The Pony Express National Historic Trail is an historic route that symbolizes the spirit of the American West.
The nearly 2,000-mile route passes through a variety of public and private lands. Here, you can visit trail traces, visitor centers, museums, hiking trails, historic structures and forts related to the Pony Express National Historic Trail. The trail crosses eight states following an impressive relay system established in 1860 to deliver mail in 10 days, which was unprecedented for the time. The trail marks the journey taken by dozens of young riders and hundreds of horses between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California. Although the Pony Express operated for only 19 months—April 1860 to November 1861—it remains a legendary chapter in American history.
How the Pony Express Worked
In 1845, it took six months to get a message from the east coast of the United States to California. By the late 1850s nearly half a million people had migrated west and wanted to get up-to-date information across the country. To keep the mail moving quickly and steadily, the Pony Express established relay stations where riders would switch to fresh horses every 10 to 12 miles. They utilized existing stage stations on the eastern end of the route, but needed to build new stations in remote areas across the Great Basin. As the company was established, 400 to 500 mustang horses were purchased, 200 men were hired to manage the stations, and 80 riders signed on to begin the run of the Pony Express.
A Famous Writer's Thoughts on the Pony Express
Mark Twain, in his book "Roughing It," describes his encounter with a Pony Express rider while traveling west by stagecoach from Missouri: "He rode a splendid horse that was born for a racer and fed and lodged like a gentleman; kept him at his utmost speed for ten miles, and then, as he came crashing up to the station where stood two men holding fast a fresh, impatient steed, the transfer of rider and mail-bag was made in the twinkling of an eye, and away flew the eager pair and were out of sight before the spectator could get hardly the ghost of a look."
The Pony Express Station at Simpson Springs
How to Experience the Pony Express National Historic Trail
Auto tour routes, GIS interactive maps and a Back-Country Byway are available to chart a course across the Pony Express National Historic Trail. All you have to do is search for them. There are sites in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California that weave together significant places and relay stations along the route.
Make sure to Pony Express National Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri, where the first lone rider galloped out of the Pikes Peak Stables on April 3, 1860; and the B.F. Hastings Building in Old Sacramento, which was the western terminus of the overland Pony Express for most of its existence.
The Pony Express National Historic Trail crosses many federal, state and private lands along the way offering countless camping and lodging options. Visit www.recreation.gov to find a convenient location as you experience and discover what life must have been like for those young, tough riders of the West.
A marker along the Pony Express Trail