Santa Fe Trail Scenic & Historic Byway
Interpretive Master Plan

Santa Fe Trail logo concho belt

Santa Fe Trail Scenic and Historic Byway Inventory Of Significant Resources

The Santa Fe Trail

The Santa Fe Trail was a major trade route to and from Santa Fe, New Mexico between 1821 and 1880. Originally it began in Franklin, Missouri, this eastern terminus eventually moving west to Independence and Westport, Missouri and ultimately further westward with the advent of the railroad.

The Santa Fe Trail provided access to parts of Mexico that had previously been closed to Americans and provided access to U.S. markets and new economic opportunities for Mexicans.

The route of the Santa Fe Trail was defined by the location of timber, water, food, terrain and the political boundary between the U.S. and Mexico.

The many miles of unbroken horizon across the Kansas and Colorado prairies along the Santa Fe Trail were difficult for many travelers to endure.

Landforms both helped define the route (path of least resistance) and mark it for future travelers by serving as landmarks.

The Mountain Route of the Santa Fe Trail became an alternate route by the mid 1830s, following the Arkansas River to Bent's Fort, near present-day La Junta, then southwest to Trinidad and south over Raton Pass into New Mexico, where it joined the Cimarron Route, just south of Fort Union.

The Mountain Route of the Santa Fe Trail offered a more mountainous route but it had more water and fewer Indian confrontations than did the Cimarron Route through Oklahoma.

The Santa Fe Trail was a 2-way route, after 1824, as many Mexican traders used it to travel northeast as American traders used it to travel southwest. Their numbers increased steadily until the 1840s but no statistics about the comparative numbers between American and Mexican traders exist.

Wagon ruts, visible from the highway, evidence the thousands of wagon caravans that traversed the route during its 59-year period of use.

Susan Magoffin's diary of her trip along the Santa Fe Trail in 1846 details the people and places along the historic route just prior to the War with Mexico.

The route, not like modern travel routes, was more akin to a fluid corridor; it followed high ground in wet seasons and low-lying areas in dry seasons. As easier by-passes were discovered, the trail changed to accommodate the circumstances.

There were numerous branches of the two main routes of the Santa Fe Trail; these served to connect various sites, settlements and natural resources that may have been important to individual travelers.

Bent's Old Fort

The good relationship between William Bent and the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians led to fewer confrontations between traders and Indians along the Santa Fe Trail and was one factor that influenced traders to travel the Mountain Route rather than the Cimarron Route.

Trade at Bent's Fort took many forms: typical goods changing hands in the trade room included beaver pelts and buffalo robes, powder horns, tobacco, cloth and blankets, pipes, gun powder, tools, dried foods, belts and beads.

The Fort was a cultural crossroads: a stopping place for travelers, employer of Mexican labor, trade site for trappers and hunters and neutral ground for many Indian groups.

Bent's Fort altered the balance of power and trading patterns in the Southwest.

Raton Pass

Raton Pass was a barrier to overcome on the Santa Fe Trail with travel over it sometimes taking a week.

"Uncle Dick" Wootton, recognizing a business opportunity, cleared a rough road through the Raton Mountains and over the pass in 1864, creating a toll road. He charged $1.50 per wagon, .05 per head of live stock and Indians passed for free.


The railroad proved to be faster and more efficient in transporting goods to and from Santa Fe and was the reason for the passing of the Santa Fe Trail as a viable transportation route.

Railroad lines competed heavily for the "best" routes.


Some species of wildlife that do not currently inhabit the Great Plains were common when traders used the Santa Fe Trail: grizzly bears, elk, bison, wolves and lynxes.

Today visitors can see a variety of wildlife along the route, from those typical of the Great Plains (pronghorn, black bear, mountain lions, white-tailed deer, birds of prey, bobcats, coyotes and badgers) to those typical of the pinon-juniper woodlands (elk, mule deer, black bears and mountain lions).

Outdoor Recreation

Outdoor recreation along the modern Santa Fe Trail corridor offers diverse recreational opportunities for visitors: boating, fishing, hiking, bicycling, hunting and photography.

The goose hunting capital of Colorado is around Lamar.

Early History of the Area

Mexican Land Grants brought the first settlers to the area but, as with the Vigil-St. Vrain Land Grant of 4 million acres, disputes arose between heirs and appointees of Vigil and St. Vrain, Indians and the government over legal ownership of the land.

Settlers and Settlements

Numerous stage routes, along and adjacent to the Santa Fe Trail, were defined by population centers and provided access to these areas for new settlers.

The end of the War Between the States meant an increase in Westward immigration since many people uprooted by the War had no homes.

As both American and Mexican settlers moved onto the land that had been made accessible by the Santa Fe Trail, stores, churches and other signs of civilization dotted the landscape that had previously been inhabited by Kiowa, Arapaho and others — this eventually led to the locations of towns, many of which remain today.

Boggsville was an important settlement in southeastern Colorado. One resident of Boggsville developed cattle ranching as a viable institution on the Colorado plains and another brought alfalfa to this area as a productive agricultural product.

Boggsville, Trinidad and other towns had trading connections to the Santa Fe Trail, providing services to trail travelers.

The town of Trinidad contains numerous historic structures such as the Baca and Bloom houses, which are part of the Trinidad History Museum, and various historic commercial buildings that are local landmarks or are noted for outstanding architecture.

The Baca residential complex in Trinidad was the home of two families of settlers. The main house was built in 1870 by Trail trader John Hough and his wife Mary. They sold the house in 1873 to Felipe and Dolores Baca, who had lived in Trinidad since 1861. The complex also contains a building which was the living quarters for Baca workers, and a historic kitchen garden where the Bacas grew vegetables and herbs.

The Santa Fe Trail Information Center is part of the Trinidad History Museum, as are the Historic Gardens.

The Military

The Army of the West followed the Mountain Route of the Santa Fe Trail on their way to occupy and eventually annex portions of Mexico in 1848.




Geographic Landmarks

The Arkansas River was a barrier between two nations, a physical obstruction to travel that led to innovations shown in crossings—fording, ferry, bridges. Its life-giving water was also a source of food and fuel.


Next Chapter

Return to Table of Contents