Oregon Trail – Pathway to the West

Chimney Rock in Nebraska, Kathy Weiser.

Chimney Rock in Nebraska, Kathy Weiser.

A number of other trails followed the Oregon Trail for part of its length. These include the Mormon Trail from Illinois to Utah, and the California Trail to the gold fields of California.

Other migration paths for early settlers prior to the establishment of the transcontinental railroads involved taking passage on a ship rounding the Cape Horn of South America or to the Isthmus (now Panama) between North and South America. There, an arduous mule trek through hazardous swamps and rain forests awaited the traveler. A ship was typically then taken to San Francisco,  California.

The trail was still in use during the Civil War, but traffic declined after 1869 when the transcontinental railroad was completed.

However, in its more than 25 years of regular use, the trail carried an estimated 300,000 emigrants to the vast west, a trip that took about five months to complete. The trail continued to be used into the 1890s, when modern highways began to take its place, eventually paralleling large portions of the trail. Today, U.S. Highway 26 follows the Oregon Trail for much of its length.

Some of the original route from our nation’s early days still remain today as reminders of our historic past. The Oregon National Historic Trail is an extended trail that follows much of the original path of the Oregon Trail.

In 1968, Congress enacted the National Trails System Act and in 1978, National Historic Trail designations were added. The National Historic Trails System commemorates these historic routes and promotes their preservation, interpretation and appreciation.

In 1995, the National Park Service established the National Trails System Office in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Salt Lake City Trails Office administers the Oregon, the California, the Mormon Pioneer Trail and the Pony Express National Historic Trails.

Scenery along the Oregon Trail in Wyoming. Kathy Weiser.

Scenery along the Oregon Trail in Wyoming. Kathy Weiser.

The National Trails System does not manage trail resources on a day-to-day basis. The responsibility for managing trail resources remains in the hands of the current trail managers at the federal, state, local and private levels.

National Historic Trails recognize diverse facets of history such as prominent past routes of exploration, migration, trade, communication and military action. The historic trails generally consist of remnant sites and trail segments, and thus are not necessarily contiguous.


Contact Information:

National Trails System Office
P.O. Box 45155
Salt Lake City, Utah 84145-0155
801- 741-1012


© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated March, 2017.

Reproduction vintage Oregon Trail Poster Map

Reproduction vintage Oregon Trail Poster Map

Oregon-Mormon-California Trail Slideshow:


These images available for photo prints and downloads HERE!


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