Mormon Trail Carried Thousands to Utah


In 1846 Brigham Young led the first group of Mormons from Nauvoo, Ill., to present-day Utah.

After being forced from settlements in Missouri, Ohio, and Illinois, Young and his followers were searching for a new home.

Mormon Church Forced to Move Many Times

Leaving from Nauvoo, Ill., pioneers traveled across Iowa, Nebraska, and Wyoming on their way to establish a new settlement where they would be free from religious persecution. It was not the first time that practicing their beliefs had forced them to move. The church’s first prophet and leader, Joseph Smith, Jr., believed Jackson County, Mo., to be the Garden of Eden. Smith and his followers began to plan and build their settlement. It was an action that would be repeated in several places before the migration to Utah began.

Mormon missionaries first came to Independence, Mo., in December of 1830. According to The Missouri Mormon Frontier Foundation publication “Missouri Mormon Walking Trail,” the Mormons believed, “Independence represented the place they called “Zion.” Here they believed Christ would one day establish the Kingdom of God on Earth.”

Church Moves to Nauvoo, Ill., then on to the Great Salt Lake

After numerous clashes between the Mormons and locals, the Mormons were forced to leave Missouri in 1838. The spring of 1839 found the church’s headquarters moved to Nauvoo, Ill. The church prospered in Nauvoo until 1845. The National Park Service’s publication “Mormon Pioneer Trail” states, “A move to the Far West had been discussed by church leaders as early as 1842, with Oregon, California, and Texas considered as potential destinations.

In 1844 Joseph Smith obtained John C. Fremont’s map and report, which described the Great Salt Lake and its surrounding valleys. Subsequently, the Rocky Mountains and the Great Basin became the prime candidates for settlement.” Responsibility for the move fell to Brigham Young after Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were killed on June 27, 1844 in Carthage, Ill.

The first group to leave Nauvoo for the Great Basin left on February 4, 1846. As they made their way west, they “established several semi-permanent camps, including Garden Grove and Mount Pisgah, where they planted crops and built facilities to assist those who followed,” according to Mormon Pioneer Trail.

First Group Arrives in 1847

They left their winter quarters on April 5, 1847. As soon as the first group entered the Great Basin on July 24, 1847, they began to plant crops and plan their settlement. According to Mormon Pioneer Trail, approximately 70,000 Mormons traveled the trail west over the next 20 years. As with the other westward trails, the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 replaced wagon trains as the means to take immigrants west.

The Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail was established by Congress in 1978. For more information on trail sites, contact the National Park Service at and the Bureau of Land Management at