Transportation / Tours
In Utah, there are various ways of getting here and getting around. During your journey to Utah, you’ll see mountain grandeurs, panoramic vistas, friendly people and clean cities. Your choices for adventure are endless as are your transportation options. You’ll be able to travel to virtually anywhere leading from downtown to the four corners of Utah.
Utah is located in the western United States. Northern Utah is generally considered a part of the Rocky Mountain states. Climate and landscape make southern Utah more closely aligned with the southwestern U.S. Learn about the history of transportation in Utah.
Getting Here: Utah is accessible from cities across the United States via Salt Lake City International Airport. The airport is located five miles northwest of downtown Salt Lake City. The airfield consists of three air carrier runways and a general aviation runway. There are two terminals, five concourses (A-E) and 70 aircraft gates. Continental, Delta, and Southwest airlines operate reservation centers headquartered at the airport. For more information contact a travel agent, or call the Salt Lake International Airport. 801-575-2400.
Getting Around: Regional airlines connect Salt Lake City with other communities in the state. Regular scheduled flights link to Vernal, Moab, St. George, and Cedar City. St. George is also served by flights from Los Angeles (LAX) while Cedar City has flights from Phoenix. The cost per mile of these short stops is high, but you’ll often have excellent views.
Getting Here: The Greyhound Bus Lines offer frequent service to Utah on its transcontinental routes along I-15 and to Denver along U.S.-40. Greyhound features special deals on bus passes and one-way “anywhere” tickets. Outside the U.S., residents may purchase a Greyhound Ameripass at additional discounts. Contact: 800-231-2222.
Getting Around: Greyhound Bus Lines access several Utah cities and towns. In northern Utah, buses make regular stops in Provo, Salt Lake City, Ogden, Brigham and Logan. In eastern Utah, Greyhound runs to Vernal and Price. Heading to southwestern Utah on I-15, the bus line makes stops in Beaver, Parowan, Cedar City and St. George.
The Utah Transit Authority has service to northern Utah’s major cities from Provo north to Ogden, including extensive coverage in the Salt Lake Valley. In winter, Park City and other Salt Lake City ski areas are accessible via a number of ski-bus operations, some of which pickup at the airport. Contact 801-287-4636
Getting Here: A light rail system designed for commuter travel is a great way to quickly access area attractions. This 15 mile line runs from 10000 south in Sandy, a southern suburb of Salt Lake City, to the Delta Center, home of the Utah Jazz basketball team in downtown Salt Lake City. Contact: 801-287-4636.
Getting Around: This north/south Transit Express has regular passenger service from 5:30am-midnight, Monday through Saturday. TRAX vehicles will stop at each station every 10 minutes (or less) during peak commuting times, and every 15 to 30 minutes during off-peak times. Each TRAX vehicle holds 150 people, has wheelchair accessibility and allows bicycles.
Getting Here: Amtrak runs two luxury train lines across Utah – both stop in Salt Lake City. The California Zephyr runs between Oakland and Chicago. Special fares and round-trip tickets often make train travel a good value. For more information and reservations, see a travel agent or call Amtrak. Travel agents outside the United States sell a USA Railpass. Contact: 800-872-7245
Getting Around: In addition to its daily stops in Salt Lake City, Amtrak has service to Provo, Helper, and Green River as they are on the California Zehyr line. Trains run daily along the line.
Exploring Utah by Car.
Getting Here: Public transportation serves cities and some towns, but serves very few scenic, historic, and recreational areas. Most people choose private vehicles as the most convenient and economical way to get around. Cars are easily rented in any large town. Four-wheel-drive vehicles can be rented, too, and will be very handy if you plan extensive travel on backroads. Click here for Utah driving laws.
Interstate-15 slices through Utah, north to south, from Idaho to Arizona. Interstate-80 crosses the northern part of the state from Wyoming, running west into Nevada. Interstate-84 runs northwest toward Idaho from Echo Junction near the Wyoming border. US-6 / US-191 is the major route through the eastern and southeastern portions of the state. Interstate-70 runs west from Colorado to a junction with I-15 in central Utah. US-666 enters Utah’s southeastern corner from southern Colorado and joins US-191.
For the convenience of visitors traveling the state by vehicle, Utah has five gateway Welcome Centers. They are located just off freeway exits at key entry points to the state and provide free travel information, rest rooms, and pay phones.
I-15 south bound near Brigham City (Northern UT) 435-744-5567
I-15 north bound near St. George (Southwestern UT) 435-673-4542
I-70 west bound near Thompson Springs (Southeastern UT) 285-2234
I-80 west bound near Echo Junction (Northern UT) 435-336-2588
US-40 in Jensen near Vernal in (Northeastern UT) 435-789-4002
Ox-drawn wagons were the most reliable freight transportation for carrying goods to Utah before the coming of the railroad. Many people moving to the West Coast chose to go by way of Panama rather than suffer the hardship of wagon travel. When stagecoach lines and freight companies set up way stations, horse and mule power was more practical to haul people.
As people came West for the gold rush and settlement, demand for better transportation grew. Government contracts to carry mail across the country were let as early as 1847. George Chorpenning was the contract holder to carry mail by pack horse between Salt Lake City and California; he was still operating in 1858 when Colonel James H. Simpson, on a wagon road survey, encountered him in the desert west of Johnson’s Pass. Other carriers included numerous express companies that brought mail and packages to Utah. Adams Express Company, American Express Company, and Wells, Fargo and Company were important names in the business.
Mormon leaders moved most of their followers by wagon. There were some hardy pioneers who came by handcart. Two unlucky handcart companies were caught by early snowstorms in Wyoming and suffered hardship and some loss of life. The Brigham Young Express Company bid for government contracts and succeeded for a while until competition organized against the Mormon company. Russell, Majors and Waddell was the largest freight hauler before 1870. That company contracted to haul the U.S. Army supplies for the Utah War in 1857; the task involved 3,500 wagons, 40,000 oxen, 1,000 mules, and 4,000 men.
The Pony Express, organized in 1860 to deliver mail from St. Louis to California and back, was another government project to bridge the enormous distance between the widely scattered American people. It lasted only twenty months. Such enterprises soon gave way to technological progress. The transcontinental telegraph was completed in October 1861 when the wires were connected in Salt Lake City. Eventually, the railroad replaced the wagon freight haulers between major centers of population. Local branches of both the telegraph and railroad later were built and often financed locally to serve more rural traffic and connect with national lines. Utah lay in the path of many transcontinental transportation and communications links.
By the 10 May 1869 completion of the transcontinental railroad at Promontory, the Utah Central Railroad line was nearly complete from Ogden to Salt Lake City. Then the Utah Northern connected with Butte, Montana; and many other railroads were built to transport ore and mining products. In 1872, when the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad was building west from Grand Junction, Colorado, coal was discovered in what is now Carbon County. The D&RGW was changed to continue north toward Price Canyon. By 1882 the D&RGW had bought a small narrow-gauge line called the Scofield and Pleasant Valley Railroad, built by Milan O. Packard to bring coal from Scofield to Utah Valley. It was called the “Calico Railroad” by some of the grade builders because Packard, as a Springville merchant, had paid workers in dry goods rather than cash. After building their road up Price Canyon, and changing to standard gauge, the D&RGW was connected to Salt Lake City.
Railroads changed the economy of Utah. The ability to ship goods both within the state and to and from other states was greatly improved. Metal mining in many cases now became profitable. Consumer goods were cheaper but required that more business be transacted in cash, resulting in the establishment of more banks. Community economics changed from their rural antecedents. Railroads created a commercial zone by their demand for services and by providing a shipment area. Stockyards, lumberyards, and breweries were built. Distribution firms set up shop to receive goods for retailers. Workers lived near the places of their employment.
Railroad tracks also divided communities. People living on the “wrong side” of the tracks often were held to be inferior. In the less desirable parts of town, less fashionable businesses such as slaughterhouses were established, cheaper housing was available, and the population tended to be more transient. Community services were not as well provided. From the railroad depots in Salt Lake and Ogden, streetcar lines were built to serve local passenger business.
Interurban railroads began in Utah when Simon Bamberger started building the Salt Lake and Ogden Railroad in 1891 to provide service to local businesses along its thirty-six-mile line, which was electrified in 1910. In September 1952 the line ceased operation; its closure was attributed to bus transportation replacing its business.
The Salt Lake and Utah Railroad, better known as the “Orem,” began construction in Provo and Salt Lake in October 1912. The finances were provided by W.C. Orem of Portland, Maine, and by Salt Lake businessmen. The sixty-seven-mile line ran from Salt Lake City to Payson and was completely electrified when the line reached Payson in 1916. The road had opened to Provo in 1913. Its closure in June 1946 was blamed on “subsidized highway building.”
Highway construction in Utah was and continues to be a subsidized effort. Awakening along with the rest of America to the need for better roads, the Utah legislature formed the first State Road Commission in 1909. The commission was besieged by various groups–part of the “good roads” movement–who believed that good roads would create a demand for motor vehicles. By 1920 the commission had inventoried 1,200 miles of roads; and during the next twenty years that list included over 5,000 miles of roads. Half the cost was paid by federal dollars. Almost all roads were constructed or maintained by federal money. When the Interstate freeway system was authorized in 1956, the federal share rose to ninety-five percent for those expensive stretches of double- and triple-lane road in public-land areas. Roads did create a demand for motor vehicles.
Trucks were introduced to Utah in 1905 and quickly became part of the transportation picture; but World War I was the test that truly proved the utility of motor trucks and airplanes. Following that war, both means of transportation supplemented rail transport before they began to compete with the railroad for business. Motor trucks depended on roads for access to their customers. The war had demonstrated the value of trucks; roads were just beginning to be built. The government passed the Federal Highway Act of 1921 which provided money to improve seven percent of states’ road systems. Utah participated with enthusiasm, and the heavy construction industry blossomed for the next decade. The trucking industry developed two categories of truckers: “for hire,” meaning those who were available to haul freight by contract; and “private,” meaning those who hauled for their own company.
Airplanes had the advantage of speed. In May 1920 air mail service reached Utah. Airplane passenger service began in 1926 to Los Angeles. The combination of mail contracts and passenger service made business profitable from the beginning. After World War II, air travel virtually drove rail passenger service out of business.
Broadening the definition of transportation a little, the use of pipelines to transport goods in the twentieth century is significant. Wooden-stave pipe was installed in Salt Lake City to carry water to the Avenues district in 1875. Prompted by conservation and public health concerns, citizens soon demanded that enclosed water systems be installed as a common practice. The next fifty years saw the development of enclosed culinary and irrigation systems throughout the state.
Natural gas is also delivered from gas fields to the consumer in pipe. Installed in 1929, the line from Wyoming to Utah brings energy for commercial and residential heating. Petroleum products often are also shipped in pipes to refineries in Salt Lake City and some pipelines are laid across the state, because Utah remains in the path of transcontinental transportation. The pipeline traffic is a significant part of the state’s economy.
Jay M. Haymond
Driver License Requirements. The minimum driving age in Utah is 16 years old. All drivers must have a valid driver’s license. Visitors from other states or countries may drive in Utah as long as they have a current driver’s license and are at least 16 .
Speed Limits. On most highways the speed limit is 55 miles per hour, particularly in urban areas. Speed limits increase to 65 or 75 on Interstate highways, and 65 miles per hour on most state highways. These increased speeds are allowed only where posted. Transition zones from one speed limit to another are indicated with pavement markings and additional signs.
Turning Right on a Red Light. Right turns are allowed on a red light after the vehicle has come to a complete stop, except where signs prohibit.
Helmet Use and Seat Belt Laws. The driver of a car, front seat passenger, and all children under 10 years old, regardless of their position in the car, are required by Utah law to use seat belts. Children under the age of two are required to be in federally approved safety seat. Helmet use is mandatory for motorcyclists and passengers under the age of 18.
For more information contact the Utah Department of Motor Vehicles, 801-965-4518 or the Utah Highway Patrol, 801-297-7780