It took me 18 days to travel the Oregon Trail from Independence, Mo to Pendleton, OR. The pioneers would have been very jealous. I did the 2,100 mile trail in a motorhome versus a wagon and didn’t have to walk the terrain. The pioneers biggest worry was fresh water, food, and rattle snakes. My biggest worry was being to find good take out food.
I really enjoyed this trip. The advance reading and planning gave me insight into my route and to many of the things I would see. I was impressed with the large number of historical sites and markers I encountered long the route. Everyday, I usually visited 2-3 historical sites and stopped another 5-6 times each day at historical markers. The trail is well-marked and relatively easy to follow.
Here’s a brief summary of what I saw along the trail;
- I visited 13 National Historic Sites and 11 State Historic Sites.
- There were 9 places where I saw wagon ruts and walked along the Oregon Trail.
- I visited 6 Trail museums
There’s a lot to see on this route. The most impressive places where The Mormon Trail Handcart Historic Site at Martin’s Cove and walking along the Guernsey Ruts in Wyoming.
But one of the main reason I enjoyed the trip was because I was learning new things everyday. Yes, I did see some very scenic places that stimulated my retinas and my camera sensors. But, I was on a journey to retrace and learn about a historic route that thousands had traveled before me. My brain was being stimulated every day as I learned new things and saw new places. (This is one of the main reason I undertake RV travel. I find that scenic eye candy can quickly become boring.)
So, here’s a quick synopsis of what some key things I learned:
- The pioneers were extremely tough and determined. It’s one thing to read about the Oregon Trail while sitting in a comfortable chair. Seeing the terrain that the pioneers had to travel across on foot, gave me an immense sense of awe every day.
- The trail history is very well-preserved and displayed along the route. I was not expecting to see and read and so much trail history at historic sites, on markers, and in museums.
- I was not expecting to find the Native American viewpoints along the trail. But they are there if you take the time to look for and read them.
- Standing on the wagon ruts was a very moving experience. Every time I visited a wagon ruts site, I was transported back in time and could envision lines of pioneers walking by me. If I closed my eyes, I could hear the creaking of the wagons the baying of the animals.
Trip Planning & Logistics
In terms of planning my RV trip, I read the following books before I left;
- The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck
- The Oregon Trail by Frances Parkman
- The Gathering to Zion by Wallace Stegner
- Traveling the The Oregon Trail by Julie Fanselow
These books helped me plan my route and what to see. Once I got to Independence, my plan was to drive about 100-150 miles each day. I figured 2-3 hours of driving would give me plenty of time to make several stops each day. I planned extra stop-over days every 3-4 days so I could resupply, recharge, and do laundry. These extra days were generally planned and I adjusted my schedule as I made the stops.
Most of my stop over towns were planned in advance. I tried to stay at town or municipal parks close the trail so I could get a feel for a community. I loved staying in the small western towns. My next option was to stay at state parks or free places like trucks tops. RV parks were my last resort.
I did the Trail in mid-May to mid-June. I made no advance reservations. The Oregon Trail and most of the places along the Trail are not popular tourist attractions. Also, I was traveling before the big summer vacation period. I had no problem finding a desired spot each night.
Here’s a link to my itinerary – Oregon Trail Road Trip June 2017
Overall, if you’re into doing a road trip and learning about American history, then this is a great trip. Most of the towns along the way are small western towns and not tourist places.
I enjoyed having my companion, Hondo along for this trip. He provided some good insights at the Forts and historic sites. You’ll see him on future trips.
I got several local recommendations about taking side trips to see some scenic places (e.g. Grand Tetons, Sun Valley in Idaho, Joseph and Enterprise in Oregon) but I stayed focused on the Trail and my purpose. I was driven somewhat like the pioneers – to fulfill an objective and not be deterred. I also had to allow myself time to follow a leisurely route back east.
It all worked out very well for me. Feel free to send me questions about places and logistics.