The Oregon Trail
The Oregon Trail was much more than a pathway to the state of Oregon. It was the path to the Pacific Ocean for early 18th century gold seekers, fur traders, farmers and entrepreneurs wanting to head west in search of a better life. Today, unspoiled western lands, rock formations and trail ruts from wagon wheels still exist in a poetic landscape.
The terrain moves from the plains of Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska to the dusty deserts of Wyoming and Idaho, and finally to the mountains and magnificent coastline of Oregon.
Pretend you’re tracing the long journey of these brave settlers, but thankfully you won’t need six months to travel the Oregon Trail. Start in Independence, Missouri, where pioneers loaded their covered wagons with supplies for the 2,000-mile trek in the mid-1800s. The small National Frontier Trails Museum has walking maps of these same wagon trails. Begin your drive by heading north from Independence through Kansas City, Missouri. When you get to the Kansas state capital of Topeka, stretch your legs and take a free tour of the capital building. Highlights include murals by David H. Overmyer, ornate stenciling in the rotunda and a view up toward the inner dome.
As you make your way to Interstate 25, you’ll drive through the golden cornfields of Nebraska. Located just outside Bridgeport, Nebraska, stop to snap photos of the two impressive formations of Courthouse and Jail rocks. Further down the road is the recognizable Chimney Rock in Bayard, Nebraska. The pioneers on the trail often wrote about Chimney Rock in their journals, and you can see why. At nearly 300 feet, it was a guidepost and sign of mountainous terrain ahead.
The journey continues on I-25, where you will enter the state of Wyoming. First stop: the Fort Laramie trading post founded by fur trappers in 1834. The contemporary Nicolaysen Art Museum houses a great collection of Native American treasures. The Cottage Cafe is perfect for sandwiches. Merge onto Route 220, which steers you past another key landmark: Independence Rock. Pioneers referred to this imposing granite rock as the "Register of the Desert,” because of the 5,000-plus names etched on its walls.
Continue west through Wyoming and you’ll reach the state of Idaho. At the border in Soda Springs, you can see the hourly eruption of a naturally sprouting geyser of carbonated water, which settlers once used for medicinal purposes. Continue on to Boise, the state’s outdoorsy capital city, where you’re still able to trace the original pioneer wagon ruts.
The state of Oregon marks the end of the trail, but there’s still plenty to see and do. In Baker City, Oregon visit the well-designed National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center where displays and a simulated wagon train will make you feel like a true pioneer!
Your journey along the Oregon Trail will end at the unspeakably beautiful Oregon coastline. Now you can add your name to the list of those that have traveled the historic Oregon Trail!
What to bring: outdoor essentials for hiking the trails, a journal for field notes, a hunger for history and a true pioneer spirit.
Basic Route Information