The California Trail was travelled by literally thousands of people on their way through the United States to the Gold rush in California in the 1840’s and 1850’s. There is no real “starting point” to the trail, and folks began traveling it throughout the country. The California trail as it is today which closely follows the maps and letters left by the original pioneers goes across 8 States and closely follows the Mormon and Oregon trails along much of the routes.
The original route encompassed over 5,000 miles and even after this many years, wagon ruts are still visible in the undeveloped parts of the Midwest and west. John C. Fremont and Lansford Hastings guided one of the first well known groups of several hundred people along the trail to California. The most famous group of the emigrants to follow the mountainous route was the Donner Party.
After the gold rush, the few and far between emigrants started traveling the California Trail by the thousands, and when President Polk announced the truth of the gold in California, the trek became even more populated. The unseen part of the California trail would be the unmarked graves of all of those who did not survive the trip due to starvation and disease.
It was Oxen which carried most pioneers across the rugged path of the California trail, although Hollywood likes to portray the wide use of horses. Oxen were easier to catch and were a better food source than horses should the need arise, which it often did.
Some of the more noted landmarks of the California trail are located in Nebraska. Chimney rock and Scotts Bluff were often mentioned in journals and writings of the early travelers of the California trail as well as the Mormon and Oregon Trails.