The Trail West
— A Difficult Journey —
Three panels are found at the Park Kiosk near the parking lot.
The Trail West
During the mid-1800s, more than 500,000 pioneers journeyed west. Never more than a rocky, rutted trail, the road west began in Missouri, crossing the plains before entering Wyoming along the North Plate River. Travel became more difficult, upon reaching Wyoming, as the terrain changed from the wide-open plains to the rugged, arid landscape typical of the west. The westward migration by wagon trains dwindled with the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. However, the trails continued to be used by local travelers, ranchers herding stock, and the military.
California Trail (1841-1868)
Discovery of gold in California started one of the largest mass migrations west. In 1849, more than 30,000 "Forty-Niners" traveled west in search of wealth. This trail closely followed the same path as the Oregon Trail through southern Wyoming to Fort Bridger, and then turned southwest toward the central valleys of California.
Oregon Trail (1843-1868)
This 2,000-mile trail is a tribute to the human spirit. People from all walks of life sold most of their possessions, piled what was left in a wagon and journeyed west. In search of a better life, they headed to Oregon, first for fur, then as missionaries, and finally for farmland.
Mormon Pioneer Trail (1846-1868)
Seeking religious freedom, Brigham Young led 148 followers of Mormonism into the western wilderness. The 1,400-mile trek began in Nauvoo, Illinois and continued across Nebraska and southern Wyoming - before coming to an end near the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Over the next 20 years, more than 70,000 Mormons made this journey.
Oregon Trail Ruts State Historic Site
Although many remnants of the Oregon Trail exist in Wyoming, the four-foot deep tracks in the sandstone ridge above are among the best-preserved ruts along the route west. This site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1975.
Maps of the historic site and other Oregon Trail sites in Wyoming
A Difficult Journey
Early pioneers, driven by a quest for fertile farmland, riches, or religious freedom, ventured by wagon and on foot across trails to settle the American West. The cross-county journey took four to six months to complete and was filled with danger and hardship. Accidents, disease and provision shortages took the lives of many emigrants along the way.
Preserved in Stone
Thousands of travelers struggled through this winding, rocky terrain before making camp just west of this point. Evidence of their passage is clearly visible at the crest of the hill, where deep ruts cut by the wheels of countless wagons are preserved in the soft sandstone.
While the North Plate River was a critical source of water for emigrants and their livestock, it posed a barrier to overland travel. Untamed by dams, the river could be swift and dangerous. It was easier to traverse the rugged landscape than to risk fording the river.