Have you have ever thought about throwing all of your possessions into the back of your car and heading out for parts unknown?
Each spring for 30 years emigrants gathered at points along the great Missouri water line dividing the Midwest, forming into wagon trains to head out onto the prairie. They followed river valleys through what is now Kansas and Nebraska, ventured onto the dry hills of Wyoming, then split off in Idaho toward Utah and California or Oregon and Washington. It was a six-month journey, with hard traveling in deserts and over treacherous mountains and roiling rivers, before they reached their destination.
Today visitors can learn about these historic events and trace the footsteps of those who made these journeys by traveling on the Oregon and California National Historic Trails. Authorized by the National Trails System Act of 1968, the National Trails System now contains 30 trails — over 55,000 miles in total — that connect with 70 wildlife refuges, 80 national parks, 90 Bureau of Land Management areas, 90 national forests, 123 wilderness areas, and 100 major metropolitan areas.
Nonprofit organizations such as OCTA support the National Trails System and offer recreational and heritage opportunities to thousands of visitors each year. Congress established the Oregon National Historic Trail in 1978 and the California National Historic Trail in 1992. The National Park Service, Department of the Interior, is OCTA’s primary federal partner in support of its vision, mission, and mission goals for the two trails. Other federal partners include the Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
To learn more:
OCTA is also a member of the Partnership for the National Trails System (PNTS), which is an advocacy organization for the National Trails System. Member nonprofit organizations like OCTA have voice through the PNTS to work in partnership with federal agencies that administer and manage the national trails. OCTA has a representative on the PNTS Leadership Council.
To learn more:
NPS Auto Tour Route Guides
National Park Service Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guides – Explore the National Historic Trails!
Discover the trails in Western Missouri through Northeastern Kansas. Actual wagon wheel ruts, emigrant camps, Pony Express stations, and other places of interest can be visited at the sites listed in this guide.
You can also request a printed Missouri/Kansas ATR guide by sending an email with your name and address to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The first migration of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the Salt Lake Valley occurred in two stages: in 1846, from western Illinois to the Missouri River near today’s Council Bluffs, Iowa; and in 1847, from the Missouri River to the Great Salt Lake. This guide covers the 1846 segment of the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail from Illinois through Iowa.
You can also request a printed Iowa ATR guide by sending an email with your name and address to: email@example.com
Travel across northeastern Colorado and Nebraska following the route of the the overland pioneers! Chimney Rock is one of the most notable landmarks recorded in emigrant diaries and journals.
You can also request a printed Colorado/Nebraska ATR guide by sending an email with your name and address to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wyoming – Gateway to the West! Early explorers found the South Pass crossing the Continental Divide allowing for wagon travel to the West.
This guide has been revised and is not available online to download. Please request a printed Wyoming ATR guide by sending an email with your name and address to: email@example.com
Follow the California, Mormon Pioneer, and Pony Express National Historic Trails across Utah. This ATR guide provides a historical overview of the three trails, shares emigrant thoughts and experiences, and discusses emigrant impacts on the native peoples of what is now Utah.
You can also request a printed Utah ATR guide by sending an email with your name and address to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow the California and Pony Express National Historic Trails across Nevada! Discover why the Humboldt River was, as Western historian Dale Morgan wrote, “the most necessary river of America, and the most hated.”
You can also request a printed Nevada ATR guide by sending an email with your name and address to: email@example.com
How many many emigrants followed the trails to California, the Pacific Northwest, and Utah? Find out these questions and more at Trail Facts!
In Pursuit of a Dream
This multiple award-winning film shows modern teenagers learning firsthand what it was like to be an emigrant traveling to the West on a wagon train. See the official website and vicariously travel with them through the video and stories about their amazing venture.
Homesteaders’ at Three Island Crossing
When emigrants to Oregon reached the Three Island Crossing along the Snake River in Idaho, they faced one of the more treacherous sections of the Oregon Trail. This 2008 re-enactment shows the difficulty of crossing the river with mules, horses, and covered wagons.