The Kansas City area was the jumping off point for settlers heading west to Oregon and California and following the trade route of the Santa Fe Trail to the southwest. And while Independence and Westport have a place in history as the spots where many of the excursions started, it is Johnson County that can claim the richest collection of trails – and the most miles.
More than 114 miles of the historic trails ran through Johnson County, according to the Kansas City Area Historic Trails Association. Many of those miles wound through present day northeast Johnson County as evidenced by the plethora of trail markers that cross the streets.
The tally of mileage includes different branches of the Santa Fe Trail, the California Road, the Military Road and the start of the Oregon Trail. Only 38.5 miles of trail ran through Jackson County, Mo., and just 48.5 miles are found in Wyandotte County.
The Independence route of the Santa Fe Trail entered Johnson County at Leawood and ran across Overland Park, nudging Olathe on its way to Gardner. That is 21.75 miles of trail. From the Gardner split to the county line, the Santa Fe Trail runs another 5.25 miles while the Oregon Trail takes off for 10.5 miles to the Douglas County line.
It’s the Westport route of the Santa Fe Trail, though, that sends two distinct branches through northeast Johnson County and combined they rack up more than 38 miles of trail on the way to Gardner.
In Mission, not far north of Johnson Drive, the California Road branches off from the Santa Fe route and heads straight west across Merriam. From its Mission junction to the county line is more than 22 miles.
Finally, the Military Road ran from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Scott, cutting across Merriam, Overland Park and Prairie Village before running most of the length of Leawood and heading south. The Military Road ran for more than 26 miles in Johnson County, including a split that connected with the Santa Fe Trail in west Overland Park.
Maps with the routes of the historic trails overlaid on today’s streets are available from the KCAHTA.