Trail Interpretive Center in Casper, WY

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Interpretive Centers along the Oregon Trail

      Visiting interpretive centers along the way adds a great deal of knowledge and enjoyment to a trip following the Oregon Trail.  We missed a couple of centers that were closed when we passed through, and one at the end in Oregon City had permanently closed, but otherwise we visited each one and were seldom disappointed. 
    The personnel were always friendly and appreciated our interest in the Oregon Trail.  We browsed the exhibits and watched the videos.  Some videos in the latter portion of the trip became a bit repetitive, but even then we always learned something new.  In fact, looking back, we should have spent additional time at some of the centers.
    Below are Oregon Trail interpretive centers, arranged from east to west, we came across during our trip from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon City, Oregon

Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, St. Louis, Missouri
This National Park Service facility is best known for the Gateway Arch.  Underneath is an excellent museum with exhibits and films.  St. Louis is generally considered the starting point for the westward trails.  Pioneers headed for the Oregon Trail generally traveled from St. Louis to Independence by boat.  (314) 655-1700.  The Arch and Museum of Westward Expansion are open from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. with extended hours during holidays.  Tram tickets to the top of the arch can be purchased in advance.

tional Frontier Trail Museum, Independence, Missouri

The museum is near Independence Courthouse Square and good place to begin your own journey along the Oregon Trail.  Operated by the city of Independence, the museum offers exhibits and a video relevant to all the frontier trails.  A late-1800s railroad depot is next door to the museum.  (816) 325-7575. Open daily from 9 a.m. (12:30 on Sundays) to 4:30 p.m.  Entrance fee charged.

Western Historic Trails Center, Council Bluffs, Iowa.    This National Park Service interpretive center offers exhibits and information about the Lewis & Clark Trail along with the California, Mormon, and Oregon Trails.  Multiple sculptures and interactive displays are utilized to interpret the westward migration.  Walking and bike trails are on the grounds.  (712) 366-4900.  Open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (5:00 p.m. in winter).  Free admission.


Chimney Rock National Historic Site, Bayard, Nebraska
The visitor center offers exhibits and a video presentation at what is probably the best-known landmark along the Oregon Trail.  Interpretive programs are frequently offered on Sunday afternoons.  (308) 586-2581.  Open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.   Nominal admission charged.

Scotts Bluff National Monument, Gering, Nebraska

Operated by the National Park Service, the national monument includes a visitor center/museum with exhibits and an audio-visual presentation.  Visitors can drive or take a free shuttle to the top of the bluff.  The monument offers living-history programs and hiking trails.  Scotts Bluff was a major landmark on the Oregon Trail. (308) 436-7611.  The visitor center is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (5 p.m. in winter).


Fort Laramie National Historic Site, Fort Laramie, Wyoming

Originally constructed as a fur trading post, the fort was visited by pioneers heading west as early as 1841.  The fort became an important stop for the pioneers during the next twenty years.  Living history programs, a nice visitor center, and a real feeling for being at a frontier post make this an interesting stop on the trail.  The site is operated by the National Park Service and is open daily from dawn to dusk.


National Historic Trail Interpretive Center, Casper, Wyoming

A simulated wagon ride across the North Platte is one of the activities offered at this excellent center.  Also of interest, is an audio-visual presentation of the lives of pioneers and Native Americans.  The interpretive center is operated by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and open daily from 8 a.m. (9 a.m. in winter) to 5 p.m. (4:30 p.m. in winter). (307) 261-7700.  Admission is charged but entrance is free with a National Recreation Pass.

Oregon Trail History and Education Center,  Glenns Ferry, Idaho
Located in Three Island Crossing State Park, the center is at a famous crossing point on the Snake River.  The center is directly beside the trail and offers an excellent view of a cut made by wagons descending a hill on the opposite side of the river.  The education center is open Thursday through Sunday from spring to fall.  The park's campgrounds are excellent.  (208) 366-2394.  Park entrance admission charged.

National Oregon/California Trails Center, Montpelier, Idaho
The center includes interpretive exhibits, a theatre, and a living history program in which visitors become members of a pioneer family headed west.  Open daily May 1 through September 30, and Tuesday through Saturday in October.  (866) 847-3800.  Admission charged.


National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, Baker City, Oregon

The premier interpretive center on the Oregon Trail.  Operated by the Bureau of Land Management, the center offers interpretive walking trails, living history demonstrations, interpretive programs, and multi-media presentations.  This excellent facility deserves at least a half-day of your time.  (541) 523-1843.  Open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (4 p.m. in winter) except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.


Interpretive Center at the End of the Oregon Trail, Oregon City, Oregon

Although the visitor center continues to operate, the interpretive center has been closed for financial reasons in September 2009.  We were staying the night in Oregon City and visited anyway.  We enjoyed strolling around the outside of the center but were disappointed that it had closed.