National Oregon/California Trail Center in Montpelier Idaho


With financial support from the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust, the National Oregon/California Trail Center co-produced an Oregon/California Trail in Idaho film presentation with Idaho Public Television.  This 2009 production is featured on the Idaho Public Television web site which includes text, comments, photos and also a short preview from the video.

The Oregon National Trail is a 2,000 mile monument to the human spirit. In the sixty odd years of its use, thousands of Americans headed west, first for fur, then as missionaries, and finally for land. Between 1841 and the turn of the century, over 300,000 Americans of all ages and walks of life sold most of their worldly possessions, piled what was left in a wagon and set off on an epic journey.

Map of the Oregon and Californial Trails

The journey would take five to six months across some of the harshest and most hostile territory in the world. Some emigrants traveled all the way to Oregon?s Willamette Valley in search of farmland, but many more split off for California in search of gold. The journey was exceptionally difficult and would take five to six months to travel across some of the harshest and most hostile territory in the world. One in 10 of those whose braved the trek died along the way of cholera, poor sanitation, exposure, and accidents. Many were buried in the trail itself to protect their grave from scavenging animals. Emigrant families hauled food and possessions in covered farm wagons pulled by oxen (oxen were primarily used because they could live off of the prairie grasses along the route and horses couldn?t). Wagons were often full, so many walked the entire way barefoot.   The trail was first traveled by Robert Stewart, following the fur trade on behalf of John Jacob Astor. Travel was limited until 1834, when Jason Lee, and then Marcus

Pioneers along the Oregon Trail

Whitman, came west to bring Christianity to the American Indians. Reports from these missionaries greatly stimulated Eastern America?s interest in the rich land awaiting them in Oregon. The first organized party of emigrants set out in 1841 under the leadership of John Bidwell. They were the first in a trickle of emigrants that would swell to a flood in the years to come. The generally recognized start of significant movement west has been established as 1843.

The U.S. Congress memorialized the vital role the Oregon Trail played in our nation?s history in 1978, when the trail was designated a National Historic Trail. The intent of the public law was to designate the primary route of the Oregon Trail, extending full length between Independence, Missouri, and Oregon City, Oregon.


Bear Lake County is not only a significant part of the Oregon Trail as signifying it?s entrance into Idaho, but Montpelier is also the key intersection for Highway 89. Highway 89 is the National Parks Highway that connects all the National Parks in the west from the Mexican border on the south to the Canadian Border on the north. Tourists numbering in the thousands travel Highway 89 to reach Yellowstone National Park each summer.

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