Applegate Trail History

The Applegate Trail was located in 1846 by the Applegate party which traveled east to Fort Hall,, Idaho, through Southern Oregon and Nevada. At Fort Hall they persuaded ninety wagons of emigrants to take the new route to Oregon. This route was used intermittently until 1868 and 1872 when new road routes replaced it.

The Applegate route across the Cascades followed the path of least resistance at that time. It passed through prairies and glades where essential feed and water was available for the livestock. Due to the high center of gravity, it was necessary for the wagons to generally go straight up and down steep slopes to avoid tipping over. In descending steep slopes, rough locks, drags and tail holds were used with the brakes to slow the descent of the wagons. Steep hills were double-teamed.

In locating the trail and setting the markers, in 1976 the Trail Committee used pioneer diaries, the General Land Office plats and walked many miles of the terrain to determine as near as possible where the old trail passed. Due to logging, new roads, fires and other disturbances many signs of the old trail are gone, and its exact route is subject to argument. Guided by the locations on the General Land Office plats, the Trail Committee has placed the markers where it was logical and feasible for the wagons to have traveled. It is as close to the original route as is possible to determine after the lapse of 132 years during which every teamster who used it took what he thought was a slightly better route.

These combined markers enable those interested in history and ancestral trails to see and get the feel of a rugged portion of the Applegate Trail where it crossed the Cascade Divide. It served its purpose for early westward passage, but attempts to travel eastward with wagons on it were too difficult due to the steep wagon slides. Consequently, it gave way to the new roads started in 1868 and 1872 to eliminate the wagon slides. These roads in turn gave way to Highway 66, or the Greensprings grade, which many people still consider a steep and spectacular road.


All of the markers placed on the Applegate Trail in 1976 by the SOHS have a triangular sticker, on the vertical rail, of the “CALIFORNIA TRAIL, National Historic Trail” and a sticker below that that reads “JOIN US AT