Mormon Trail AssociationMormon Trail AssociationEmigration Canyon Route, 1846 - 1860


Mormon Pioneer Trail (1847-60) between Donner Hill and East Canyon
(Full-size map)

(Crossing the Wasatch Mountains)

The trail map was traced from a Utah highway map nd is accurate top scale. Locations and interpretation panels are numbered along the way, beginning at the mouth of Emigrtion Canyon. To follow the route from the east as the pioneers did, begin in East Canyon at number 11, 12, 13. Numbers 14 and 15 are accessed by crossing a bridge over the creek at 13 and hiking up the canyon towards Big Mountain pass at number 10.

1. This is the Place Monument (across Emigration Creek from where Brigham Young on July 24 was enwrapped in vision for several minutes. He had seen the valley [and Ensign Peak] before in vision, and upon the occasion he saw the future glory of Zion and Israel, as they would be, planted in the valleys of the mountains. When the vision had passed, he said, "It is enough. This is the right place. Drive on.")

2. Donner Hill - In 1846, the Donner-Reed party heading to California took 12 days to reach the mouth of Emigration Canyon. Levinah Jackson Murphy, a Mormon mother traveling with the group, wrote: "We reached the end of the canyon where it looked as though our wagons would have to be abandoned [it being impracticable to forge a wagon way any further]. It seemed impossible for the oxen to pull them up the steep hill ..., but we doubled teams and the work was, at last, accomplished, almost every yoke in the train being required to pull up each wagon. Orson Pratt, July 21, 1847, ascended the same hill with Erastus Snow and wrote: "We could not refrain from a shout of joy which almost involuntarily escaped from our lips the moment this grand and lovely scenery [Salt Lake Valley] was within our view." William Clayton, the next day from the same hill wrote: "There is but little timber in sight anywhere, and that is mostly on the banks of creeks and streams of water which is about the only objection which could be raised in my estimation to this being one of the most beautiful valleys and pleasant places for a home for the Saints which could be found." Thomas Bullock added that there were grasses 8 to 10 feet tall and the main group proceeded into the valley [1650 South, 500 East] where the grass was only 2 feet tall and made camp.

3. Last camp of the main group of pioneers, July 21, under command of Willard Richards. The advanced group, directed by Orson Pratt camped about 1 ½ miles further west. The two groups joined forces the next day. Upwards of 100 men worked for 4 hours making a road around Donner Hill, then proceeded to make a trail up onto the south bench of Emigration Creek and followed the Donner Trail to about 1700 South and 1100 East, where they veered northwest to 1650 South, 500 East between Emigration and Parley's Creeks. On his way to California in 1850, John Wood wrote of Emigration Canyon: "This stream we crossed 30 [actually 18] times, in traveling 8 miles, the length of the Kanyon; some of these crossings were very bad, the mud being very deep. ...The road through this Kanyon is certainly the worst on earth at least, I think that I have already passed over some awful bad roads, but this is so much worse that it baffles all description."

4. Brigham Young's last camp, July 23. This small group had travelled all the way from Mormon Flat in one day. It was not a good spot, but people and animals would go no further.

5. Little Mountain summit. There are visible ruts on the east side of the road [look for crossing signs] as you climb the hill heading south. From the base of the Little Dell dam, the pioneers followed a straight line to the summit. The gully east of the summit may be eroded wagon ruts. There is a swale, barely visible, to the north of the gully. This is the location where Mary Fielding Smith and her wagons passed up the company she was traveling with and made good on her promise to the captain that she would beat him into the valley.

6. Camp Grant, named after Jedediah M. Grant, father of Heber J. Grant, counselor to Brigham Young, and mayor of Salt Lake City. It was located in a grove of trees below the dam. It was the best last camping spot before reaching the valley.

7. Ephraim Hank's inn and ranch. Eph called his place "Mountain Dell." He had a contract to keep the road open over Big Mountain all year. He walked two large oxen, side-by-side, to tramp down the snow. His home was not too many yards east of where the girl scout building still sits (one can barely see the roof from the road). Stage coach passengers could get a meal here. It also served as a pony express stop.

8. Trail crossing. The trail crosses the road right where Mountain Dell Creek passes under the highway.

9. Afflek Park and Birch Springs. The main road through the park is the old pioneer trail. Birch Springs to the east [there is a marker next to the highway] was the first stop down the western side of Big Mountain. Here was cold water for beast and man and a chance to catch one's breath, having completed the steepest decline of the entire trip. Between here and the summit, the wagon of Lorenzo Young (Brigham's brother) tipped over trapping his 6-years-old son (Lorenzo Sobieski Young) and step-son (Isaac Decker) inside. The wagon cover was cut open and the boys climbed out unhurt.

10. Big Mountain summit. On July 23, 1847, Brigham recorded: "I ascended and crossed over Big Mountain; when on its summit I directed Elder Woodruff, who had kindly tendered me the use of his carriage, to turn the same half way round, so that I could have a view of a portion of Salt Lake valley. The spirit of light rested upon me and moved over the valley, and I felt that there the Saints would find protection and safety."

11. Bachmin's Station. This was the pony express and stage station between Mountain Dell and Echo. The McFarlands own the property and building now. The wagons rescuing the Willie Handcart company camped here. William Woodward wrote (Nov. 7, 1856): "Crossed East Canyon Creek several times and camped in Cottonwood Grove; good place to camp for wood."

12. Large Springs Campground. Thomas Bullock recorded on July 20, 1847: "...clearing the willows, repairing the road all the way–we could not find a room for the camp until we had traveled about 7 1/4 miles–here is a very large Spring of Cold Water but tolerable grass. This had been a crooked & rough day's journey & hard driving through stumps and stones." It was from here that Erastus Snow was sent by Apostles Willard Richards and George A. Smith to overtake Apostle Orson Pratt in order to accompany him into the Valley. Many, if not most, pioneer companies camped here.

13. Mormon Flat. This is a much smaller area and may not have been used much as the 8th and last crossing of East Canyon Creek occurred between here and the Big Springs campground. It is used now for family or father-son overnighters. Reservations are made through East Canyon State Park.

14. Fort Wells was a pejorative name given the rock fortifications or batteries on the hills guarding the entrance to Little Emigration Canyon. These rocks were put there in 1857 to protect the Mormons soldiers that may have had to fight Johnston's Army (Utah War), if a peaceable settlement hadn't been reached.

15. Beaver ponds. This is where the Donner-Reed party camped while the men carved a trail to the summit of Big Mountain. The Graves family joined them here. Some Mormon emigrants also camped here, though there is not much room. April 23, 1857, Joel Hills Johnson (who wrote the hymn "High on a Mountain Top" - about Ensign Peak) was accompanying his sister on a trip back east and caught up with a group of 5 apostate families heading east at about this spot. One wagon in the company had broken down in the descent and Joel unhitched his animals and went back to bring the wagon down. He wrote: "We found in an apostate camp a little girl about 16 months old, smothered to death by having a pan of dough turned over her head while asleep, by the rock of wagons coming down the mountain. She was rolled up in a buffalo skin and buried high upon the side of the mountain." He then wrote the following poem (one of thousands he wrote):

Rest little stranger, sweetly rest; Beneath the mountain snow
Where no intruder can molest; Or earthly foe.

Sweet, lovely babe, thou here must lay High on the mountain top
And sleep the lonely years away Till Michael wakes thee up.

No mother's hand can strew thy grave With flowers, or tears can shed,
Or cause the willows bough to wave Above thy peaceful head.

Joel was traveling this road the spring following the dreadful snows that punished the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies. Of the rest of the trip down Little Emigration Canyon, he wrote: "The road was dreadful, for torrents of water from melting snow came rushing down through every gulch and washed away the dirt and gravel in the road and left nothing but high rocks against which the water dashed and threw foam several feet in the air. Down this current and over these rocks, we had to roll our wagons, expecting every moment to be smashed up, but through the blessing of heaven we arrived safe in the canyon below..."

Note: There are three evidences of the trail visible in this canyon: 1) rust marks on rocks left by iron being scraped off the wagon tires, 2) swales (wide, u-shaped depressions where soil was loosened by animals and wagons and blown out of the way), and 3) ruts (some call them two-tracks), left by the wheels grinding and loosening the soil in parallel strips. Learn how to recognize each of these trail remnants, look down a lot, and you will come to recognize that you can follow the exact trail for most of the 4 miles from the bottom to the top of Big Mountain. Ponder, also, how many apostles, prophets, pony express riders, soldiers, stage coaches, and perhaps relatives have walked in these same footsteps and a spirit will persuade you that this ground has been made sacred by those who crossed it.

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