Landmarks Along the Oregon Trail

Landmarks Along the Oregon Trail
Many of us have played the popular Oregon Trail game, or wondered what life must have been like for the pioneers. Visiting the landmarks along their journey can give you a sense of connection with history, as well as some great hiking opportunities. It's sure to broaden your understanding of what life must have been like for the pioneers.

Independence, Missouri

Independence, Missouri, was founded in 1827, and in the next two decades it became a popular trading post. Pioneers knew they had to stock up on supplies before they left Independence, as it would be their last chance to purchase essentials. Today, you can still see grooves in the earth made by their wagons. Stop by the National Frontier Trails Museum for a walking map of these wagon trails.
National Frontier Trails Museum
318 W. Pacific Ave.
Independence, MO 64050
(816) 325-7575
ci.independence.mo.us/NFTM/

Courthouse and Jailhouse Rock

These land formations in the Platte River Valley were two of the first that pioneers would see on their journey west, so many noted them in their journals. They are located two miles south of Bridgeport, Nebraska, on Route 88 near the Bridgeport Golf Course.
bridgeportneb.com/Sites/courthouseRock/courthouse_and_jail_rock.htm

Chimney Rock

This tall monument made a strong impression on many pioneers. In fact, many people consider it the most famous landmark on the Oregon Trail. It stood toward the end of the prairielands, marking the transition into more rugged terrain. Pioneers probably saw it both as a welcoming symbol beckoning them west, and as a warning that their journey would soon become more treacherous. It fascinated many pioneers and surveyors, who sketched it and wrote about it extensively. Today, it stands at 325 feet from top to bottom. Take a guided tour of this majestic monument to learn more about pioneer times, or just hike around it yourself.
Chimney Rock National Historic Site (1.5 miles south of Highway 92 on Chimney Rock Road)
P.O. Box F
Bayard, NE 69334
(308) 586-2581
nebraskahistory.org/sites/rock/

Fort Laramie

Fur traders constructed Fort Laramie in 1834 for trading at the confluence of the North Platte and Laramie rivers. The U.S. military purchased and renamed it after Jacques La Ramie, a fur trader, in 1849. In addition to providing supplies to pioneers and fur traders, it served as a major stop on the Pony Express and the Overland Stage, as well as for telegraph systems that spanned the continent. During the High Plains Indian Wars, it served as an important base. A number of buildings have been restored, such as the cavalry barracks, captain's quarters and bakery. Visitors can stroll around these refurbished buildings and the ruins, then go for a hike in the surrounding area.
According to the National Park Service, "The park is located in Southeast Wyoming. From I-25 take exit 92 to U.S. Highway 26, proceed east to the Town of Fort Laramie, turn right on State Highway 160 and travel 3 miles to the park entrance."
"From U.S. Highways 26/85, proceed west from the town of Lingle on Highway 26 to the Town of Fort Laramie, turn left on State Highway 160 and travel 3 miles to the park entrance."
Fort Laramie National Historic Site
965 Gray Rocks Road
Fort Laramie, WY 82212
(307) 837-2221
nps.gov/fola/index.htm

Independence Rock

Many pioneers stopped to rest by this enormous granite rock, which acquired its name from the Fourth of July celebration held there in 1830, and many aimed to arrive there by that day. Many carved their names in the rock, which measures 1,900 feet long and stands in modern-day Wyoming. J. Goldsborough Bruff thought it looked like an enormous whale from a distance. Today, many people enjoy climbing the rock, while others enjoy hiking around it.
Independence Rock State Historic Site
U.S. Hwy. 220, MM 63
Casper, WY 82601
(307) 577-5150
wyoshpo.state.wy.us/trailsdemo/independencerock256k.htm

Fort Bridger

This fort became a trading post on the Oregon Trail in 1842. In 1857, a conflict broke out here between Mormons and the U.S. government, and a Mormon guerrilla army burned the fort down. It was rebuilt and became an important stop on the Pony Express and Overland Stage routes. Visitors will find a museum and interpretive archeological site with several restored buildings.
Fort Bridger State Historic Site
P.O. Box 35
Ft. Bridger, WY 82933
(307) 782-3842
wyoparks.state.wy.us/Site/SiteInfo.asp?siteID=14

Soda Springs

Pioneers often stopped at Soda Springs to use their naturally bubbling waters, caused by ancient volcanic activity, as a curative. Others simply enjoyed bathing in the waters. Ironically, some became sick from drinking them. Today, you can visit one of the springs that pioneers stopped at, such as Hooper Springs, which still have naturally-occurring carbonated water.
Geyser Park & Visitor Center
W. 1st St.
Soda Springs, ID 83276
(208) 547-4356
sodaspringsid.com/

Fort Hall

Fort Hall, in modern-day Idaho, became a trading post in 1834. Because of difficult terrain, pioneers were often forced to leave their wagons at the fort and continue onward with their animals. In 1843, however, Dr. Marcus Whitman guided a wagon train westward, and more pioneers began traveling to Oregon with their wagons.
Fort Hall Replica
3002 Alvord Lp.
Upper Level Ross Park
Pocatello, ID 83201
(208) 234-1795
forthall.net/

Fort Boise

A competitor to Fort Hall, Fort Boise was abandoned in 1854 because of flooding and conflicts with American Indians. The Fort Boise that exists today was reconstructed near present-day Boise, Idaho, in 1863.
Ft. Boise Park
700 W Robbins Rd.
Boise, ID 83702-4541
(208) 384-4486
cityofboise.org‎

Whitman Mission

Dr. Marcus Whitman and his wife Narcissa founded this mission in 1836. In 1847, after an epidemic
of measles broke out amongst the American Indians at the mission, the Cayuse tribe killed 12 white people at the mission, including Whitman, and burned it down. Today, the Whitman Mission National Historic Site features a museum and many activities for both children and adults, such as storytelling, especially in the summer months. In addition to hiking through the park, visitors may want to explore or camp in the nearby Umatilla National Forest.
Whitman Mission National Historic Site
328 Whitman Mission Rd.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
Visitor Info: (509) 529-2761
Park Headquarters: (509) 522-6360
nps.gov/whmi/index.htm

The Dalles

This path down the Columbia River acquired its name from the French word for "gutter." Pioneers had to ride on wooden rafts with their wagons, often getting caught in whirlpools, to make their way down the gorge. In 1845, with the opening of the Barlow Toll Road that circled around Mt. Hood, pioneers had a safer road to travel. Today, people often go boating, windsurfing and camping in the Dalles. Many enjoy visiting Sorosis Park, which sits high above the river, giving visitors a spectacular view. Some camp in Celilo Park, Deschutes River State Recreation Area or one of the many other nearby parks.
Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Wasco County Historical Museum
5000 Discovery Dr.
The Dalles, OR 97058
(541) 296-8600
gorgediscovery.org/

Oregon City

This city was founded in 1842 at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers, near modern-day Portland. Pioneers and American Indians widely used it as a site of trade, as well as for powering local mills. Today, many people enjoy the Clackamas River Trail that runs through the city, as well as Clackamette Park, one of the largest of the city's 22 parks. It lies at the convergence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers.
Historic Oregon City
1726 Washington St.
Oregon City, OR 97045
(503) 657-9336
historicoregoncity.org/HOC/

Article Written By Melanie J. Martin

Melanie J. Martin specializes in environmental issues and sustainable living. Her work has appeared in venues such as the Environmental News Network, "Ocean" magazine and "GREEN Retailer." Martin holds a Master of Arts in English.