U.S. National Historic Trail System

Last Updated on August 8, 2020 by Janet Frost

The National Historic Trail system of the National Park Service criss-crosses the country preserving historical trails of European explorers, brave revolutionaries, courageous pioneers, enterprising traders and displaced Native Americans. Each of these trails meanders through several states with many significant National and State historic sites along the way. Portions of the trails coincide with main thoroughfares, but most of the trails follow scenic backroads. I love traveling these pathways and imagining what the original travelers felt and experienced.

Let’s Go! Learn Things along a National Historic Trail…

Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail

Juan Bautitsta de Anza National Historic Trail
Map of Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail

I am going to present these National Historic Trails in a chronological order. There will be some overlap of years, but I think it will make sense.

In 1775 & 1776 Juan Bautista de Anza lead a group of 30 Spanish soldiers and 240 colonists 1200 miles from northwest Mexico north through what is today the states of Arizona and California. Their destination was San Francisco Bay where they would establish the first non-native settlement on the West Coast. At the time of this expedition, California was controlled by New Spain. Juan Bautista de Anza fulfilled the three-pronged Spanish colonization method of creating presidios (military forts), missions (religious centers), and pueblos (civilian towns). The group stopped at many of the existing Spanish missions and presidios for respite along their journey. Missions, presidios and preserved camping sites are significant highlights today, as you follow this National Historic Trail.

Some Historic Sites along the Trail

Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route NHT

Although this is one of the older routes in our collection today, it is one of the newer officially designated National Historic Trails. The NPS is still working with municipalities and private owners to further establish portions of this trail. The French army came to the aid of the American Revolutionaries late in the skirmish and their combined forces finally brought an end to the war. Along this 700 mile route are sites of marches, meetings and battles during the final year(1781) of the American Revolution. The march of these troops culminated in the final battle at Yorktown, VA. It passes through MA, RI, CT, DC NY, NJ, PA, DE, MD, and VA,

Some Historic Sites along the Trail

Santa Fe National Historic Trail

traveling alone Santa Fe Trail
The Route

In 2018 I set out across the country on the Santa Fe National Historic Trail. I was headed for Tucson, AZ and followed the 1200 mile route across MO, KS, CO, and NM. Independence, Missouri was the jumping off point for most of the major westward expansion trails from 1821-1880 after the creation of the railroad systems. The Santa Fe NHT was one of the earliest routes to embark from Missouri. This trail, unlike the later pioneer trails, was foremost a trade route with some settlers joining in. Trade goods from Europe and the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S., were floated down rivers to Missouri and then loaded onto freight wagons and muleteers drove across to the Northern Mexico capitol of Santa Fe. Mexican traders traveled north along their respective route to meet for trading in Santa Fe.

Some Historic Sites along the Trail

Learn More…Trek Across America on the Santa Fe National Historic Trail

Trail of Tears National Historic Trail

In May 1838, 16,000 Cherokee Indian people were evicted by U.S. Army troops, from their homelands in Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, and Georgia. This forced march was 5000 miles across AL, AR, GA, IL, KY, MO, NC, TN and finally their assigned new home of Oklahoma. The singularly devastating and inhuman action left thousands dead and displaced. Today the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail commemorates the pain and the resilience of the Cherokee Nation.

Some Historic Sites along the Trail

Westward Expansion Trails: Oregon NHT, California NHT and Mormon Pioneer NHT

These three trails were the super highways for frontier travelers from 1836-1870. Depending on which trail and what the final destination was these pioneers covered from 2000-5000 miles through CA, CO, ID, IL, IA, KS, MO, NE, NV, OR, UT, WA, and WY. Oregon and California Trails jumped off in Independence, Missouri and followed the same route until the Raft River crossing in Idaho. Oregon Trail was active from 1836 until the rise of the trans-continental railroads. The California Trail picked up traffic during the Gold Rush decade of 1840-1850.

Two hundred miles northeast of Independence, was a hotbed of religious unrest. The small Mississippi River town of Navoo, IL was a Mormon settlement. Just like Navoo, Mormon faithful had been driven out of several Midwest towns and needed a new home far from other people. The Mormon Trail embarked from Navoo settlement on the Mississippi River and headed west to the Great Salt Lake of Utah. This emigration occurred over 18 months of 1846 & 1847. This trail started north of the other pioneer trails but eventually met up in the midst of the vast Nebraska grasslands.

Plan your road trip soon. Pin it for later

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.