You may have read about the hardships of American settlers heading west in history books, but at the Oregon Trail Ruts National Historic Landmark you can see first-hand the physical evidence of their challenged travels. The most prominent ruts, located 1/2 mile south of Guernsey, Wyoming, are a great place to visit for a humbling and thought-provoking experience.
The Oregon Trail was a primary route for emigrants heading west across America in the 1840s. Overtime, the land along this route developed the distinct imprint of parallel ruts, carved from the iron-wheeled tires of the settlers’ wagons. The remnants of these passages is most notable near Guernsey because the ruts were eroded into solid sandstone rock on a single ridge of the trail that was most heavily trafficked. The geography of the landscape dictated that a vast majority of the wagons heading west cross this ridge at the exact same spot, producing the two- to six-foot deep gouges still visible today. It took, on average, four to six months to make the grueling 2,000 mile journey, and approximately 200,000 people died on the Oregon Trail. Frequent passages along the Oregon Trail were slowed in 1869, with the completion of the Union Pacific Railroad.
Planning Your Visit
Whether you’re interested in US history or want to see the incredible remnants of western expansion, visiting the Oregon Trail Ruts is certainly a humbling experience with educational advantages. Located off highway 26, just a 1/2 mile south of Guernsey, this site was declared a national historic landmark in 1975. From the parking lot, a short, well-groomed trail leads uphill to the sandstone ridge. From there you can see the ruts eroded into the land over 150 years ago below the weight of thousands of wagons. Public restrooms are located in the parking lot. Picnic areas are scattered throughout the park, which is open year round. There is no fee to visit the Oregon Trail Ruts National Historic Landmark.
If you’re thinking about visiting the ruts near Guernsey, you might also want to consider checking out Register Cliffs too, just a quick 8 minute drive from the Oregon Trail Ruts National Historic Landmark. Register Cliffs is a sandstone cliff along the Oregon Trail that was a key checkpoint and resting spot for settlers along their journey. Emigrants would frequently carve their names and the dates of their passages into this cliff, where they still remain visible today. The earliest-known carving reads “1829 This July 14,” while a majority of the inscriptions are from the 1840s and 1850s, the trail’s peak years. Register Cliffs was named to the National Register of Historic Places on April 3, 1970.
Where to Stay
Larson Park Campground is conveniently located between the Oregon Trail Ruts and Register Cliffs. This campground accommodates both tents and RVs, and is the perfect hub for a fun adventure in the historic town of Guernsey, Wyoming. The campground boasts scenic hiking trails, a lovely river, and many nearby attractions to keep the whole family busy. Larson Park Campground has only back-in sites available, and no sewer dump facility.
Things to Do
Larson Park Campground is nestled in the center of the Oregon Trail Ruts, Register Cliff, and many other attractions featured in the area. Leave your RV at the campground and enjoy a game of disc golf, cool off with a tubing trip down the river, watch the kids collect scraped knees in the town’s newly constructed skate park, have a picnic at the historical plaza, tour the town’s free museum, grab a fishing pole and head to the Grayrocks Reservoir, or challenge yourself to 9 holes at the Trail Ruts Golf Course right next door to Larson Park. No matter what brings you here, you’ll find a little something for everyone in the historic town of Guernsey.
The Oregon Trail Ruts National Historic Landmark serves as a witness to the hardships of those who endured the demanding journey in order to seek opportunity in the west. The ruts are a visible reminder of humble beginnings and an educational tool for our nation’s history. So, if you’re in the Wyoming area, consider stopping near Guernsey to check out these significant historical remnants.