What is a National Historic Trail (NHT)?

A National Historic Trail is a long-distance route that follows and commemorates a historic path of travel that changed the history and character of the U.S. Today the route offers opportunities to visit surviving sites, trail segments, and defining places of history and learn about the diverse stories they tell.

Learn more!


The National Historic Trail Experience

Why would you do it? Why pack everything you own into a wagon, hitch it to some large, slow-moving animals and head out across thousands of miles of unknown terrain? (Unknown at least to you.) Maybe it’s the chance at a fresh start. Perhaps it’s that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to earn some cash to support your family. Maybe you're trying to outrun some crippling debt or legal woes. Or, maybe you were forced to leave the only home you’ve ever known.

No matter the reason, if you made this journey, chances are you traveled one of America’s National Historic Trails. The Oregon, California, and Mormon Pioneer Trails carried 500,000 emigrants westward between the 1830s and 1860s. Two Camino Reales – royal roads – brought soldiers, traders, settlers, and missionaries north from central Mexico to New Mexico and Texas for more than 400 years. The Santa Fe Trail and the Old Spanish Trail supported six decades of international trade between Mexico and the United States. Dozens of tough young men and their equally tough horses endured stifling heat, blizzards, and danger as they carried mail year-round across the West on the Pony Express Trail. And the Trail of Tears bore the heartache of tens of thousands Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles forced from their homelands by the endless growth and greed of a young nation.

Today these designated National Historic Trails, their stunning landmarks and faint traces, their many stories and the lessons those stories reveal are readily available for you. Across 25 states and 25,000 miles, in national parks, state parks, historic sites, and even on private lands, a great experience awaits you on your National Historic Trails.


  • Re-trace the long lines of history on the landscape
  • Stand where they stood and see a landscape seemingly unchanged
  • Pass by the same famous landmarks the travelers used to track their journey centuries ago
  • Step into the homes of those here long before the trails
  • Sit quietly and think the thoughts of those who have passed this way.
  • Cross the river where the wagons also crossed
  • Stand in a trail rut
  • Hear the pealing bells of an old mission church
  • Visit a historic fort
  • Feel the heat…the cold…the wind…the silence of the landscape
  • Drive the old trail
  • Visit a museum

Last updated: September 9, 2022

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

National Trails Office Regions 6|7|8
Trail of Tears National Historic Trail
1100 Old Santa Fe Trail

Santa Fe, NM 87505

Contact Us