The California Trail spans westward nearly 6,000 miles along multiple routes, bisecting large swaths of the West. Beginning at the Missouri River it travels due west, following the course of the Platte and Sweetwater Rivers. Upon reaching the Continental Divide in Wyoming, it splits into numerous offshoots, which were taken depending on the party’s final destination. Many pioneers proceeded along the meandering Humboldt and Truckee Rivers in Nevada before ascending the Sierras into California.
The trail was widely used from 1849 to 1869 and, after completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, the trail was abondoned by most emigrants as travel became much quicker by train — seven days by rail as opposed to five or six months by wagon.
Today, many portions of the trail parallel today’s Interstate 80 (and some portions have been paved over by the highway and its subsequent development).