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Santa Fe National Historic Trail

National Trails Intermountain Region
PO Box 728
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87504-0728

Phone
Visitor Information
(505) 988-6098

Take a journey between western Missouri and Santa Fe on the Santa Fe National Historic Trail. You'll find adventure and evidence of past travelers who made this remarkable trip before you!

Background

The Santa Fe Trail was a 19th century transportation route through southwestern North America connecting Missouri with Santa Fe, New Mexico. First used in 1821 by William Becknell, it served as a vital commercial and military highway until the introduction of the railroad to Santa Fe in 1880. 

At first an international trade route between the United States and Mexico, it served as the 1846 U.S. invasion route of New Mexico during the Mexican-American War.

The route crossed Comancheria, the territory of the Comanches, who demanded compensation for granting right-of-ways. Americans routinely traded with the Comanche along the trail, sometimes finding the trade in Comancheria more profitable than that of Santa Fe.[2]

After the U.S. acquisition of the Southwest, the trail helped open the region to U.S. economic development and settlement, playing a vital role in the expansion of the U.S. into the lands it had acquired. The road route is commemorated today by the National Park Service as the Santa Fe National Historic Trail. 

A highway route that roughly follows the trail's path through Colorado and northern New Mexico has been designated the Santa Fe Trail National Scenic Byway.

Plan Your Visit

The Santa Fe National Historic Trail crosses the five states of Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. You may decide to travel its entire length, or visit just one or two sites. Take time to plan your trip to meet your needs and consult local guides.

Things to Do

Numerous programs and activities are available at developed sites and in communities along the Santa Fe National Historic Trail. Contact individual sites and tourism centers for more information. Non-federal historic sites, trail segments, and interpretive facilities become part of the Santa Fe National Historic Trail through certification. 

This is a voluntary process in which an owner or manager agrees to adhere to National Park Service standards for resource preservation and visitor use. Look for the official trail logo at all certified locations. Public lands and state, county, and city parks along the trail route preserve trail resources. Although not yet certified, they may be open for public use. 

Other trail sites are on non-profit or private property and may not be open to the public.

History

Between 1821 and 1880, the Santa Fe Trail was primarily a commercial highway connecting Missouri and Santa Fe, New Mexico. From 1821 until 1846, it was an international commercial highway used by Mexican and American traders. In 1846, the Mexican-American War began. 

The Army of the West followed the Santa Fe Trail to invade New Mexico. When the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the war in 1848, the Santa Fe Trail became a national road connecting the United States to the new southwest territories. Commercial freighting along the trail continued, including considerable military freight hauling to supply the southwestern forts. 

The trail was also used by stagecoach lines, thousands of gold seekers heading to the California and Colorado gold fields, adventurers, fur trappers, and emigrants. In 1880 the railroad reached Santa Fe and the trail faded into history.

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