heritage Park
The Mormon pioneers arrived in Salt Lake City in 1846, and This Is The Place Heritage Park celebrates the success they achieved when their journey was through. Situated near the exact location pioneers first viewed the valley after traveling a grueling 1000 miles or more during all 4 seasons of the year, the park offers a true-to-life glimpse of pioneer life. The Heritage Village consists of authentic historical buildings that once were located across the entire Utah Territory, at one point dismantled, then moved and rebuilt here. The result is a completely intact pioneer village laid out in realistic street blocks.
Unbelievably, our family visited This Is The Place for the first time just this year. As a parent I appreciated that guides in period clothing are stationed in each building to share a little of the structure’s history as well as what life was like for the people who lived or did business there. Our kids experienced the hard work of pioneer chores and got a lesson on leatherwork from the saddlery. We toured the stagecoach inn, general stores, cobblers, and the hospital. You can even pan for gold while learning about Utah’s mining history!
To make your pioneer experience even more authentic, consider exploring the village on horseback. Guided trail rides travel over dusty roads lined with log cabins and dugouts before winding into the Salt Lake foothills above the park. It will give the family a unique perspective of what life was like in the Utah desert in the late 1800’s.
Camp Floyd State Park And Museum
Shortly after the creation of the Utah Territory, a new federal judge was sent from Washington. Arriving with his mistress, he did not receive the fondest welcome and with a bruised ego he reported back that the Utah settlers were planning to attack the nation. An enormous army was sent to keep things in control. They also were not greeted warmly, and were forced to set up camp far past Salt Lake City, in the middle of the dry and barren desert. That location was Camp Floyd.
Of the 400 buildings that were in the Camp during its heyday, only two buildings left at Camp Floyd today, but it is an important part of Utah history and worth the drive to get there. The museum explains what it was like for the soldiers who lived there and also tells about the Pony Express riders who stopped frequently on their route going west. The second building at the park is the old stagecoach inn, fully restored and furnished and open for self-guided tours.
The U.S. Army figured out pretty quickly after settling at Camp Floyd that the local people were not planning a rebellion. After several years stationed in Utah, occasionally breaking up skirmishes with native Indian tribes, they were called back home to serve in the Civil War. Kids don’t really care about that, though, do they? Grab a Junior Ranger book when you arrive at the museum, and have fun helping them discover what soldiers liked to eat, and the place where an overnight guest shot a bullet through a wall. They will especially love the wooden buffalo nickel they receive as their reward before departing.
It did not take long for the pioneers who’d settled around the Great Salt Lake to start founding communities to the north and south of them. One of the first towns to be populated was St. George in southern Utah, which is now the nearest city to Zion National Park. Halfway between Salt Lake City and St. George, a fort was built. It served as lodging for travelers, a transfer point for stagecoaches, and a safe place to wait out the occasional bout of native restlessness. Today Cove Fort still serves as a beautiful oasis to stop and rest halfway to wherever you might be going.
Before you even get out of the car, the beautiful flower gardens and picnic area brush all the stress of traveling aside. You can watch a short video before crossing the road and entering the perfectly restored stone fort. The tour guides, in pioneer-period clothing, are full of funny stories that keep kids entertained and interesting information that keeps their parents engaged, as well.
You’ll learn what the travelers wore, how they kept clean, where they slept, and how they went to school. Outside the fort there is a beautiful barn to walk through and see how the stagecoach horses were taken care of, as well as a small blacksmith shed, and a garden that feeds the volunteer staff throughout the year. And the best part about touring a real live fort? When the kids and kids-at-heart climb to the top to take their turn as the lookout for enemies on the horizon!
Utah is a state steeped in history. In addition to these three history sites you’ll find old mining towns, dinosaur dig sites, Native American petroglyphs, and more. Add one or two to your next itinerary and you’ll leave with a respect for the people who came before you and an appreciation for how easy it is going to be to get back home!