The Oregon National Historic Trail covers over 2,000 miles and goes through portions of six states— Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon. Along the route are traces and track marks from thousands of canvas-covered pioneer wagons bound for Oregon or California in the early 1840s. While most of these wagon wheel ruts are barely discernable thanks to time and weather, others have been paved over or are inaccessible on private land. To see some of the best surviving ruts, stop at the Oregon Trail Ruts State Historic Site. Located about three miles south of Guernsey, Wyoming, these deep gouges are especially notable because they were cut into solid limestone— and you can still tread in them today. Talk about walking in someone else’s footsteps (and wagon tracks)!
Although the deep ruts here might make it appear that the Oregon Trail was a one-lane road, “the trail” was sometimes just a broad area. Out on the plains, a wagon train might be 20 wagons wide and one wagon long as drivers spread out to avoid eating each other’s dust. The wagons were loaded with everything a family would need to begin a new life, and survive the journey to their destination. Two to four yoke of oxen pulled the wagons, while the family walked alongside. In the 1850s and 60s, freight was hauled to military posts along some of the same route. At the Oregon Trail Ruts State Historic Site, geography dictated that practically every wagon rolled over the same ground. The effect of being forced to use a narrow path is quite impressive— some of these ruts are four and five feet deep!
Oregon Trail Ruts State Historic Site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1975 to protect some of the most spectacular ruts remaining along the entire length of the Oregon Trail. What’s particularly welcome is that there are no barriers or fences. Visitors are free to roam, tread in the wagon wheel gouges, and imagine the sacrifices and struggles of those early pioneers— and fully appreciate the modern convenience of traveling in a comfortable RV!
IF YOU GO:
Oregon Trail Ruts State Historic Site
Located about three miles south of Guernsey, Wyoming off Hwy. 26
Open year-round, sunrise to sunset. FREE.
Also visit Register Cliff, located two miles southeast of Guernsey, Wyoming, to see where many emigrants carved their names and dates to record their journey.
In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com