William Becknell opened up the Santa Fe Trail, between the Missouri River and the Mexican provincial capital of Santa Fe, in the fall of 1821. The route played a major role in bringing people, goods, and ideas to and from Santa Fe for the next 59 years. However, the Santa Fe Trail was rarely a static entity, because both the route across the plains and the eastern terminus of the trail was constantly in flux. This was especially true during the last 15 years of the trail's history, when the westward push of the railroads incrementally shortened the distance between Santa Fe and the most recently-built, end-of-track, "hell on wheels" railroad town.
NPS trails staff have compiled a series of 22 maps that collectively attempt to answer the question, "At any given time during the trail's history, what were the trail's endpoints, and what was the shortest or most direct way for travelers to go to or from Santa Fe via this trail?"
These maps do not attempt to show every route; instead, only the most likely routes have been shown.