Road Trip Along the Oregon Trail: A Journey Through History
History and intrigue along America’s final frontier.
Come learn the stories of one of the most important chapters in America’s history. The museums and historic sites in this guide focus on preserving the culture of life on the Oregon Trail. See artifacts from everyday pioneer life, visit forts that once guarded pioneers from feared Native American attacks, examine actual ruts left by the wagons constantly moving westward. You’ll uncover every aspect of the Oregon Trail and want to delve further and further into its complex history. Sure, it’s nothing like playing The Oregon Trail on your old PC, but at least you won’t have to worry about feeding your oxen or dying of dysentery. So, take on your own manifest destiny and discover the history and intrigue of traveling along America’s final frontier.
National Frontier Trails Museum
Get in the “Go West” mindset of Oregon Trail pioneers at the National Frontier Trails Museum, dedicated to the start of many westward trails. Artifacts, exhibits, videos and more tell the stories of the brave individuals who made the journeys.
Minor Park/Red Bridge Crossing
The Blue River Crossing was one of the first obstacles faced by pioneers. Thankfully, rather than caulking your wagon and floating it across, you can take the Red Bridge Crossing.
Those traveling on the Oregon Trail probably hunted and ate a hearty meal whenever they could…but they definitely didn’t get to enjoy some of the country’s finest barbecue the way you can now. At Woodyard BBQ, enjoy brisket, ribs, and burnt ends chili in a relaxed and authentic BBQ shack space.
Prairie Creek Inn
The Prairie Creek Inn in Walton, NE, is a rustic, farm-inspired B&B that’s the perfect place to spend the night. The spacious, well-adorned rooms and tasty communal breakfast, plus the barn and lake that are begging to be explored, make for a quiet and relaxing stay.
Honest Abe’s Burgers & Freedom
The simple exterior and strip mall location of local burger favorite Honest Abe’s Burgers and Freedom are deceiving: the burgers they serve up are far from plain. Chutneys, pickled onions, aioli, pork belly, truffle fries, and gluten-free and vegan options keep the rotating burger options consistently intriguing.
Wessel’s Living History Farm
Take yourself out of the Oregon Trail and fast-forward in time a bit to the Dust Bowl. The well-maintained farm, live animals, antique equipment and gorgeously restored church and museum at Wessel’s Living History Farm in York, NE, can entertain for a few hours, if you’re being thorough. Have a tour guide take you around and explain everything to you.
Kitty’s Roadhouse in Hastings, NE is a quirky garage-themed joint that serves up awesome wood-fired pizzas with delectable toppings. Not something pioneers would have been able to enjoy, but definitely something they would have appreciated.
Historic Fort Kearny was established to protect pioneers traveling on the Oregon Trail. There are several buildings that have been rebuilt to make the fort appear as it did back then, along with some exhibits in the visitor center. Take a moment to get into costume and pose with a covered wagon for a souvenir..
Ogallala Front Street
Ogallala Front Street is part museum, part Wild West show, part steakhouse, and part diner. Learn about how Ogallala was known as the “Gomorrah of the West” and maybe indulge in a little of that Wild West fun with a Nebraska-raised steak, a cold beer, or just breakfast and a browse through the museum.
Ash Hollow State Historical Site
Head to the Ash Hollow State Historical Site’s Windlass Hill to see the ruts left by Oregon Trail wagon wheels as they descended the slope. There’s also a campsite and a gravestone from a girl who died along the journey.
Chimney Rock National Historic Site
Chimney Rock National Historic Site is a distinctive landmark, and all that remains of a sandstone cliff that has eroded. It can be seen for many miles and assured pioneers on the Oregon, California, and Mormon trails that they were headed in the right direction.
Barn Anew B&B
You’ll find the cozy Barn Anew B&B in the shadow of Scotts Bluff. The highlight here is the ability to spend the night in a tricked-out sheep’s wagon, similar to the kind that pioneers used to travel across the country. They also have the world’s most elegant outhouse, well worth seeing!
Fort Laramie National Historic Site
Fort Laramie National Historic Site is a former fur trading post-turned-military fort, which was a popular stop for immigrants on the Oregon Trail. There are tons of restored buildings to explore, so leave plenty of time to check out everything you want to see!
Fort Fred Steele Historic Site
The Oregon Trail predates Fort Fred Steele Historic Site by a few years, since it was built to help protect the Union Pacific Rail Line, but this fort didn’t last more than 30 years. It’s another interesting piece of the fascinating history of the American West that’s worth learning about.
White Mountain Petroglyphs
White Mountain Petroglyphs in Rock Springs, WY is an important puzzle piece to the story of settling the West, which involves the Native Americans who were living here well before settlers came in. The ancient markings on these cliffs are fascinating and well preserved, especially for possibly being 1,000 years old. It’s a quick hike to see the petroglyphs, and the impact that seeing them will leave is significant.
Little America Restaurant
The grub at Little America Restaurant is simple, but fresh and homemade, and the prices are good. Plus, kids and adults alike will love their 50 cent ice cream cones!
National Oregon/ California Trail Center
The National Oregon/California Trail Center in Montpelier, ID may seem like another Oregon Trail museum, but this one is super cool, too. Here you’ll have the chance to experience riding in a covered wagon and hearing reenactors tell their stories at this unique and interactive museum.
Black Swan Inn
The Black Swan Inn in Pocatello, ID is one of America’s last remaining themed hotels, with rooms that range from “Arabian Nights” to “Under the Sea”. Personally, I’d suggest the Wild West suite…the faux storefront walls and the watering can shower make it feel fun, but you don’t have to sacrifice basic amenities here, either: free Wi-Fi, a massive jetted tub, a 50-inch TV and more make this place pretty swanky, and it’s reasonably priced!
Massacre Rocks State Park
Massacre Rocks State Park in American Falls, ID got its gruesome name from a skirmish that occurred between settlers on the Trail and Native Americans. The rocky terrain made it easy for the Shoshoni to attack the intruding wagon party. Plus, Register Rock is located right nearby. There, you can see the signatures of tons of Oregon Trail pioneers.
Three Island Crossing State Park
Three Island Crossing State Park in Glenns Ferry, ID marks an important crossroads for pioneers: should they attempt the dangerous route across the Snake River, or take a longer route through the dry Oregon desert? For those who did try and cross the river, this was a popular way to go, hopping from island to island. Even then, many lives were lost during disastrous attempts.
Idaho Heritage Inn Bed & Breakfast
The Idaho Heritage Inn Bed and Breakfast was once the Idaho governor’s mansion. Today, this estate has been transformed into a cozy B&B. Geothermal water, an excellent breakfast, and lovely antiques add to the experience here.
Goody’s Soda Fountain & Candy Stores
Stop by Goody’s Soda Fountain and Candy Stores in Boise in the summer for the ice cream and shakes, in the winter for the hot chocolate, and all-year-round for the candy and retro soda fountain vibes!
Oregon Trail Agriculture Museum
The Oregon Trail Agriculture Museum in Nyssa, OR is a former feed, seed and mill business that’s now a museum dedicated to farming and the history of the region. The hardships of being a pioneer didn’t end once they reached Oregon…then they had to establish farms and keep things growing!
National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center
Dioramas, videos, artifacts, and a lovely walking trail immerse you in the hardships and motivations of those traveling the Oregon Trail at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City.
Emigrant Springs State Heritage Area
You can camp where pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail are known to have camped at Emigrant Springs State Heritage Park in Meacham, OR. At the very least, you can hike the old-growth forest and check out their interpretive center, and if you didn’t bring camping supplies, rent out a cabin.
C & D Drive-In & Bakery
C & D Drive-In and Bakery is an old-school drive-in that features shakes, fries, corn dogs and more…but might I suggest the buffalo burger?
End of The Oregon Trail Interpretive Center
You made it! Hooray! But as you probably know, reaching Oregon meant that things for pioneers didn’t get easy…and the super interactive and hands-on End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center does a great job of recapping the journey and what was in store for those who actually made it to the end.
Villa Columbia Bed & Breakfast
The adorable Villa Columbia Bed and Breakfast is perfect, offering locally-sourced, three-course breakfasts and an awesome location within walking distance of tons to see and do. And stunning views make this the perfect treat for completing the trip
The best time of year to travel the Oregon Trail is late spring, summer and early fall. During this time of year, the weather will be temperate and you won’t have to worry about any of the harsh winter conditions that plagued the pioneers during days of old.
Have you set out on your own Oregon Trail road trip? Share your final frontier experience and photos with us on Facebook.
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