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Salt Lake Cutoff
As the Latter-Day Saint towns in the Salt Lake Valley grew in the 1850s, increasing numbers of wagons followed the Mormon Trail west from Fort Bridger to the Salt Lake Valley and rejoined the California Trail southwest of the Silent City of Rocks. After that point was reached, all travelers to California used a single route, crossing Granite Pass in southern Idaho to reach the Humboldt River in northern Nevada. They then followed it to the Sierra Nevada. Most Oregon-bound pioneers took the main road past Fort Hall.

Writing by pioneers at Register Rock along the Oregon Trail in the Silent City of Rocks, (September, 1987).

Fort Hall and West
Hudson's Bay supplies were expensive and many travelers could not afford them. Fort Hall was abandoned in 1856, without appreciable effect on the trail. Even when it was open, there was little reason for most pioneers to stop at the Fort. Staying on the southeast side of Spring Creek avoided a difficult stream crossing, so it seems logical that the main trail bypassed Fort Hall. Accounts are not very clear, but the ruts which are at the Fort do not seem to reflect travel by over 50,000 pioneers and their wagons.

South of Fort Hall the Trail headed southwest along Spring Creek to a crossing of the Portneuf River. The most-used trail followed the south side of the Snake River to the often difficult and dangerous Three Island Ford near present day Glenns Ferry, crossing to the north side and on to the Boise River Valley. An alternate route, which was drier and longer, stayed on the south side of the Snake to the mouth of the Boise River. Here the north-side travelers recrossed the Snake and a single route headed northwesterly through Oregon to The Dalles, where travelers could go down the Columbia by boat to the terminus of the Oregon Trail at Oregon City on the Willamette River south of Portland, or could use the Barlow Trail around Mt. Hood and on to the terminus.

Goodale Cutoff
There were several branches and cutoffs in Idaho. In the vicinity of Fort Hall, a somewhat difficult route headed north across the Snake River Plain and along the south side of the mountains of central Idaho to a junction with the main trail near present day Mountain Home. This was the Goodale or Jeffrey's Cutoff, which was opened as an emigrant route by John T. Jeffrey in 1852 or 1854. Timothy Goodale led a wagon train consisting of 1,095 people over the route in late summer, 1862. These emigrants and most who subsequently traveled the cut off, were miners and their families seeking gold in central or western Idaho.

Territorial divisions before and after the Mexican War (1848), after Beck and Haase (1989, Map 41).

Northside Route
Although most travelers crossed to the north side of the Snake River at Three Island Ford, it has been suggested by some that there was a trail along the north side of the Snake River all the way from Fort Hall. A total absence of surface water on the north side of the Snake River plus the lack of access for animals over the lava cliffs to the Snake River below would seem to preclude much use of a northside route.

Applegate Route
Some Oregon-bound travelers after 1846 followed the California Trail to western Nevada and then up into Oregon and the upper reaches of the Willamette River, along what was known as the Applegate Route. This longer, drier and much more dangerous route was not heavily used.

End of the Trail
The stream of families moving west by wagon continued at a reduced rate into the 20th Century. One could not, after all, easily ship one's total belongings and farm animals by train. It is said that use of the Oregon Trail came to an end not because of the railroads, but because of the automobile.

Wagon Ruts
There are many areas in southern Idaho where wagon ruts of the various routes can be seen. A few traces of the trails are clearly visible, but in most areas, farming activities or roads or civilization have obliterated the ruts. Very often the route of the trail can still be discerned, even in areas where the actual ruts are not visible, by a more luxuriant growth of grasses or sagebrush where the droppings of millions of animals fertilized the soil. Often the wagon route can be more easily observed from the air than on the ground.

Marking the locations of the trails and the various cutoffs is a difficult and frustrating activity. Markers are commonly defaced and trail segments are destroyed each year by new construction and farming activities. Efforts to mark the trail are uneven and depend on the enthusiasm of local residents. Sometimes, overzealous residents have marked a trail's location incorrectly (see photo to right). Some trail-marking projects are becoming more effective, especially those of the Oregon-California Trails Association (OCTA) and its various state subsidiaries. The best single reference for locating the trail in Idaho is "The Oregon Trail Revisited" by Gregory M. Franzwa. The many diaries and journals of travelers which exist in various museums provide fascinating reading. Several books and pamphlets have been published about aspects of the trails and the western migration. A few references are listed at the end of this section.