Brochures and Guides to Historic Pioneer Trails

A historian of the pioneer trail, Stanley B. Kimball, Ph.D., wrote a comprehensive 40-page summary of the Mormon Trail from Nauvoo to the West. This 1997 publication, entitled "The Mormon Pioneer Trail," is available from the S.U.P. Store or from the S.U.P. office. A colorful NPS 8" x 47" fold-up map of the Mormon Trail is included with the book.

The United States National Parks Service (NPS) is the Federal agency charged with identifying, protecting and promoting early pioneer trails. Visit the National Parks Service page about the Mormon Trail for more details.

The National Historic Trails

The longest and most famous trails followed by American pioneers in the 1800’s were the Mormon Trailthe Oregon Trailthe California Trail and the Pony Express Trail. These and others have been designated by Congress as National Historic Trails.  They have been the subjects of much research to document their exact routes. Americans young and old are captivated by the stories of pioneer adventures. Much of historic fact, and much of romance has been written. These stories are worthy of study by families who treasure their past.

Each of the four western pioneer trails is the subject of its own National Park Service website. They contain general information, useful maps and directions. To access any of these websites, simply click on one of the following links:

Auto tour maps are available for portions of these historic trails:

Interpretive Guides

On some portions of their routes, the four western trails mentioned above are very close together. But each follows its own unique path over long stretches. The United States National Park Service has prepared a series of Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guides for seven of the nine states through which these four trails pass. A long-planned California guide and the Oregon guide have not yet been published. You can find and print these colorful guides by following the links shown below in alphabetical order:

Devils Gate from Martins Cove, Wyoming,  Photo by Ken Lund

Devils Gate from Martins Cove, Wyoming,  Photo by Ken Lund

The Story of the Mormon Pioneer Trail

It has been said that the exodus from Nauvoo, Illinois in 1846 of 15,000 Latter-day Saints, and the massive migration of Mormon Pioneers which followed, was one of the greatest movements of a religious body in the history of the world. The journey of these people across 1,300 miles of an almost trackless wilderness to an unknown Zion is a story which will never grow old. It was a story of supreme faith in God and in their leaders. It was possible only because of the Fire of the Covenant that burned within the breasts of those courageous pioneers.

The first wave of the Mormon migration fled relentless persecutions from mobs in early February 1846. Sub-zero temperatures and blizzards were followed by rain and deep mud, as thousands of refugees followed Brigham Young across Iowa. Unable to continue west that year, the exhausted and hungry pioneers built crude, temporary shelters for the winter in makeshift towns in Iowa and Nebraska. Then in the spring of 1847, the great trek to the Valleys of the Mountains continued.

Beginning in this historic year of 1847, and in the following two decades, tens of thousands traveled in creaking wagons, by horseback and on foot. Many who went on foot pulled rickshaw-like handcarts loaded with provisions and personal belongings -- all they owned on earth -- across the 1,300 miles to the valley of the Great Salt Lake. They built bridges, they braved unforgiving weather and they fought disease. They buried their dead along the way.

The “wedding of the rails” which occurred near Promontory Summit, Utah in May 1869, brought the transcontinental railroad and an end to the pioneer era. By this time 60-80,000 Latter-day Saints had made the journey to their Promised Land.

Mormon Battalion Trail

Another great episode in pioneer history is the unique and unprecedented saga of The Mormon Battalion. Five hundred volunteers were provided by Brigham Young from the ranks of the first Latter-day Saints as they struggled heroically in the first phase of their journey to the West. Many of these gallant men left their families to travel on alone towards the mountains, while they responded to the call of the United States Government. Theirs was one of the longest sustained marches of infantry in all of history.

The Mormon Battalion Trail traces the march of these soldiers through hundreds of miles of sand and sagebrush toward an unknown enemy. Brigham Young had promised if they would keep the Lord’s commandments, none of these soldiers would be lost – and none were lost. They were never directly involved in fighting the war into which they had been enlisted, and ultimately they returned to their loved ones to help build their Zion in the “Top of the Mountains”of the American West. Read their story.

Additional Resources

There are many other pioneer trails.  For further study, here are some more links to good web sites dedicated to Pioneer history: