FOUR TRAILS THAT ENCAPSULATE MISSOURI’S PIONEERING PAST
By Quinn Valdivia
Missouri is a state known for its rich history and strong sense of community. The “Show Me State” offers visitors and natives many opportunities to explore its unique landmarks and natural beauty. While the “Gateway to the West” may technically be located in St.Louis, the entire state lives up to this name by housing several historic trails that literally paved the way for exploration into the American West.
THE OREGON TRAIL
This trail is widely renowned for the intense journeys undertaken by early pioneers. The trail was daunting and the journey was taxing, travelers would begin in Independence, Missouri, and end up in Willamette Valley Oregon. From the 1840s into the 1880s, hundreds of thousands of people journeyed westward along the 2,170 miles of wagon road, carrying minimal belongings and supplies with the goal of settling on the western frontier. Those who chose to tackle the trail had to make their way through present-day Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming and Idaho until they finally reached Oregon. Today, people still choose to undertake the journey and hike the same trail the pioneers rode along, though most opt for a shortened version. For those who aren’t ready to take on the full 2,170 miles, there are several shorter hikes you can take along the trail and various historical sites to visit. The Trailside Center in Kansas City provides information and resources for history buffs or anyone looking to learn more about Missouri’s historic trails.
THE SANTA FE TRAIL
The Santa Fe trail is another route that altered the character and events of American History. Between 1821 and 1880 it acted as a commercial route between Missouri and New Mexico, a link between the more established territories and the newer southwest. Like the Oregon Trail, the Santa Fe Trail began in Independence, Missouri, continuing for nearly 1000 miles to Santa Fe, New Mexico. The trail was used by stagecoach lines, the multitudes of people heading to California and Colorado to seek gold, missionaries and wealthy new Mexican families. Not to mention the trail’s usage during the Mexican-American War as the route America’s Army followed westward to successfully invade Mexico. Though its utility faded with the expansion of the railroad, the stories of the trail live on. Like the Oregon Trail, there are several historic spots that welcome visitors. You can see evidence of the thousands of wagons, carts, livestock, and people that traversed the Oregon and Santa Fe trails at Wieduwilt Swales In Kansas City. Deep depressions were left in the Earth and remain to be seen today. All 900 miles of The Santa Fe Trail are full of history, but if you’re looking for a Missouri-specific experience there’s a 2,000-foot trail segment to hike on in Kansas City for a genuine trail experience.
THE TRAIL OF TEARS
While both beautiful and expansive, this trail memorializes one of America’s great tragedies. The United States Congress passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830. In May of 1839, over 16,000 Cherokee Indians were forcibly removed from their homeland to make room for white settlers. The arduous journeys along the trails began in Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Georgia, finishing in Oklahoma. Today, the trail stretches across around 2,200 miles of land and water routes, dipping into portions of nine states including Missouri. In 1957 the Trail of Tears State Park in Jackson, Missouri was established to bear witness to the tragic event. The visitor center offers exhibits focused on the history surrounding the removal of the Cherokee people as well as the area’s natural history. While learning about the trail’s history, visitors are encouraged to hike, boat, fish, or swim in the various areas of the park.
THE OZARK TRAIL
The Ozark Mountains occupy 47,000 square miles in the states of Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri. Most of Missouri’s Southern half is covered by this mountain range, offering plenty of places to explore and visit. The trail began to be developed in the late 1970s, with the intention of connecting suburban At, Louis to Arkansas. A planning meeting at Meramec State Park took first took place in 1976 and construction began in 1981. The intention was to finish in 2008, though development and upkeep continue today. The entirety of the Ozark Trail consists of 13 interconnected sections across these states, but the Missouri Ozarks alone house over 390 miles of trail. The mountains are filled with springs, streams, waterfalls, and beautiful foliage that everyone can enjoy. The trail also offers various swimming spots, scenic vistas, and camping to its visitors. There are multiple trails available to visitors at varying levels, offering something for every type of adventurer to enjoy.
Still in the Pioneer spirit? Check out how Historic Downtowns in Missouri Preserve Pioneering History to continue your adventure through Missouri! If you’re traveling elsewhere, make sure to Subscribe to Leisure Group Travel magazine for other great articles and tips for your next trip.