The Pony Express National Historic Trail is a United States National Historic Trail commemorating the mail service route through the Old West, between St. Joseph, Missouri and San Francisco, California, from April 3, 1860 to October 1861. It was an astonishing fact that a letter could be delivered across the 1,800-mile trail in only 10 days.
It was established in 1859 as the Leavenworth and Pike's Peak Express Company of 1859. In 1860 the company became the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company, founded by William H. Russell, Alexander Majors, and William B. Waddell. As quickly as a young rider blazed a trail across half the continent, the technology replaced the ways of a horseback rider. The telegraph was able to do the same thing, faster and cheaper. And by 1869 a transcontinental railroad made it possible to send goods of any weight in a fast manner.
Travel along the Pony Express National Historic Trail is largely done for the historical understanding of the past; however, there are many reasons why you should visit the trail. First, of course, is the learning of the Pony Express. Second are the parallel stories of the Oregon Trail, California Trail, and Mormon Trail. Finally, your travels will take you along some of the most breathtaking scenery in the United States. This itinerary focuses on the Pony Express, but will take tangents when they so necessitate.
First and foremost, get maps. The modern Interstate system does not take you along the trails; Interstates are designed for speed and efficiency, but the Pony Express trail was designed for a different type of efficiency. That efficiency was based around — not recreating — the wheel.
As previously mentioned, three trails go in the same general direction as the Pony Express, and the Pony Express took advantage of established routes to keep expenses low.
While traveling off of the interstate, keep your bearings about you. The worst thing that can happen along the majority of the trail is being turned around and having to back-track to get back the right way.
This itinerary discusses a route of travel from Missouri to California. The most logical route begins in Missouri and travels to the west.
Monuments, markers, museums, and historic buildings can be found along the trail.
- 1 National Frontier Trails Museum, 318 West Pacific, Independence, ☏ . While this is not directly on the trail, if you are starting your trip, around the Kansas City area, this is a great site to visit to get perspective on the historical landscape.
Missouri is known for a couple of American Presidents. While here in Independence, you can see the home of President Harry S. Truman.
- 2 Pony Express Museum, 914 Penn St, St Joseph, ☏ , toll-free: , fax: . Mar-Nov: M-Sa 9AM-5PM, Su 11AM-4PM; Dec-Feb: M-Sa 9AM-4PM, Su 11AM-4PM. The Pony Express Museum is a transport museum in Saint Joseph, Missouri, documenting the history of the Pony Express, the first fast mail line across the North American continent from the Missouri River to the Pacific coast. Adult $6, senior $5, student $3, under 6 Free.
- 3 Patee House. Included the headquarters and eastern terminus of the Pony Express.
- 5 Rock Creek Station, Fairbury.
- 6 California Hill, Brule.
- 7 Ash Hollow State Park, Lewellen.
- 8 Scotts Bluff National Monument/Mitchell Pass, Gering.
- 9 Chimney Rock National Historic Site, Bridgeport, toll-free: . Daily 9AM-5PM. Adults $3, NPS Pass Card Holders $2, Children free.
- 10 Fort Laramie NHS/Bedlam Ruts, Fort Laramie.
- 11 Register Cliff & Sand Point Station, Guernsey.
- Avenue of Rocks, on Poison Spider Road west of Casper.
- 12 Independence Rock, on the Sweetwater River.
- Devils Gate, on the Sweetwater River. A short hike.
- South Pass, South Pass near South Pass. A short hike.
- Little Emigration Canyon. Little Emigration Canyon: Mormon Flat to Big Mountain, 4.5 miles 4x4 and Horse Access (extensive trail segments).
- Oregon Trail Road. Oregon Trail Road: Mills, WY to WYO-220 just north of Independence Rock, 41.5 miles (Long Hike (access to extensive trail segments))
- South Pass Segment. South Pass Segment: Independence Rock to Parting of the Ways, 125 miles (Long Hike (access to extensive trail segments)); Parting of the Ways: end of the South Pass segment
- Fort Bridger to Muddy Creek. Fort Bridger to Muddy Creek: approximately 14 miles (Long Hike (access to extensive trail segments))
- 13 National Historic Trails Interpretive Center, Casper.
- BLM Backcountry Byway. From Fairfield to Ibapah: 133 miles (Long Hike (access to extensive trail segments))
- 14 Camp Floyd State Park Museum.
- 15 Fort Churchill State Historic Park, Silver Springs. The fort protected early settlers and Pony Express mail runs, and is now maintained in a state of arrested decay.
- 16 B. F. Hastings Building (Pony Express Terminus), 1006 2nd St, Sacramento. Was the western endpoint of the Pony Express. The building is a National Historic Landmark and now contains the city's visitor center.
- Visitor Center, 1002 2nd St, ☏ . Great starting point for excursions throughout the Sacramento region. free.