California National Historic Trail

Bureau of Land Management, Idaho.

Explore the California trail to follow in the footsteps of over 250,000 emigrants who traveled to the gold fields and rich farmlands of California during the 1840s and 1850s-the greatest mass migration in American history. More than 1,000 miles of trail ruts and traces can still be seen across 10 states along this historic trail. In 1849, gold was discovered at Sutter's Fort near Sacramento, California, setting off a rush by miners and others seeking free land in California. By 1869, more than a quarter of a million people crossed the plains and mountains heading to the West to find gold and claim free land. The California Trail offered several paths to the West Coast and California. One of the primary routes ran through South Pass, Wyoming, which then led California-bound pioneers through southeast Idaho. Another route led to Salt Lake City and then northward to Idaho to rejoin the main trail at the City of Rocks near Granite Pass. By the 1860s, freight and mail companies, military expeditions, new settlements and trading stations, and thousands of travelers headed in all directions had transformed the California Trail into a road. But, in 1869, the Union Pacific Railroad was connected with the Central Pacific Railroad at Promontory Point in northern Utah, making it possible to travel across the nation by rail ushering in a new era in transportation and heralding the end of long-distance travel by wagon through the West.

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