If you went to school in the 80’s or 90’s you probably played the computer game The Oregon Trail. While on your exciting and fateful journey you learned about dysentery and getting run over by a wagon. Luckily, on this journey you have very little chance of those things happening. However, there is a high chance you will learn about our ancestors and have a bit of fun. So let’s get started…
We’re going to begin our journey west in Independence, Missouri. All of the historic trails—Oregon, Santa Fe, and California, started at or near Independence. This was a popular “jumping off” point where the pioneers
could stock their wagons before their arduous journey. Spend some time getting acquainted with the trail at the National Frontier Trails Museum. This museum researches, interprets, and preserves the history of the pioneers who traveled along the trials. After seeing the museum head to the Independence Courthouse Square, this was the official start of The Oregon Trail. Walk around the square and try and get a sense of what it was like to have all of your earthly possessions crammed into a wagon to set off on a dangerous journey across the continent.
Make your way west to Rock Creek Station which is near Fairbury, Nebraska. Rock Creek Station was a Pony Express station and road ranch that served the
pioneers along the trail. It is here where Wild Bill Hickok shot his first man. You can see reconstructed buildings, pioneer graves and trail ruts. While in the area you should definitely check out the wonderful Homestead National Monument in Beatrice, Nebraska.
Keep heading west to Kearney and The Great Platte River Road Archway, one of the coolest spots along the trail. The monument is a museum that honors the people who followed the historic trails and built America.
After visiting The Archway head to the south side of the interstate to visit Ft. Kearney. This was an important outpost along the trail, it allowed the pioneers to resupply and offered them a safe resting area in a sometimes harsh territory.
Continue on brave pioneer, you’re 15% finished with your journey!
We are next headed to the Scottsbluff area and there is A LOT to see here so make sure you have some snacks. This would also be a great area to make your home base for a few days. The first landmark you can see from a distance is Courthouse and Jail Rocks.
These are the first rock formations that the pioneers would have seen on their journey west. At one time there was also a Pony Express station located here.
Just a mere fifteen miles further west stands Chimney Rock.
One of the most awe inspiring and famous landmarks along the trail, Chimney Rock rises over 300 feet above the valley. Do you have some quarters in your pocket? If one is a Nebraska state quarter then you will see a wagon in front of this majestic landmark. While you’re here make sure to check out the pioneer cemetery.
After Chimney Rock head over to see the fabulous landmark Scotts Bluff National Monument. Scotts Bluff encompasses over 3,000 acres and towers 800 feet over the valley.
Visitors to the monument can walk in the footsteps of the pioneers of the Oregon Trail, drive to the top of the bluff via the Summit Road and stand in awe at the sight of the bluffs rising up from the prairie.
Before you leave Scotts Bluff pay your respects to an Oregon Trail pioneer, Rebecca Winters. Her grave lies on the eastern side of the town of Scottsbluff at the corner of South Beltline Highway and US Highway 26. Rebecca died in 1852 after contracting cholera, a friend chiseled her name on an iron wagon tire which still stands on her grave today.
Keep heading west, pioneer, to Ft. Laramie. You’ve made it to Wyoming! You’re a quarter of the way there! The fort was constructed in the 1830’s to support the fur trade and it soon became the largest and most important fort on the frontier. Travelers would stop here for several days to rest, mail letters home, and resupply. Today you can stroll the grounds and visit some of the many restored buildings and ruins.
Just down the road a bit from Ft Laramie is the town of Guernsey where you can see Register Cliff and the Guernsey Trail Ruts. Register Cliff contains the engravings of hundreds of trail pioneers in the soft sandstone. Register Cliff, along with Independence Rock and Names Hill, is one of three prominent “recording areas” in Wyoming.
The Guernsey Trail Ruts, or the Oregon Trail Ruts State Historic Site, is an amazing section of preserved trail ruts. Decades of pioneers, wagons, and animals wore down the sandstone two to six feet. Take some time and walk in the ruts.
Next on our journey is the town of Casper, Wyoming. This would be an excellent place to rest for a couple of days. While you are here make sure to visit the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center. This museum showcases the several different trails with artifacts and interactive displays.
Just a few miles away is Ft Caspar, this is a military post that was named for Caspar Collins who was killed during the Battle of Platte Bridge Station. Yes, Caspar really spelled his name that way.
Independence Rock, which lies about an hour southwest of Casper, is a large, rounded monolith that is known as the “register of the desert.” The rock was a major landmark for the pioneers, they needed to make it here by July 4th to ensure they made it across the Rocky Mountains. If you walk all the way around the rock you’ve walked about a mile. Also try and climb to top so you can see the many pioneer inscriptions.
Head west on Highway 287 and south on Highway 28 you’ll see some of the most gorgeous Wyoming landscapes, you’ll be traveling through what’s called South Pass. This is also the half way point of the journey west. Hopefully, you’ll get to witness the graceful antelopes bounce through the sage. Make sure to stop at some of the roadside pull offs where you experience both the past and present.
Next you’ll want to make your way over to Montpelier, Idaho and visit the National Oregon/California Trail Center. This is a living-history center, which sits directly on the site of the historic Clover Creek Encampment on the Oregon Trail. The center contains displays and artifacts and depicts the pioneers’ journey along the trail.
Fort Hall is just a short drive from Montpelier but it would have taken the pioneers several days to get there. The fort was originally used as a fur trading post but soon became a major resupply center for the pioneers. They had been traveling for weeks since a resupply and hundreds of thousands of immigrants made use of Fort Hall.
Keep cruising along, pioneer, we are almost there!
Just west on I84 is Three Island Crossing. This was a major point for the pioneers. It was here where they had to decide on whether or not to cross the dangerous Snake River. If you remember from the Oregon Trail game many pioneers never made it across.
The last stop on this Oregon Trail journey is the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City, Oregon. Yes, you made it to Oregon! This 500 acre site features original Oregon Trail ruts. The center also features dioramas, artifacts, and theater presentations.
Well, pioneers, you’ve made it to Oregon! Hopefully, no one drowned, died of dysentery, or got bit by any snakes. There are many more amazing places to see along the trail, hopefully you’ll be inspired to go on your own manifest destiny across the plains, prairies, and mountains of the west.