The Oregon Trail enters Idaho on the high
desert in the extreme southeastern corner of the state.
The trail then winds northwest along the Bear River,
passes through present-day Pocatello, and jags west to meet
the mighty Snake River that it parallels as
the river carves a shallow U across the southern portion of the state.
By the time they crossed into Idaho, the pioneers had been on
the trail nearly two months, plenty of time to lose the excitement they
experienced when starting out in
In addition, by now they had lightened loads by
tossing many of their personal possessions and they had witnessed plenty of
mechanical failures and human tragedies.
Unlike the friendly Platte and
North Platte, the Snake cut
deep canyons that prevented the pioneers from gaining easy access to water.
The rugged canyons also made it impossible for the
wagon trains to cross the river until much of the loop had been traversed
and the pioneers arrived at Glenns Ferry, west of present-day
Here the banks eased into the water and wagon trains
could utilize three islands to facilitate a crossing to the north bank.
An Idaho state park
allows visitors an excellent view of a cut down the hillside where wagons
headed for the river crossing.
Northwest of the river crossing, two
routes were used on the way to Oregon.
The north alternate route left the river and headed
cross-country toward the present-day city of
The south alternate continued along the Snake and
met up with the other trail in present-day Oregon.
Following the north alternate means driving on
Interstate 84, not a pleasant thought, although
Boise is always a nice place
Choosing to follow the south alternate requires leaving the
Interstate at Mountain Home and following Highway 78.
The latter closely parallels this route along the
Among the interesting Oregon Trail
sites in Idaho
1) Soda Springs - A short distance into the state is
one of the most welcome locations on the trail.
Soda Springs was the site of numerous springs of
carbonated water that some pioneers said tasted like beer.
What could be more welcome than free beer after a
hot and dusty day on the trail?
Soda Springs is also the location of one of the more
unusual experiences for present-day travelers.
On the north end of town, Oregon Trail Golf Course
offers what one prominent writer calls “the most delightful walk of the
A major swale cut 150 years ago by wagon trains
heading west traverses the golf course.
Walking along the swale is surely one of the most
magical experiences of following the
View our video of
Oregon Trail ruts at the golf course
2) Fort Hall - Originally established in 1834 as a
fur-trading post, Fort Hall became a major supply point for emigrants
Oregon and California Trails.
Although the original Fort Hall is long gone (the
original site is on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation and permission is
required for access), a full-size replica constructed in the 1960s is open
for visitation from mid-April through September.
3) Register Rock - A state historic site preserves a
pioneer campground where emigrants etched their names on large basalt
The site is now a day use area that is part of
Across the interstate in the park, visitors can view
deep trail ruts northeast of the visitor center that has trail exhibits.
Interpretive panels are throughout the park.
4) Three Island Crossing - Because of the steep
cliffs surrounding most of the Snake River, the wagon trains were limited in
where they could cross from the south to the north bank.
Here at Three
Island the crossing was
made easier by three strategic islands that emigrants could utilize in
bringing the wagons across.
An amazing diagonal cut down a bluff on the south
side of the river is visible from the north bank where ruts come up the bank
and head north past an interpretive center.
The land is preserved as part of
Two pleasant campgrounds are in the park.
View our video of Three
5) Bonneville Point – Here travelers can enjoy an
observation point offering an excellent view of the
Oregon Trail ruts that run beside an interpretive
pavilion descend to the
The site, operated by the Bureau of Land Management,
is where in 1833 Captain Benjamin Bonneville and his expedition first viewed
the valley that he named
Les Bois, which eventually became the site for
the city of Boise.
Bonneville Point is about ten miles from Boise and four miles
from Interstate 84.
View our video of
The Oregon Trail in Idaho:
Following the Snake River Plain