Historic Trails of Idaho
Idaho was crossed by many of the historic trails that helped shape the western United States.
The first historic trail to cross what is now known as Idaho was carved out by the expedition of Lewis and Clark. This trail is the start of the recorded history of Idaho. For a brief, early history of the state,
The legendary trails were carved out by thousands of daring pioneers who ventured into the unfamiliar. These explorers included settlers, American Indians, assorted adventurers, and gold-seeking miners. Several of these historic trails crossed Idaho.
Let’s look at some of the more noteworthy historic trails of Idaho:
The California Trail is one with the Oregon Trail through most of Idaho, however its path turns southwest at the Snake River as it heads to California. Traveled on foot in 1840, then by wagons in 1844. Gold seekers by the thousands took the route in the late 1840s as the gold rush was underway. Wagon wheel tracks, carved in the earth by thousands of westward-bound travelers, are visible in many areas of this historic trail today. Check just east of Alton off U.S. Route 30.
Goodale’s Cutoff left the Oregon Trail at Fort Hall then joined up again with the Oregon Trail south of Boise at Ditto Creek. Visit Fort Hall on U.S. Route 91 north of Pocatello. The Cutoff became very popular during the Salmon River gold rush in 1862, but it was used extensively 10 years earlier. The Cutoff crossed the Snake River plains to Lost River before heading west. Tracks from the traveler’s wagons can still be seen in many areas including near Craters of the Moon.
This was a short-cut of about 110 miles for those traveling the California and Oregon Trails. This historic trail is a more direct routing from Sheep Rock in east Idaho to Cassia Creek in west Idaho. Seen best at Soda Springs off U.S. Route 30. First came into use during the 1849 California gold rush. Still visible in some places.
Chief engineer Frederick Lander chose this route west out of South Pass, Wyoming and rejoining the Oregon Trail on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. The trail was completed in 1858 and was heavily used. The road can still be seen in many places. Visit the trail at Wayan off State Route 34.
Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail
The Lewis and Clark expedition followed an 8,000 mile route in 1805. The route was recorded in journals kept by various members of the expedition group. The trail in Idaho is a 200-mile segment and many Idaho sites are certified as official points along the route. This historic trail generally followed rivers and a lot of it can be retraced today. See the Salmon-Challis National Forest east of Tendoy off State Route 28.
Mullan Road was intended as a military passage connecting the Missouri River with the Columbia River, but was only used for a few years. The route was surveyed and constructed from 1859 to 1862. It was later the basis for Interstate Route 90, which cuts all way across northern Idaho today. It can be visited off the Interstate about 15 miles east of Coeur d’Alene.
Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) National Historic Trail
The 1,700-mile route, the way taken by the Nez Perce Indians in 1877, extends from Wallowa Lake in
Oregon to the Bears Paw Battlefield near Chinook, Montana. The Indians were trying to elude the U S. Army, but their effort was futile. Nearly 400 miles of the route is within Idaho. Much of the selected route followed the famed Lewis and Clark Trail. Visit the Clearwater National Forest south of the union of the Snake and Salmon Rivers.
Oregon National Historic Trail
This famous 2,170-mile historic trail extends from Missouri to Oregon. The Idaho segment is about 400 miles, and generally follows The Snake River. This trail was used by thousands of immigrants, gold miners, fur traders and missionaries as the push to the West went on. The heaviest use came in the 20-year period beginning in 1841, and much of the trail can still be seen. Check just east of Alton off U. S. Route 30.
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