History and Educational Resources
The Oregon Trail
The Oregon Trail was a wagon road stretching 2170 miles from Missouri to Oregon's Willamette Valley. It was not a road in any modern sense, only parallel ruts leading across endless prairie, sagebrush desert, and mountains. From the 1840s through the 1880s, thousands trekked westward, carrying only a few belonging and supplies for the journey, and settling on the western frontier, forever changing the American West.
During eight decades in the 1800s the Oregon Trail served as a natural corridor as the United States grew from the eastern half of the continent toward the west coast. The Oregon Trail ran approximately 2,000 miles west from Missouri toward the Rocky Mountains and ended in Oregon's Willamette Valley. The California Trail branched off in southern Idaho and brought miners to the gold fields of Sierra Nevada. The Mormon Trail paralleled much of the Oregon Trail, connecting Council Bluffs to Salt Lake City.
Migration over the Oregon Trail involved a huge number of people, moving to different locations for different reasons. In a free society, emigrants were not required to sign a roster to leave, or to present a passport at borders, or sign in anyplace upon arrival. There is no comprehensive list of all the pioneers.
What was life like for pioneer children on the Oregon Trail? Many children made the five month trek west with their families. It's estimated that 40,000 of the emigrants were children.
The wagon train was moveable community for four to six months along the trail. Each evening, the wagon encampment typically grouped into a circle, forming a temporary corral. Around the circle, tents and bedrolls provided the shelter for exhausted pioneers. A few guards kept an eye on the grazing livestock and watched for signs of trouble from wild animals or potential thieves. At sunrise, four o'clock or so, the guards called out or fired their rifles to wake the camp and start another day on the long and dusty trail.
Teaching about the Oregon Trail
We offer a self-guided activity-based program that students can follow at their own speed, individually or in groups. We also offer living history interpretive programs, exhibits, multi-media presentations, and four miles of trails that interpret the Oregon Trail, natural history, and mining history. Please view this detailed packet (Coming Soon!) for more information on our educational activities and recommendations for a successful visit.
Our education guide was updated in 2016, and contains five lesson plans for classroom or homeschool use.
- Oregon Trail Education Resources Guide (2016 Version)
- Teachers Version of Education Resources Guide 2016
- Recursos en español: Para un extracto en español, haga clic aquí
- Hechos básicos del rastro de Oregon
Here are some additional activities to enhance your classroom visit to the Interpretive Center.
- Scavenger Hunt - to print: select two-sided with binding on short edge
- Exhibit Bingo Cards - Four variations of a visual scavenger hunt. Great for younger visitors!
- Connect the Dots
Map of the Oregon Trail
To print this map, please set your printer to either "Letter Landscape" or "Legal Landscape." The PDF file is about 6" x 13.5"; however, it will print clearly on Letter Landscape as well.
Explore and celebrate the multiple uses of public lands. The BLM’s Junior Ranger Program allows you to engage in recreation, learning, and stewardship of your public lands. We offer several Junior Ranger and Junior Explorer books to complete at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.