Are you passing through Salt Lake City for business or vacation? Take a day and explore this beautiful modern capital city. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints founded the city over 150 years ago. Today it is their worldwide headquarters.
See outstanding architecture and lush parks, all on a walk through downtown Temple Square and Capitol Hill, as you learn about the Latter-day Saints and Utah government. Outside of downtown, you can easily spend a day at “This is the Place” Heritage Park.
Whatever you choose to do, you’ll have a great day in Salt Lake City!
Salt Lake City Itinerary
The best way to explore downtown Salt Lake City is on foot. Here is a walking route hitting the highlights of Temple Square and Capitol Hill.
- Brigham Young Monument
- Salt Lake Temple
- Salt Lake City Tabernacle
- Church History Museum
- Pioneer Memorial Museum
- Utah State Capitol Building
- Memory Grove Park
- Beehive House and Lion House
Beyond downtown, check out Library Square and This is the Place Heritage Park where there is no shortage of impressive architecture, history and kid-friendly activities.
Map of Downtown Salt Lake City
It is 10-acres in size in downtown Salt Lake City and is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Its members settled in the Salt Lake Valley starting in 1847 after fleeing religious persecution in several eastern states. Temple Square became and remains the religious center of their community.
Between 1847 and 1869, 70,000 people traveled to the valley beginning the successful city we see today. Latter-day Saints also established settlements in the future states of California, Nevada, Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming representing one of the greatest waves of 19th-century Western pioneering.
There are several must-sees on a visit to Temple Square.
Brigham Young Monument
This is the perfect place to start your walking tour. This bronze monument honours Brigham Young who led church pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley. It also recognizes first peoples and fur traders who came before the pioneers.
Salt Lake Temple
Sacred rites and ceremonies such as marriage are held in the temple which was built between 1853 and 1893. The temple is not open to the general public. Ox-drawn wagons hauled the granite to build the temple 23 miles from Little Cottonwood Canyon. The walls are 9 feet thick at their base narrowing to 6 feet at the top. The center tower is 210 feet high and a statue of the angel Moroni, a symbol of faith in the church, sits on top.
Salt Lake City Tabernacle
The world-renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir, founded in 1847, is based here. The tabernacle’s construction took 12 years starting in 1863. The first organ contained 700 pipes and has been rebuilt many times. The current organ has 11,623 pipes and is one of the largest pipe organs in the world.
Church History Museum
This free museum, open 6 days a week, displays artworks, artifacts, photographs and much more, explaining the founding and history of the church.
The house is named for its cupola topped with a beehive. It is built of stuccoed adobe and has a two-story veranda and an observatory. Brigham Young used it as residence, office and reception area for official visitors in his roles as president of the church and Utah’s first territorial governor.
Lion House was built in 1855 to accommodate Young’s large family. While the number is not confirmed, it is said he had over 50 wives in his lifetime and over 40 children survived to adulthood. Young died in August 1877. The church has not sanctioned polygamy since 1890.
As you walk the Temple Square area, you may want to check out these other interesting sites.
The stunning gothic revival building you see south of the tabernacle is Assembly Hall, completed in 1880. This building was built from the granite left over from the construction of the Salt Lake Temple. This is a place of worship and visitors are welcome. It holds almost 2,000 people and there are 100 seats in the choir. It is 68 feet wide, 120 feet long and the center tower is 130 feet high.
Handcart Pioneer Monument
You’ll find this brass monument of a family pulling a handcart adjacent to Assembly Hall. It is a tribute to the nearly 3,000 pioneers who walked the 1350-mile trek from Iowa with all their possessions in handmade, all-wood handcarts. They could not afford ox-drawn wagons so they personally hauled their handcarts the entire route. The gruelling trek took around 250 lives.
Pioneer Log Home
The small log cabin was built in 1847 and moved to its current spot next to the Church History Museum. It is one of two surviving pioneer homes in Salt Lake City. This was the home of Osmyn and Mary Deuel who where among the most prosperous of the first settlers. It is furnished as you’d have seen it when visiting the Deuel’s in 1847.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Conference Center
The semi-annual church general conference and other major church events are held in this huge conference center just north of Temple Square. It opened in 2000. The main auditorium alone seats 21,000 people.
Brigham Young Family Memorial Cemetery
The gravesite of Brigham Young is a little off the beaten path, to the east of Temple Square. The cemetery is dedicated to the more than 6,000 Latter-day Saint pioneers who died making the journey to Utah between 1847 and 1869. This is a peaceful spot in the middle of the city.
Capitol Hill is a short uphill walk from Temple Square.
Utah became a territory of the United States in 1850. It was three decades later, as work was underway toward statehood, that a spot for a proper capitol building was determined. The city donated about 20 acres of land in 1888 for a new statehouse. Over time more land was purchased for monuments and buildings. The seat of Utah government is now about 40 acres.
There are full tours of Capitol Hill available through the Utah State Capitol’s website. The grounds of the capitol are great to wander but here are several places you should be sure to see.
Pioneer Memorial Museum
Artifacts celebrating Utah’s pioneer heritage fill this 6-floor museum. There is no admission fee, so just take a peak if you are short on time. You’ll be surprised by the detail and amount of stuff you see.
Utah State Capitol Building
Utah became a state on January 4, 1896 but it was 1911 before funding was obtained to construct the Capitol Building. It contains 2 legislative chambers, a ceremonial Supreme Court chamber and working offices for top state officials. The Senate, House and other state offices are in separate buildings on Capitol Hill.
You can see Council Hall and White Memorial Chapel just across the street from the front of the Capitol Building.
The hall was built in the early 1860’s and used as City Hall and the territorial seat of government. Originally located downtown, Salt Lake City outgrew the building in the late 1800s. It was dismantled in 1960 and moved to its current location. Today, it is the headquarters of the Utah Office of Tourism.
White Memorial Chapel
This building was also originally located elsewhere and moved here. Latter-day Saints built it in 1883 for worship services. In 1976 it was dismantled and rebuilt here on land donated by the state to honor the country’s 200th anniversary. It is now a non-denomination chapel.
To the east of Capitol Hill is a beautiful park in the valley along City Creek.
Memory Grove Park
The first memorial which honours the fallen soldiers of World War One was created in the 1920s. Now there are memorials to veterans of many conflicts here. The Meditation Chapel is a perfect spot to sit and gaze over the well-maintained park.
If you want a longer, more strenuous walk, cross the stone bridge at the north end of the park. This is the Freedom Trail. It is a walking, jogging and bicycling trail extending from the park into the mountains to the northeast of the city.
Ensign Peak Trail, also in the northeast, is a favorite, if you are interested in more Salt Lake City hikes. It is a short hike to Ensign Peak offering scenic view of the city.
In addition to downtown and Capitol Hill, there are more places in Salt Lake City which are worth a look.
Beyond Downtown Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City Public Library at Library Square
International architectural firm Moshe Safdie and Associates and the local firm, VCBO Architecture designed this stunning building. It opened in February 2003. The inner entry hall mirrors the outside courtyard’s 5 storey, curved wall and limestone flooring. The hall is open with a skylight letting in tons of natural light. Check out the art gallery, spiral grand staircase and 3 glass elevators.
The old library next door is now the Leonardo. It is a museum combining science, technology and art to inspire creativity and innovation. What a great place to take the kids!
Parkland covers the large underground parking garage at Library Square. The playful Celebration of Life Monument, dedicated to the gift of life by organ, eye, tissue and blood donations, is a fun place to sit or burn off some energy.
This is the Place Heritage Park
The state park is at the junction of Emigration Canyon and the Salt Lake Valley. There are lots of things to see and do in the park’s 450 acres. You can spend a day here.
This is the Place Monument
The monument sits close to where Brigham Young declared “This is the right place” in 1847. That declaration stopped the Latter-day Saint pioneers’ 1300-mile journey from Nauvoo Illinois and started their settlement in the valley. The monument honours those pioneers and all the explorers and settlers of the American West. It was dedicated in July 1947 marking the 100th anniversary of the pioneers’ arrival.
Mormon Battalion Monument
The monument recognizes the accomplishments of over 500 Latter-day Saint volunteers who joined the US army supporting the war against Mexico. Their military pay, given to the families left behind in Iowa, helped finance the journey west. The battalion marched nearly 2,000 miles which is the longest infantry march in United States history. They left from Council Bluffs, Iowa in July 1846 and arrived in San Diego, California at the end of January 1847. The work they did along the way and in California helped open up the southwest for settlement.
Pony Express National Trail Monument
This monument to the riders of the Pony Express is near where it is believed riders stopped for fresh horses on their way to Sacramento California or St. Joseph Missouri. For 18 months in 1860-61, the pony express carried mail to and from the west coast. It was the only practical solution for mail delivery at the time and helped bind together a nation in civil war. Riders traveled day and night as fast as their horses could travel covering the 1800-mile trek in 10 days or less.
The Pony Express National Historic Trail is the best guess for this historic route. There are short unimproved segments believed to be traces of the original trail but most of the actual trail markers are gone. You can travel the trail and stop at monuments along the way which tell that area’s pony express story. Behind the monument is a cabin representing what a relay station would have looked like. The completion the transcontinental telegraph line in 1861 ended the Pony Express.
Heritage Village Living History Experience
There are over 50 historic homes and structures. All buildings were moved here from elsewhere in the state. Collectively they depict a 19th century Utah settlement. “Villagers” demonstrate crafts, trades and home-making skills. Use the hop on/hop off trains to help you see everything. Riding the park’s 3 trains is included in park admission. For the kids there are pony rides, petting farm, splash pad and a mini-train. There’s a gift shop, a candy shop and many other food options.
Take a guided trail ride led by experienced wranglers to explore the base of Emigration Canyon and iconic views of the Salt Lake Valley. All skill levels are welcome.
Salt Lake City Map
Best Day trip from Salt Lake City – Bonneville Salt Flats
Be sure to check out our Bonneville Salt Flats post. The salts flats are one of the most unique landscapes in the world. In this guide, we provide you tips with how to visit and photograph this amazing location.
The salt flats are about 46 square miles of environmentally sensitive area. Most of the area is perfectly flat with a thick crust of salty soil. There are a few low hills with bits of vegetation. The flats look like a lake bed covered with snow. In late fall, winter and early spring water typically covers the flats. This is a unique time to visit. Driving on the flats is not permitted when they are wet. Once the water has evaporated, usually by the start of summer, you are welcome to drive on them.
From downtown Salt Lake City, the flats are about 1.5 hours west on I80. Stop at the rest area about 10 miles from the Nevada border. There is information about the flats, washrooms and a tap to wash the salt off your feet when you return from your walk.
The Bonneville Speedway, famous for land speed records, is located on the flats near Wendover, Nevada. There is still racing on the salt flats but check ahead if that is your only reason to visit as racing is particularly susceptible to weather conditions.
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