The Route West
A 2,000 mile walk
or a year-long boat ride
The first emigrants to Oregon came by ship before the Trail was established. Ships continued to to travel to Oregon even after the overland migrations began, but they were not popular among the pioneers. First, the fare for a sea journey to Oregon was quite expensive--few pioneer families could afford it. Second, most Oregon-bound pioneers came from the central states--far from any sea port. Lastly, the sea journey often took up to full year--versus 4-6 months by wagon.
The Oregon Trail (more correctly, the Oregon-California Trail) generally follows the Platte River to its headwaters; and then crosses the mountains. In southern Idaho, the California Trail splits off (until this point, the Oregon Trail and the California Trail are one in the same). The Oregon Trail then follows the Snake River until it reached the Columbia--which flows into the Pacific. For a detailed look at the route, visit Historic Sites Along the Trail.
BELOW: Fort Vancouver (in what is now Vancouver, Washington) was a thriving outpost even before the Oregon Trail. The residents came via ship.