Along the Oregon Trail: Guernsey Wagon Ruts

Months before our travels along the Oregon Trail, during our summer visit to Sweden, I was on a walk with the kids and we were talking about the pioneers of the 1840s and 50s. It’s a time in American history that easily captures a child’s imagination and the questions came in rapid-fire fashion. But the height of their excitement came when I said that so many wagons had followed this same route that the ruts from their wheels could still be seen today. That sealed it. They simply had to see these ruts for themselves.

Suddenly I was concerned. I had read somewhere that you could still see the ruts, but I had never seen them. I had no idea what to expect. Were they a few inches deep? Could they be seen clearly? The kids talked of nothing else for days. Had I spoken too soon? I reached out to my good friend Mr. Google and when I discovered the Guernsey Wagon Ruts, I knew that this had to be on our itinerary. I had imagined ruts that were several inches deep at the most. I imagined them to be thin and hard to find. When I saw the pictures, I joined the kids in their excitement and wonder. Wagon ruts that are five feet deep?! I just had to see it for myself.

And so, as we continued our trek west into Wyoming, one more stop along the Oregon Trail was in order. It was a slight detour to the north, but well worth it. As we drove, we were looking for a good place to stop to stretch our legs, use the bathroom, and eat our packed lunch. Checking the map, we realized we were driving right past Fort Laramie National Historic Site. It was the obvious choice and well worth a quick visit! The rangers at the fort were able to give us good directions to the wagon ruts as well, and reassure us that the small roads would be passable while towing the trailer. If you are planning a visit to the Guernsey Wagon Ruts, give yourself an extra hour or two to explore Fort Laramie!

The kids’ favorite part of Fort Laramie – exploring a tee pee.

Finally we made it to the parking area where the deepest and most easily accessible wagon ruts can be seen. After so much build up and anticipation, would this live up to our expectations or would we all be disappointed?

Oregon Trail
Signpost at the trail head: A beautifully written history of the ground we were walking on!

There is a short loop trail leading up the hill from the parking lot to the ruts. The signs explained that this ridge is formed of a soft sandstone which left it particularly vulnerable to erosion. The geography of the area left pioneers little option but to cross the ridge in exactly this place, and so nearly every wagon headed west did just that. And the tracks they left behind leave no doubt that we were walking in their footsteps. Somehow, this quiet, largely undeveloped site, more than Chimney Rock and Scotts Bluff, made history come alive and brought us face to face with it. We felt the rock walls with our hands and connected with their journey, their struggles, their courage, their perseverance and their hope. I didn’t expect to be so inspired by this path that was carved out long ago. And yet, there we were. This was the Oregon Trail.

Oregon Trail


Oregon Trail

Most of the trail that we followed through Nebraska has now become paved roads and we took it in through the windows of the car. But just like we experienced a few days earlier at Scotts Bluff, it is a different thing to feel the rock beneath your feet and the wind on your face. Here the trail looked very much like it would have as the wagons crossed the ridge – a more natural landscape full of sights and sounds that brought it all to life. It was the perfect way to wrap up our study of the Oregon Trail.

Oregon Trail



7 thoughts on “Along the Oregon Trail: Guernsey Wagon Ruts

    1. Thanks Karen! We love that our kids say they love history as they visit all these places, and I definitely love being able to teach them this way! 🙂

  1. Thanks for this! I’ll have to put it on my list of places to visit! We’re not going to begin Full-time travel until 2021 (kids must be out of diapers first!), but I’m collecting lists of great places for kids to see and this sounds like a good one. I look forward to reading through your older posts to see what else you enjoyed!

    1. Welcome Tia! I’m so excited that you found us! We started planning about 3 years before we launched too! Sometimes it takes that long to get all your ducks in a row. We have a lot of favorites for kids that we have discovered around the country. How old are your kids? For the record, our youngest was born when we were living in an RV and he’s 17 months old now – diapers doesn’t have to be a deal breaker! 🙂

      1. I admire your willingness to have a toddler on the road! Mine are currently 2.5yrs and 13 months. We are in the middle of potty training the oldest, which is why this aspect is on the mind, and technically if this was the only consideration, we could probably go in just 2 years, but my oldest was such a strong-willed, challenging toddler that I feel hesitant to trust my kids won’t run out into the road/river/off a cliff if we try going places just yet. Give them a few years to mature a bit, you know? Besides, my main motivation to travel is to show my kids the world (if it was just me, I’d stay home and do nothing) and if they are too young to enjoy or remember anything, then I kind of feel like ‘what’s the point?’. My husband wants to go just to go, but I had to warm up to the idea and thinking of showing my kids things (like the Ruts from pioneer wagons) is what gets me excited. Were both of you interested in traveling, initially, or was one of you more interested than the other?

        1. We were both pretty interested, but from different angles. Both of us love traveling but the roadschooling angle really captured my imagination as a teacher. I absolutely love teaching this way!!! They are learning so much more and so much deeper than your average 1st and 3rd grader.
          Toddlers are challenging in that regard in any environment, but one advantage to this lifestyle is that we are both available to our kids so much more now, so in some ways it’s almost easier. If it’s a dangerous situation we buckle him in to the stroller or car seat but otherwise he’s pretty free to explore.
          Little ones might not be old enough to remember all the educational details of where you’re going (which just means you can go back again sometime!) but we believe it has value for them as they grow and develop in these early years. Our lifestyle shapes who they are becoming from the very beginning. It’s a different kind of learning, but learning all the same.
          Every family is different and I’m excited for yours that you’re planning to go on the road at all! It’s definitely life-changing in so many ways!!

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