The following is guest post written by Vic Saunders, Public Involvement Manager for all of Northern Utah including Box Elder, Cache, Davis, Morgan, Rich and Weber Counties.

A roadway in northern Utah that UDOT is the subject of many questions from the public.  It’s named after something that many people would never associate with Utah.  Or at least many of us think it is.

U.S. Highway 89/91, which runs from Brigham City to Wellsville, is commonly known to many in the state as Sardine Canyon.  Lots of folks from Ogden, Salt Lake City and points south remember using this highway to visit a relative in Cache Valley, or while attending Utah State University.  You say Sardine Canyon and they know just what you mean.

Some people believe the name came from early travelers eating sardines as part of a picnic lunch on their way to Cache Valley back in the early 1900’s.  They surmise that the packaging may have been left by the side of the road, someone else saw it and, hence, a name was born.  Another account says the name came from the original road being steep and narrow, and to pass someone on the roadway located on the steep canyon ledge was a very tight undertaking, kind of the way sardines a packed in a tin.

But consult a geographical map and you’ll find the canyon the road follows is actually a series of three canyons.  Yes, there actually is a Sardine Canyon, just a few miles south of Wellsville Canyon, hugging the side of hills southwest of the locality known as Mt. Sterling.   In fact, Sardine Canyon is the original canyon many of early settlers used when traveling to Cache Valley during the 1860s.  But that canyon hasn’t been used for a highway since the 1950’s, and is rutted and difficult to use because there’s no longer any public access to it.  But despite all that, people still refer to the modern U.S. 89/91 as “Sardine Canyon.”

So, if today’s highway isn’t Sardine Canyon, then what is it?

First of all, it’s a highway that traverses three canyons.  As you leave I-15 and head east into Brigham City, U.S. 91 picks up U.S. 89 from the south and the two routes jointly enter the first of the three, which is Box Elder Canyon.  For about three miles Box Elder Canyon travels along its namesake creek, Box Elder Creek, before entering the little valley dominated by a farming community and reservoir, both of which are named Mantua (pronounced Man-a-way).

U.S. 91 Median Barrier, Dry Canyon to Sardine Summit

Upon leaving Mantua, motorists enter what is known as Dry Canyon. The next three miles marks a steep climb, past a famous winter tubing hill on the right and the ubiquitous “Midway Inn,” a former bar turned antiques shop, on the left, before arriving at the only place on today’s highway actually named like its “faux” namesake, Sardine Summit.  At 5,868 feet, Sardine Summit marks the dividing county line between Cache and Box Elder counties, and the beginning of the long downhill cruise toward the end of the route in Wellsville.

From Sardine Summit motorists drop quickly into Dry Lake, which is the focal point of an unnamed valley about a mile north of the summit.  Upon passing through the cut in the hill created for the new highway in the 1950’s, the original Sardine Canyon road is high above on the hillside to the right, where it snakes eastward.  From Dry Lake, travelers pass the Sherwood Hills resort and golf course on the left before entering Wellsville Canyon.

Passing the Wellsville Peak Wilderness trail head on the left, U.S. 89/91 dives into the canyon for the final two miles of the journey, before bursting into the open at its mouth near Mt. Sterling.  There one catches the vista of the Cache Valley, stretching almost as far as the eye can see.  Passing Wellsville on the left, Logan is now only another nine miles.  From there, U.S. 91 heads north to Idaho, while U.S. 89 turns east, making its way through Logan Canyon and the Bear River Range of the Rocky Mountains to Bear Lake.

It’s a beautiful trip that can be enjoyed in nice weather by either car or bicycle.  And now you know you’re not traveling there through one canyon but three.  And none of them are named Sardine.


  1. Jim

    Nice article Vic. We all know that most people won’t care whether or not they’re referring to the incorrect Sardine Canyon Highway name- even those in the media, public officials or others who should know better. As I’ve indicated to you previously, the highway widening project that I worked on in ’93 thru ’95 (which traverses all three canyons you named) was collectively called the Wellsville Canyon Highway. So I make it a point to correct anyone I talk to who calls it Sardine to refer to as the Wellsville Canyon Highway instead. But unless something motivates more public entities to use the highway’s accurate name, it will be a futile effort.

  2. Vic Saunders

    Thanks, Jim. You would not believe the number of calls I get about “Sardine Canyon.” Occasionally, I get them from people really irate that we call it that. Most just don’t know the difference. I hope this little piece helps out!

  3. J. W. Chapman

    You will have as much success dropping the name Sardine Canyon as USU had in trying to call thier sports teams “Big Blue”. Usu will always be the AGGIES as well as the 89/91 highway will always be known as Sardine Canyon. People don’t care how many canyons make up the road.

  4. Jim

    the Sardine Summit elevation is around 7,000 ft and please correct me if i am wrong but i believe that was on the old summit sign that used to be at the summit.

  5. Brandon

    I was just looking at land for sale near Paradise, UT and noticed several locations west of Paradise with Sardine in their name. One was a road named “Old Sardine canyon Road”.

    I had often wondered why people in Cash Valley called that stretch of road Sardine. Despite asking many old timers in Cache valley if they knew, without getting a definite answer.

    Since there is a famous old Juniper in Logan Canyon known as “The Jardine Juniper”, I had wondered if the two names were related. I have been told they are not.

  6. DC Nebeker

    Why not resolve the conflict and name? Rename the whole canyon Sardine or Just the segment from Wellsville to Mantua as Sardine Canyon. That would enable the mapmakers to put the best know (and loved) title on their maps and eliminate confusion. The change would remove a lot of questions, arguments and the need for explanations. Then to do something about the pronunciation or spelling of Mantua and Tooele? Or would it be easier to leave the mysteries for enjoyment and just let UDOT post canyon post name signs as you enter each canyon. That would be less expensive than the massive relabeling done of I15 for a 3 mile change or error in is length.

  7. John S. Harvey

    The road’s summit is named “Sardine Summit” (why does it have that name?) – why not just recognize that what people call a place is the name you need to use if you want to be understood?

    I notice that nowhere in the article did the author ever reveal what name the public “should” use when referring to the road in question.

    Essentially this is a fun bit of trivia for map makers and road builders, but the general public doesn’t care.

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