National Historic Trails Interpretive Center

Lesson Plans

  • Capture your students’ attention with hands-on learning tools.

California Trail


Homestead Act 

The lesson is based on The Homestead Act of 1862, General Land Office Records, and the family research and historical account of Martin J. Gothberg gathered by staff at the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center. 

Gothbert Ranch.

Explore the Oregon Trail

The Oregon Trail stretches for nearly 2,000 miles from east to west. It is estimated to have had between 200,000 and 500,000 travelers. Travel by wagon and horseback was rough and tedious. Young families would join groups called wagon trains to make the journey easier.

Missionary on the Oregon Trail.


Explore the Mormon Trail

On June 27, 1844 Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was being held in a jail cell in Nauvoo, Illinois. That night a mob overran the jail house and killed both Joseph and his brother, Hyrum. The members of his church, Mormons, believed they had to get out of Nauvoo and find a safe place to live.

Mormon Saint on the Trail.

Pony Express Children's Book

Complete Book - 23.25mb

  • Day 1:  An Intro to the Pony Express.  - 3.8 mb
    Students learn the basic organization of the Pony Express and create an advertisement to entice riders.
  • Day 2:  More Details of the Mail Handlers.  - 3.39mb
    Day two explains how the mail was carried and the desired qualities of the riders.  Activities focus on the mochila, riders’ uniforms, and the Pony Express Oath.
  • Day 3:  The Station Keepers.  - 5.35mb
    Station keepers did the dirty work to ensure the success of the Pony Express.  Students discover the life style of the station keeper and design their own station.
  • Day 4:  The End of the Pony Express.  - 2.39mb
    Students discover why the Pony Express ended.  Activities include mapping the Pony Express Route and a vocabulary word search.
  • Day 5:  Review.  - 6.77mb
    A word find game allows students to review information in the unit.  Supplemental materials are available along with a post assessment quiz.
Pony Express Children's Book Cover.

Transcontinental Railroad

Although some had dreamed of connecting the continent by rail and several had already started the planning, it wasn’t until Abraham Lincoln signed the bill, “Pacific Railroad Act of 1862,” that the transcontinental railroad became a possibility. Two railroad companies were hired to do the job.

Golden Spike; Promontory Summit, Utah by Andrew J. Russell.

Women's Clothing on the Trail

Explore the clothing of a western pioneer woman.


Trail clothing for women.

More Lesson Plans

For more lesson plans please visit:

  • FREE (Federal Resources for Educational Excellence): Primary Source Lesson Plans
  • OCTA (Oregon California Trail Association): Trail Information & Lessons 
  • National Archives: Teaching with Original Documents Lesson Plans