National Oregon/California Trail Center in Montpelier Idaho


  Several historic landmarks located near the Trail Center offer a glimpse of a few reminants of the original

Oregon/California Trail

When emigrants entered present-day area of Montpelier, Idaho on the Oregon/California Trail, they had already traveled more than a thousand miles. 

The way was littered with abandoned wagons, dashed dreams and graves.  But Oregon and California still lay a great many more miles.  It was here, within the Bear River Valley, where weary travellers could rest and relax for a short time, before encountering the new challenges that lie ahead.

Map of The Oregon Trail Sites

(click for larger version)



The first obstacle encounted was Thomas Fork, where steep muddy inclines in and out of the stream made crossing very difficult.  This ford was noted for causing trouble to wagon train crossing the stream.  In the 1850s two bridges were built and their owners charged $1 per wagon as a fee.  Not every emigrant could afford the toll so many tried, with much difficult, to cross  the muddy stream near the bridges.

Wagons going Big Hill near Montpelier



The next difficulty was traversing the high ridge that became known as "Big Hill," which many emigrants thought was the steepest and longest hill they'd yet encountered.   For a contemporary account of the difficult descent of Big Hill, click on the photo below.

Big Hill near Montpelier

Wagons descending Big Hill as sketched by pioneer James F. Wilkins, 1849

(click on photo for a larger view and to read a written account of the decent )

Big Hill Monument with covered wagon and pioneers

The Big Hill Monument dedicated to the arduous descent down Big Hill is located outside of the National Oregon/California Trail Center. Funding for the display provided by the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust with the official marker and text provided by the Idaho Humanities Council.

Big Hill near Montpelier as seen today

Big Hill today

(photo: Idaho Chapter of the Oregon/California Trail Association)


People reenacting the tirp down Big Hll

Modern-day pioneers acending Big Hill, 2004
(click for larger version)

People reliving the Oregon Trail experince

Decending Big Hill, 2004
(click for larger version)



reconstruction of Ft. BridgerThomas L. "Pegleg" Smith

Above photo is a reconstruction of Ft. Bridger, which would have been similar

to the one built by Pegleg Smith.  Thomas L. "Pegleg" Smith at right

After the descent of Bill Hill pioneers were in the Bear River valley, near present-day Montpelier.  Here they found a trading post established by one-legged former mountain man, Thomas L. "Pegleg" Smith, whose short-lived post (1848-49) once sold supplies to gold-seekers rushing to California, at inflated prices.   Today, a marker on Hyw 30 shows the general location of the Pegleg's trading post



Bear River flowing along the Oregon Trail
Bear River

After following the Oregon Trail across the desolate areas of western Wyoming the the clear, blue waters of the Bear River were a very welcome sight.  The Bear offered more than fresh water, it provided an area of lush grass for grazing animals and places to hunt birds and gather plants. The Bear River begin high in the Unita Mountains to the south, flows northward through the Bear Lake area, turns southward at Soda Springs, flows through Cache Valley and eventually empties into the Great Salt Lake.  One of the few major rivers in the west that flow directly northward.  Its beginning and ending points are only 90 apart.



The area in and around where the National Oregon/California Trail Center is located was once where emigrants stopped to rest and water stock their stock after the difficult asent and decent of Big HIl.   Clover Creek still flows from the mouth of Montpelier Canyon just east of the Center.



Here Oregon Trail travelers witnessed the fantastic sights of the Soda Springs.  It was at this location that waters containing iron and carbon dioxide bubbled freely from the earth in fields of hollow cones.  Bored pioneers who thought they had seen everything along the trail quickly pulled out their diaries and journey and wrote exciting accounts.  Today, there are no longer cone fields of soda, but there are several springs filled with "soda" water.  



Was one of the more specatcular sites emigrants noted experiencing in the Soda Springs area.   This phenomenon spewed carbonanted water periodically in geyser-like fashion, making loud chugging noises like a steamboat.  Today, Steamboat Spring is flooded out by a reservoir, but from a certain vantage point you can still see bubbling water rise to the surface where the spring is located.



Wagon Ruts run throught the Oregon Trail Golf Course

Oregon Trail Public Park, located on the shore of Alexander Reservoir, in Soda Springs, Idaho, features ruts from a remnat of the Oregon Trail.



Wagon Box Grave headstone in Soda Springs

The Wagon Box Grave headstone marks the burial site of an emigrant family of seven, killed by Indians along the Oregon Trail in 1861.    The family was buried here together in the wagon box from their covered wagon. A wagon train pulled away from Little Spring Creek, where it had camped overnight.  One man’s horses were lost and the lone family stayed behind to hunt for them. The next morning three trappers discovered that the father, mother, and five children had been murdered.   One trapper said, " We all decided that the best thing we could do was to bury them in their own wagon box, —for we had no lumber to make a coffin. . . We went and got the dead emigrants’ horses and hitched them to their wagon, then hauled the bodies in it to the place of burial. We took them out and laid them down on the ground. Then we took off the wagon bed and placed it in the bottom of the grave after it was dug.  The grave can be seen in the Soda Springs Cemetary.



Soda Point and Sheep Rock

Named for mountain sheep seen by early travelers. Now called Soda Point, it is not far from the modern town of Soda Springs. Hudspeth's Cutoff branches from the main trail here



Just off from Highway 30 and somewhat below Sheep Rock is what is believed to be a pioneer cemetary.  It is unknown who is buried there or how they died, but several grave locations have been identified.  It may be the location of a massacre.



Hudspeth Cutoff near Sheep Point
Looking westward from Sheep Point, the Hudspeth Cutoff once wound its way through mountain the lie ahead.

Here where the Bear River turns southward, emigrants headed for California had to make a decision.  They could follow the established route of the Oregon/California that led them northwestward to Ft. Hall or they could cut a few miles off (or so they thought) by taking the Hudspeth Cutoff that cut straight westward to intersect the California Trail near the City of Rocks.  The cutoff looked good on paper, but the savings in miles and time was minimal, plus the route was terrible.

Trail Basics
The Trek West
The Starting Point
The Wagon
Mules, Horses or Oxen
A Day on the Trail