August 24, 2023

Martin’s Cove Visitors Center, Wyoming

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Martin’s Cove is a “must see” on the list for Church History sites. It is one of the most tragic and heroic stories in the Westward Migration, and in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Many, if not, most of the tragic pioneer stories revolve around the group of handcart pioneers from the Martin and Willie Handcart Companies.

Martin’s Cove, in Wyoming, is the location where the Martin handcart company took refuge from the early storm that took the lives of many from their group.

Martins Cove is a very special and spiritual place. If you prepare beforehand on what is there and what to expect when you get to Martins Cove it will help you and your group have a wonderful experience.

History of Martins Cove

Most of the early Latter-Day Saints who crossed the plains did not use handcarts, but years after the first pioneers entered the Valley, there were a couple groups asked to come over in handcarts, instead of the normal covered wagons. Of the more than 250 organized Latter-day Saint companies that came to Utah during the pioneer era, only 10 companies, were handcart companies. About 3,000 people total, were handcart pioneers. 

The Pioneers mostly crossed using covered wagons, but there were multiple problems with covered wagons. Some of the main problems were cost, and the animals wandering. To help save on cost and animal problems Brigham Young thought the use of handcarts would solve problems and save money, allowing more people to cross the plains and gather with the Saints in Utah.

The handcart companies had one wagon for every 100 people carrying heavier provisions like food, tents and other provisions, they were in charge of carrying their belongings in their carts.

Martin and Willie Handcart Companies

Not all the handcart companies struggled but the Martin and Willie Handcart companies faced difficulties that most will never have to face in this life. From sickness, hunger, extreme temperatures, exposure and death, this group of Saints faced it all. Learning about their difficulties, and how they turned to the Lord is a very moving experience. They learned lessons that have been passed down generations, and their stories are for all to know and learn from.

The Martin Company had traveled much of their journey without adequate food and supplies, because of miscommunication they did not reach the food suppliers and had to do much of the journey with a fraction of the food portions. By the time the Martin Company had made it to Wyoming they were weak and dying of exhaustion and starvation, it was then that an early snow storm hit the area and the Martin Company had to struggle to go on. The Martin Company gathered into a cove in the mountains, now called Martins Cove, for shelter from the storm.

Martins Cove Rescue Party

Even before the first snow fall Brigham Young heard about this group of Saints still trying to cross the plains andsent a group of rescuers from Salt Lake to help the struggling handcart companies. The rescuers brought food, blankets and hope to the struggling group of Saints. Both the rescuers and the Saints saw the Lords hand in events that transpired.

This very tragic story is powerful and inspiring. The Saints had their testimonies built stronger from the miracles they saw through their hardships. They learned to rely on the Lord and their experiences were made holy, not just for the Handcart Pioneers, the Rescuers, and even today.

Instead of becoming bitter of what they went through, they saw the Lords hand and help. Their faith is the reason we tell these stories. They teach us that no matter the difficulty the Lord is with us, He will not leave us alone to struggle and as we rely on Him our struggles are sanctified, or made holy. The Lord does watch out for His people, and the beautiful testimonies born in this affliction are powerful and inspiring!

Martins Cove, Know Before you Go

Just as a warning the Martins Cove is in the middle of nowhere, because it is in the middle of nowhere it feels untouched by this world. The whole area is quiet, and calm. It is about a half hour from any small town, so be prepared for no shopping or gas in the area. We brought our RV and were hoping to camp somewhere close, but the closest area for camping as also miles away, so we drove back to the route we needed for the next day.

Bring lots of bug spray!! The bugs were horrendous when we were there. Bring long sleeves and pants, and expect the bugs to be bad. It was hard to focus on the area because the bugs were so bad, we wished we were better prepared.

The hours of operation are on the Church website:

When we pulled up on a Sunday afternoon and were worried it would not be open, because there were not many people around, even when we got out of the car. There was a sign that said the visitors center was closed, but it was really opened, so do not turn around if you see something like this, the missionaries are very kind and will guide you.

The missionaries were ready and excited to receive us. Martins Cove has excellent missionaries who know the information well and were excited to teach about the experience. Each missionary couple was kind, generous, and very knowledgeable about the history of Martins Cove.

The Martins Cover Historic site is on the old Sun Ranch. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints purchased the Ranch in the early 1990’s and created a visitors experience.

Martins Cove Visitors Center

Martins Cove Historic Museum

Hiking Trails around Martins Cove

There are a couple options of seeing the area, and different trails. The missionaries were very helpful to inform us where we can go, and they have some trails set up to pull the hand carts, it is an excellent experience.

-Rattle Snake Pass

-Martins Cove(five Mile Loop, or 4 Miles there and back, if you do not want to do the whole loop)

-Small Historic Walk

There are a couple options on trails you can take. From Sun Ranch to Matins Cove there is a five mile walk/hike. You can choose not to do the full loop, but just go out to Martins Cove and come back on the same path, and that is about 4 miles from Sun Ranch.

Martins Cove was a spiritual experience for me and my family. I understand a lot of people just see that it is in the middle of nowhere, hot(in July) and the bugs are unbearable, but if you can handle the elements, prepare yourself and your family this can be a very beautiful and spiritual experience.

My kids did a great job with the hand carts, they were not super excited about the experience, it was hot and buggy. By the time we left everyone felt a very special feeling, feeling uplifted and interested in learning more about the pioneers, their stories and the area.

Teaching the accounts of pioneers while we were walking on the trail to Martins Cove was one of the most memorable moments of the Church History Trip. The sacrifices of these faithful pioneers is something every member should know. Many of us were moved to tears on multiple occasions while waking the path and reading the stories.

My 13 year old son said “Why don’t they share this story in school when we talk about the Westward Migration?” Honestly, they should. The history of Martins Cove is powerful and a history all should know!

Prepare for Martins Cove

Like every spiritual experience the more you prepare yourself the better it will be for you, and Martins Cove is no different. If you know and prepare yourself with the stories and the books before you go, you will have a more memorable experience that means more to you.

The blog post: Prepare for Trek is a great place to start with ideas for Martins Cove.

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