Old Spanish Trail
Trading on the Early Frontier 1829-1848

…the longest, crookedest, most arduous pack mule route in the history of america…” – LeRoy and Ann Hafen, Trail Historians.

The old Spanish Trail was a heavily used trade route that connected the Spanish-speaking communities of northern New Mexico with those in southern California. Pack trains of 100 or more mules – packsaddles bulging with woolen goods woven in New Mexico – made annual treks between Santa Fe and Los Angeles. The New Mexican traders bartered their goods for horses and mules and drove large herds back to Santa Fe. Over time, the Old Spanish Trail also became the primary route for trappers, explorers, prospectors, and outlaws crossing the Intermountain West.


…these discoverers often had to backtrack, make detours and …they had neither maps nor compass nor guide, other than the enterprising, daring and adventurous spirit of the sons of this territory.” – Jose Antonio Chavez, Official Report Armijo Expedition, 1830

In 1829, a Santa Fe merchant named Antonio Armijo led the first mule pack train loaded with trade goods to California. His successful venture opened commercial trade between Santa Fe and Los Angeles. Over two decades, multiple, parallel, and intertwined routes developed, creating a network of rugged long-distance trails known as the Old Spanish Trail. Use of the Old Spanish Trail declined by the mid-19th century as new wagon routes opened to carry troops, gold-rush miners, emigrants, and others into the West.