The Santa Fe National Historic Trail runs through five states, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and New Mexico. The route was first scouted in 1792 and opened for trade in 1821. It crossed the vast plains to connect trade between the western U.S. settlements in Missouri and Santa Fe, the northern trade hub of Mexico at the time. The National Park Service along with the states it travels through protect significant sites along the trail which forked in western Kansas into a shorter Cimarron Route and a longer but safer Mountain Route.
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Our Visit We visited a portion of the Santa Fe Trail during a trip to Bent’s Old Fort NHS in southeastern Colorado one September, but we’ve also driven the portion of the Santa Fe Trail through New Mexico several times.
Overall Impression The original Santa Fe Trail is hard to find, and only a few sites of wagon ruts exist to identify its exact route. However, the trail became the path for modern highways and railroads, so you may have traveled the route without even knowing it unless you stopped to read the occasional historic markers along the route.
Visiting Most people who “visit” the 900 miles of the Santa Fe Trail do so by driving along its historic routes including U.S. 24 through western Missouri, U.S. 56 through Kansas, U.S. 50 through eastern Colorado, U.S. 350 through southern Colorado, and I-25 through New Mexico. To learn more about the history of the trail, you’ll need to visit one of the many other historic sites along the way.
I was surprised at the lack of information on the Santa Fe Trail even at the National Historic Site we visited along its route. Bent’s Old Fort was a key site along the trail’s Mountain Route, but literature and displays at the fort only referenced the trail in the context of the fort leaving the visitor to learn more about the trail on their own.
Suggestions If you really want to see the original trail, you’ll need to do some extra planning to visit a site where wagon ruts have been preserved. The longest ruts are on the old Cimarron Route in northeastern New Mexico along with ruts of the Mountain Route north of Fort Union NHS, New Mexico. There are other rut sites near Trinidad, CO, Lakin, KS, Dodge City, KS and McPherson, KS.
Nearby Towns Independence (MO), Olathe, Council Grove, Dodge City (KS), La Junta, Trinidad (CO), Raton, Las Vegas, Santa Fe (NM)
Official NPS Website Santa Fe National Historic Trail
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