Emigration Canyon was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1961. It is significant in Utah history as the original route used by pioneers entering Utah. It was part of the Hastings Cutoff route used by the Donner Party in 1846, and where the Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. As Brigham Young looked over the canyon, he declared, "This is the right place. Drive on." These words have become famous in Utah history. The event is commemorated with This Is The Place Heritage Park at the mouth of the canyon. Throughout Emigration Canyon, there are several historic markers designating camps, trail markers and milestone where the Mormon Pioneers passed while on their way to the Salt Lake Valley. One example of these milestones is called Lost Creek Camp.
Hogle Zoo, the main zoo in the Salt Lake City area, also lies at the mouth of the canyon. Emigration Canyon is home to Camp Kostopulos and the Kostopulos Dream Foundation. Established in 1967, Camp Kostopulos is a summer camp for disabled children, teens, and Adults. It is adjacent to the historic Ruth's Diner (established in 1930). The 8-mile-long Emigration Canyon road has become a popular destination for cyclists, with its gradual climb and quick descent, because of its convenient location next to Salt Lake City.
The canyon has recently been at the forefront of a dispute with developers, who want to construct houses in the canyon, and the few residents who live there and others who visit the canyon for its scenery and nature regularly, who want to protect Emigration Canyon from the development that nearby Parley's Canyon has experienced.