When people think trails, Nebraska is certainly not the first state to come to mind. Flat and often treeless, this midwestern prairie is better known for being the heartland of America. Or maybe you know it for its famous Big Red Cornhuskers football. But the settlers who entered this region were the original hikers, and they established some of the oldest trails in the US. Collectively, these “overland trail” areas carried pioneers, livestock, soldiers and every other western bound American.
The History of The Overland Trail
The overland trail become well-established during the 1849 gold rush. California was the first destination, and Oregon followed shortly thereafter. Soon, thousands of Americans were packing all their worldly belongings on wagons and heading west. On their journey, they passed through the heart of Nebraska.
The best known overland trail is, without a doubt, The Oregon Trail. It led tens of thousands of travelers across the plains during the mid-to-late 1800s. East coast residents followed it across the country as they were seeking a better life in the west. In Nebraska, the Oregon trail saw most of its use in the 1860s. Many of the first settlers followed closely behind the famous 49ers. The 49ers were the men who sought fortunes in the mines of California & Alaska. Therefore, the trail has also been referred to as the California trail.
An “overland trail” has quite a few uses these days, depending on who you ask. But the original use referred to trails that spanned the country, crossing through the Midwest. These trails guided folks to the west coast, and ultimately led to the first highways. The name, overland trail, probably comes from Overland Stage Line. This was the main road (or highway) across the plains, which was traversed by stagecoaches, mules, horses, and entire families. The Pony Express, which lasted only from April, 1860 to October, 1861, used the Overland Trail as their route to establish a reliable postal service.
Explore Nebraska’s Unique Overland Trail
To explore the overland trail in Nebraska, the state offers a primitive recreation area and hosts the Overland Trails Council. The Overland Trails Council acts as a dedicated steward for the trail system. The Overland Trail Natural Resources Area lies midway between Grand Island, Nebrask and the major city of Lincoln. Much of the historic overland trail still parallels today’s highways.
The Overland Recreation Area’s closest city is York. This recreation area includes boating, hiking and skiing in the Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District. The Overland Trail Recreation Area, in York, also offers free lake canoeing and great camping opportunities.
While other states, like Colorado, sport Overland Trail Museums (like the one in Sterling, Colorado). However, in Nebraska, the trail is celebrated with prairie wilderness and a monument near the North Platte river. A half mile east of the Sutherland highway 25 exit, off of interstate-80, sits a monument dedicated to all the American pioneers who crossed this way throughout the 19th century.