Have you ever wondered what it was like to be a pioneer? To pack up all your belongings and struggle across demanding terrain, all in hopes of reaching better land and a better life at the end of the journey? You can get a glimpse of that challenging life when you step onto a historic trail, walking through the very land these brave settlers crossed so many years ago.
Our country is filled with historic trails, many of which have been well preserved and documented. Wherever you're headed this month, you're sure to travel near one of our great trails. Why not take a side trip and explore some of this land and its history? You might even decide to hike a stretch of the trail or to plan a longer trip that traces the entire route.
Lewis and Clark National Historic TrailThis famous trail stretches all the way from Missouri to Astoria, Washington on the Pacific Ocean. The trail follows the route taken by the explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark with their Corps of Discovery. Charged by the president to find a water route to the Pacific Ocean, this team opened the way for all the pioneers and settlers who followed. The trail stretches through eleven states, winding over mountains, along rivers, and through plains and high deserts. Along the way, you'll learn about Sacajawea, their Native American guide, and Seaman, the dog that accompanied them the entire way.
Iditarod National Historic TrailIf your travels take you to Alaska this month, you won't want to miss a visit to the Iditarod Trail. This 2,400-mile system of winter trails is famous today because of the annual Iditarod dogsled race. But in days gone by, native hunters and traders followed this trail to get from one Native Alaskan village to the next. During the gold rush, prospectors and miners used this route as they hunted for treasured caches of gold.
Today, over 1,500 miles of the trail are open to the public. These are administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under the National Trails Act. About 150 miles are well maintained with public shelter cabins. The rest of the trail is managed by the state of Alaska. Whether you travel by dog sled, snow mobile, or take short jaunts on snow shoes, you can enjoy the thrill that comes from knowing you're trekking the same path that's been used for hundreds of years.
Pony Express National Historic TrailJust before the Civil War, the Pony Express was established to carry news about the impending war to California and the west. Young men traveled on fast horses from Missouri to the coast, speeding news across the country in the days before the telegraph. These riders traded horses frequently to keep their speeds up and often rode through hostile and challenging terrain. Amazingly, they crossed their route in only ten days!
Today, you can follow the Pony Express trail by car. The Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guides are currently being finalized for every state the trail passes through. These guides will give descriptions of places where you can see remnants of the trail and signs that help explain more about this fascinating journey and piece of American history.
Santa Fe National Historic TrailThis historic pioneer trail carried settlers from Missouri (then known as the last settled state in the west) to New Mexico. The trail begins in Missouri and crosses Kansas, Colorado, and Oklahoma before it reaches its destination in New Mexico.
North Country National Historic TrailThis brand-new trail system is still under construction in some areas, but it's well worth visiting now because of the stunning areas it connects. The trail is 4,200 miles long and stretches across the most beautiful sections of the northern states, from South Dakota, through northern Minnesota, into Wisconsin along Lake Superior, across Michigan's Upper Peninsula and down the length of Michigan, into Ohio, through northwestern Pennsylvania, and across New York State. This is a perfect trail for a month-long hike, or for day hikes to select spots along the way.
There are many more trails across the country that you can explore. The national trail system includes routes like the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail, and the Nez Perce National Historic Trail. You can trace pioneer footsteps on the Oregon National Historic Trail, learn about historic battles on the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, or explore Native American heritage and a tragic piece of history on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. Whatever route you choose, you're sure to be struck by the hardships our forebears faced as they hit the trail in search of a better life.