In October 1863, scouts were sent south from Manti by LDS Elder Orson Hyde to find a location to start a new settlement. Upon their return, they told of a long, broad valley with a creek, river, and fertile land about twenty-five miles to the south. Early in the next year, the scouts and thirty families returned and founded what was first called "South Bridge," and then "Salina" after nearby salt deposits. A townsite was laid out, and work began on shelters, a church, and a fort. Unfortunately, trouble with Indians in 1866 led to the settlers' retreat to Manti.

In 1871, the settlers returned to Salina and completed construction on the fort and church, also organizing a militia to provide protection. Before long, they also discovered large quantities of coal, other minerals, and additional salt deposits in the canyon east of town. In 1874, the Sevier River was bridged, and before the end of the 1870s Salina gained a school, library, telegraph service, and an irrigation canal. Mining of the coal deposits occurred, but the mainstay of Salina's economy. On June 20, 1891, railroad service reached the town of 300, which quickly became a major shipping point for the surrounding area. That same year, Salina was officially incorporated as a town.

By the turn of the century, Salina gained a newspaper - the Central Utah Press and an eight-room school. Despite this, the presence of saloons, dance halls, and boardinghouses gave Salina a reputation as a sinful place. Nevertheless, the town flourished, and soon had electrical and telephone service, a bank, high school, and municipal waterworks. By 1908, two more irrigation canals from the Sevier River were completed, and in 1913 the City of Salina was incorporated. In 1926, Highway 89 was established, and Main Street was paved as part of the new route, with streetlights erected shortly thereafter. Additional improvement projects were undertaken by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, and a fine Municipal Building was completed in 1937 by the Works Progress Administration.

Today, despite its prominent location on Interstate 70, Salina is a quiet community of around 2500. Farming and coal mining remain the backbone of the local economy (some 3 million tons of coal is extracted annually), though the railroad discontinued service in 1983 after the line was destroyed by a landslide at Thistle.