Help Yourself to Helper, Utah
Part mining town, part art community. Come see what happens when coal meets canvas.
Nestled at the base of Price Canyon, Helper, Utah, might just be the cutest mining town you’ve ever seen. What was once a bustling railroad and coal settlement is now a community based around art, creativity and honoring the past while embracing the future. If John Henry and Bob Ross were the co-mayors of a town, Helper would be it.
It’s a town that lets you walk from a Mining & Railroad Museum to any number of art galleries just down the road. Or leave downtown entirely and walk all the way (one block) to the shady banks of the Price River. Or spend your whole day staring at a big mining statue. From the natural world to the art it inspires, Helper has it. Take a visit and see for yourself.
The Town’s History
Although the folks you’ll find in Helper are sure to lend you a hand with a flat tire, philanthropy is not quite how the town got its name. The name Helper comes from the “helper” locomotives that assisted the trains of the day in their steep journey up Price Canyon. Their original strategy was to say “I think I can, I think I can” over and over, but that didn’t work. So they turned to Helper’s helpers and thus a name was born.
As the rail industry grew, Helper also became known as a mining community, thanks to the abundant reserves of coal nearby. The two industries grew in tandem, and workers from all over the world and the new West flocked to Helper. Since those days, acceptance of multiculturalism and ethnic diversity has been a defining aspect of the town.
The Western Mining & Railroad Museum
To learn more about the town’s mining and railroad history, head over to the aptly named Western Mining & Railroad Museum. There you’ll be treated to exhibits all about mining … and railroads! With a knowledgeable staff, a mock-up coal mine, recreated historical scenes and a miniature train ride, this immersive experience will bring a personal touch to the area’s history and help the Old West come alive around you. It’s located in the Old Helper Hotel building, where you’ll also find plenty of stories, oral histories and local legends that won’t show up in the history books.
The Art Community
It’s no secret that the coal and railroad industries aren’t what they used to be. So what’s helped Helper remain a bustling desert community while so many nearby towns got ghosted by residents? In the past few decades, it's been Helper’s thriving art scene leading the way. With galleries peppered about the main drag, an annual arts festival now in its 28th year and a biweekly summer market, the town has quickly become known as an oasis of artistry on the desert’s edge.
It’s not surprising that Helper has fostered creativity — it’s got enough natural beauty, fellow artists and delicious coffee to fuel even the most ambitious visions. Spend some time in town appreciating the work of Helper’s residents, or stay a bit longer and see if any inspiration of your own strikes.
Other Things to Do
So you’ve learned all about Helper’s coal-crusted past and thoughtfully nodded at a painting long enough to convince people that you’re totally deep — now what? Good news, there’s plenty more to do in Helper! Even better news, Helper’s pretty small. You’re probably standing next to your next destination.
If you need an afternoon coffee, a snack or a full-on meal, you’ll find it easily at one of the Main Street restaurants in Helper. A delicious cup of coffee at Happiness Within will give you the energy you need to walk all the way across the street for a meal at Balanced Rock Eatery & Pub. After all that effort, you deserve to relax — stroll down the Helper River Walk and do as much nature-appreciating, shady-spot napping or swimming hole swimming as you’d like.
And finally, you can stop pretending you were interested in any of this other stuff and go check out the 20-foot tall statue of Big John the Miner outside of Helper Library. We’re kidding, of course. Or maybe we’re not — after all, it’s hard to find a better representation of Helper than a unique creation inspired by the workers who built the town.
Oh, you thought that sentimental note was the perfect place to stop? Shows what you know. Then you wouldn’t find out about all of the awesome stuff that’s in the area. Make Helper your basecamp or stop in on your way to some of central Utah’s gems, including:
And did we mention the statue? You should really see the statue.