The Heber Creeper - Provo Canyon Branch of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railway

 by Peter

Many residents of Utah, especially Wasatch and Utah Counties, have fond memories of riding the Heber Creeper (technically the Heber Valley Historic Railroad). This tourist railroad has offered trips through Heber Valley and Provo Canyon for over fifty years. From its depot in Heber City, trains run west to Soldier Hollow, along Deer Creek Reservoir, and down Provo Canyon as far as Vivian Park.

The HVRR running next to the Provo River in Provo Canyon.

The railroad started its life as the working Provo Canyon Branch of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railway, which was constructed in the late 19th-Century to provide a competitor in transcontinental traffic to the Union Pacific. The D&RGW mainline ran through Spanish Fork Canyon (where you can still see freight and Amtrak passenger trains at the right time of day), through Provo and up to Salt Lake City. The Provo Canyon Branch ran from the mainline in Provo, up the canyon and through Heber Valley to Heber City. It provided both passenger and freight service from its construction 1899 through its initial closure in 1967. In particular, the branch shipped hundreds of stock cars full of sheep out of Heber Valley through the 1940s and 1950s.

The wooden trestle carrying the Provo Canyon Branch over Snake Creek.

A large section of the railroad was rerouted in 1939-1940 as Deer Creek Reservoir was constructed. The original line ran along the bottom of the valley, near the Provo River, while the relocated line now runs along the north shore of the reservoir.

As with many railroad lines, the Provo Canyon Branch was a victim of the post-war shift to car and truck travel over newly improved highways. Traffic dropped off and eventually the railroad could no longer economically operate the branch. 

The Provo Canyon Branch with the Provo River and Highway 189 on the left.

The line was briefly reopened in 1968 to allow the shipment of a very tall Christmas tree from Daniels Canyon (between Heber Valley and Strawberry Reservoir) to Washington, D.C. to serve as the National Christmas Tree. After that brief second life, the western end of the branch right-of-way was sold to the Utah Transportation Commission and the tracks between Provo and Vivian Park were taken up. Much of the route of the railroad is now occupied by the Provo River Parkway Trail. The only real remnant of this portion of the line is the steel trestle bridge across the Provo River that currently carries the trail past the Olmsted Hydroelectric Plant.

The bridge over the Provo River in Heber Valley.

Luckily for historic train enthusiasts, local residents, businessmen, and train enthusiasts from across the state saved the rest of the railroad from extinction and began running an excursion train, the Wasatch Mountain Railway between Heber and Bridal Veil Falls. This company operated from 1971 to 1990, but then failed and most of its stock was sold. 

A train waiting to be loaded at the depot in Heber City.

Again, the community rallied around the railroad and convinced state legislators to establish a state agency, the Heber Valley Historic Railroad Authority, which revived the excursion tours and continues to operate the line to this day.

Rides on the HVRR can be booked on their website,

The depot at Vivian Park.

Extra cars being stored at Vivian Park.


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