Sites and points of interest

The Tangle of Trails Through Idaho...

Variants of the Oregon and California Trails enter Idaho in several places and additional alternate routes split off, cross, and merge across the state. Auto Tour Route Segment A follows the main route of the Oregon Trail and parts of the California Trail from Border Junction, Wyoming, to Parma, Idaho, east of the Oregon state line. Auto Tour Route Segment B follows the South Alternate of the Oregon Trail from Glenns Ferry to Parma. Optional side-trips along other variants of the Oregon and California Trails are noted.

However, numerous trail cutoffs also developed through the years, particularly in the basin and range country of southeastern Idaho. Some of these cutoffs are Congressionally designated as part of the National Trails System, but others are not. The two National Park Service fold-out brochures for the Oregon Trail and the California Trail show the routes that are part of the National Trails System. These brochures, like this guide, are available at many travel and visitor centers along the trail routes.

Variants of the Oregon National Historic Trail in Idaho that appear on the brochure map are:

The Oregon Trail (also called the main or primary route of the Oregon Trail). The original Oregon Trail route enters Idaho east of Montpelier near the Thomas Fork of the Bear River and heads northwest to Fort Hall. At Fort Hall the trail turns west and continues down the south side of the Snake River to the wagon ford at Three Island Crossing, where it crosses to the north side. From there, the trail cuts northwest through the foothills to the Boise River and continues to Fort Boise, on the Snake River at today’s Idaho/ Oregon border. The eastern part of the Oregon Trail between Thomas Fork and the Raft River Parting of the Ways, west of American Falls, also was used by California- bound emigrants. This driving guide refers to that segment as the combined Oregon/California Trail.

The South Alternate of the Oregon Trail. When emigrants were unable to ford the Snake River at Three Island Crossing, they continued west along the south bank of the river. This alternate rejoins the Oregon Trail beyond Fort Boise.

Variants of the California National Historic Trail in Idaho that appear on the California brochure map are:

The California Trail. Many California-bound travelers followed the eastern portion of the Oregon Trail through Idaho before turning southwest toward Nevada. Before 1849, most took the trail from Thomas Fork to Fort Hall and down the south side of the Snake River. About 30 miles west of American Falls, the California Trail splits off at the Raft River Parting of the Ways and swings southwest through the City of Rocks and Granite Pass toward Nevada.

Lander Road. Workmen directed by Frederick Lander, a U.S. Government engineer, began constructing this federally funded emigrant road between greater South Pass, Wyoming, and Fort Hall, Idaho, in 1857. Emigrants bound for Oregon and California immediately began using it, although the road was not completed until 1859. The Lander Road enters Idaho west of Afton, Wyoming, and merges with the Oregon Trail east of Fort Hall. The Hudspeth Cutoff. Blazed in 1849 by Benoni Hudspeth and John Myers, this cutoff splits from the Oregon Trail near Sheep Rock and goes west through four mountain ranges. It merges with the original California Trail west of today’s town of Malta. This difficult but more direct alternate diverted most traffic from the older Fort Hall route.

The Salt Lake Cutoff. This alternate, opened in 1848, was a popular option for travelers who took the Hastings Cutoff from Fort Bridger, Wyoming, into Utah to resupply or lay over at Salt Lake City. From Salt Lake City, the route goes north along the east shore of the Great Salt Lake to Brigham City. There it jogs around the north end of the lake and crosses into Idaho about 17 miles southeast of Almo. The cutoff merges with the California Trail just beyond the Twin Sisters and Pinnacle Pass at City of Rocks.

Some Oregon-bound emigrants used alternate routes on the north side of the Snake River between American Falls and Teapot Dome, east of present-day Mountain Home. These trails, called the North Alternate and the North Side Alternate, are not addressed in this Auto Tour Route guide. Another alternate, the Goodale Cutoff, splits off from the combined Oregon/ California Trail near Fort Hall. This cutoff, which has several sub-variants of its own, goes north to the Big Lost River near today’s Blackfoot, Idaho, swings west through Craters of the Moon National Monument, and rejoins the main Oregon Trail east of Boise. The Goodale Cutoff is included here as an “Also of Interest item.”

The Idaho interpretive trail guide mostly follows paved interstate, federal, state, and local roads, but also offers opportunities to drive some unpaved roads suitable for two-wheel-drive vehicles.