National Historic Trails
The Salt Lake City Field Office manages portions of the Pony Express National Historic Trail and the California National Historic Trail.
The California National Historic Trail includes two important segments located in the BLM Salt Lake Field Office. The first segment in Box Elder County called the Bidwell-Bartelson route was used only once by the first major company of emigrants headed to California in 1841. The second segment in Tooele County is called the Hastings Cutoff route used from 1846 to 1850 by pioneers and gold rushers attempting to save 300 miles off the normal route to California via Idaho. This route was first pioneered by the Fremont expedition in 1845 and promoted a year later by the ambitious Lansford W. Hastings as a shorter route to the Humboldt River in Nevada. However, the Hastings Cutoff involved a perilous 90-mile waterless trek across the Great Salt Lake Desert. Many experienced mountain men tried to advise emigrants to avoid attempting this route with wagons. Unfortunately, many were tempted by false assurances and ultimately came to grief, including the infamous Donner-Reed Party, trying to make it across desolate mud flats in mid-summer heat with heavy wagons pulled by thirsty animals. Many livestock perished and wagons were abandoned along this harrowing 2-3 day drive. For Hastings Cutoff travelers attempting to reach Sutter's Fort, California before winter snows began, their troubles and trajedies often began in Utah. After 1850, the dangerous Hastings Cutoff was abandoned in favor of newer and safer routes to California. For more information on exploring the California Trail in Utah, contact the Salt Lake Field Office or the Utah Crossroads Chapter of the Oregon-California Trail Association.
The Pony Express National Historic Trail was a cross-country route used by young men on horses or mules to carry the nation's priority mail from Missouri to California from 1860 to 1861. The horse-and-rider system was the United States' most direct and practical means of east-west communication for a short period before completion of the telegraph, delivering mail in the unprecedented time of only ten days. In many ways, the Pony Express was the overnight priority mail of its day; however, it never made a profit and went bankrupt by the end. 150 years later, visitors can closely follow the historic route of the Pony Express across Utah's west desert on a maintained BLM National Backcountry Byway, stopping a various station sites and interpretive displays along the way and experiencing a landscape that is virtually unchanged from the days of the Pony Express rider. There is also a public campground located at the Simpson Springs open year-round, and the route passes through the Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge.To learn more about National Historic Trails in Utah please contact the Salt Lake Field Office or visit the state web page.