Trail of Tears

His­to­ry buff and hik­er? Sat­is­fy your curios­i­ty by hik­ing along the paths of these four his­toric Amer­i­can journeys.

Pony Express TrailThe Pony Express
In April 1860, the Pony Express made his­to­ry by using horse-and-rid­er relay teams to shut­tle mail along a 2,000-mile route between St. Joseph, Mis­souri, and Sacra­men­to, Cal­i­for­nia. The com­pa­ny oper­at­ed for only 19 months before West­ern Union com­plet­ed the transcon­ti­nen­tal tele­graph sys­tem, which ren­dered their ser­vices obso­lete. But dur­ing that year and a half, the rid­ers and their hors­es had deliv­ered some 35,000 items of mail—and reshaped the his­to­ry of the Wild West. Today, the Pony Express is re-enact­ed in west­ern movies, nov­els, and Amer­i­can imaginations.

The Pony Express Nation­al His­toric Trail traces the route of the famed rid­ers and offers a vari­ety of hik­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties, includ­ing the Rock Creek Sta­tion in Nebras­ka, Devil’s Gate in Wyoming and the 125-mile South Pass Seg­ment in Oregon.

Trail of TearsThe Trail of Tears
When Pres­i­dent Andrew Jack­son signed the Indi­an Removal Act of 1830, he cre­at­ed what would become known as one of the great tragedies of Amer­i­can his­to­ry: the forced removal of almost 50,000 Native Amer­i­cans from their ances­tral home­lands east of the Mis­sis­sip­pi Riv­er. The Trail of Tears Nation­al His­toric Trail fol­lows the path along which the Chero­kee and oth­er tribes were forced to march between 1830 and 1850. Thou­sands of men, women, and chil­dren died from expo­sure, dis­ease, and star­va­tion, irrev­o­ca­bly chang­ing the course of Amer­i­can history.

As the Nation­al Park Ser­vice writes, “This is a sto­ry of racial injus­tice, intol­er­ance, and suf­fer­ing, but it is also a sto­ry of sur­vival.” Vis­i­tors can hike sec­tions of the trail in Ten­nessee, North Car­oli­na, Geor­gia, Alaba­ma, Ken­tucky, Illi­nois, Arkansas, Mis­souri, or Okla­homa. Check out their Inter­ac­tive Trail Map to plan your trip.

IditarodThe Idi­tar­od
You prob­a­bly think of the Idi­tar­od as Alaska’s infa­mous 1,150-mile dogsled race, which com­mem­o­rates the win­ter trails that first con­nect­ed ancient Native Alaskan vil­lages and pro­vid­ed access to the fron­tier for the last great Amer­i­can gold rush. But did you know that in the sum­mer, the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment (BLM) main­tains 150 miles of the trail for pub­lic use? There are even five pub­lic shel­ter cab­ins, all avail­able to adven­tur­ous hikers.

Star-Span­gled Ban­ner Nation­al His­toric Trail
In hon­or of the Chesa­peake Cam­paign of the War of 1812, this 560-mile trail traces the land and water route con­nect­ing Mary­land, Vir­ginia and the Dis­trict of Colum­bia. It com­mem­o­rates the events that led to the Bat­tle for Bal­ti­more, the after­math of which inspired Fran­cis Scott Key to write the Amer­i­can Nation­al Anthem.

The his­toric trail is rel­a­tive­ly new, hav­ing been estab­lished by Con­gress in 2008. It traces the move­ments of Amer­i­can and British troops, high­lights the Chesa­peake region’s dis­tinc­tive water­ways, and—with the help of infor­ma­tion­al dis­plays and online information—guides vis­i­tors through reflec­tions on how local com­mu­ni­ties were affect­ed by war.